By Mary Beth Mosley
Since 1957, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo™ has awarded more than 19,000 scholarships to students attending Texas colleges and universities. Careers and life have taken these alumni all over the world — but for the following four scholar recipients, all roads circled back to RODEOHOUSTON®.
Today Justin Tankersley’s life revolves around the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, where he currently serves as chair of the Gatekeepers Committee and on the board of directors, but his initial involvement came about because of a personal loss: “My senior year of high school, my dad passed away, so I was applying for any scholarship I could,” Tankersley said.
Tankersley received a $10,000 Rodeo scholarship, which paid for most of his tuition at Texas A&M University. “It was just such a relief for my family, and my mom didn’t have to worry as much,” he said. Today, in addition to his leadership roles, Tankersley also serves on the Scholarship Alumni Task Force, set up by the Rodeo to create more engagement for scholarship recipients.
He encourages scholars to maximize all the opportunities the Rodeo provides. “Getting the alumni interacting with the Rodeo is the biggest thing,” Tankersley said. He has personally made the most of those connections and loves supporting the youth of Texas through his service. “There’s so many benefits and perks to volunteering that make it a great experience. Knowing that our volunteer hours, when you’re out there having fun, meeting new people – that you’re impacting so many people’s lives that you’ll never meet, that’s what keeps me going.”
As a child, Michelle Sanchez always attended the Rodeo. Back then, she never thought much about it, but that changed in a big way when she won the Rodeo’s Metropolitan Scholarship in 2016. The next year, the Texas State University music education major sang The National Anthem at RODEOHOUSTON® before the Willie Nelson concert with a paid attendance of more than 75,000.
“I was not quite 19 years old,” Sanchez said. It is just one of many blessings she credits to the Rodeo. “Having this scholarship makes me not stress about finances as much during a semester. That makes a huge difference.”
Sanchez juggles a busy performing schedule with student teaching. Like the Rodeo, Sanchez is at home with a variety of music and styles. Now a senior at Texas State, she has performed in operas, with a salsa band and as a section leader in the Texas State Chorale.
Thanks to the Rodeo’s Metropolitan Scholarship, Sanchez will have a world of options available when she graduates in 2020. “I see myself teaching in the future, but I see myself performing too. I can’t express how blessed and thankful I am that the Rodeo is providing this for me. And, not just me, for the thousands of kids who have received a Rodeo scholarship,” she said.
When the Rodeo awarded a scholarship to Elora Arana, they got a package deal. First, her mom joined the Wine Garden Committee: “After learning that the money from the carnival and the Rodeo benefits scholarships, she wanted to give back and volunteer,” Arana said.
Now it is a family affair. “My mom, my dad and me are on the same committee, on the same team, in different roles,” she said. Arana said her family not only volunteers together at the Rodeo, they learn together, “I never got any experience around livestock or agriculture things until I joined the Rodeo, and it surprised me how much I enjoy that aspect. Each year, we try to plan to see all the grand champion ceremonies at the end of the Rodeo, the livestock competition, things I thought I would never plan to do. I’ve learned a lot about livestock and agriculture and rodeo in general,” she said.
Arana, now employed by Phillips 66, has enjoyed being involved at the Rodeo so much, she encourages other scholarship scholars to do the same. Not surprisingly, her recruiting started at home, with her sister who is also a scholarship recipient. “My sister is in school at The University of Texas Medical Branch, and she promised that when she graduates, if she stays in Houston, she’ll join the team,” Arana said.
Like many young people, Cory Sinkule’s path to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo started with his involvement with 4-H and the FFA. The Abbott, Texas, native showed beef heifers for years and competed in the Calf Scramble in 2015. He successfully caught a calf and showed it in Houston the following year.
Sinkule’s experience with FFA drove him to seek out a leadership position with the Penelope Chapter and awakened a desire to serve in greater capacity. “The FFA kind of took over my life, and I guess I kind of took over the FFA,” he said with a laugh. In 2018, Sinkule was elected president of the Texas FFA Association.
Now attending Texas A&M University on a Rodeo scholarship, Sinkule said the experience has changed him for the better. “I’m no longer shy in front of other people. I’m very outgoing, and I feel like my ability to think on my feet, to speak in front of other people has been enhanced by this past year.,” he said. Those skills brought him back to the Rodeo to speak at the Calf Scramble Banquet and at FFA events. He is happy to keep coming back to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. “All those people, all those donors, those volunteers, are all making a difference for kids like me.”