The University of Houston Magazine

UH Freshman Barrels Toward

by Angela Hopp (’00)

You wouldn’t know it by looking at her, but Chelsea Stanley is a fighter. At first glance, the University of Houston freshman comes across as petite—tiny, even—and unintimidating. But those who know and love her can attest she’s an unstoppable force.

Chelsea StanleyAt 19, she already has done a lot of living and has had more than her share of tragedy. Four years ago, her father, a Houston firefighter, died in a car crash just around the bend from their Waller home.

“There’s a twenty-acre field, and there’s nothing but fences—and one light pole. And he hits the one light pole,” she says, shaking her head in dismay.

Stanley has learned how to roll with the punches.

The death of her father left her orphaned, she says, because she never really had a relationship with her biological mother. Stanley and her stepmother were estranged, so she was made a ward of the state and eventually went to live with her aunt and uncle, who were virtual strangers at the time.

Stanley, however, made a conscious decision to move forward with her life and make her father and new family proud. She set out to be the first woman in her family to earn a college degree.

“Having my dad pass away taught me that whatever you want, you have to go get it,” she says. “When you get it, you have to get it to your fullest ability—no matter if you’re good at it or bad at it. I don’t take life for granted like I think a lot of kids my age do. I take every day as if it could be my last day.”

In high school, Stanley threw herself into academics and extracurricular activities. She performed in plays, became the school mascot, and championed literacy in her community. She even won a state championship in wrestling—despite her 103-pound frame.

“I wrote this play called Memories of a Man, which is actually about my father. A lot of things I did in high school were for my dad—things he would be proud of,” she says.

One of those activities was the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo’s (HLS&R) calf scramble, she says, because her father had been interested in athletics and agriculture. He also was a longtime member of a rodeo cook-off team.

At a recent gathering of rodeo volunteers, she recalled the night she caught her calf: “I will forever have a small scar under my chin from the night I got trampled and kicked. I became a very happy girl after I got across a little white line with my calf.”

But what made that night so memorable was that she knew in her gut that she had made her dad really proud.

Stanley credits Alice Stewart, who advises students at Waller High School, for helping her fund her college education. Stewart calls Stanley “a little dynamite.”

“You could talk to anyone at this campus, and you’d get the same answer. She’s enlightening,” Stewart says. “Anything she touches, she does her best at it.”

In HLS&R, Stanley found a family that provided a $15,000 academic scholarship to support her college education. “I am so grateful that I received a Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo Scholarship. Thank you for my education, thank you for all the support through hard times,” she says.

Chelsea StanleyHer experience has inspired her to help other disadvantaged students find money for school.

“One of the biggest things that I want to do is work with kids who’ve had problems like me. I want to talk to them about scholarships,” she says.

Before her father’s death, Stanley spent a lot of time at the restaurant he co-owned, often working into the wee hours and then waking up bright and early for school, all the while garnering impressive grades.

“I’ve always been good at balancing my time, which has helped me in college,” she explains.

Stanley, who entered UH last fall with 18 dual-credit hours, maintains that strict work ethic. She carries a full course load and works part time at UH’s School of Theatre & Dance. She had a 3.5 GPA last fall.

“I am so grateful that I received a Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo Scholarship. Thank you for my education, thank you for all the support through hard times,” Stanley says.

“Chelsea has a good head on her shoulders. It’s rare to come across someone who is so driven and who comes with such energy and eagerness to learn,” says Stanley’s supervisor, Brandy Robichau, School of Theatre & Dance associate director for community relations. “She is the lady of a million questions. She knows what it takes to succeed and is willing to work hard to reach her goals. I respect her passion and enjoy her company.”

Stanley, a theater major, says writing and acting have been both creative and cathartic outlets, and her experience at her father’s eatery makes her believe a minor in hotel and restaurant management would be a good fit.

“I’d like to find a job at a regional theater. If not, there’s always the chance of working for Cirque du Soleil,” she says. “Eventually—and this is a big goal, a big dream, because I think you have to have big dreams—I’d like to open a dinner theater in Houston. Houston is the perfect market for it.”

In the meantime, Stanley intends to continue working hard at school and work.

Her aunt and uncle, Kim and Chris Grimes, insist that people are drawn to Stanley’s personality.

“Everyone she meets immediately just loves her. She’s very kind,” Kim Grimes says. “She’s wise beyond her years and empathetic. We are so proud of her.”

John Alstrin, UH’s assistant band director, who is overseeing Stanley as a mascot in training, agrees Stanley is “a sweetheart.”

“She’s very, very responsible. She’s really into what she’s doing. She sent us a DVD of her as the Waller bulldog. At first, we didn’t return her calls right away, but she was persistent. That was what sold us on her. She’s just really into it.”

Stanley says she loves to entertain and have fun.

“Little kids are what really do it for me,” she says. “The way they laugh and giggle and think I am real. They make all the sweating worth it.”