Great Expectations
Story by Mary Guthrie
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SMU Meadows Scholars SMU Meadows Scholars
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Our Meadows grads are successfully pursuing their art by starting new theatre companies, landing dream auditions and playing for the Los Angeles Philharmonic. We caught up with several recent alumni and asked: How has being a Meadows Scholar impacted your artistic career?

When Paul Kroeger graduated from high school in 2009, he had his pick of universities. He was accepted to Rice, TCU, UNT, Oberlin, Gettysburg College, Lawrence University and SMU. When it was time to make a decision, he chose SMU Meadows School of the Arts. What swayed his decision?

“The prospect of being a Meadows Scholar,” says Kroeger, who graduated from Meadows as a Peggy and Carl Sewell Meadows Scholar with a Bachelor of Music in voice in 2013.
“I knew that I would be part of a unique group of students from all arts and communications disciplines, have the opportunity to further my art with the Meadows Scholar grant, and connect with professors and deans whom I might not otherwise encounter.”

Attracting top students such as Kroeger is competitive business. Every year SMU goes head-to-head against schools such as Harvard, USC, Northwestern and others to attract high-achieving students from a limited pool of academically and artistically gifted high school seniors. “The program has been a game-changer,” observes Dean Samuel Holland. “It not only puts Meadows in the conversation with the top arts and communication programs in the country, it gives us a competitive advantage in many cases.

“As we recruit, we’re looking not just for artistic talent,” says Holland. “We’re looking for academic achievement as well, for ‘smartists.’”

Test scores for such students are high: SAT scores are typically 1420 or higher (only the math and writing portions are counted); ACTs, 31+; high school GPAs, 3.85 or higher on a 4.0 scale. In addition, these sought-after students often have impressive experience and community involvement prior to entering college: performing in their city’s symphony, writing for their hometown newspaper, organizing charity drives for their neighborhood.

creating future arts leaders

The Meadows Scholars initiative began seven years ago under the leadership of then-dean José Bowen. The program is working. Launched in 2008 with 10 students and 12 donors, the program now sustains 105 Scholars, thanks to the enthusiastic support of over 140 donors.

Perks of being a Meadows Scholar are plenty: Each Scholar receives a four-year tuition grant plus a one-time exploratory grant of $1,500, which can be used toward research or a creative project. The Scholars attend exclusive seminars taught by industry speakers, senior faculty and the dean; they receive tickets to professional performances in the Dallas arts district. They study and work with fellow Scholars and exchange ideas and inspiration from peers across the visual, communication and performing arts. Scholars also get one-on-one time with program donors and Meadows board members at Meadows Scholars luncheons and gatherings.

To date, three classes of Meadows Scholars have graduated. MPRINT caught up with alumni from the classes of 2012, 2013 and 2014 and asked: What did being a Meadows Scholar mean to you during and after your years at Meadows?

Fightin’ words & cross-pollination

Barely out of college, professional fight choreographer Jeffrey Colangelo (Linda and William Custard Meadows Scholar/B.F.A. Theatre ’13) has already co-founded his own theatrical company (Prism Co., with current Meadows theatre student Katy Tye); worked on multiple productions with Dallas Theater Center, Shakespeare Dallas, Undermain Theatre and Cara Mia Theatre; and produced his own plays. Part of his success was fed by the “cross-pollination” he experienced while a Meadows Scholar.

“My freshman year we had a class that was all Meadows Scholars, students from various disciplines,” says Colangelo. “We had meetings in people’s homes, hung out with the dean, checked out exhibits and things like that. We learned from each other, learned how to see art from each other’s perspectives.

“What I’m doing now couldn’t have existed without cross-pollination,” says Colangelo, who works daily with actors, musicians, dancers, producers and directors. “The Scholars got to see things from other points of view and try things we were unfamiliar with. It made things interesting theatrically. I was able to look at work in completely different ways, like how to talk to a musician, a dancer, an artist, how to work with each other. That kind of cross-pollination broadens your horizons in ways that you wouldn’t be able to do on your own.”

Another component of Colangelo’s Meadows Scholars experience actually made him angry, and out of that anger came revelation. The Scholars were assigned to read a book written in 1775 by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Politics and the Arts. It got under Colangelo’s skin.

“Man, that book made me so mad!” says Colangelo with a laugh. “Rousseau wrote it in response to one dude for liking art. It had its interesting points, yes, but other points were obscenely sexist and stupid.

“But he also took the arts off its holy pedestal, and that let me start thinking of art as business and art as the entertainment that it is. It helped me take a step back from the art I was creating and start looking at it in a new way.”

opening doors at the magic kingdom

Just two months after graduating with a B.F.A. in dance in 2014, Monica Hernandez went into the happiness business. Hired by Walt Disney World as a character performer, the Edith O’Donnell Meadows Scholar says being the source of happiness for countless visitors makes her happy in return.

“The most satisfying part of my job is seeing the joy that lights up the faces of the guests, regardless of age, gender or nationality,” says Hernandez. “When I interact with the guests and see their elation as they meet their favor

ite characters, I feel a sense of satisfaction and pride.”

Her Disney audition was a kismet kind of thing that might not have happened if she hadn’t been a Meadows Scholar. In her senior year, Hernandez used her Meadows Scholars exploratory grant to audition for professional dance companies in Chicago. While she was there, a friend told her that Disney was also holding auditions in Chicago the same week.

“I threw caution to the wind and decided to add the Disney tryout, knowing nothing about their audition requirements or process,” says Hernandez.

Her training at Meadows was a factor in her ability to ace the audition. “The SMU Dance Division exposed me to a wide variety of dance styles during my three years in the program,” she says. “I learned to quickly pick up new movement styles and retain information within a limited time frame. I believe that these skills enabled me to enter the Disney audition with confidence, even though it was spur of the moment.

“The Meadows Scholars Program gave me the confidence to pursue my dream of performing.”

breaking into the L.A. music scene

Fellow Meadows Scholar Josh Cote is expanding his musical reach. After graduating summa cum laude with a B.M. in music performance/horn in 2012, the Wood Meadows Scholar packed up his French horn and headed to Los Angeles. There he accepted a full scholarship to the highly selective Colburn School conservatory program. He started doing internships that brought him into L.A.’s music production and licensing circles. As an intern at CouldB Entertainment, he managed a promotional YouTube series showcasing the music for this season’s America’s Next Top Model television show and edited examples of CouldB’s work for a video pitch to STARZ Network. Recently, he took an internship position with Cutting Edge Group, a firm that specializes in soundtracks for films and projects such as 2010’s Oscar-winning The King’s Speech.

While at Meadows, Cote used his Meadows Scholars exploratory grant to travel to Oslo, Norway, where he studied with preeminent horn teacher Froydis de Wereke. “I’ve not been the same player since,” says Cote, who now also studies with Los Angeles Philharmonic principal horn Andrew Bain. Cote recently performed with the Philharmonic, playing second horn. He says being a Meadows Scholar spurred him on to develop his artistic talents.

“The Meadows Scholars Program allowed me the freedom to fully delve into my art form,” he says. “The generosity of my donors has allowed me to pursue an exciting, dream-filled life.”

connecting and collaborating

Many Meadows Scholars alums agree that the scholarship was a big factor in choosing Meadows over other universities. According to actress Victoria Nassif, Riddle Meadows Scholar/B.F.A. Theatre ’12, “The program showed me that Meadows valued collaboration and exploration between the various art forms in the school. It gave me an access point to other artists and their work. Being able to attend their exhibitions and performances was an added incentive to experience new things.”

Zain Haidar, Jennifer and Peter Altabef Meadows Scholar/B.A. Journalism ’14, says above all else, being a Meadows Scholar meant opportunity to him. “With the connections and backing of the program, I was able to accomplish things from a point of deeper confidence,” says Haidar, who was a steady contributor to the SMU Daily Campus newspaper while an undergrad. Today, Haidar works in content marketing for a mobile app development firm. “My experiences as a Meadows Scholar primed me to look outside my discipline silo and pursue other adventures, and made me more willing to take risks with independent projects.”

measuring the program's impact

Two faculty advisers, Professor of Music Tom Tunks and Professor of Dance Shelley Berg, guide the Scholars during their undergraduate years. Berg says the infusion of the Scholars has changed the atmosphere of Meadows. “We have always had terrific students. The Meadows Scholars Program has helped the school by raising both the academic and artistic profiles of Meadows and SMU,” she says. “The Scholars come from diverse backgrounds, and the critical mass of young artist/scholars in a vibrant and lively environment such as Meadows has
a positive impact on students, staff, faculty and the greater Dallas arts and communication communities.”

Kroeger, now a performing opera singer who is also in his second year of graduate school at University of Colorado, says the program is emblematic of what SMU does best. “Bright students from many disciplines come together, exchange ideas and information under the guidance of exemplary professors, and then pursue their individual disciplines with a broader perspective,” he says.

Kroeger is grateful for the support that made his Meadows experience possible.

“I thank the Sewells for the amazing experiences that they helped support while I was at SMU,” says Kroeger. “Meadows School of the Arts is a special place. Thanks to the donors, the Meadows Scholars have unfettered access to the best that Dallas has to offer.”

The Meadows Scholars Program is powered by support from the public. For information about how to become a donor, contact Director of Major Gifts Margaret Weinkauf at 214.768.4690,