Cream of the Crop

Meet six of UT’s most outstanding student leaders.

Photos by Anna Donlan

Roughly 40,000 undergraduate students walk the Forty Acres each year. Every one of them brings something special to the campus—but only six are selected for one of the Texas Exes’ most elite honors for students: the President’s Leadership Award. • In 1985, Texas Exes past president Frank Denius, LLB ’49, Life Member, Distinguished Alumnus, created the award to celebrate the next generation of student leaders. Among this year’s all-stars are a world-champion athlete, an education pioneer, and more. We asked them to share a prized possession that shows what makes them tick. —Rose Cahalan

Cream of the Crop


Holland Finley

Year: Senior
Major: Plan II Honors, Business Honors Next step: Consultant for Bain Achievement: World champion, junior women’s wakeboarding

“There is nothing more beautiful than gliding across the water and through the air on my wakeboard, but it takes a lot of work to get there. A lot of the drive I have in academics reflects what I’ve learned on the water.”



Michael “Ugeo” Williams

Year: Senior
Major: Youth & Community Studies, Sociology Achievement: Published an academic paper on educational inequity Next Step: Teach for America in Detroit

“I was studying abroad in Ghana when I met a guy on the street and he gave me this seashell. He wrote my name on it and thanked me for visiting his country. I’ve kept the shell on my desk for the last three years. When I look at it, I think about peace and respect.”


Charlie Adkins

Year: Sophomore Major: Business Honors and Accounting Dream Job: General manager of a professional baseball team Achievement: Brought the CEOs of eBay, Foot Locker, and GSD&M to speak on campus

“In high school, I coached a basketball  tournament for the Life Skills students from our school and others in the area. This hat means a lot to me because all the students signed it. It keeps me grounded and reminds me where I’m from.”



Elyssa Klann

Year: Senior Major: Plan II Honors, Psychology Honors Achievement: Managed more than 400 members of Best Buddies, a club that pairs UT students and intellectually disabled adults Career Goal: Earn a PhD in psychology and combine research and practice

“I’m president of the Orange Jackets this year. It’s the oldest women’s honorary organization on campus. We’re a really diverse group of women, and I’ve made friendships that I know will last the rest of my life.”


Tara Sharma

Year: Junior Major: Petroleum Engineering Honors Achievement: Rising Star Award, Women in Engineering Dream Job: CEO of an engineering firm

“I was the first girl to work on the offshore drilling platform in the Gulf where I interned with Hilcorp. I did things like check valves and meters and haul bags of concrete. It got pretty hot out there, because I also had to wear a fire-retardant suit, a life jacket, and steel-toe boots.”



Jeff Li

Year: Junior Major: Business Honors and Biochemistry Achievement: Co-founder of Collaboration for Education, a coalition focused on the education gap Career goal: To earn an MD/PhD and help get medical discoveries from lab to patient faster

“I got this mug on a middle school field trip to a raptor preserve. I use it for my morning—well, late night—coffee, and as a reminder of why I love studying the natural world. Not to mention it’s got a really cool eagle on it that just looks awesome.”




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