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Former scholarship recipients return the favor

Lee Bagan

Lee Bagan never expected to be a successful panhandler.

But the undertaking that began with a cup and a cardboard sign on the Drag somehow turned into a scholarship endowment.

Bagan, M.A. '07 Middle Eastern studies, was a UT student and scholarship recipient when he decided to help fellow students struggling with learning disabilities. He knew those struggles firsthand, and he wanted to help. He began begging.

To the surprise of his friends - and himself - it worked. Within two weeks he had raised $500. Before long the Services for Students with Disabilities Office joined Bagan and raised $10,000, then $15,000. The effort hit $25,000, and the Lee Bagan Endowment was born. It funds a scholarship for UT students with suspected learning disabilities, paying for them to get the diagnostic testing they need to qualify for federal educational benefits.

"This could never have happened if UT students did not love this university and care about the well-being of their colleagues," says Bagan, now a Middle East expert with the Department of Defense.

Justin Murray's parents had loaned him money to help pay for law school, and he wanted to pay them back. There was just one problem: They wouldn't take the money.

Murray decided if he couldn't pay the money back, he'd pay it forward. He and his wife, Megan, endowed a scholarship like those that had helped them during their own undergraduate years at UT Austin. The Thomas and Harriett Murray Endowed Scholarship in Engineering honors Justin's parents, a police officer and a nurse.

"We established the scholarship in honor of them as a way to acknowledge the love, support, and encouragement they have provided to us and the local community," Justin says.

The Murrays don't want a lack of money to keep people out of school.

"Life would have been much more difficult for us if not for scholarships like this," Megan says. "We just want to provide other students with the same opportunities we had."

The scholarship is for engineering students, preferably those in the Longhorn Band, where the couple met.

Both earned chemical engineering degrees in 2003. Justin went on to attend law school at the University of Houston and now works for Bracewell & Giuliani LLP as an intellectual property attorney. Megan works for BP America as an engineer.

The BP matching-gifts program helped make the endowment possible.

Scholarships helped Katina Johnson make it through school. So did Darrell Rocha.

She has found a way to express her appreciation for both - by endowing a scholarship honoring the assistant dean who helped her succeed.

"From the very beginning Darrell was there," she says. "He's like a second dad to me."

As assistant dean of student affairs in the College of Communication, Rocha kept his door open and his office stocked with treats. He coached students in the life skills they would need beyond college, even arranging informal sessions on etiquette.

Before Johnson came to UT, no one in her family had gone to college. Her parents couldn't afford to send her to school, but scholarships made it possible. Now the
Darrell D. Rocha Scholarship in Communication will help other first-generation college students from underprivileged backgrounds.

Johnson graduated from UT with a journalism degree in 1995 and now manages an online support team for Google.

Thomas Murray, Justin Murray, Megan Murray, and Harriett Murray