Texas Tech University

Rawls College – Where Dreams Find a Home

Home. Built on Rawls.

Jacob Gordon | September 26, 2023

We have all heard the idioms centered on the idea of home.

“Home sweet home.”

“There's no place like home.”

“Make yourself at home.”

“Home is where the heart is.”

There are plenty more examples of such phrases, but the core sentiment remains the same: home is an irreplaceable essential of humanity. 

The first and obvious idea of home is wherever we may return to after a hard day's work or a long trip away. 

But home can come in all shapes, sizes and ideas. Community centers, organizations or coffee shops can be home to some people.

And yes, a college can be a home, too. 

To celebrate the beginning of another academic year, we asked three people within the Jerry S. Rawls College of Business how the college has been home to them. 

Home – A Nurturing Community

Kenechukwu Okeke

Kenechukwu Okeke is a senior finance major who sees the idea of home as more than just a physical place or location.

Okeke moved around a lot as a kid, living in different countries while his mother worked as an international diplomat. Okeke grew up in Nigeria and Brazil before his family settled down in Katy, Texas, which is where he would graduate high school. 

“A true home goes beyond mere physical structures,” said Okeke. “It is an embodiment of a nurturing community and a thriving growth environment. The encouragement to learn, evolve and pursue aspirations nurtures an atmosphere where individuals flourish, and their unique potentials are realized.”

When thinking of the role a home plays, Okeke was reminded of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, which is an idea in psychology that an individual's behavior can be dictated by five categories of needs: physiological, safety, love and belonging, esteem and self-actualization. 

“Having a place to call home is important, because it provides a place of comfort and a sense of safety, which allows me to focus on my growth,” said Okeke.

For Okeke, what makes Rawls College a home are the faculty and students – the ones who create the nurturing community he finds himself in.

“Even if the entire Rawls College community were to suddenly relocate to Missouri, that distinctive feeling of home would remain ingrained,” he said.

Okeke saw the community become a home for him when he needed a faculty advisor for his honor thesis and turned to Bobby Merriman, assistant professor of practice of finance.

“Dr. Merriman's willingness to provide guidance and feedback despite his busy schedule exemplified the college's supportive environment,” said Okeke. “His personal investment showcased the strong faculty-student relationships and sense of belonging that define Rawls.”

Okeke credits all of his professors for making Rawls College feel like his version of home. This has helped his ability to grow and develop as a soon-to-be graduate.

“When a place doesn't feel like home, one directs their attention away from self-growth and instead focuses on safety, security and belonging,” said Okeke. “This can be draining, as there is an opportunity cost to not focusing on one's own growth.”

Home – A Familial Connection

Kim Brannan

“If a place doesn't feel like home, I usually don't want to stay too long,” said Brannan. “To me, home is a place of belonging, being with family or friends.”

And while Brannan has been employed at Rawls College for so long, her first connections to the college came from her mom who started working at the college in 1982.

“I basically grew up in the College of Business,” said Brannan. “As a child, I would come to work with [my mom] at various times, and therefore, I knew a lot of the people. I had a sense of family with the college, and it became my home away from home.”

Asking Brannan to pick a few favorite memories of her time at Rawls College was tough.

“I have lots of memories of coming to the college with my mom while growing up and meeting so many people who became friends with our family outside of her work,” she said.

That idea of friends growing close to her family is one that continues today for Brannan. She said her favorite aspect of her work is the people she works and interacts with. 

Now, Brannan hopes to do the same with her kids.

“I think one reason I love the memory of coming to work with my mom while growing up is because I was able to do the same thing with my kids in the same building when they were little.”

Home – A Place of Belonging

Dino Villegas

Villegas joined Rawls College in 2015, coming from his home country, Chile.

“Being an immigrant, the concept of home is a curious one,” said Villegas. “In some ways, my home country will always be my original home, as it is where most of my extended family resides and where I grew up and learned about life. However, at the same time, we have made our own home here as a family.”

One aspect that stood out to Villegas during his early days at Rawls College was the way people treated him. Villegas found that people were sharing their culture with him and inviting him to share his with them.

“The kindness and support I received from the faculty, staff and administration during my first years here were truly remarkable,” said Villegas. “Their genuine care for me and my family left a lasting impression.”

Villegas, now an established faculty member and senior administrator, looks for ways to create a similar sense of belonging with others in the college, especially its newest members.

“I try to extend the same welcoming atmosphere to new faculty members and to provide them with the support they need to succeed,” said Villegas. “It's important to maintain a sense of community and support within the faculty, staff and students, and I can see that here at the Rawls.”

Home. Built on Rawls.

As we mark the start of another academic year, there is a new wave of first-year students and new faculty or staff members setting foot in Rawls College. For those starting a new chapter of their lives and looking for a sense of home in Rawls College, Okeke, Brannan and Villegas have some advice.

“Get involved in clubs that align with your passions,” said Okeke. “This allows you to connect with fellow students who share your interests. This approach can facilitate a deeper exploration of those passions.”

“You are on a new adventure and will get to meet new people and find new activities,” said Brannan. “Just take each day as it comes and take it all in. Everyone in the college is friendly and there will always be someone to talk to or to help out if needed.”

“The faculty and staff are here to support you and to create the best learning experience,” said Villegas. “I want students to study hard and have fun, but to not be afraid of making mistakes. This is the place to make mistakes and to learn from them.”