Your Pride StoriesUH Cougars Share Their Pride Stories
After growing up in Austin, with the majority of her high school's graduating class choosing to attend the University of Texas, Lauren Simpson knew she wanted something else.
"I wanted something new, something fresh, something exciting," she said.
She found all of that and more at the University of Houston.
‘There was something special about UH. It seemed so broad and full of opportunity, especially for me, a student who had no clue what I even wanted to major in," Simpson said. "UH helped me find my independence and be my own person. It has led to a world of amazing opportunities I would have never had the chance to take advantage of in Austin."
An August 2010 graduate of the Jack J. Valenti School of Communication, Simpson now works as an account executive for a brand-marketing agency, and dances professionally for the Houston Rockets Power Dancers.
She credits her success to her time at UH, where she juggled a full-time course load, danced with the Cougar Dolls, participated as a member of the Alpha Chi Omega sorority, and had a part-time internship with the athletics/marketing department, all at the same time.
"UH prepared me for my current career by teaching me self-discipline, time management and responsibility," Simpson said. "Most of all, I think it is amazing that most of my communications professors all worked in the industry ... There is nothing more valuable than hearing and learning first-hand things about the industry from industry professionals."
Her favorite classes were Larry Kelley's advertising account planning class, and Charlie Crixell's media editing class.
"I laughed every class without fail, and learned valuable things about the industry from [Kelley] firsthand," she said. [Crixell] had a great sense of humor, and he made his class enjoyable, which was helpful because it could get pretty tricky."
But it was the whole university package that Simpson said gave her advantages over graduates from other universities.
"Attending such a large, diverse university offers so many choices and options," she said. "I think constantly about how different my life would be now had I not moved to Houston."
As a fifth generation Houstonian and a third-generation Cougar, it might have seemed inevitable that Lauren Burrow would end up at the University of Houston. But it wasn't until after she completed her undergraduate degree in Virginia that she began to realize the potential and promise of an education in her hometown.
"As a private school teacher, I desired the opportunity to advance myself personally and professionally while remaining in Houston," Burrow said. "I researched the many graduate opportunities the city had to offer."
After comparing her options, she chose UH because of the challenging courses and engaging faculty.
"It might have been a convenient and affordable choice, but it has been a priceless decision," she said.
Burrow first came to UH to pursue a Master's of Education in Reading and Language Arts. But she has found the experience so rewarding, she is now working toward a Doctorate of Education.
"Throughout my academic career at UH, I have been privileged to take several challenging and interesting classes with caring professors and supportive peers," she said.
Burrow has enjoyed many of her classes in the College of Education, including those taught by Lane Gauthier and Frances Mallow.
"Dr. Gauthier took personal time to get to genuinely know us and our interests and gave me a setting in which I felt comfortable to truly reflect on and confidently pursue my ultimate career aspirations," she said. "Dr. Mallow began each class meeting with a read-aloud - a simple, yet effective act that reminded me of the power of modeling a love of literature for students of any age."
Burrow's favorite class was with Miguel Ramos, now assistant dean for assessment and accreditation at the College of Technology.
"The challenging demands of his course, which included lively class discussions and thought-provoking assignments inspired me to pursue my doctorate so that I could continue to challenge myself academically," she said.
In addition to her classes, Burrow has enjoyed other opportunities she has been given at UH, including the opportunity to serve as a volunteer program evaluator for UH's School of Theatre and Dance's Fifth Ward Project, which provides theatre arts-related camps and classes for elementary-aged students in Houston's Fifth Ward.
"Since I continually use theatre arts activities in my own classroom, I was delighted to see that UH was taking the initiative to provide these fun and beneficial activities for youths that are not typically exposed to these types of lessons," she said.
In her assignment, Burrow is researching and evaluating the project with the objective of examining the social, academic and personal benefits of the program to its young participants.
"It has been wonderful to see my class work come to life in a real world project," she said.
Burrow, who expects to graduate in fall 2012, said she initially wanted to become a university professor, but is now exploring several options.
"As I continue throughout my academic career at UH, I have been pleased to take courses and have professors who have shown me that there are a variety of opportunities awaiting me when I graduate ... if I want them!" she said.
Though she graduated in May 2010, Shamina Chang still remains involved at the University of Houston, where she continues to play a role with Cougar Kendo, the sports club she founded.
"I am proud to be a part of the Coog family," Chang said. "I am proud of having the opportunity to meet and lead a group of strong and warm-hearted fellow Coogs."
Chang, of Sugarland, was not the first Cougar to try to bring Kendo, a Japanese form of fencing, to UH. Past attempts to start a club at UH failed. But with Chang's leadership, the club has thrived.
"We are now in our third year and have become the largest sports club," she said. "We practice twice a week at the rec center and are repeatedly supported by guests and alumni. We represent UH at competitions, seminars and testings."
The club is a close-knit group that eats together at least once a week and participates in other activities.
"Because of Cougar Kendo, I have formed close friends and family for life and get to see them every week at UH," Chang said.
When she is not participating in Kendo, Chang, who majored in philosophy and psychology, is attending law school at South Texas College of Law.
"I believe that my degree prepared me for the thinking required to study law," she said.
Olusomi Emmanuel Adeyoju likes to say he is a "walking infomercial" for the University of Houston.
When friends and family come to visit, the Dallas native says he goes on and on about the exciting things happening on campus.
"Every day I learn something new and interesting about my university that continues to grow and develop my pride as a Houston Cougar," Adeyoju said. "The growth in facilities, the growth in spirit, the growth in athletics, the growth in academics - this university is really making strides and I'm really proud to be a part of that."
Adeyoju, who is studying construction, said he became interested in the field while going to school in downtown Dallas and being surrounded by new buildings going up around him.
"Construction is exciting and dynamic and there comes a certain level of pride and satisfaction to see a project from start to finish and being able to say that you had a part in that," he said. ‘It's highly rewarding."
At UH, he has continued to develop his passion, in part because of great classes taught by real industry professionals.
"To be able to learn the basics of our profession from someone who isn't just a theorist but a practitioner gives certainty to us as students that we're being prepared for the industry by learning from real-world experience," Adeyoju said.
Apart from his classes, Adeyoju is a member of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, and is very active in Greek life.
"Being Greek cements a connection to the university that is rarely replicated by any other organizations," he said. "By being Greek, I have a vested interest in knowing what's happening not only with my chapter, but with my alma mater."
He's also a sports junkie, and loves attending Cougar football games.
"There's an electric atmosphere that surrounds Robertson Stadium on game day, and it's awesome to be a part of that," Adeyoju said. "Even though this season didn't turn out the way we dreamed, the excitement has been constant and I can't wait for next season for more home games!"
With all of his classes and other activities, Adeyoju said the University of Houston has given him the collegiate experience he wanted, as well as the preparation for the future he needs.
"UH is preparing me by recruiting major national and global companies to partner with my major and recruiting successful industry professional to influence and mentor me," he said. "Being located in the fourth largest city in America, UH has so many connections with business and the community, both locally and globally that I feel allow me to explore new things that other schools in a typical college town cannot."
It was comfort and local connections that drew Alan Ramos to the University of Houston. But once he arrived on campus, he found many more reasons to be proud of his university.
As a student in the UH Construction Management program, Ramos found classes that would prepare him for his future career in the oil and gas industry.
"The Construction Management program prepared me to analyze complex data, numbers and technical language that is necessary when working for any construction or engineering services company," he said. "Construction Management II challenged people to work together as a group and helped many of us to understand the art and chemistry behind a team."
Ramos found the program's director, Neil Eldin, to be a great mentor.
"He has always been able to answer any questions or concerns that I had," he said. "To this day, I try to stay connected with him."
For Ramos, life at UH wasn't just about classes. Though he never lived on campus, Ramos found plenty of reasons to stick around after class.
"The recreation center had tons of activities and helped me to connect with other students rather than going home after school," he said. "I love the facilities and the restaurants because they gave me an excuse and reason to stick around the campus."
He also enjoyed the school spirit at sporting events, and is most proud of rushing the football field after the Cougars beat Texas Tech.
The spring 2010 graduate has since relocated to Tulsa, where he works for TCI Services, a company that services petroleum tanks. While he is enjoying his job, Ramos said he plans to come home someday.
"I plan on returning home and finding a nice girl from U of H," he said.
After a rough start at another university, Jonathan Gardner made up his mind to attend the University of Houston.
"During my academic career, I've had my share of ups and downs," Gardner said. "After my high school graduation in 2004, I planned to attend UH, however, that did not happen. For the next four years, I attended class at another university and battled with distraction."
Eventually, after transferring to a community college, Gardner improved his GPA enough to transfer to UH.
"The university offered me one thing that other colleges could not - that is a chance," he said. "I believe someone in the UH system saw potential in me ... My dream of being a Cougar finally came true."
Now, in his first semester at UH, Gardner is doing well.
"I'm most proud of being a first semester transfer student in position to have an ‘A' average for the fall semester," he said.
An interdisciplinary studies major, Gardner entered the QUEST (Quality Urban Education for Students and Teachers) Teacher Certification Preparation Program, in hopes of becoming a teacher in the Fort Bend school district.
"I understand that to proceed in the QUEST program, there are certain requirements I must meet. University of Houston means business, and I'm fully aware that I must perform at an exceptional level in order to achieve success in the QUEST program," he said. "To me, there is nothing more rewarding than working with children."
As a student, Gardner has enjoyed his classes - particularly Math 2303.
"Dr. Mary Flagg is a wonderful instructor who teaches in a way that helps students retain concepts and information," he said. "There were mathematical concepts I never understood until I took Dr. Flagg's class."
When not studying or attending class, Gardner enjoys attending on-campus fellowship and Cougar football games.
"As soon as you walk into ‘The Rob' you get that feeling that, ‘This is big-time college football!'" he said. "I love the sense of pride displayed by University of Houston students."
A California native, Sonny Ngo explored schools in Indiana and Missouri before deciding on the University of Houston.
"I chose University of Houston because of its diverse student body," Ngo said. "I knew University of Houston was a great choice for me after I researched extensively. Its diverse body of students allows me to learn about other cultures and their perspective of the United States."
A liberal studies major in the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, Ngo said his favorite class so far has been his Chinese language class.
"It's really helpful to learn my language and get better at it," he said.
In addition to his studies, Ngo has enjoyed following the football and basketball teams.
"I'm proud of our football and basketball teams. Our basketball team won the C-USA championship and then went on to the NCAA. Our football team has always been good, and I hope we'll make it to a bowl game this year," he said. "Football and basketball are the most memorable to me because they bring all the students together with the alumni."
Ngo has enjoyed meeting alumni who still retain close ties to UH.
"Meeting alumni is wonderful because they talk to you about their past experience when they were once in our shoes," he said.
Ngo, who is set to graduate in 2011, said he believes the University of Houston has prepared him well for his future. After graduation, he plans to work full-time for a year before applying to law school.
"UH is definitely helping me to achieve my goals," he said. "Its excellent faculty members and its undergraduate curriculum will definitely help me to think critically and write proficiently."
And the university's reputation in the region will help him in the future, Ngo said.
"UH is considered a top college in the Houston region," he said. "Its name carries a lot of weight in the Houston region because the majority of UH alumni are in Houston."
Talia Nunez came to the University of Houston to follow her passion for creative writing.
"I'm proud of my school and my decision to be here. There is a competitive air on campus that I love that has challenged me to follow what I'm passionate about without hesitation," Nunez said. "I'm a double major (creative writing and Spanish) and I think it's a big risk to take, however, I'm proud of the risks I have taken to get here. I know that these decisions will take me to the happiness and self-worth no one else will ever be able to give me.
While at UH, she has enjoyed her time in the classroom, learning from talented faculty. She's also appreciated the opportunities that are available to her as a student - particularly the opportunity to attend a Carlos Fuentes book reading as part of the Inprint Margarett Root Brown Reading Series.
"He signed my book, and it was an unforgettable experience," Nunez said. "He's a big inspiration of mine. I admire his writing and the dedication he has to his people."
A native of Los Angeles, Nunez has learned to love Houston, and made it her home.
"The city is something that's important to me. Being a creative person, Houston as a metropolitan city is a big inspiration. It's about being part of the greater scene," she said. "I love this city, and being close to major museums, schools, businesses and attractions is something that keeps me grounded here."
Planning to graduate in May 2012, Nunez hopes to stay at UH as a graduate student in creative writing.
"The University of Houston is a growing community that has progressed incredibly over the course of time," she said. "We have an amazing faculty that is passionate about teaching. We have great technology, great resources for students and everything that you would want from an academic environment. It's a thriving campus and I really find myself happy to be a Coog."
As an aspiring medical student, Nashid Shinthia knew she wanted an undergraduate education with a strong emphasis on math and science, and faculty members known for challenging and encouraging students.
When she arrived at the University of Houston, she found that and so much more.
"Because I attended school in Houston, I had full exposure to the Texas Medical Center, which granted me shadowing and extensive volunteering opportunities," Shinthia said. "Early exposure to the two medical schools located in Houston gave me an intimate understanding of medical school curriculum, gross anatomy labs and networking."
She was selected as a Joint Admission Medical Program (JAMP) student. The program, which targets economically disadvantaged students, guarantees them admission to one of nine Texas medical schools. Shinthia will enroll in fall 2012.
A native of Bangladesh, Shinthia appreciated the diversity at UH, as well as the ability to pursue a quality education near home.
"UH offered me an excellent education that I could afford without expensive loans and allowed me to remain home here in Houston," she said. "The diverse culture, both in student population and in the number of departments, permitted me to embrace multiple perspectives and define my own values as a person."
The college experience also gave Shinthia the opportunity to serve the student body and the dean of her college as an ambassador for the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics.
"This was something I felt very strongly about because ambassadors act as the student voice and reason to the faculty," she said. "As an ambassador, my ideas are being utilized to aid current NSM students."
By helping current and future students, Shinthia is leaving a legacy at the university she said prepared her well for the next leg of her journey.
"As a person who is going to start medical school soon, I can safely say that my courses here have prepared me to handle a difficult coursework and have tested me academically," she said. "My time management, test-taking and studying skills have improved dramatically. The engaging classes and the professors who are passionate about their field of study made learning very joyous and meaningful."
As a member and leader of the Spirit of Houston Color Guard, Natalie Steele has witnessed first-hand the growth in Cougar pride in her five years at the University of Houston.
"Until this year, I have never missed a home football game," Steele said. "What has been so wonderful about this year is that the football games are sold out."
On the field, Steele has had the honor of helping to ring "Carol the Bell" for each touchdown and field goal.
"Believe me - it's harder than it looks," she said.
Off the field, Steele is pursuing a painting degree - a decision she feels confident about following her experience during her junior and senior painting block courses. During the courses, the students receive their own studio and work a minimum of 18 hours a week creating their own portfolio.
"After a year and a half of block, I realized how much I have grown as an artist and a person," she said. "I want to do more. I want to strive for the highest and create."
Through the opportunities she has been given, and the experiences she has had at the University of Houston, Steele has learned a lot about herself.
"University of Houston has opened my eyes to the opportunities I can take on," she said. "What I didn't know before is that I am ready. I am ready for whatever comes my way. Whether I do graduate school or pick up another major, I am ready. I am confident with my decisions."
In addition to confidence, Steele said her experience at UH has given her a sense of pride.
"I am proud of so many things. I am proud of myself for what I have done and chosen to do for my future. I am so proud of our student athletes," Steele said. "I am proud of my fellow art students and my friends in the music department ... I am proud of Dr. Khator and what she and her staff have done for this university in such a short amount of time, and for what she will continue to do when I am long gone."
From its diversity, to its location in the heart of Houston, UH has everything Steele wanted in her undergraduate experience.
"The university gave me something to fight for, whether it be for football or for Tier One," she said. "It gave me a sense of pride that other schools don't have."
Steele, who expects to graduate in May 2011, plans to attend graduate school, but wherever she ends up, she will always think fondly of her time at UH, adding, "Wherever I plan to go, I will remember that I was always and will forever be a University of Houston Cougar first and foremost."
Having already embarked on a professional career as an opera singer and university professor, Charles Stanton knew exactly what he wanted out of a doctoral program. He found what he was looking for at the University of Houston.
"I wanted to complete my doctorate at a place that appreciates my accomplishments but challenges me to improve," Stanton said. "The distinguished music faculty at University of Houston drew me to the program. I was amazed to see so many accomplished performers and scholars on one campus."
At UH, Stanton has been able to continue his vocal and musical studies, all while making connections to some of the best musicians in the country.
In his first semester at UH, Stanton sang as a soloist for Choral Artists, an ensemble overseen by Houston Symphony Chorus Director Charles Hausmann. That same semester, he was cast in two operas under the director of Buck Ross, UH Director of Opera, and sang as a soloist with the UH Chamber Orchestra.
"It has been both a very busy, and very rewarding start to my time at the University of Houston, and I am proud to be part of this program," he said.
During his time on campus, Stanton said he has been impressed with the productions, concerts and lectures presented by the school of music.
"Community members, faculty and students are fortunate to be immersed in an atmosphere of supportive and nurturing colleagues," he said. "The Moores School of Music serves to foster a love for the arts within the general community and that mentality shows among both faculty and students."
Prior to attending UH, Stanton previously served as director of opera for another universit. Currently, he is serving as general director of Opera Beaumont, a chamber opera company in Southeast Texas.
When he graduates from the doctoral program, as anticipated in the fall of 2012 or spring of 2013, Stanton said he will count his degree among his top accomplishments.
"I have always been proud of my accomplishments," he said. "It is already clear to me that my DMA from University of Houston and my experiences here will be among my most notable achievements both personally and professionally."