Ingenuity Earns Grad Students Texas Business Hall of Fame Scholarships

Three graduate students from the Naveen Jindal School of Management at The University of Texas at Dallas have turned their passions into entrepreneurial ventures and in turn have each been rewarded with a $15,000 scholarship from the Texas Business Hall of Fame Foundation.

The foundation honors the accomplishments and contributions of outstanding Texas business leaders. Its Future Legends Scholarship Program rewards university students across the state who “demonstrate an early inclination toward community involvement.” This year, 36 students will receive scholarships.

Dr. Diane McNulty, associate dean for external affairs and corporate development at the Jindal School, as well as vice president for scholarship and endowment for the foundation, said the expectations for the Hall of Fame Scholarship recipients are high.

“We focus not only on students who excel academically, but also on those who are going to be successful entrepreneurs — which is what the basis of the Texas Business Hall of Fame is all about,” she said.

Here are this year’s three recipients from UT Dallas.

Ngan Nguyen

Finance graduate student Ngan Nguyen BS’17, MS’19 became fascinated with the business aspects of health care after taking a management class her junior year. She switched majors from chemistry to a double major in molecular biology and healthcare management. Her plan was to work for a corporation after graduation.

Then Nguyen was diagnosed with an autoimmune condition that required her to wear a medical ID, but she couldn’t find one she liked.

“I was in my 20s, starting my first corporate internship,” she said. “I was wearing one of those bulky bracelets. People would ask me about it. It was obvious that I had a medical condition, so I felt ashamed and stigmatized. I didn’t want that to be part of a conversation, especially in a working environment.”

That experience sparked an idea.

Nguyen started Code Blue Jewelry to create the medical IDs she always wanted to wear but could never find. Then she needed to learn more about owning a business.

After earning a master’s degree in healthcare leadership and management, she enrolled in the master’s program in finance to fill in the remaining gaps in her preparation.

“Before I came to UT Dallas, I didn’t even know how to spell entrepreneur,” she said. “What changed is that UT Dallas has faculty that believes in me and asked me to try different things and go out of my comfort zone. They kept telling me that it’s OK to try and fail, that they would pick me up and help me move forward.”

Mohammad Elashi

A medical issue also inspired Mohammad Elashi’s entrepreneurship. After tearing an ACL while playing soccer, he received physical therapy, which led him to an idea.

While pursuing his undergraduate degree in healthcare management, Elashi BS’17, MBA’19 started Synaptic Pediatric Therapies, a pediatric speech and occupational health practice. He is now expanding it to a second location.

Because of that success, Elashi’s passion for entrepreneurship has continued to grow. He launched a solar energy sales company that will pool resources with Synaptic Solar, a solar construction company he started in 2017. To prepare for running multiple companies, Elashi knew he needed to expand his business knowledge, and the Jindal School has helped him fulfill that educational pursuit.

“It was amazing to see how many night and online classes the Jindal School offers,” said Elashi, who is working toward a master’s degree in innovation and entrepreneurship. “That really allows people like me to pursue our businesses during the day. When I first started [being a business owner], there was no way I could leave my office during business hours.”

Elashi said he completes his schoolwork as efficiently as he can so that he can go back to work building his businesses.

“I know a lot of people aren’t willing to do that,” he said. “To me, it’s become a hobby, or even an addiction. I can’t stop thinking about what’s the next business I’m going to pursue.”

Shawnee Blocker

As an undergraduate majoring in business administration, Shawnee Blocker BS’18 worked on a project at a human resources consulting firm that accelerated her venture into entrepreneurship.

She had spent a year learning how to configure and implement a customer relationship management system. Her now business partner, who owns a website devoted to virtual race cars, needed someone with that particular skill to help him rebuild and rebrand his company.

Out of that connection, Racing and Cars was born. The website is an online platform that serves as a community and a merchant and jobs directory for racing and car enthusiasts.

The complexities of entrepreneurship drove Blocker to pursue a Master of Business Administration at the Jindal School. She plans to add a master’s in innovation and entrepreneurship.

“There are so many unique people who are running the entrepreneurship programs here at UTD who have been very successful in their careers,” she said. “Being able to learn from and speak to and take a class with someone who has been successful and being able to learn firsthand from major industry players is one of the most advantageous components of the program.

“When I first started all of this, I knew nothing about cars at all. Now it has become a passion.”

The students received their scholarship awards Oct. 16 at the 37th Annual Texas Business Hall of Fame Induction Dinner in San Antonio.

Media Contact: Jimmie Markham, Naveen Jindal School of Management, (972) 883-5079, [email protected], or the Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].