The University of Texas at Austin
In 1989, a group of students from The University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin) was selected to take part in an extraordinary educational experience: a pilot program whose goal was to keep alive the memories and lessons of the Second World War. After studying the war’s causes, conduct, and consequences first in the classroom, and then overseas where the events had unfolded, the young participants reported that the experience had more than deepened their understanding of the war; it enriched their personal development, roused their intellects, and changed their lives.
That successful first step evolved into the Normandy Scholar Program on WWII, which is now a permanent part of the curriculum in UT’s Department of History. Each spring, 20 highly motivated students of various backgrounds and majors undertake rigorous, concentrated coursework on the historical and cultural influences that led to World War II. The program culminates in a three-week trip to Europe, during which students and faculty travel together, visiting monuments and battlefields, walking the beaches of Normandy, and interacting with survivors of the war and their families.
Frank Denius, a highly decorated WWII veteran and 1949 UT Law graduate, is a strong advocate for the program and one of its major contributors. “Freedom is not a destination — it is a journey,” he says. “Any challenge or force that has as its objective the control of the minds of people and their freedom such as that of Nazi fascism must be recorded for knowledge of future generations. The battle of Normandy sealed the defeat of Nazi fascism. The story of this great military achievement, its planning, scope of scale, and victory should not be lost to time, progress, and even nature itself, but must be forever preserved.”
Three endowments that are invested in the Long Term Fund are helping to do just that. The Frank Denius Normandy Scholars Endowment, funded by Austin’s Cain Foundation in honor of Denius, was valued at $647,438 on August 31, 2006. An excellence fund called America’s Turning Point: Normandy & World War II was valued at $131,737. The Derek Jon Schaver Memorial Endowed Scholarship, valued at $42,685, provides support for students in the program.
For history major Derek Davidson, a 2005 recipient of the Schaver scholarship, becoming a Normandy Scholar was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, one that continues to affect him. “I endured the hardest semester of my life with the closest friends I’ve made in college, and followed it with the greatest trip of my life with my favorite humans who happen to be professors,” he says. “This has been a turning point not only in my academic career, but in my growth as a person.”