Trustees, faculty and students gathered on Thursday, Nov. 17, in honor of the newly established Cowan-Shillingburg Endowed Scholarship benefitting first-generation students attending the University of Dallas.
Alumni couple Bainard and Christine Cowan named the scholarship in honor of Bainard’s parents, UD legends Donald and Louise Cowan, and for Louise’s parents, Will and Ouita Shillingburg, whom Bainard described as staunch supporters of education.
As Bainard and Chris described in a written reflection about Louise’s parents, “The Shillingburgs were people of virtue, honor, and bravery, knowing that when people dedicated themselves to the discipline of learning the humanities and sciences in college, they opened their minds and hearts to deeper truths and an all-important formation of their character.”
Bainard, who serves as the Louise Cowan Chair in the Humanities at UD and director of the Cowan Archive, was close to his grandparents as he grew up. “For nine years, my parents, grandparents and I formed one household in south Fort Worth, close to TCU, and I became great friends with my grandparents and am so grateful to them for their support,” Bainard recalled at the ceremony. “Louise’s father was staunchly supportive of her determination to go to work and to go to college, and especially of her desire to launch into graduate study at Vanderbilt.”
As a young married couple with Bainard as their only child, the Cowan-Shillingburg home was filled with music, art and discussions of literature, theology, philosophy and the arts. Louise’s love of poetry, Bainard recounted, came from his father, Donald, who came from a family of writers and lovers of literature.
“Don and Louise carried the love of learning they experienced in their family homes into their classrooms, first at TCU and then at UD, where they combined that love with a determination to offer this kind of education to everyone, no matter their background, station in life, race, creed, or color,” Bainard and Chris wrote.
Bainard spoke at the ceremony of his maternal grandparents’ shared love of education, even though neither had completed college. “My grandfather had one year where he was able to attend the University of Texas and would say forever after that it had permanently altered his view of the world. It became so much larger because of that exposure, brief though it was. That inspires me on this occasion to say that this was our intent – to be able to fund first-generation students and open that world to them.”
Christine Cowan said it was important to them to honor both the Shillingburgs and the Cowans, who made these virtues and ideals their life’s work and gave all they had to it.
“We decided the best way to honor them would be to designate the scholarship for first-generation college students, to provide assistance for those who desire this life but need a boost to achieve it,” she explained. “We want to continue helping students to find this life of the mind, soul, and imagination.”
At the ceremony, senior business major Eli Cervera shared his experience as a first generation student. Matthew Spring, Ph.D., UD’s Director of Academic Success, introduced Cervera as a student leader and mentor to others who participated in the first cohort of Constantin Scholars in the summer of 2020.
“After realizing UD was the best fit and was going to equip me and set me up for success, I realized finances were going to be something I had to worry about,” Cervera said.
Cervera, who will start a 4+1 program at UD this spring, already has had multiple interviews with a number of prominent management consulting firms, and will likely have a range of options to begin his career.
“When I received that letter in the mail stating that I had my first year completely covered, due to merit, I was happy,” Cervera continued. “I realized that, one, I was capable, I learned everything [about applying for college] myself; and two, I was grateful for this opportunity because even in those moments when I was overwhelmed, embarrassed, or lacking direction, I realized that somebody believed in me even when I couldn’t.”
Bainard Cowan, Ph.D., BA ’70, and Christine Cowan, BA ‘70, MA ’72, both graduated from UD magna cum laude as English majors. Bainard received a Fulbright Scholarship and studied at Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich. Christine went on to earn her master’s in English from UD in 1972 and was one of the first English teachers in the early years of UD’s Rome Program.
Bainard earned a Ph.D. at Yale in Comparative Literature in 1975, while Christine worked for Geoffrey Hartman and the National Humanities program at Yale. The couple went on to teach in the English department and Honors College at Louisiana State University for several decades before relocating to Irving. They recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. They have eight children and 22 grandchildren, one of whom graduated from UD in 2015 and another who entered UD this fall, and are looking forward to welcoming two new grandchildren in the spring and hoping they all go to UD.