For the past several years, the Hatton W. Sumners Foundation, Inc., has generously sponsored various scholarships for Southwestern undergraduates. The merit-based awards recognize civically engaged students who demonstrate both academic excellence and a capacity for leadership. Sumners Scholars receive not only two-year financial support but also special opportunities provided by the Foundation to expand their educational experiences and enhance their skills. According to the Foundation, in return, Sumners Scholars are expected to develop or strengthen their understanding and appreciation of American democracy; become informed and politically active at the local, state, and national levels; contribute to the betterment of the larger community; and actively assist the Foundation in implementing its charitable purpose.

Camille Martin '19 Camille Martin ’19

Making a higher education possible

“The million dollars plus that the Sumners Foundation has given to Southwestern students to further their educations does not begin to convey the powerful impact the Foundation has had on some of our best and brightest,” says David Gaines, professor of English and director of National Fellowships and Scholarships. “The Sumners Foundation has changed our students’ lives and has nurtured a tremendous group of current and future leaders.”

Camille Martin ’19, a political science major and Spanish and race and ethnicity studies double minor, confirms the impact of the scholarship. For her, the funding enabled her to engage in summer coursework and internships and complete her four-year degree. “Truthfully, I wouldn’t have been able to stay at Southwestern without this scholarship. I don’t know where I would have gone,” she remarks.

Selena Chisom-Payne '20 Selena Chisom-Payne ’20Selena Chisom-Payne ’20, the first feminist studies major to win the award and a Spanish and sociology double minor, echoes the significance of the Sumners scholarship to her Southwestern Experience. “I’m beyond blessed for the scholarships I’ve received and the Financial Aid Office,” she comments. As a first-generation college student, Chisom-Payne is paying for college by herself and has financial obligations to her family, so she has not always enjoyed the luxury of participating in extra- or cocurricular learning experiences because she has had to devote her time to paid work instead. However, her Sumners award allowed her to engage in course credit and an expenses-paid internship in Washington, DC, this summer—the first in many years that did not require working multiple jobs. “I’m very grateful for the scholarships and people that have helped me get these kinds of opportunities,” she says.

Like Martin and Chisom-Payne, for business major T. J. Vela ’19, the Sumners funding empowered him to complete his degree at SU, which, in turn, allowed him to “secure various internships, learn so many interesting things in classes, and make lifelong friends.” Vela says that he is beyond grateful for both the scholarship and the many opportunities that resulted from it, but, he adds, “the biggest impact that it has had for me is that it lifted a huge financial burden off of my shoulders in regards to paying for my college education.”

T. J. Vela '19 interning with the Round Rock Express. T. J. Vela ’19 interning with the Round Rock Express.

Internships and mentorships

Those opportunities include exclusive invitations to engage with distinguished speakers at the Hatton W. Sumners Distinguished Lecture Series, whose past guests have included such luminaries as President Gerald Ford, then-Governor George W. Bush, Queen Noor of Jordan, and Czech President Vaclav Klaus. Sumners Scholars can also participate in various public-policy, leadership, and civic-engagement programs and enjoy access to multiple educational and internship opportunities in Washington, DC. 

“My favorite aspects of the Sumners program are the panels and workshops that I am given the opportunity to attend,” Vela comments. “These panels and workshops are all so insightful, and a lot of these panels offer the ability to ask questions of the panelists and quite literally join in on the discussion.” Vela experienced this firsthand at the Texas Tribune Festival his junior year. It was his first Sumners event, and he admits that he did not know what to expect. “However, I came in eager and ready to hear different discussions relating to different legislative issues across Texas,” he recalls. “I really enjoyed participating in these types of discussions and then getting to discuss these issues with my fellow Sumners Scholars from SU and other universities.”

Megan Nair '20 Megan Nair ’20Megan Nair ’20, a political science major and Chinese minor who is fascinated by East Asian politics, says that the academic-year programming “blew my mind,” such as the Texas Policy Seminar, where she learned about policymaking and the legislative process from different speakers. She also appreciated taking two courses, International Economy Policy and Ethics and Leadership, at George Mason University this summer. But for her, “the internship is the coolest part” of the Sumners Scholarship. From May to July, Nair spent her days working at the U.S.–Taiwan Business Council, a nonprofit that specializes in developing the two countries’ trade and business relationships. There, she served as a research assistant and attended policy briefings; just one of her many tasks was to write a report on the July 2019 sale of $2.2 billion in U.S. military weapons to Taiwan—a crucial contribution considering she’s a rising college senior.

Like Nair, Martin enjoyed the various panels she attended during the past two years, such as the Texas Tribune Festival, a conference featuring 400 thought leaders in politics and public policy, as well as a panel of survivors of mass shootings who presented their diverse perspectives on gun reform. She also loved being able to apply her summer 2018 internship to her capstone project on neoliberal feminism. The internship, coordinated by The Fund for American Studies (TFAS), was with WEConnect International, a nongovernmental organization that partners with corporations outside the U.S. to support women’s economic empowerment. At WEConnect, Martin helped lead entrepreneurial-growth programs by hosting webinars on various topics, such as human resources and artificial intelligence, all while getting to use her minor in Spanish to communicate with women business owners around the world. “For me personally, I’ve just gained so much from the experience. I’ve been able to attend all these speaker events, and I’ve been able to live out of state for a couple of months and learned that I loved living there,” the El Paso native reflects. “If you want something beyond just school that’s centered around civic life, I think that this scholarship is best suited for students who want to dive into that.”

Chisom-Payne benefited most from the mentorship of her supervisor at the Democracy Initiative. “The internship was great, and I really liked the people, but my mentor was phenomenal,” she says excitedly. She appreciates getting to attend a Democracy Champions Training in Baltimore, where participants learned how to improve their communication skills and how to advocate for democracy while making connections with pressing social issues, from environmental justice and racism to workers’ and LGBTQ rights. And by attending professional-development events and seminars as well as networking opportunities with her mentor, Chisom-Payne says she was introduced to professionals in the field and can hopefully look forward to expanded job opportunities after graduation. 

Impacts and outcomes

Gaines says that he has observed two significant changes in Sumners Scholars between their interviews as sophomores and their graduations as seniors: “One is how much more articulate and confident they are as public speakers, and second is how much their knowledge has expanded and grown. I’m most happy to say that they are much more idealistic and energized to be change agents as seniors than they were as sophomores.” Martin, for example, was chosen by her fellow Sumners Scholars to share her experiences at a banquet, and Gaines was impressed by her “very compelling and genuine” speech.

Martin credits the scholarship program with discovering different avenues for engaging in civic life. “It’s given me confidence to lead events on campus,” she says. “I’ve been able to go to different events to see how they’re functioning but also to participate in and lead them.” The proof is in her impressive résumé: Martin took on multiple leadership positions during her last years on campus, such as serving as the vice president of the Student Government Association and president of the Orthodox Christian Fellowship, working as a state advocacy intern with Common Cause Texas, coordinating multiple focus groups on free speech, and hosting Georgetown on the Table breakout groups, in which participants discussed the city’s outlook by 2030. After graduating in May, she took on a two-year role as a member of the Southwestern University Board of Trustees.

As she looks toward her future, Chisom-Payne is looking to channel her Sumners experiences into law school before she begins a career as a civil-rights, immigration, or family-law attorney. “I cannot wait to be the redheaded, dreadheaded lawyer who hangs out with community kids on the weekends, who throws tea parties and teaches young people about civic engagement and self-love,” she says proudly. “If you don’t love yourself and you don’t appreciate yourself or your race or whatever you may be, you don’t believe you have rights, you don’t believe your vote matters, and you don’t believe anything you say or do has an impact. So that’s why self-love and civic engagement are so important to have and go hand in hand.”

Although Vela is looking to secure a job in sports sales and marketing after he graduates this December, he still plans to apply what he’s learned from the Sumners program to his future. “There are many civic-service opportunities in sports, with front-office employees volunteering in their community, so there will likely be some aspects of the Sumners scholarship that I will experience upon graduation.”

“I couldn’t get a foreign-policy internship anywhere else, but foreign policy is what I want to do. This experience is really tailored toward what I want to do, and I’ll be able to use my research skills in graduate school and as a policy researcher, which is my priority.”

Nair is grateful for the Sumners-funded experience because she knows such opportunities are highly competitive. “I couldn’t get a foreign-policy internship anywhere else, but foreign policy is what I want to do,” she shares. “This experience is really tailored toward what I want to do, and I’ll be able to use my research skills in graduate school and as a policy researcher, which is my priority.”

But perhaps one of the most inspiring aspects of the Sumners Scholars program has been the mentorship and camaraderie the recipients have enjoyed with applicants. Gaines says that this is not a requirement but rather a natural outgrowth of the program. Martin, for example, credits alumna Rachel Arco ’18, a fellow political science major, for supporting her through the application process, and Martin, in turn, provided mentorship to Nair. “I think what’s cool about Sumners is that when you have this scholarship, there’s this chain of support,” Martin says.

Nair agrees. “Right now, I’m helping students who are applying. They’ve asked me for advice, and I can pass on what Emilie [Fisher ’18, another Sumners alum] and Camille told me. The nice thing about Southwestern is that it’s small, so there’s that community and mentorship.”

For more information on the Sumners Scholars program, please contact Southwestern’s Office of Fellowships and Scholarships.