Growing a Program

Individual wearing work gloves places weeds in a brown paper bag on the SHSU campus.

As program manager for the Smith-Hutson Scholarship program at Sam Houston State University, Chris Garcia knows first-hand how educational opportunities can transform lives.

“Developing young adults is a passion of mine, particularly in helping them find their own passion and purpose in life,” Garcia said.

Plenty of time and effort goes into managing and growing the most generous and prolific scholarship opportunity offered at SHSU. While there have been changes throughout the program’s history, the key goal of providing opportunities to students, who otherwise may not have the chance remains.

127 current scholars at SHSU. 668 total scholars awarded since 1996. 78% Smith-Hutson four-year graduation rate compared to 33.3% national four-year graduation rate and 38.2% texas four-year graduation rate.

A ‘family’ sense of belonging is how students describe their Smith-Huston experience. Since Garcia has led the program, steps have been made to cultivate that aspect even further.

“I noticed early on that many of our scholars didn’t know one another, particularly those outside the same cohort,” he said. “That prompted me to work with SHSU’s First Year Experience department to create a specific Smith-Hutson scholars course for our freshmen. Here, students explore career paths, connect to campus services and learn to develop and apply self-directed learning skills to their own academic programs.”

In addition to enhancing comradery in the classroom, Garcia and his team launched a new annual fall retreat event. Surrounded by the outdoor beauty of the Piney Woods, the scholars take part in team-building activities, wall climbing and zip lines, as the newest students are welcomed into the prestigious group.

“It’s exciting to see the cohesive, family environment our scholarship program has become,” Garcia said. “Our scholars are seen together across campus in droves, studying in Lone Star Hall in packs of 20 or more, attending group movie and games nights, or dining together at local restaurants.”

To help boost academic achievement, a two-step advising process was implemented. Scholars work with the Student Advising and Mentoring (SAM) Center and Smith-Hutson staff to ensure their degree plan is in order and address any academic, personal or professional concerns they may have.

In the Peer Assistance & Leadership program, upper class Smith-Hutson scholars volunteer to mentor freshmen and serve as a liaison for campus departments and resources. The initiative allows students to build meaningful relationships across campus and improve study habits.

“I believe these efforts have played an integral role in their success,” Garcia said. “Our 2020 freshmen cohort achieved the highest collective GPA in the 25-year history of the scholarship program. Students from our newest cohort for 2021 had only two words in response to that—‘challenge accepted.’ I am immensely proud of what we are building.”