A Mobility Escalator

The inaugural class of Darren Walker Scholars meets their namesake and sponsors.
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The inaugural class of Walker Scholars joined the program’s lead donors to honor Darren Walker this fall. From left, Jorge Girón, Yanet Hernandez, Christopher Zapata, Walker, Amy DonJuan and Gabrielle Izu.

Before he was the president of the $16 billion Ford Foundation and one of the world’s leading voices for justice, Darren Walker, B.A. ’82, B.S. ’82, J.D. ’86, Distinguished Alumnus, was the son of a single mother, born in a charity hospital in Louisiana.

As a young child, Walker was selected for the inaugural preschool class of the Head Start program. Then, after attending public schools in southeast Texas, he came to The University of Texas at Austin because of support from a Pell Grant and other scholarships. Today, Walker calls his life trajectory, made possible by public and philanthropic support, “a mobility escalator.”

This fall, the university welcomed the inaugural class of Darren Walker Scholars — five first-year students and future world-changers who are being provided a fully-funded undergraduate education in recognition of their academic accomplishment and persistence through economic, social and educational obstacles.

“We all know that UT is the institution that helped shape the life of Darren Walker,” says lead Walker Scholars Program supporter and Longhorn parent Suzanne Perot McGee. “Darren Walker helped to shape me. Making this gift to honor Darren — supporting and encouraging future leaders — was a no-brainer.”

“Walker Scholars will be global citizens, healing the wounds of the world and offering solutions to the problems that stump the current generation. Because of donors’ generosity, we will be able to excel and take after the best traits of Darren Walker.”
Gabrielle Izu, freshman, International Relations and Global Studies

“Through the Darren Walker Scholars Program, Darren has built a ‘mobility escalator’ for others,” says UT President Jay Hartzell. “This program goes beyond providing financial support — it’s designed to build community. With their cohort of fellow Walker Scholars, these students will cultivate connections with faculty, alumni and civic leaders. A sense of community and belonging is a key driver of academic success, and it exemplifies a value we share: We don’t want you to go it alone.”

UT’s Division of Diversity and Community Engagement leads the cohort’s programming, which includes tutoring, peer mentoring and coaching, service learning, internships and career networking — all experiences exemplified by the program’s namesake, who has been called “the ultimate connector.”

“Darren Walker is someone who truly appreciates people and works to enrich the lives of those he has never even met,” says Walker Scholar Gabrielle Izu. “The Walker Scholars will promote the values of his work and return that generosity tenfold to the world.”

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