Sixty miles south of Houston and only half an hour from the Gulf of Mexico sits West Columbia, Texas, a small town rooted in community and state history as the first capital of the Republic of Texas. But historic fame doesn’t necessarily lend a helping hand to rural residents who dream of more ambitious pursuits. For many high schoolers in West Columbia, college is not on the radar, and those who do apply can find it a daunting task. For Annabelle Hutchinson ’15, it was a path she had to walk on her own.
“Coming from a small town, I had great community support in many ways, but I didn’t have much guidance on how to apply to college, what to highlight in my applications or where to find scholarships,” she recalled. But her persistence and top performance in high school paid off, rewarding her with an Endowed Opportunity Award, a scholarship from the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, and the full-ride Terry Foundation Scholarship to attend Texas A&M University and earn dual degrees in political science and economics.
Now a lecturer for the University of Utah and a Ph.D. candidate in Yale University’s Department of Political Science, Hutchinson is giving back to her hometown by guiding others through the college application process. It’s a tradition she started as an undergrad in Aggieland and continues each fall. She’s helped around two dozen students prepare for their SATs, narrow down college choices, write admissions essays and apply for scholarships.
“I started doing this because I wanted to ensure students from my small town had help finding schools where they could receive financial aid,” she said. “Oftentimes, if students from low- and middle-income households can get into prestigious schools like Texas A&M, the costs can end up lower than attending a less prestigious school that offers much less financial aid. When I discuss college options with someone, I always encourage them to apply to a wide variety of schools because they won’t know what scholarships or aid they might be offered until they’re accepted.”
Hutchinson has assisted students in applying to trade schools, community colleges and larger universities like Texas A&M, The University of Texas, Rice University, the University of Houston and Texas State University. West Columbia native Carson Ohlen credits her for pushing him to follow his passions in academia, a move that resulted in him earning a Terry Foundation Scholarship to attend The University of Texas, where he is now a senior. “Annabelle serves as an example that you can do whatever you put your mind to, no matter where you come from or what resources you have,” he said.
Expanding on this tradition of giving back, Hutchinson also hopes to offer high schoolers the chance to discuss career pathways by connecting them with individuals in her personal network who could serve as mentors. “A lot of people think they need to do a huge thing to make a difference,” she said. “But I’ve learned that you don’t need to work with a huge foundation or nonprofit to make an impact and decrease inequality of opportunity. If everyone gave a little bit back to their community, we’d all be better off because of it.”
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