DALLAS (SMU) – Former SMU student body president Austin Hickle has been named a Marshall Scholar for 2024, a prestigious opportunity for distinguished young Americans with leadership potential to pursue graduate studies in the United Kingdom.
A 2022 economics and public policy graduate, Austin is now teaching English to students in South Korea as a Fulbright teaching assistant. One of 51 American university students and graduates to receive one of the most selective academic awards presented to university students, he plans to use the scholarship to study international education, social intervention and policy evaluation at a university in the UK.
Austin’s SMU mentors describe him as brilliant, compassionate, analytical, inclusive and passionate about education – but his ability to put his passion into action is what sets him apart, they say. As a Fulbright Scholar, for the past year he has been teaching English to second- and third-graders and tutoring North Korean defectors in Ochang-eup, a town in rural South Korea. His long-term goal, however, is to create policies that ensure that every student has access to high quality education and opportunities for personal development.
“What makes Austin exceptional is his track record of using policy to help others in a meaningful way, said Diana Newton, who taught and mentored Austin as director of the SMU’s Tower Scholars Program. “Returning to school in the fall of 2020, Austin worked with SMU administrators to forge a healthy path to classroom study, but he also went beyond SMU’s campus to form a network for fellow students from 41 Texas campuses.
“It is in Austin’s nature to turn his energy into action, reach out to others, and thereby improve outcomes for all,” she said.
Early in his first year at SMU, Austin had a big idea. He made an appointment with Stephanie Knight, dean of SMU’s Simmons School of Education and Human Development.
“I’ve never had a freshman walk into my office to share an idea as bold as creating a multi-million-dollar scholarship to expand SMU’s financial support for low-income students,” she said. “But Austin strode in with such energy I almost believed this 19-year-old would succeed. He didn’t – not that semester.”
By his senior year, as SMU student body president, Austin secured $50,000 in yearly scholarship donations and led the Student Senate in providing yearly matching funds for a scholarship for graduates of the West Dallas STEM School, a partnership between Toyota, Dallas ISD and SMU to create a STEM-focused Pre-K through 8 school in one of the lowest income sections of Dallas. In ten years, the scholarship endowment is expected to reach $1 million.
Austin continued his advocacy work after graduation, working for a Dallas City Council member. Together they proposed legislation to create a city council commission bringing together representatives from each college in Dallas. The legislation passed and the College Advisory Commission has been formed.
“I believe that the cornerstone of policymaking should be community input, with students having a critical voice in shaping policies that have a direct impact on their lives,” Austin said.
Austin traces his understanding about the importance of education to his own experience. He benefited from a wide range of educational resources when he was a first-grader in Lubbock, Texas. He was held back because of delayed reading skills, but thanks to “full-on effort” from his parents, teachers and specialists, the SMU honor student and Phi Beta Kappa member caught up.
However, his sister, Emma – adopted from a Chinese orphanage when she was eight – has had a greater struggle.
“She had never been to school when she joined our family,” Austin said. “Seeing what she has gone through opened my eyes to the importance of education.”
SMU nominated Austin for the Marshall Scholars program, which was established in 1953 by the British government to express thanks to the United States for aid received under the Marshall Plan after World War II. Austin is SMU’s fourth Marshall Scholar – the first at SMU was Rebekah Hurt in 2005, the second was Rahfin Faruk in 2016, the third was Isabelle Galko in 2021.