In her first year at SMU, Lilian Thai is an SMU President’s Scholar, a Cox BBA scholar and a member of the University Honors Program on a full-ride scholarship. She honed her leadership skills and learned the importance of teamwork in a business setting the summer before her senior year of high school in a program called Subiendo Academy at SMU. Thai was part of the inaugural group in the leadership development program launched by SMU Cox to empower rising high school seniors with demonstrated potential. The daughter of Vietnamese immigrants, Thai graduated with honors from Garland High School in May 2023. Thai credits Subiendo, which means “going up” or “rising” in Spanish, for helping her feel more comfortable talking to others in different settings.

“It gave me that boost of confidence and feeling like I already belonged here, and I think it just really helped me with my people skills and talking to others, which benefited me during my interview for my scholarship,” she says.

Cox BBA Director of Admissions Olivia Trevino, left, presents Lilian Thai with a certificate of completion on the last day of Subiendo Academy in June 2022.

An avid proponent of higher education, SMU Cox alumnus and Cox Executive Board member Gary Crum, BBA ’69, is also an active MBA alumnus of The University of Texas. In 2010, he and a group of UT McCombs Advisory Board members identified an opportunity: high- potential students in Central and South Texas who weren’t college-bound—mostly because of a lack of funds or awareness. Crum and his fellow advisory board members were instrumental in creating a program for rising high school seniors called Subiendo. It offers leadership training to high schoolers from underrepresented populations and prepares them to address major policy areas such as education, the environment and healthcare. The program has proven successful in getting students with leadership abilities into a college setting. Crum and his wife, Sylvie Crum, were so pleased with the results that they approached SMU about creating a similar program to help rising high school seniors cultivate leadership skills at SMU Cox.

“These are students who have the potential to become future leaders in Texas and beyond,” says Gary Crum. In UT’s program, about 35 percent of the participants have enrolled at UT for college and many more have enrolled in the nation’s other prestigious universities. Without Subiendo, those students may never have tapped into their own potential. We are pleased to see this program making a real difference in their lives, and we’re excited to bring it to SMU.”

The Crums and the CFP Foundation donated funding to establish the SMU Cox program in the summer of 2022. After a successful launch, they have added funding to enhance scholarships for the Subiendo participants who are accepted at SMU. So far, that’s nine students, six of whom, including Lilian Thai, are studying in the Cox School.

Cox School Director of BBA Admission Olivia Trevino organized the Academy and has been its leader during its first two years at SMU. “We are so grateful to Sylvie and Gary Crum for bringing this program to us and for their support in creating and sustaining it at SMU Cox. Their generosity is touching young lives in positive ways. SMU and the Cox School have gained some great students, and we hope to gain more as the program continues,” she says.

Trevino’s goal is to have 30 students each year who stay on campus and complete the program, which includes a group project, different workshops and a partnership with a corporation. In 2022, Subiendo partnered with AT&T, and in 2023, the program teamed up with Toyota. The students break into groups to work on the project for a week and then present their findings on the last day. The Cox Career Management Center speaks with participants about networking, and a finance professor educates the students on financial literacy. They’ve even had an Executive MBA alum lead a conflict resolution workshop.

Lilian Thai, second from right above and on the far right in the next photo, poses with some of her classmates, all participants in the first SMU Subiendo Academy.

“I think one of the biggest takeaways was how to work with a team, especially under a specific time constraint,” Thai says. “I was able to work with a team of students and we created a proposal for AT&T; it was a product proposal surrounding a specific case study we were given. It was a wonderful opportunity to work with other students who were really different from me and figure out how we could all work together toward this common goal.”

Aside from the group project, Thai valued the networking opportunities that came with talking to industry professionals—something she had never done before. She and the other students visited the Keurig Dr Pepper headquarters, where they learned about the inner workings of a successful corporation and networked with KDP’s leadership.

“I think gaining those skills at the high school level is something that really put me ahead during my senior year when I was applying to colleges,” she says. “I think having a better idea of myself and my leadership and what I wanted to do really helped me.” Rising high school seniors within an 80-mile radius of SMU can apply for Subiendo Academy at SMU in their junior year. “This program is for high-potential students who have overcome adversity or will be the first in their family to attend college,” Trevino says. “It brings in many students from underrepresented backgrounds who are very involved in school activities and are also high academic achievers who often have additional responsibilities at home. Some students who attend are staying away from home for the first time.”

Thai applied for Subiendo hoping to develop her leadership skills and to meet like-minded students in Texas. She was also interested in exploring SMU because her sister is an SMU student. “I thought that spending a week here would really allow me to see the campus and see if it would be the right fit for me, and obviously it was,” Thai says.

Subiendo students move into an SMU residence hall for the five days of the life- changing summer program and are thoroughly immersed in the college experience.

“We really strive to have that sense of community and belonging,” Trevino says. “What I find really wonderful is that these students get to be in these spaces, these classrooms, these buildings, and they say to themselves, ‘Wow, I could see myself somewhere like SMU.’ Many of them may not have thought that was possible.”

For program alumni who go on to attend SMU, the partnership continues with mentorship by Trevino. “What we’re hoping to do, as this program matures and we have more students who are here, is to start a mentor program with older students and incoming students,” Trevino says. “We have a few other organizations here on campus that are similar.”

Thai believes bringing a diverse group together not only benefits SMU but also the larger Dallas-Fort Worth business landscape; students can complete the program and be set up for success to lead in the local corporate world and beyond.

“The program includes students of all different backgrounds and economic statuses— it’s this amazing combination of students from all over with different stories to share,” Thai says. “I think exposing students to the business world and giving them the opportunity to network with industry professionals and to develop as leaders really opens the door for new opportunities.”

At SMU Cox, we’re proud of what our students continue to accomplish, and are pleased to share their successes! Do you have a story you’d like to share? If so, please email your idea to