TAMUC Alumnus Establishes Accounting Scholarship for First-Generation Students

The new James Earl Estes Endowed Scholarship in Accounting offers financial support to first-generation students who major in accounting at Texas A&M University-Commerce. Mr. Estes, a graduate of East Texas State University (ETSU), generously provided the funds for the endowment. He owns Your Controller Plus, a Dallas-based tax preparation and consulting firm.

Estes established the endowment to pay forward the financial help he received when he was a student in the 1970s. Born and raised in Dallas by his mother [Susie Lee Estes], Estes was the first person in his family to receive a college degree. He graduated from ETSU with a Bachelor of Business Administration in 1974.

Estes was exposed to the university environment in high school through Upward Bound, a federal program that prepares young people for college entrance. As a participant, Estes took summer classes at Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas.

During his freshman year, Estes enrolled at SMU, but he couldn't foresee meeting the financial requirements on a long-term basis. Seeking a more affordable option, he remembered a high school field trip to ETSU. Although ETSU’s rural setting felt a little outside his comfort zone, he decided to enroll.

“ETSU was only 60 miles away from Dallas, and that afforded me the opportunity to get back to ‘civilization’ often,” Estes joked.

A network of supporters reached out to offer financial assistance to Estes. He secured scholarships from ETSU, United Way, and YMCA in Dallas, where he was a volunteer. According to Estes, this support changed the trajectory of his life.

“If no one had pointed me toward a scholarship, I might have been a good citizen, but there’s no way I could have attended university,” he said.

Despite his initial reservations, Estes acclimated to ETSU and got along well with the other students—the “cowboys”—who attended the rural school.

“We meshed well; we got along. It was just different from what I was used to,” Estes said.

However, racial attitudes toward Black citizens in the recently desegregated American South meant that not everyone in society encouraged his success. 

“Not everyone was my champion,” Estes said. “As a matter of fact, there were some who made a point of saying, ‘Are you sure business education is for you?’ And that alone was enough motivation for me to succeed. Some things you can either let destroy you, or you can take those lemons and make lemonade.”

Estes chose to “make lemonade.” Equipped with a solid business education from ETSU, he began a steady climb to corporate success. Even before he graduated from college, Estes completed three internships with successful Dallas corporations, including Goldman Sachs and Raymond D. Nasher, the renowned Texas real estate developer. During his last two years in college, Estes commuted 120 miles roundtrip from his internship in Dallas to class at ETSU.

Throughout his career, Estes worked for several Fortune 500 companies, including FINA Oil and Chemical, Atlantic Richfield & Company, and First National Bank of Dallas. He served as a risk manager for FINA Oil and Chemical and chief financial officer for Southern Dallas Development Corporation, a non-profit corporation. For the last 15 years, he has worked as an accounting and tax advisor at his tax preparation and consulting firm.

In addition, Estes works diligently to improve the quality of life in his community. He has served in leadership positions with the African American Museum and Dallas Museum of Art, on the board of management with YMCA of Metropolitan Dallas, and numerous other volunteer positions.

Looking back on his life, Estes said he thanks God for His grace and mercy. Estes is also thankful for positive adult influences throughout his childhood.

“I went to Saint Anthony Catholic school from kindergarten to sixth grade, and all of my instructors were nuns,” Estes said. “In that all-Black elementary school in the middle of South Dallas, those teachers helped us build our self-worth. They taught us that nobody, nobody was better than we were.”

At home, his mother also taught Estes to believe in himself and his abilities.

“My mother's mantra was, ‘Failure is not in the equation,'” Estes said.

Estes hopes his endowed scholarship will make a difference to a young person who may wonder, “Is a four-year university the right path for me? Is this what I need to do going forward?” He wants the James Earl Estes Endowed Scholarship in Accounting to be a nudge in the right direction for a student who needs a little extra encouragement.

“I know there’s a population of young people who have a story similar to mine who need supporters,” he said.

Estes believes that paying it forward is a part of loving others, and not always in a monetary way.

“I’ve been a ‘philanthropist of time’ very often,” Estes said. “That’s a term I’ve coined that refers to volunteering my time and talents when I couldn’t write a check.”

Dr. Michael Opara, interim department head and associate professor in the Department of Accounting and Finance at A&M-Commerce, expressed appreciation for Estes's gift.

“On behalf of the Department of Accounting and Finance, I want to extend my sincere gratitude for the generous donation that has made this endowed scholarship possible,” Opara said. “Mr. Estes truly exemplifies the values we cherish and strive to inculcate in our graduates. We hope that this endowed scholarship will make a difference in the lives of first-generation students who take that leap of faith to make an investment in themselves.”

Students can apply for the James Earl Estes Scholarship in Accounting as well as many other opportunities beginning October 1, 2022, via the Donor-Funded Scholarships app in their myLEO accounts. Contact [email protected] for more information.

The account established to support the James Earl Estes Scholarship in Accounting will remain open for additional donations. Contact the Office of Philanthropy and Engagement at 903.468.8187 or [email protected] for information on how to contribute.