When William “Alan” Royal ’06 (MEd ’11) was a student at TCU, he performed original hip-hop songs and recorded albums, including Commencement, in which he pondered whether his post-college life would include rap performance.
“I wasn’t interested in it for fame or in it for the sake of popular music,” Royal said. “I wanted to have an authentic message.”
Royal’s love of the genre remains part of his “daily vernacular” and is woven into his work, first as a student adviser and now as senior program manager for outreach and partnerships at the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation.
The organization, based in Lansdowne, Virginia, provides college scholarships to high-achieving students with financial need. Since 2000, the foundation has awarded $190 million to nearly 2,500 students.
Royal’s job is to get the word out about how the available funds and mentoring support can help students succeed in higher education. His contact with scholars starts as early as seventh grade.
During one welcome event, Royal donned a bucket hat, a few necklaces and an OutKast shirt, then grabbed a microphone, jumped onstage and burst into a “college rap” icebreaker. His performance had the desired effect: Students felt less anxious and were in the right mindset to imagine a college-enabled future, he said.
On the job, Royal does a lot of speaking, writing and data compiling, as well as teaching students to communicate effectively. Royal said his undergraduate degree in English taught him “to think critically and be thoughtful about my communication style.”
“What I appreciate about Alan are his interpersonal skills and inclusiveness,” said Cecilia Marshall, director of strategic initiatives at the foundation. “He has an amazing skill for meeting people where they are at and relating to them.”
Sarah Kashef said being paired with Royal was “one of the best things that ever happened to me.” The daughter of immigrants from Egypt and Morocco, Kashef relied on Royal to guide her family through the barriers many first-generation college students encounter. She said he was a positive role model and a mentor when she was choosing prep courses, applying to colleges and adjusting to campus life.
In 2018, Kashef earned an undergraduate degree from Columbia University in New York. She now works as a global policy and advocacy associate at the nonprofit organization IntraHealth International.
Unlimited success is the goal, but it isn’t always easy for students from diverse or economically disadvantaged backgrounds to crack the code of higher education.