Nomaan K. Husain
Why did you choose to attend UT?
I am competitive by nature and driven to succeed as the son of immigrants. UT was where I set my sights early on. I was singularly focused on attending one of the most prestigious schools in the country and I'm grateful that I did.
What are your favorite memories from your time on the Forty Acres?
As an avid sports fan, one of my favorite memories was seeing the tower light up burnt orange after a Longhorn victory. I attended many sporting events during my time in Austin. I attended anything from football games at DKR to baseball games at Disch-Falk. The tower was often lit during my UT tenure thanks to our successful athletic programs. Hook ‘em!
How did Liberal Arts education prepare you for law school and a successful career?
From a course called Contemporary Moral Problems to Greek Mythology. My liberal arts education was a well-rounded introduction to philosophers and the origin of timeless narratives that are as relevant today as they ever were. Additionally, a liberal arts education prepares you to make persuasive arguments across disciplines to diverse audiences. I can think of no better path for an aspiring attorney to take.
What motivated you to give to create the Husain Family Endowment in Liberal Arts Honors for Liberal Arts Honors (LAH) students? What impact do you hope to make?
Investing in a liberal arts education is often seen as a gamble. The career path is unclear and many students gravitate towards it when they haven’t found their calling. But LAH students identify its value in real-time. This allows them to reap the full benefits of the curriculum which leads to a myriad of paths. I wanted to support those students in particular.
Why is a gift to liberal arts students a good investment?
The study of liberal arts is integral to our development as a society. This is the track of study that teaches ethics and instills values such as diversity of thought and inclusion. Preserving and cultivating the pursuit of these principles is a gift to society as a whole.
What would you say to encourage others to give as well?
As Winston Churchill said, “we make a living by what we get but we make a life by what we give.” I firmly believe that to those to whom much is given much is expected. It is our duty to help others less fortunate rise up and reach their full potential.
Vasu Raja was a typical liberal arts freshman embarking on a journey, but he wasn’t sure where to begin or how to get there. His parents instilled in him the importance of education, so skipping college was not an option. He found himself a Humanities major in the College of Liberal Arts at The University of Texas. As a Humanities major, he was able to create his own course of study, to explore his interests in philosophy and the big questions, and to identify mentors to help guide him along the way.
Vasu valued how The University of Texas was able to expose students to many different people and different ideas. “The scale of this university is like nothing else. Anything you want to learn about, you can learn on these Forty Acres!” He learned that the “world is complicated. It’s not black and white, on one side or the other. We are just small pieces of a bigger story.”
A common theme throughout his life has been to surround himself with people who believe in having a higher purpose. He said, “Liberal Arts has influenced my worldview in that now everyone who I gravitate toward in life stands for something.” He also noted, wryly, that “it is important to be surrounded by people who don’t take you as seriously as you take yourself.”
Upon graduating with a BA in Humanities, he sought advice from Humanities Professor Norman Farmer. “At the time I graduated in 1998, the internet was just taking off, it was a different time. I remember saying to Dr. Farmer that I didn’t really know what direction I wanted to go. He asked me ‘Well, what do you want to do?’ And this answer will sound really pretentious,” he said with a laugh, “but I remember saying I wanted to do something like writing The Divine Comedy! I want to do something that changes the world! And Professor Farmer replied, ‘How do you think all of those things happen? I mean, you’ve got to go spend some time figuring out what you want to do. If that path is a different or strange one, then you have to figure out what you’re willing to work really hard to do in order for that to work.’ With that in mind, Vasu decided to take some time off to figure out what he wanted to do next. So he took a year to explore and travel all over the world.
The following year, the theme of wanting to work with people who were committed to something beyond themselves reemerged. He joined Teach for America and taught for three years in Baltimore City Public Schools. During that time, he earned an MA in Education from Johns Hopkins University. He imagined creating a network of charter schools that could change, positively impacting education. This idea inspired him to earn an MBA from Georgetown University.
Along the way, he found himself working for American Airlines (AA), a company that is committed not just to helping people travel all over the world, but to creating jobs for American workers and supporting those workers and their families. He discovered that there were “interesting similarities to education, in that you have these multigenerational, intractable problems in that nothing is easy, nothing is given. And when they work well, they work well because a lot of people—who don’t know each other—have found a common purpose. And it doesn’t always happen, but when it does, it’s a meaningful thing.” Seventeen years later, Vasu works as the Chief Revenue Officer for American Airlines.
Vasu is a creative person, in a role that, from the outside, does not seem like it would be a career path for a creative mind, but he approaches his work with a creativity to problem solving. His creativity is a strength because he is able to look at things in a new way. He also notes that listening to others' perspectives can help create a fresh approach to problem solving.
“There are some jobs that are definitively not creative, but at some point, in any job, there’s always a way to do things differently or better. And when you’re looking at any issue and you ask, ‘how can we do something better or how can we do something differently?’ That’s where you can bring creativity into the process. If you start by asking, ‘what is the purpose we are trying to achieve here?’ And when you start with that, then creativity flows pretty easily with any job. Even if the job doesn’t seem like it lends itself to creativity. It’s about how to evolve and adapt to change.” With a liberal arts education, he says, the value continues to grow because you will get even more from it “ten years into your career, than ten months into it.” A liberal arts education is "learning to ask the right questions and it makes you appreciate that there might be different answers."
In 2021, Vasu created the Anthony Street Endowed Scholarship in Liberal Arts. We asked him to tell us about why he was inspired to make a lasting impact by creating this endowment. He explained that the thought that kept coming into his mind was not about his legacy, but rather how to help create opportunity for future generations. He says that as he and his family reflected on how fortunate they've been, they realized that each generation of their family has reached a higher level of privilege than the one before, which he refers to as the “100-year Project.” This is what each generation strives for: to work hard and improve the lives of the next generation and they wanted to help create generational success for others. He said that by helping create access for the next generation of students, "wherever they are in their own 100-year Project, it's not like they need to think more like me, or less like me. In fact, I hope it makes them more like them."
Vasu said he is so grateful for the many opportunities he’s been given and that he doesn’t believe that he is smarter, better, or harder working than others, just in some ways luckier. It was important to him to give back in a real way. To help create access to a world class education so that future generations of students can realize their potential, just as he was able to do.
DR. GEORGE JOSEPH SHIA
How do you best honor someone and the impact he made to others during his life? This was the question in mind for family members of Dr. George J. Shia after he passed away on November 22, 2019.
His wife, Claire, and two of his six daughters, Sylvia Jabour and Adrienne Draper, thoughtfully considered ways to commemorate his life. “Dad was a huge presence in our lives, and we wanted to honor him – and thank him for his support – in a significant way,” Sylvia and Adrienne explained. Given his firm belief in the transformative nature of education, the family gravitated toward honoring his life and legacy through a gift to UT Austin, a place he loved and where he earned his MBA degree in 1984. The son of Lebanese immigrants, George grew up in Wheeling, West Virginia during the Great Depression. He saw firsthand how poverty and lack of education debilitated communities. His father, who had only attended school through sixth grade, instilled in George the importance of education. As a first-generation college student, George received an undergraduate degree in Biology from the University of Pittsburgh. He then graduated from the School of Dentistry at the University of Pittsburgh. He subsequently joined the Air Force to serve his country. Upon completion of his military service, George obtained specialty training in the graduate program in Orthodontics at Columbia University. While in New York, he met Claire. They soon married and moved to Austin where extended family was living.
George practiced orthodontics for over fifty years in Austin, and he treated thousands of children and adults. Many of his patients had cleft palates and special needs. A devout Catholic, George deeply valued his church, family, and work. He approached the world with optimism, living as best as he could in the present. His generosity spread beyond his family, and he often helped others pursue their education. “He realized how education could change your life,” Sylvia and Adrienne remember, “and he also recognized how hard it was to pay for school and avoid debt.” Given his own experience, he understood the value of both an undergraduate and graduate education.
George’s love for education kept leading Claire, Sylvia, and Adrienne back to the Forty Acres as they pondered different gifting ideas. The family had previously established a Memorial Endowed Presidential Scholarship in Plan II in honor of their deceased son and brother, Gregory Shia. They ultimately decided honoring George similarly would best capture the tremendous impact he had on them and countless others throughout his life.
With Sylvia and Adrienne being UT graduates themselves, as well as members of the College of Liberal Arts Advisory Council, they understood the importance of graduate student support in the College of Liberal Arts. They also knew graduate student support is a high priority for Dean Stevens and the College. Given the impact a graduate degree made in George’s life, they decided to create the Dr. George Joseph Shia Memorial Endowed Presidential Fellowship in Liberal Arts. This endowment will support generations of Liberal Arts graduate students, in perpetuity. Through this endowment, graduate students will continue to receive the support they need. George’s legacy of hard work, and his encouragement and support of young people, will continue to live on, forever.