Corporate communication senior Vanilla McIntosh only submitted one application when it came time to apply to college three years ago. She considered two factors: a Texas school with a good football program, and a school far enough away from her family in Houston that she could experience a bit of freedom. The University of Texas at Austin (UT) met all of her requirements. A high-performing high school student, she’d been granted acceptance to UT through the top-ten-percent policy, but she had her eyes set on the McCombs Business School. Vanilla wasn’t granted admission to the program, forcing her to reevaluate her aspirations and academic trajectory. A first-generation college student, this would not be the last time Vanilla’s college career would be met with challenges, but it was the last time she’d face such obstacles alone and without support.
A few weeks into her freshman year, she bombed her first economics exam. “I didn’t have to work very hard in high school; I was an A-student.” Unfamiliar with the experience of failing, the sting of receiving a 22 on the exam motivated her. “The professor told us no matter what you made on the first two exams, whoever got the highest grade in the class on the last exam of the semester, would automatically get an A.”
Vanilla immediately connected to the DDCE’s Longhorn Link Program to receive tutoring services. She ended up earning a B- on her second exam and got the highest grade in the class out of 400 students on the last exam of the semester, earning an A in the class. “After that experience I learned it was okay to ask for help, that you aren’t prepared to compete by yourself. Longhorn Link really provided me with the resources to succeed.”
Vanilla maintained the same perspective and approach in her studies and in her professional pursuits. After realizing that business school wasn’t the “end all, be all” she found her way to the corporate communications department, excelling in both her course work and in establishing a network of professional experiences.
“My freshman year I was part of Black Business Association and had the opportunity to visit the Google headquarters.” During the tour she learned Google would be selecting interns for the next semester, but the application deadline was that evening. “So I rushed back to my dorm that night and completed the five mandatory essays and got selected as one of fifty interns.” That sense of determination and direction continues to describe Vanilla’s Longhorn legacy.
As she begins her senior year, she has another internship under her belt. After being offered more than 10 internships this past summer, Vanilla chose to work for Burger King’s corporate headquarters in Florida, where she helped research diversity trends and strategies. With the confidence and support she’s gained over the years, Vanilla continues to explore endless possibilities. She now sits comfortably with four post-graduation job offers. “Having people like Longhorn Link program coordinator Dallawrence [Dean] and Dr. Leonard Moore in my corner, I am able to put things in perspective. Knowing that my parents didn’t go to college, it’s been invaluable to have people around me to guide me through what questions to ask and how to select the best job opportunities. It’s so great to talk to someone who has lived that experience.”
Having experience great support, Vanilla has paid it forward, seeking to be a resource for both current and prospective Longhorns. Knowing what it’s like to need help, she feels especially called to support African American students in not only surviving their time on the 40 acres, but also utilizing all the resources at their disposal to thrive.
“I’ve been part of Black Student Alliance [BSA] since freshman year, now I am the vice president. I am excited about BSA; we are trying to create a safe space for black students to be supported academically and socially. Personal connection is really important and so is ensuring that students of color have the same opportunity to do well as other students, making sure their needs are met,” she said.
Vanilla’s impact doesn’t stop there. “Working at the admissions office has also helped inform my experience at UT. Being able to talk to the freshman and share my experience has been transformative.”
As an African American and first-generation college student Vanilla believes she possesses a special opportunity to make the 40 acres a place for every student. “Over the last three years, I’ve probably given about five tours a week and out of all of those tours I realized that I only see maybe one family that looks like me each week. Those families always wait until after the tour is over to ask me questions about what it is like being a black student on campus. So I think it’s real special to know that my existence, my story can make the difference in whether or not those students choose to apply and once they get to campus help direct them to the resources that will make their experience that much better.”
– Virginia A. Cumberbatch