OU students become leaders with a little help from Don and Shirley Crews

Winter 2020

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Don and Shirley Crews

As a Withrow Leadership Scholar, OU senior Katy Yut leads a team of fellow students tutoring at an economically disadvantaged high school in Oklahoma City.
Don and Shirley Crews

As a Withrow Leadership Scholar, OU senior Katy Yut leads a team of fellow students tutoring at an economically disadvantaged high school in Oklahoma City.
University of Oklahoma alumni Don Crews and Shirley Biggs Crews share at least one thing with today’s students – a legacy of leadership.

Natives of Oklahoma City, the 1965 alums met by chance as freshmen at an OU residence hall party and began dating their sophomore year. Don was a letters major and member of Beta Theta Pi fraternity, while Shirley was a Chi Omega majoring in education. Both were active in student life, including the OU Union Activities Board.

“OU was really good to us,” said Don Crews, who went on to Harvard Law School. “We got a great education and had a wonderful college experience, including lots of opportunities to be involved that certainly prepared me for life.”

While Don studied at Harvard, Shirley landed her first teaching job in Massachusetts. “The principal had been in the U.S. Navy and studied at OU during WWII,” she said. “He took me under his wing.” The Crews soon were off to Texas, where Don built a legal career that culminated with media company Harte-Hanks Communications.

In 2013, the Crews recognized their OU roots by endowing scholarships in the OU College of Arts and Sciences and OU’s Jeannine Rainbolt College of Education. Since that time, they have given nearly $200,000 through the OU Foundation to support students.
“It makes me happy to think I’m able to help students get through school just a little easier and without a lot of debt,” said Shirley Crews.

The Crews’ gifts to Arts and Sciences allow OU sophomores and juniors to participate in the Withrow Leadership Scholars program, which attracts outstanding students from a wide range of majors and backgrounds. Program members learn career and leadership skills and serve as ambassadors for the college, said adviser Rhonda Dean Kyncl, who is associate dean for students.

Each year, new students are selected for the leadership group. This year’s cohort of 25 includes at least three first-generation college students, and all are conducting undergraduate research in addition to their studies, Kyncl said.

“I know that these students are very concerned about just making it here at OU and having the money to survive semester to semester,” she added. “The Crews scholarship allows us to take some of that stress off them, and they realize, ‘I have time to be involved because I don’t have to work so much.’ It sets students up for success after graduation because they have had high-impact experiences.”

One such experience pairs OU Withrow Leadership Scholars with students at Oklahoma City’s Crooked Oak High School, where U.S. News and World Report says 91 percent of students are economically disadvantaged.

The Withrow Scholars provide on-site math tutoring throughout the school year, as well as writing composition feedback through the online academic portal Canvas.

“Being a Withrow Scholar teaches you to help others and put them first,” said Katy Yut, a Coppell, Texas, senior in economics and geographic information systems who currently chairs the student leadership group.

“We are getting the tools to know how to succeed and putting ourselves in a position to reach out and help those who are coming after us.”