Setting the Bar: Meet the 2019 President’s Leadership Award Winners

By Danielle Lopez | Photographs by Matt Wright-Steel

Every year, a few special students reveal themselves to possess a sense of passion and ambition that turns heads. Whether they’re mentoring peers, creating nonprofits, leading Student Government, or challenging health care policies, there’s a common thread among this year’s crop of Texas Exes President’s Leadership Award recipients: a great sense of self-determination and an innate desire to help others. Created in 1985 with an endowment from the late Frank Denius, LLB ’49, Life Member, Distinguished Alumnus, this award recognizes students who have demonstrated outstanding leadership within the UT Austin community — and for these six high achievers, it’s just the beginning.

Siji Deleawe

Majors: Business Honors Program, Plan II
Hometown: Dallas, Texas
Credentials: Forty Acres Scholar, Haven Student Fellowship President, Business Honors Program Steering Committee Secretary, Student Services Budgeting Committee

Siji Deleawe never thought she’d end up at UT. With an older brother and sister who both attended the university, she was determined to go elsewhere. “But when it came down to the final decision,” she says, “UT was a no-brainer.” In her three years on campus, she has joined a number of organizations, including Texas Spirits and Orange Jackets. As a young black woman on a campus made up of only 5 percent black students, Deleawe noticed a lack of representation in the business school. A strong advocate for diversity and inclusion, Deleawe decided to do something about it. She created, and now leads, the Business Honors Program Steering Committee’s Black Affinity Group, which serves underrepresented students. “I’m really proud of that,” she says. “I saw a problem and worked with people to ensure that other students who were black women didn’t have to suffer.” Born in Nigeria, she says her parents, and the sacrifices they made to come to the U.S., motivate her to do what she does. She determined early on that she wants to be a social enterprise lawyer, working with nonprofits or businesses that have a social good incorporated into their businesses structure. That’s partially why she founded the KIKA Project, a nonprofit that promotes literacy and builds libraries in rural Nigeria. “I want to empower people,” she says. “I need to accomplish things to help who I want to help and give back to the communities like the one I’m from.”

Mehraz Rahman

Majors: Marketing, Plan II Honors
Hometown: Austin, Texas
Credentials: Student Body Vice President, Texas Orange Jackets, Plan II Student Association, Texas Sweethearts, Bengali Student Association

Mehraz Rahman had no idea that on a lazy summer day following her middle school graduation, she’d be introduced to her lifelong passion. In an effort to get Rahman and her best friend active in their community, her friend’s mother suggested they volunteer as ESL assistant teachers for refugee and immigrant kids, ages 6–16. “And I just loved it,” Rahman says. “I started doing that every summer throughout high school and some of college.” Since then, she has known she wants to work in immigration law or policy. The student body vice president is an advocate at heart, using her position as a way to speak out and empower students. In her four years at UT, she has worked to increase accessibility for underrepresented Longhorns, serving as the operations director for the first-ever First-Generation Kickoff event; acts as ambassador between the Counseling and Mental Health Center and the student body; and pushed for more reflection spaces on campus where students can take a mental health break or go to pray. She credits many of her life choices to her parents, who moved to the U.S. from a small, impoverished community in Bangladesh. “My dream is to aid refugees and immigrants in their path to citizenship,” Rahman says. “Knowing that I have so much privilege and so much opportunity, I have to be able to offer to help level the playing field a bit.”

Javier Granados II

Majors: Biology, Certificate in Ethics and Leadership in Healthcare/Pre-Pharmacy Track
Hometown: Corpus Christi, Texas
Credentials: Terry Scholars Students Association President, Longhorn Pre-Pharmacy Association, Alpha Epsilon Delta

Growing up, Javier Granados was always sick. With his sinus infections and allergies, he and his mom would often visit the local H-E-B to pick up his prescriptions. He would ask her about the man in the white coat who gave them the medication and by the time he was 8, he knew what he wanted to do: develop new drugs for cancer and be a part of clinical trials for cancer research. As the junior pre-pharm major has worked toward that goal on the Forty Acres, he has also made it his duty to help other students achieve their dreams. Through the Terry Scholars Student Association, for which Granados is president, he pioneered a new alumni and senior mentorship program this year. He feels proudest of his accomplishments when his freshmen mentees reach out to him for help. “If I could be a part of someone’s success in that way,” he says, “I’d take that over any personal accomplishments.”

Colton Becker

Major: Honors in Advanced Nutritional Sciences
Hometown: Alvin, Texas
Credentials: Student Government President, Texas Unions Board of Directors Vice Chair, Bray Lab-Undergraduate Research

It might surprise some people to learn that Colton Becker was raised in a family of Aggies. From taking selfies with President Greg Fenves to being a diehard football fan to leading an anti-sexual assault campaign on campus, the student body president says his time at UT has been transformative. “UT has been the biggest engine for change in my life,” he says. “That’s why I want to make UT a better place and pay it forward.” When Becker first got involved with Student Government in 2016, he served as director of communications. He led an initiative to bring a MindBody Lab to the nursing building and led a grant proposal to obtain funding for hydration stations around campus. “I’m really proud of those,” he says. “It showed me the power that students have on campus.” He says he developed his sense of servant leadership from attending Texas Boys State, a high school program where each student learns about being active in their local and state governments. With plans to attend law school in 2020, Becker says he is driven by a desire to make a difference. “I want to help people and feel like I’m contributing to society,” he says. “I’m driven to make my parents and the people who’ve invested in me proud.”

Kelsey Mumford

Major: Nursing Honors, Biology
Hometown: Lago Vista, Texas
Credentials: Forty Acres Scholar, Health Advocacy Student Coalition, National Student Nurses Association, Dell Medical School Health Leadership Apprentice Program

Kelsey Mumford lives and breathes health care. “I’ve always been interested in it,” she says, “and seeing how I can use my career to help others.” With a mother who is a lawyer and an older sister in law school, Mumford couldn’t help but find an interest in the policy side of things. In her first year on campus, she got involved with Student Government as the School of Nursing representative, authoring dozens of resolutions including one proposition on how the university could assist homeless clinics near campus. Mumford says one of the most memorable parts of college was receiving a grant in 2017 for her proposal to create an advocacy campaign on campus surrounding a bill in the Texas Legislature that called for an opt-out organ donation policy. It garnered more than 1,000 UT students’ responses in show of support that led to her testifying at a committee hearing at the Capitol. “I’m really passionate about getting students involved in changing policies,” she says. “Whether you’re a biology major or international relations, get involved. You have common issues, commons goals — have a voice out there as a young professional.”

William Acheampong

Majors: Business Honors Program, History
Hometown: Houston, Texas
Credentials: Business Honors Program Peer Advisor, Tejas Club, Texas Blazers, Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law Undergraduate Fellow, Brumley Next Generation Scholar

William Acheampong is always striving to be the best version of himself. “It’s what drives me,” he says. “I want to inspire those around me.” Since setting foot on campus two years ago, he has pushed himself to the limit, from finding a home in service organizations such as the Tejas Club and Texas Blazers to becoming a research assistant for the McCombs Behavioral Research Lab, an opportunity not often granted to freshmen. “It’s been an amazing year and a half so far,” he says, noting that his time at UT has only made him fall deeper in love with his dream of working in policy. He feels strongly about serving others, having founded the UT chapter of Doctors Without Borders, an international medical humanitarian organization. He says he admires the organization’s mission to serve anyone. “It transcends experiences and hones in on how we’re all people trying to survive and live meaningful lives,” he says. After graduation, he plans to join the U.S. Foreign Service and work abroad for a humanitarian aid group or other nonprofit. In the meantime, he hopes to continue motivating his peers to contribute to the community around them and be aware of what’s going on in the world. “College opened my eyes to how many talented and amazing young people there are who are doing so much for our country,” he says.