Aug. 8, 2019

The University of Texas at Dallas received a $75,000 grant from the AT&T Foundation to support the Academic Bridge and Future Comets programs, which help prepare young students for college life and STEM careers through advising, mentoring and tutoring.

Titos Brown (left), a sophomore at Judge Barefoot Sanders Law Magnet at Yvonne A. Ewell Townview Center in Dallas, joined the Future Comets Program before starting the eighth grade. His mother, Natalie Brown (right), said the program has given him more confidence in STEM courses.

Dr. Richard C. Benson, president of UT Dallas, acknowledged AT&T’s impact on both programs during a check presentation ceremony at UT Dallas’ Engineering and Computer Science West building.

“The students who benefit from these programs are among the best and brightest in the world,” said Benson, who is also the Eugene McDermott Distinguished University Chair of Leadership. “They are our future leaders, entrepreneurs and innovators. Thanks to programs like these and the generous support of partners like AT&T, many more students will have the chance to realize their dreams.”

The AT&T Foundation initially contributed $220,000 to the Academic Bridge Program in 2010. The foundation’s investment has made a direct impact on students, said Dr. George Fair, vice president for diversity and community engagement and dean of the School of Interdisciplinary Studies.

“You are helping build pathways and futures, and creating a pipeline of talented, high-achieving students ready to pursue higher education and ultimately become our state’s and nation’s future workforce,” Fair told the audience at the ceremony.

As a first-generation graduate student, Ty Bledsoe, assistant vice president for external affairs at AT&T Inc., said he understands the value of an education and a good opportunity.

Dameon Powell Jr. (left), a freshman at McKinney North High School, said the Future Comets Program has helped him understand college life and prepare for high school math. His father, Dameon Sr. (right), said AT&T’s donation is proof that the company is investing in his son’s future.

“Seeing some of the young, rising superstars that are here, it gives me hope that the future is not lost,” Bledsoe told students at the event. “These programs bring out the greatness in all of you. Opportunities for higher education, for great paying jobs, for benefits that will impact your grandchildren and great-grandchildren — they wouldn’t exist without programs like these.”

State Rep. Angie Chen Button MS’80 commended AT&T for its commitment to UT Dallas and spoke about the overall mission behind both programs. 

“There’s a lot of talk lately about the 50-year anniversary of mankind getting to the moon, and this is just like that idea — it’s a grand vision,” Button said. “It’s a grand vision for kids from diverse backgrounds who will continue to excel and go to college.” 

Launched in 2017, the Future Comets program provides college readiness services for students primarily from the Dallas and Richardson school districts. The program offers year-round supplemental instruction and leadership development to students preparing for college and STEM degrees.

The students who benefit from these programs are among the best and brightest in the world. They are our future leaders, entrepreneurs and innovators. Thanks to programs like these and the generous support of partners like AT&T, many more students will have the chance to realize their dreams.

Dr. Richard C. Benson, president of UT Dallas

“I feel like I’ve learned a lot, and it’s prepared me for what’s to come,” said Dameon Powell Jr., a McKinney North High School freshman who has been involved with Future Comets for two years. “I’m getting to know and understand college life.”

The Academic Bridge Program helps high-potential students succeed in college with programming that begins in the summer after high school graduation. Through peer mentorship, financial support and rigorous academic coaching, Academic Bridge students are able to transition from high school to college.

“Without the Academic Bridge Program, I don’t think I would have been as prepared for the first semester of college,” said Autumn Jennings, an arts, technology, and emerging communication senior at UT Dallas who has been in the program for three years. “It made my experience at UT Dallas more enjoyable in general.”

Since its creation in 2000, the Academic Bridge Program has a proven track record of success, with a 70 percent graduation rate and more than 45 percent of students majoring in engineering, science or business management.

“Since most of our students are first-generation college students, it’s making a significant difference in their lives and their family’s lives,” said Soli Ghirmai, director of the Academic Bridge Program. “AT&T is investing in the future, and we hope to continue this partnership to change students’ lives.”

From left: Future Comets teachers Brian Beck-Smith BS’05, Sonja Head and Ashley Edison lead instructional Saturday courses and summer camps for middle school students throughout the year. Raul Hinojosa Jr. (right) is the director of community engagement, which oversees the program.

Media Contact: Melissa Graham, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2243, [email protected]
or the Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected]