An athlete and a business student, Damani Felder ’14 knows that an understanding of statistics and laws of probability is vital to his success.
Even better than understanding the odds, Felder is making a habit of defying them.
Felder recently became the first homeschool graduate to receive a Jackie Robinson Foundation Scholarship an award of $24,000 which, paired with his other scholarships, will completely cover his education at A&M.
Almost as impressive, he is the first homeschool graduate in A&M’s history to earn a walk-on position on the Aggie football team.
If that isn’t enough notoriety for one Aggie, Felder who intends to double major in business honors and management aspires to be student body president. And he plans to be CEO of a major corporation by the age of 35.
Some might scoff at Felder’s ambition. How could anyone accomplish all that this green, untested freshman proposes?
That’s the wrong question. A much larger challenge faces Felder: living up to his own potential.
Fresh from a workout at the Bright Football Complex, Felder sports athletic shorts and t-shirt on his well-muscled 6’1″ frame. At 230 pounds, he has the graceful, lightweight build of a quarterback, though he will be a linebacker for the Aggies.
More impressive than his physique is his humility and his obvious intelligence. He’s well-spoken and polite, employing many “yes, ma’ams” as he answers my questions. I ask him to tell me about the Robinson scholarship.
“It was a national scholarship, so I thought, “What are my chances of getting it?'” His chances were about one in a hundred: of the 4,000 applicants nationally each year, about 40 students are selected. His application included five essays about his goals and aspirations, as well as a letter of recommendation. A few months later, his odds improved when he was notified that he was one of 200 semifinalists nationwide selected for an interview.
Felder traveled from his home in Bryan, Texas, to Houston where he was interviewed by a panel of six business and civic leaders. “It was challenging. They were basically grilling me for 40 minutes,” he said. Public speaking training through 4-H (he was a state champion in 2010) and Youth Toastmasters paid off in the interview. “I didn’t feel that nervous about it at the time. I felt pretty good about it.” Robinson Foundation scholars are selected on academic ability, leadership potential, and financial need. Weeks later, he found out he was one of two students from the state of Texas to be chosen for the program.
It’s not surprising that Felder stands out in a crowd. As one of nine children in his family, he’s had years of practice at doing what it takes to be noticed. Felder’s father made a career of the Air Force. Moves were routine. Felder says homeschooling made sense for his family as it was simpler than making so many children uproot their scholastics every few years. “In some ways being homeschooled is a hindrance,” he says, noting the lack of serious football opportunities, “but in some ways, it’s a blessing.” The more individualized education Felder received at home was clearly a boon, as his strong SAT score attests.
The Robinson Foundation scholarship will enable Felder to do more than simply graduate debt-free. It comes with big opportunities: an annual trip to New York City, where he’ll network with famous and influential people such as Bill Cosby and Hillary Clinton; training in business etiquette, life skills, and leadership; peer and professional mentoring; international travel; and guaranteed internships with sponsor companies, such as Goldman Sachs, that frequently lead to job opportunities after graduation. Robinson scholars maintain a 97 percent graduation rate, more than twice the national average for minority students.
There are other perks to the program such as a $10,000 incentive award for the scholar that has the highest GPR at the end of the first year. Felder isn’t solely motivated by the potential for financial reward when it comes to his studies. He’s more concerned with working hard to keep the minimum 3.5 GPR necessary to continue in the rigorous business honors program.
The opportunities Felder has through Mays and the Robinson Foundation will mean a bright future, no matter how he fares on the football field.
“All I’ve got to do is get out there and make the grade,” he says with equal parts confidence and determination.
So, why a business major? Partially, he’s following in his brother’s footsteps Eddie Lee Felder III ’10 will graduate this year with a degree in marketing. Beyond that, the economy is in trouble, he says. He’d like to be able to help find solutions that will turn the tide.
With his entire career ahead of him, filled with glittering potential, odds are he will do just that.