A social mission prompted Steve Hicks to donate $25 million to UT’s School of Social Work last week, though he spent a lifetime working in telecommunications.
“I was told that each social work graduate positively affects over one thousand people over their working career,” said Hicks, UT System Board of Regents vice chairman. “If I could help that many people … that had a big appeal to me.”
The School of Social Work announced the gift and was renamed the Steve Hicks School of Social Work last Wednesday. $10 million of Hicks’ donation will be dedicated to furthering education in fields like addiction recovery. Hicks said he has worked to improve addiction recovery efforts in the past.
“I was involved in helping the center for students in recovery, and I’m in recovery myself,” Hicks said. “In a lot of the social ills that we face and that these social work graduates face … addiction is part of the problem.”
Reducing student debt is also priority for Hicks. According to Hicks, the remaining $15 million of the gift will be set aside solely for student scholarships, in hopes that it will allow graduates to be more successful and allow a more diverse range of students to attend the school.
Sarah Swords, assistant dean for the school’s master’s programs, said social work students regularly graduate with student debts larger than the average social worker’s starting salary.
“We know that our students on average graduate with more than $40,000 in student debt,” Swords said. “And then they go out into the social work field where their salaries may not be $40,000.”
Hicks said he hopes his gift to the school helps to reduce the average amount of debt to around $20,000 for graduating social work students, though he knows it may take years to accomplish it.
Social work sophomore Madeline Nassif said self-care is stressed in social work, and worrying about debts or money may negatively affect the way a graduate does their job.
“Generally a lot of students do worry about the debt because the social work school is a really (financially) diverse school,” Nassif said. “When students graduate they have to worry about being the best social worker they can be, not … about what they still owe on their education.”
Hicks, a McCombs finance alumnus, said the social work school doesn’t get as much attention or as many resources as some of UT’s other schools. Although Hicks had worked with social work professor Lori Holleran Steiker in the past, he had no prior interaction with the social work school before making the donation.
“To be honest with you, I had never set foot into the building until I decided to make the gift,” Hicks said.
Although the ceremonies honoring Hicks’ gift took place last Wednesday, Hicks, UT President Gregory Fenves and social work Dean Luis H. Zayas assembled the faculty last Tuesday morning to inform them of the news.
“They were all in tears, and that was the most emotional part for me because they had gotten so little recognition,” Hicks said, “It was quite the moment, I won’t be forgetting that one.”