A Conversation with ARA President Donald Bowers '91
Donald Bowers ’91 enjoys working with Rice students. Whether as the president of the ARA, as a member of the R Association, or as vice president at the Houston Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, he takes an active hand in connecting students to new ideas, to fellow alumni and to each other. It’s about “building confidence of knowledge” he says, and he is eager to share how the Initiative for Students is helping Rice’s network of proud alumni to stand up — and stand out. We sat down with him to for a brief conversation about his experience both as a mentor and as a mentee at Rice.
Confidence through mentorship
How have alumni made an impact on your own life and career?
When I was a student at Rice, there were two guys — Jack Faubion ’71 and Joseph Callier ’77 — who seemed to have this ongoing presence on campus and at student-athlete events, and they really served as mentors for me. I met them for the first time on my recruiting visit, and throughout the years they were kind enough to be concerned about me and to ask how I was doing. They offered encouragement when I was trying to figure out what to do after Rice, and Joseph even let me spend a day in his office to see what he did as an attorney. They were consistent and showed up. It was the most meaningful thing, because it made it easier to approach them when I did have more serious questions. Even before the Initiative for Students, I have attempted to encourage students, because I know what my own experiences with guys like Jack and Joseph meant to me.
How do you work with students today?
I’ve worked with the Association of Rice University Black Alumni (ARUBA) to mentor students in the Black Student Association, and I’ve been involved with students through the Student Athlete Leadership Development Program created in large part by Terrence Gee ’86. For student-athletes, we let them know that there is a side of Rice that they might not get to see very often, but it is here and available to them, and they should take advantage of it.
At the Fed, we host a program for students across the Greater Houston region called the “Fed and You.” It’s geared toward helping students understand what type of career opportunities are available at the Fed, but similar to at Rice, we also encourage students to be better prepared — in preparing their resumes, interviewing, et cetera. Over the years, I’ve probably had about 20 Rice students who’ve actually come here to work through paid internships or who have participated in a one- to two-day experience to learn about the bank.
One of the others things I try to do is connect them with each other. You find out that even in a small school like Rice, it can sometimes be difficult with busy schedules and academic demands for students to meet each other. When I’m on campus, I try to create those opportunities. Most recently, I had dinner with one current student and two former students who hadn’t previously met. It was good stuff, because they had a chance to hear from each other and to start a relationship they may not have had otherwise.
What is it like watching your student mentees’ progress?
For the most part, they are early in their careers and they are still working their way through the process, but they are working through. The good part is that they can see a path and feel like they can achieve their goals. They call about some of the most interesting things: I’m thinking about buying a house. I just got a bonus and I’m trying to figure out the right thing to do financially. I’m thinking about taking a course to be a chartered financial analyst and want to get your advice, or I’m thinking about graduate school — is it the right thing for me? I just called one young Rice grad recently to let him know that I was thinking about him and to remind him to enroll in his company’s 401k plan.
It really is a continuous engagement, and it builds confidence every time they negotiate a problem or overcome an obstacle More often than not the students have great instincts and know what to do. As mentors, we help them gain that confidence in themselves and their own decision making.
What do you get out of these relationships?
I feel like there have been so many people along the way, some who were directly connected to Rice and some who weren’t, who’ve taken the time to help me. So I feel that I’m giving back to people and paying back a debt that I will never be able to fully repay. Even now in the work that I do and the volunteering that I do at Rice today, I still benefit from the interaction with alums from other classes who offer advice and encouragement. It’s something that is still extremely valuable to me, knowing that I have this greater network of smart, motivated and creative alumni to lean on like Andrea Ehlers, Scott Wise, Gloria Tarpley and others. There are so many, I cannot name them all.
How would you convince other alumni to participate in the Initiative for Students? Why is now the right time?
Because of our size, we have unique opportunities to be different and to help Rice stand out even more. At the same time, the professional environment is much more challenging now as internships, research experiences and mentorships have received a lot more attention nationally. As our students navigate the process, they find themselves competing against other great students from other schools.
One thing that has stuck with me is President David Leebron’s remarks at the centennial when he indicated that the 21st century depends on bright, young, talented students like our Rice students being able to achieve their full potential. We’ve got to offer our students the tools so they can lead, because the world needs them. I think about that often, and that is why I’m so interested in the Initiative for Students. For alumni who are on the fence or who are unsure about how to get involved, it creates simple opportunities to get started, and for those who have been involved at various levels, it’s an opportunity to deepen their engagement.
How should alumni get plugged in?
Offer yourself as a guide to one student. Offer an externship or internship, be a resident associate, or even refer students to a fellow alumna or alumnus who shares their interest and has a desire to help others grow. I think you’ll find fulfillment in it, especially as you see students break barriers and have their successes. It will lift your spirits and make you feel good and make you want to help another student.
Donald Bowers ’91 is serving as the president of the ARA through June 30, 2015. He earned a BA in managerial studies from Rice and an MBA in banking and finance from Sam Houston State University, and he is a vice president at the Houston Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.