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History grad leads by example with scholarship endowment

Inspired by the university’s Lead By Example capital campaign, Sarah Hlavinka McConnell ‘86 and husband, Mark, continue her family's legacy of philanthropy, giving $1 million to the Texas A&M Foundation to endow the Mark and Sarah Hlavinka McConnell ‘86 Liberal Arts Legacy Scholarship.

By Kim White ’08

History graduate Sarah Hlavinka McConnell ‘86 is one of five siblings–three brothers and two sisters–all of whom received degrees from Texas A&M University. Her parents, Patty and Joe Hlavinka ‘56, have supported almost 30 years of education for their children.

McConnell’s Aggie family legacy extends far beyond her father and siblings. It also includes uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews, and in-laws for a total of more than three dozen Aggies. It’s clear that higher education, particularly at Texas A&M, is valued in the Hlavinka family and has been for generations.

“I believe education is key to advancement to the next level. It gives people hope and opportunity to do amazing things,” McConnell said.

For many students, a college education is difficult or impossible to obtain due to the financial burden. That’s why McConnell and her husband gave $1 million to the Texas A&M Foundation to endow the Mark and Sarah Hlavinka McConnell ‘86 Liberal Arts Legacy Scholarship, which will be awarded to any Liberal Arts student at the discretion of the college and the dean.

With the cost of college tuition rising and state funding for universities declining, endowed scholarships like the McConnells’ are more essential now than ever. Scholarships provide relief for students who struggle with affording college education, putting them on a path to both academic and professional success.

While this is not the first major gift McConnell has made to Texas A&M or the College of Liberal Arts, she said this gift in particular was inspired by the university’s Lead By Example capital campaign, which was launched in November 2015 with a goal of raising $4 billion by 2020. One focus of this campaign is to address major societal challenges facing the state, nation, and world.

“The announcement of the campaign triggered our thinking related to the importance of the university continuing its own path to the next level, particularly with the focus of the “Lead By Example” campaign. Our thought was that paving the way financially for students who may not otherwise be able to get the quality of an education that is available at Texas A&M would fill this void by changing their lives and perhaps the world,” she said.

McConnell and her husband decided the best way to do that was to create the scholarship by including the College of Liberal Arts as a beneficiary in their estate plans. This planned gift, which also includes an endowment for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, complements the legacy of giving that began in 2004 when she and her siblings jointly created the Patty and Joseph Hlavinka, Jr. ’56 President’s Endowed Scholarship in honor of their parents. Later, McConnell established two more scholarships specifically for Liberal Arts students.

The path less taken

McConnell grew up in East Bernard, Texas, a small, rural town of only 2,000 people located about 45 minutes southwest of Houston. Her family’s business, Hlavinka Equipment Company, was started there by her grandfather in 1939 and supports farmers and builders along the Texas Gulf Coast by providing agriculture and construction equipment.

McConnell’s father and brother Terry Hlavinka ’85 run the business as president and vice president respectively, while her other brother, Kenneth Hlavinka ’90, runs Hlavinka Cattle Company. Several other family members help with the equipment business as well.

“My family has only two topics of conversation: Texas A&M and agriculture,” McConnell joked.

Despite her family’s long agricultural history, it was another family trend that inspired McConnell’s career path. Two of her uncles, Charles Hlavinka ’54 and Victor Hlavinka ’58, attended the University of Texas School of Law after graduating from Texas A&M and became lawyers. McConnell said as a child she took notice of the respect her father showed for his brothers and their chosen profession, so she decided go into law as well.

After receiving her bachelor’s in history from Texas A&M, McConnell followed in her uncles’ footsteps by going to law school at the University of Texas. Since then, she has gained extensive experience as a senior corporate counsel and currently serves as general counsel and corporate secretary for Xerox in the New York City area, overseeing legal affairs for the corporation including litigation, the company’s ethics program, government affairs, and public policy activities.

McConnell believes in the value of a liberal arts education largely because of the critical thinking and communication skills it provides, as well as the way it expands one’s view of the world. Having grown up in such a small town, McConnell said her time as a Liberal Arts student prepared her for her life journey from Aggieland to Austin for law school and then ultimately to New York for her career.

“I strongly believe that pursuing a degree in Liberal Arts forces one to have an open mind and be receptive to new ideas, new people, and new cultures,” she said.

In addition to her philanthropic support, McConnell has helped shape the priorities and objectives of the college as a member of the Liberal Arts Development Council (LADC) for nearly 3 years. The LADC is comprised of influential and prominent supporters of the college who serve to help bolster development efforts aimed at ensuring the continued success of Liberal Arts.

McConnell returns to Aggieland when she can but, as is the case for many former students, it’s never as often as she would like. Regardless, the enduring legacy and impact of her gifts means she will always have a presence at Texas A&M.  

For more information on how you can impact students and faculty in your preferred area in the College of Liberal Arts, please contact Larry J. Walker II.

Check out more Donor Spotlights to see how giving can impact both you and the College of Liberal Arts.