Ds Scholarship

How RodeoHouston funds education | Datebook

A scholarship winner celebrates with her family at the Rodeo’s Drive-Thru Scholar Banquet event in 2021.

Photo: Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo

Hannah Chute, a public defender in Tucson, Ariz., plans her visits home to coincide with the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.

The Texas A&M University graduate, who attended Caney Creek High School in Conroe, was awarded a four-year merit-based scholarship from the rodeo in 2014.

“Going to the rodeo is coming home,” says Chute, who was president of her local National FFA Organization chapter and spent each spring in high school volunteering and competing at the rodeo.

RODEO FUN: Welcome to PreviewHouston’s rodeo insider guide to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.

“That feeling of walking on the rodeo grounds” offers a special sense of pride for scholarship recipients who, like Chute, would have had a vastly different career path without the rodeo’s financial support, she says.

Finances became an issue approaching her senior year, when Chute worked on her scholarship applications while eating lunch in the cafeteria with her two best friends.

About the scholarships

Total educational commitment for 2022: $22,125,250

Since its beginning in 1932, the rodeo has committed more than $550 million to the youth of Texas and education.

The rodeo has presented more than 20,000 scholarships, valued at more than $260 million, since 1957.

Currently, more than 2,300 scholars attend more than 80 universities and colleges throughout Texas.

Of those scholars awarded in 2019, 29 percent were the first in their family to graduate high school and 48 percent were first-generation college students.

Schools attended

Texas A&M University

University of Texas at Austin

University of Houston

Texas Tech University

Tarleton State University

Current scholar majors

41 percent STEM

19 percent Agriculture and Natural Resources

13 percent Health

11 percent Business

8 percent Social Sciences

2 percent Arts and Humanities

2 percent Public and Social Services

2 percent Multi-Interdisciplinary Studies

2 percent major not declared

She still remembers the afternoon the threesome was together homework and simultaneously received congratulatory emails that they had been named rodeo scholarships.

“There were tears and there was excitement and high fives all round,” says Chute, who describes the rodeo scholarship as the pinnacle for high-achieving students in the Houston area exploring financial assistance.

The three best friends attended Texas A&M, where they lived in nearby dorms.

The rodeo award “defined my ability to go to undergrad and what really saved me from carrying a monster debt load as I moved on (to law school).”

Despite the rodeo’s two-year hiatus the organization upheld its education mission in 2021 with a total commitment to Texas youth of $21.7 million.

Currently, just over 2,300 rodeo scholars attend about 80 universities and colleges across Texas — there are more than 700 at Texas A&M alone.

Chute, who majored in agricultural communications and journalism, says the rodeo was formative in her career path because of her experience competing in the Agricultural Public Speaking Contest.

Though her family didn’t have the means to raise and care for livestock to show at the rodeo, Chute found other ways to participate and distinguish herself during high school as an FFA member. Each year she researched a topic and delivered a speech incorporating her understanding of science and agriculture. She delivered her address to a group of judges made up of professors from agricultural schools, high school faculty and community leaders.

She once placed fifth for her speech about the future of agriculture.

“It’s pretty incredible … this unique competition format that has turned into a life skill,” says the criminal defense attorney.

Yuselmy Garza

Yuselmy Garza, a 2010 scholar, is the chair of the Scholarship Alumni Association, which is actively recruiting members like Chute.

Established in 2014, the alumni association offers a free lifetime membership to all scholars and exists to connect alumni with volunteer opportunities at the rodeo and to provide a networking community for scholars and alumni alike.

Of the nearly 2,000 association members, about 400 are currently committee volunteers. In addition to serving on rodeo committees, members help facilitate events that support scholars and fulfill speaking requests on behalf of the rodeo.

Garza aims to grow the membership during her tenure, spreading the word about professional development opportunities, such as a lunch-and-learn event held in February at HE-B’s corporate offices in Houston.

“We have amazing events,” Garza says. In addition to professional development opportunities, the association hosts socials, happy hours and service opportunities.

Because many scholars are the first in their family to attend college, the networking opportunities are extremely beneficial, says Garza.

Garza is a first-generation college graduate whose parents are not high school graduates.

“Being named a scholar just opened so many doors,” she says. Most important, it is allowed her to attend the University of Houston-Downtown as a full-time student, rather than taking one class a semester while working, she says.

Garza majored in business and now is a project manager for Memorial Hermann Hospital, overseeing construction projects. Last year, she earned her MBA from her alma mater.

In addition to her four-year scholarship, Garza was one of the first undergrads also awarded the rodeo’s Achievement Scholarship, which are given to scholars who exhibited excellence in their first four semesters, allowing additional dollars for their final semesters. The “extra boost toward graduation” was critical in Garza’s case.

In addition to her work with the alumni committee, Garza volunteers on the Gatekeepers Committee, serving as a captain.

This year during RodeoHouston, Garza estimates that she will volunteer at least 40 hours at the gate. When the show ends, she’ll turn her attention back to establishing a new mentorship program to pair current scholars with alumni.

Amy Moroney, the rodeo’s senior director of educational programs, says she hopes scholars felt part of the family during the pandemic, when the rodeo beefed up support tools. As scholars adjusted to virtual settings in 2020 and experienced other upheaval caused by the health crisis, the rodeo waved the academic requirement for a semester, in line with many scholarship providers across the country.

In addition, the rodeo hosted webinars on mental health issues, offered access to cost-free counseling and therapy sessions, legal and financial advice, and increased virtual learning opportunities on topics such as résumé building and interview skills.

Also as a result of the pandemic, Moroney’s office is working to establish online campus communities for scholars to connect with their scholar peers during their undergrad years.

“College can be a time of adjustment. If you find someone you have something in common with, you kind of have that bond.”

Once scholars graduate, the alumni association extends the same sense of community. Scholarship recipients want to find ways to volunteer “because they want to give back to the organization that gave to them,” Moroney says.

“That’s what the entire show is about and our whole volunteer program is about, too,” she adds.




  • Allison Bagley

    Allison Bagley is a freelance features writer for the Houston Chronicle.

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