Carol Austin Snowden ‘82: Expanding Worldviews One Scholarship at a Time
You’d be hard pressed to find an Aggie who values learning for the sake of learning, fearless adventures, and the truth more than Carol Austin Snowden ‘82.
By Rachel Knight
Editor’s Note: This story may not acknowledge or reflect the challenges of a global pandemic; however, we believe stories like this from the College of Liberal Arts provide an important source of light during these dark times.
They serve as a reminder that Aggies make a difference in the best and worst of times. We hope you find inspiration in what you are about to read, because you continue to inspire us. Thank you for all that you do.
After graduating from high school a year early, Carol Austin Snowden ‘82 found a new home at Texas A&M University. She loved learning for the sake of learning, and took 18 credit hours her first semester. She soon learned the importance of managing her course load, and has been managing a full schedule ever since.
Snowden’s career began at The Battalion. As part of the student newspaper’s staff, she found her voice and her tribe. Though she took a year off from college to start a magazine, she still graduated on time. After graduation, she accepted a job in advertising at the Houston Post, which proved to be invaluable as she learned to plan special events that highlighted advertisers and benefited charities.
When she left the Houston Post, her career shifted back to magazines. Snowden spent the remainder of her paid career in advertising, special events, and public relations, which entailed garnering sponsors, arranging venues, attracting media coverage, selling tables and tickets to charity events, and being a hands-on supporter of and advocate for her community. After she stopped working for a paycheck, she spent 20 years organizing events pro bono for charities like the Houston Food Bank.
In our interview with Snowden, which has been edited and condensed for clarity, we learned that she’s an avid supporter of the College of Liberal Arts, The Battalion, and fearless adventures.
Tell me about your childhood.
I grew up in Houston. I was a bookworm. I was the kid who won prizes for the most books read from the public library over the summer. I remember being annoyed that the library only let me checkout six books at a time. I always had my nose stuck in a book. I was shy. I didn’t have much self-confidence.
Something very few people know about me is that I was legally blind until I was 27 years old and had eye surgery. At 20/250, you’re considered legally blind. I was 20/450. I had some near vision, and I had a really good recall of what I read and what I heard. I made straight A’s through elementary, junior, and senior high school, but I couldn’t see the board and I sat in the front row.
When I had eye surgery at 27, I was like, “Oh my gosh! I didn’t know that trees had leaves. I didn’t know the ceiling had texture.” For the first time, I could read license plates and call them out to someone. It was pretty awesome!
Why did you decide to study at Texas A&M?
My brother, who is three years older than me, was going to Texas A&M. I actually wanted to hurry up and get there, and in high school I started surreptitiously doing extra work and taking extra courses in the summer.
Because I hadn’t told them, when my parents found out I was graduating a year early they were not happy. I said, “Yeah, but I’m going to go to Texas A&M.” Then eventually they said, “Oh, ok.” So, I was barely 17 when I started college.
Why did you choose to study journalism?
The truth has always been important to me. I had a very authoritarian and contradictory father. Because of that, I wanted to have a rock-solid foundation of truth in my life.
Watergate had a huge impact on me. It made me realize that the people highest in power could be lying to us and committing crimes, and if it weren’t for smart journalists, we’d be in trouble. I really admired Woodward and Bernstein.
The idea that someone could question authority, to stand up and hold them accountable, had been completely foreign to my life until Watergate. Today we call it speaking truth to power. It changed me forever. You can’t be effective if you don’t acknowledge and address something that needs to be changed.
Who were your favorite professors or mentors?
My journalism professors.
Bob Rogers was the department head, and he really taught us persistence. It didn’t matter if you didn’t know how to do something; you better figure it out or go find someone who can tell you how to do it. That really stuck with me and was really good training.
Dave Mays was another journalism professor. He taught us how to care. He taught us to care about the words that we wrote and the impact they could have, because he cared. That made me a better editor.
C.J. Leabo was an old-school former journalist turned professor. He gave me the best piece of advice ever. One day I raised my hand and said, “This might be a dumb question, but…” He jumped down my throat. He said, “Miss Austin, there is no such thing as a dumb question. If you don’t know the answer, it’s your job to find out.”
He knew so many people in the working world, and they’d stop by to see their friend C.J. We had Strobe Talbott, Time Magazine senior foreign correspondent who spoke Russian and Chinese, pop in. John Henry Faulk would come to class every so often. This was the man who beat Senator Joseph McCarthy’s anti-American blacklist in the 1950s. It’s those kinds of people that our professors had in their circle, and it was exciting that my professors could get them to come and talk to us.
What are some of your favorite memories from your time as a student at Texas A&M?
When I started at Texas A&M in the fall of 1978, the ratio of guys to girls was three to one. I had already been going up on weekends for football and all that kind of stuff for two years, so I knew a lot of guys in the Corps of Cadets who were like my big brothers. I didn’t open a door for myself for four years I don’t think.
I remember I’d be walking along, and a guy would come up and grab my books and carry them for me. I would laugh at first and say, “Oh, that’s okay.” Then I realized that if you were escorting a lady to class by carrying her books, you didn’t have to drop and do a class set, which was doing as many pushups as your class year when an upperclassman yelled out your squadron’s name. It took me a while to figure that one out, but that was fun.
How have you used your liberal arts degree throughout your career and life so far?
Where haven’t I used it?
You learn how to get information, answer questions, synthesize information, build a cohesive unit or story, and be able to present something in a logical manner about almost any topic. There’s a need for that in every industry.
I understand that you and your husband, Jim, enjoy traveling. Tell me about some of your favorite destinations.
I love traveling with my husband, and I love traveling with my friend and travel buddy. We met because her husband, my brother, and my husband all flew F-15s together. She’s a retired Air Force nurse with three combat tours in two wars. She’s fearless.
She and I have had incredible trips together landing in places we never thought of going to with no advanced planning. Her husband is an airline pilot, and they are generous with their passes. We’ve gone to China, England, really all over Europe, and we always have fun.
Some of my favorite destinations are the UK, the Mediterranean, Hong Kong, and Thailand. Jim and I spent a month in India, and I loved it! I also loved Hong Kong and I loved Bangkok. We visited Bangkok in early February. A few years ago we made some friends there, and this time I got to go back and see them again.
I think my favorite destination is still waiting to be found. I’m open to having new favorites.
How has traveling enhanced your life or worldview?
My fearless adventurer friend has rubbed off on me, and I’m not shy anymore. I’ve met so many incredible people all over the world and have had so many incredible conversations with strangers where we walked away as friends with new perspectives. Because of travel, I’m more open now. I say yes a lot more than I used to.
The world is a lot more personal to me now. I grieve when bad things happen in places that were good to me. It’s not a foreign place when I hear of some awful terrorist action. I remember it as a place that I dearly love or think of someone who was nice to me there. It’s personal. It’s not remote. It makes it closer to home, because for me home is also over there.
What drives your passion for helping College of Liberal Arts students study abroad by establishing the Carol Austin Snowden ‘82 endowed scholarship?
The College of Liberal Arts has incredibly strong leadership, and I think they’re doing so many things right in preparing our students for the world. I truly believe travel is an essential part of education.
I know what it does for me on an ongoing basis, so I want students to have the same opportunities and experiences that I’ve had navigating a foreign country. Learning a new language, a foreign currency, experiencing the transportation and food really builds confidence. The students who can study abroad because of this scholarship will have that confidence for the rest of their lives.
What advice would you give students and young graduates?
When it comes to having a partner, make sure that that partner supports you and your work. Make sure you know yourself well enough to know what it is that you want to do. Don’t let anyone come along and tell you that you need to help them achieve their goals if they’re also not willing to do everything in their power to help you achieve your goals. It must be a mutual partnership. That’s the advice I’ve given to young women for decades.
What books are on your nightstand right now?
I just got a copy of Caleb McDaniel’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Sweet Taste of Liberty. Caleb McDaniel is an Aggie who graduated from Texas A&M and is now a professor at Rice. It’s a true story of a woman who was born into slavery and then they took her to a non-slave state and gave her freedom. Only five years later, this guy comes along and kidnaps her and re-enslaves her. After the Civil War, she took the man who enslaved her to court and won the largest settlement of this kind ever.
I can’t wait to read this! I just love smart, strong women and I love justice. It’s even better because it was written by an Aggie liberal arts former student.
What do you want your legacy to be at Texas A&M?
I don’t have children, so I guess I can think of my scholarship recipients as my kids. I want them to go off and have the same opportunities to grow. I want them to have that confidence for the rest of their lives.
Thinking of this reminds me of my favorite song ever by The Eagles. It was written by Don Henley and it’s called “My Thanksgiving.” It is the most beautiful poem ever. Some of the lines are, “I’ve got great expectations, I’ve got family and friends, I’ve got satisfying work, I’ve got a back that bends. For every breath, for every day of living, this is my thanksgiving.”
That’s all you can hope for in life. I don’t know that I’ll ever have a legacy or that I’ll ever be remembered, but if I do and if I am, I hope it’s because I am always willing to step in and help when needed.