Photo by Carson Nicely

The Meadows School of the Arts at Southern Methodist University is expanding, thanks to a very generous gift.

Philanthropist and Broadway producer G. Marlyne Sexton has donated $15 million to create a specialization in musical theater.

Sexton's gift funds both the new G. Marlyne Sexton Institute for Musical Theatre and the G. Marlyne Sexton Director of Musical Theatre – plus operating funds to begin during the 2023-24 school year.

“Marlyne Sexton’s gift builds on the strong Meadows School of the Arts programs in theater, music and dance,” says SMU president R. Gerald Turner. “It also augments the arts scene in Dallas, inspiring artistic expression and adding to SMU Meadows’ status as a premier artistic and cultural institution.”

Joel Ferrell, the previous associate artistic director at Dallas Theater Center, has been announced as the inaugural director of this new institute.

“SMU Meadows produces some of the best professional artists in the world, and I am proud to support this addition to the school’s repertoire,” says Sexton. “As they entertain, I hope students of musical theater will develop their abilities to inspire us and build our capacity to empathize for others.”

Musical theatre students enrolled in the program will participate in "cutting-edge productions and gain valuable training and expertise from internationally recognized faculty and performers."

Students will be able to obtain an BFA in theater with a specialization in musical theater, in addition to existing concentrations in acting and theater studies.

“For many years, prospective students have told us they are looking for musical theater training like this,” says Samuel S. Holland, Algur H. Meadows Dean of the Meadows School. “Marlyne Sexton’s gift will help SMU attract artistic and talented performers, and help us achieve our goal of becoming nationally competitive in this discipline within five years of launching the program.”

Based in Indianapolis, Indiana, Sexton is a dedicated supporter and parent of two SMU alumnae, Nicole Sexton ’87 and Tracy Copeland ’82. She has also been involved in producing and funding Broadway productions in New York and London.

Previously, as part of the enhanced SMU Meadows facilities for the visual arts, Sexton and her family made a gift to establish the Sexton Family Courtyard, the renovated west entrance to the arts building; the Sexton Family Art Studio and Terrace, an expansive indoor-outdoor space; and the Sexton Family Suite for Creative Computation as part of school’s enhanced facilities for the visual arts.

Photo courtesy of University of Dallas

2 Dallas universities earn top-10 honors in new list of Texas' best colleges for 2024

Head of the class

College students looking for an exemplary education in Texas can still apply to Dallas' consistently top-ranking universities before their early decision deadline November 1.

Perfect timing, asSouthern Methodist University has earned the No. 6 spot in WalletHub's 2024 ranking of the best colleges and universities in Texas.

The personal finance experts analyzed more than 800 colleges and universities in the United States using 30 metrics to determine their rankings.

Factors that helped determine SMU's placement include its admittance rate (52 percent), graduation rate (75 percent as of 2015), an 11:1 student-to-faculty ratio, its gender and racial diversity, net cost, and more.

SMU's placement on the WalletHub list follows a recent No. 4 ranking on U.S. News' list of best colleges in Texas and No. 5 on Niche's list of Texas' best.

According to U.S. News and World Report, SMU's tuition and fees cost $64,460.

Gerardo L. Blanco, an associate professor at Boston College, provided some advice for prospective students aiming to graduate college with minimal debt and significant job prospects in their chosen degree field. He advised that students learn the difference between a university's "sticker price" versus the net price after financial aid. It could be particularly useful for students planning for a post-secondary education at private institutions like SMU.

"There are public universities, both flagship and regional, that offer great value for money," Blanco said. "Many private non-profit institutions are committed to promoting access and, even with higher sticker prices, offer generous financial aid."

Right behind SMU in the WalletHub survey is The University of Dallas, earning No. 7 in Texas. The private Catholic university has a 12:1 student-to-faculty ratio, a 59 percent acceptance rate, and a 67 percent graduation rate for four-year students, according to U.S. News. Tuition costs add up to $50,880.

In WalletHub's regional ranking of best universities in the South, SMU earned No. 35, and University of Dallas ranked No. 38.

Out of the top 500 universities in the nation, SMU ranked No. 170 and University of Dallas ranked No. 184. Yale University took the No. 1 spot in the country, followed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (No. 2), Princeton University in New Jersey (No. 3), and California Institute of Technology (No. 4). Harvard University in Massachusetts rounded out the top five.

Elsewhere in Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas Christian University ranked No. 10 in the state and No. 222 nationwide.

The top 10 colleges and universities in Texas are:

  • No. 1 – Rice University, Houston
  • No. 2 – The University of Texas at Austin
  • No. 3 – Trinity University, San Antonio
  • No. 4 – Texas A&M University-College Station
  • No. 5 – Southwestern University
  • No. 6 – Southern Methodist University
  • No. 7 – University of Dallas
  • No. 8 – Austin College
  • No. 9 – LeTourneau University
  • No. 10 – Texas Christian University
The full report can be found on wallethub.com.
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2 Dallas universities rank among top 10 in Texas for 2024 by U.S. News

Top Texas schools

Two Dallas universities have achieved high rankings for their high-quality educational experiences this year: Southern Methodist University and The University of Texas at Dallas both have earned top-10 spots on U.S. News and World Report's just-released list of the Best Colleges in Texas for 2024.

SMU claimed the No. 4 spot in Texas, and ranked No. 89 nationally. The private institution had an undergraduate enrollment of more than 7,000 students in fall 2022. The school, which costs $64,460 in tuition and fees each year, ranks No. 121 for "Best Value Schools" by U.S. News.

In April, SMU's Cox School of Business ranked No. 4 in U.S. News' ranking of the best graduate programs in Texas. SMU business graduates additionally make the third-highest earnings in the nation within the four years after their graduation.

SMU actually fared one spot better in U.S. News' list of top Texas schools than it did in another recent report, in which it ranked No. 5 statewide.

U.S. News' profile of SMU says the university finds pride in its rich campus culture that encourages students to participate in different organizations and activities.

"Students can check out the Dallas International Film Festival, which draws 40,000 viewers annually, or explore the more than 400 parks in the city," the site says. "About 2,000 students are involved in SMU Greek life, and all students can participate in annual events such as the Festival of Lights, a candlelit assembly on the school’s Main Quad each December, and the Mane Event, a celebration of spring complete with bands and food."

SMU's cross-Metroplex rival, Texas Christian University, ranked No. 6 in Texas and No. 98 nationally.

Just behind TCU, Richardson's UTD placed No. 7 in the Texas rankings, and No. 115 nationally. With a total undergraduate enrollment of over 21,600 students in fall 2022, the university values itself as a top-tier research institution.

"The Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship utilizes world-class, academic education, industry-leading experiential training, venture mentorship and advisory support to support the launch of new businesses," the UT Dallas website says.

In fact, the U.S. Department of Defense recently announced it will work alongside UT Dallas to develop a $30 million energy storage systems campus in a new initiative to improve battery technology.

"The project will accelerate transition and scaling of next generation batteries, while reducing dependence on scarce critical materials," the release said.

UTD ranked No. 14 in the recent Niche list of best Texas colleges.

U.S. News' top 10 best colleges in Texas in 2024 are:

  • No. 1 – Rice University, Houston
  • No. 2 – University of Texas at Austin
  • No. 3 – Texas A&M University, College Station
  • No. 4 – Southern Methodist University, Dallas
  • No. 5 – Baylor University, Waco
  • No. 6 – Texas Christian University, Fort Worth
  • No. 7 – The University of Texas at Dallas, Richardson
  • No. 8 – University of Houston
  • No. 9 – Texas Tech University, Lubbock
  • No. 10 – University of St. Thomas, Houston

The full rankings can be found on usnews.com.

Photo courtesy of Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation

Meet Jenna Bush Hager and Barbara Pierce Bush at special book-launch celebration in Dallas

Sister act

American first sisters-turned-best-selling authors Jenna Bush Hager and Barbara Pierce Bush have a new children's book called Love Comes First in the works, and they're bringing it to Dallas for a special event before it's released to the public.

On Saturday, November 4, the authors will appear at an early-release celebration at the George W. Bush Presidential Center at SMU. It will be their only appearance in Dallas on a book tour that also includes Texas stops in Midland, Lubbock, and Waco (November 2-4); and a special event in their late grandparents' beloved Houston, at the Memorial Drive United Methodist Church, on November 5.

According to information from the Bush Center, the Dallas Love Comes First event will be a family-friendly affair that includes:

  • An opportunity for guests to meet the sisters for a family photo and to receive a pre-signed book.
  • Children’s activities and refreshments.
  • Tours of the George W. Bush Presidential Museum's permanent exhibit and special exhibit.

(Note that the authors will not be personalizing books nor signing other memorabilia, organizers say.)

The event will run from 4-6 pm. Tickets are $10 for adults, plus $19.99 for a pre-signed copy of the book; free for children.

Love Comes First(Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, $19.99) officially goes on sale November 7.

Its description reads: "As two sisters watch their friends’ families grow, they wish on a star for a sibling of their own… and a younger brother and a baby cousin arrive! The new family members aren’t exactly what the sisters expected, but with time and patience, the group soon becomes fabulously four – and lets their imaginations soar! Together they can be anything, and no matter what, they will always remember that love comes first."

The book is inspired by Jenna and Barbara’s own families, the publisher says, and is a companion to their #1 New York Times bestseller Sisters First, "a tender story about the way our hearts can always make room for more."

It features illustrations by Ramona Kaulitzki, who also illustrated Sisters First.

Jenna Bush Hager and Barbara Pierce Bush, the twin daughters of President George W. Bush and Laura Bush, grew up in Dallas, where their parents now call home.

Jenna is a host of NBC’s TODAYwith Hoda & Jenna and the founder of "TODAY’s Read with Jenna" book club. Barbara is cofounder of Global Health Corps, an organization that works to solve some of the world’s biggest global health challenges.

The women appear regularly as guest speakers at fundraising events in Dallas, but public events together are rare.

In an Instagram post, Jenna expressed excitement about going on a book tour with her "sissy" this fall.

They'll also hit towns in New York, Mississippi, and Birmingham, and will wrap up in a place with special meaning to the Bush family - Kennebunk, Maine.

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Wealthy suburb's big holiday spenders top week's 5 hottest Dallas headlines

This week's hot headlines

Editor's note: A lot happened this week, so here's your chance to get caught up. Read on for the week's most popular headlines. Looking for the best things to do this weekend? Find that list here.

1. Wealthy Dallas suburb boasts the 3rd biggest holiday spenders in U.S. According to a new study by Wallethub, Santa's gonna be working overtime to fulfill the orders for residents of Frisco this holiday season. The personal finance experts have determined Frisco is the U.S. city with the No. 3 biggest holiday spending budget in 2023. Shoppers in the affluent Dallas suburb are expected to spend $3,546 this festive season.

2. Dallas-Fort Worth keeps winning streak with new movie filming in Granbury. Everyone loves when a movie filming is in town, and there's one going down right now in Granbury, the quaint town 70 miles southwest of Dallas. Oh and it's a holiday movie, which makes it even fuzzier. According to a release, it's called A Christmas Heart, and is a drama about faith, family, and forgiveness.

3. Dallas chef returns with innovative Mexican restaurant at West Village. A Mexican restaurant from Dallas-based Local Favorite Restaurants has debuted at the West Village: Called UnaVida, it's at 3699 McKinney Ave #307 in the former Taco Diner space, with a menu created by Executive Chef of New Concept Development, Chef Matt McCallister.

4. Post Malone collaborates on new line of Dallas Cowboys hoodies and T's. Post Malone gave us Dallas Cowboys-adorned chicken tenders, he gave us Cowboys drink cups, now he gives us Cowboys-themed hoodies. The rapper, singer, and native Texan - a self-professed die-hard Dallas Cowboys fan - has debuted a limited-edition collection of Post Malone x Dallas Cowboys merchandise featuring T-shirts, sweatshirts, hoodies, and shorts.

5. Unprecedented round of new concerts headed to Dallas in early 2024. Concert season is alive and well for 2024, with a bounty of tours in the works for spring and early summer. Eight major tours were announced on November 28, featuring a variety of well-known acts, from iconic rappers to seminal rock guitarists.

Universal theme park in Frisco will be a first-of-its-kind Kids Resort

Theme Park News

The big splashy theme park coming to Frisco has a name and identity: Called Universal Kids Resort, it's from Universal Destinations & Experiences, a division of Comcast NBCUniversal, and is the company's first-ever theme park designed specifically for families with young children.

Previously described as a "family-friendly" concept, it's doubling down on the "kids" element, vowing to bring an innovative style of storytelling to a new, younger audience. So, more Disney-ish.

According to a release, Universal Kids Resort will include a theme park featuring immersive themed lands that bring Universal's characters and stories to life in ways that will wow the youngest theme parkgoers.

It will feature family-friendly attractions, interactive and playful shows, unique merchandise, fun food and beverage venues, and character meet & greets.

A resort area will include a 300-room themed hotel, giving families a place to stay and to play.

"Universal Kids Resort will inspire the unbridled creativity of kids through imagination, discovery and most importantly – play," says Universal Creative president Molly Murphy in a statement. "We're designing the resort so kids and families can feel the thrill of being physically immersed in their most beloved stories and characters."

It'll be set in green landscape with a distinctive look, feel, and scale specifically for younger kids. Progress on the new concept is underway, following a groundbreaking in November. With more details about Universal Kids Resort to come.

Singer Michael Bublé to make appearance in Dallas for his new whiskey

Less burn, more Bublé

Singer Michael Bublé has made a career using his voice to enchant millions of fans, but he'll be using his voice in a different way when he stops in Dallas on December 6 in support of a new whiskey he's released.

Called Fraser & Thompson, it's a North American whiskey launched in 2023 by Bublé and his partner Paul Cirka, a Master Distiller and Blender with a goal to create an aromatic and approachable new-to-world whiskey.

Bublé will be at Spec’s Wines & Spirits at 9500 N. Central Expwy. on December 6 from 4-5 pm.

According to a release, he’ll be at the brand’s "Easy, Now" lounge experience (IE, the events space at Spec's), where consumers over 21 can try samples.

Fans are encouraged to arrive early in order to ensure they are able to meet Bublé during the allotted time.

Retailing for $29.99 with the catch phrase, "Less burn, more Bublé," the whiskey is so new that its website is still under construction.

The release describes it as having sweet fig and blood orange on the nose, with a subtle finish of caramel, vanilla, and a hint of spice.

“Michael and I bonded over our shared passion for whisky, and wanted to create a blend that was flavorful but more light-hearted than the category at large can be known for," says Fraser & Thompson co-founder Cirka.

According to Bublé, the name Fraser Thompson references a location in his hometown Canada.

"I spent many summers with my grandfather at the confluence of the Fraser and Thompson rivers in British Columbia," Bublé says. "When I heard Paul’s vision for creating a new kind of whiskey, I knew instantly what I wanted to call it. For the last three years, we worked together to perfect a whiskey blend that is equally elegant and approachable."

Bublé, of course, is doing just fine, even before making the jump into the celebrity liquor game. He's released 11 albums in his 20+ year singing career, selling millions of albums and almost singlehandedly reviving the jazz standards genre.

He's also not new to the beverage world, having partnered with Pepsi on a series of amusing commercials for their Bubly sparkling water.