Q&A with Dr Pepper Tuition Toss Winner Reagan Whitaker
Senior Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD) student Reagan Whitaker is the latest of three Baylor students in the past six years to win Dr Pepper’s Tuition Toss Giveaway. After submitting a video about her goals and being selected as a finalist, she travelled to the SEC Championship game in Atlanta, Georgia. She and her opponent competed during the Halftime Show, throwing footballs into giant Dr Pepper cans for a prize of $100,000 in tuition. Here, Reagan shares her background and the experience of entering and winning the giveaway.
How did you first become interested in CSD?
My brother has had hearing loss since the age of two, and he worked with speech pathologists and audiologists, and my grandmother was diagnosed with Ménière’s Disease, a disorder related to hearing and balance. So, I first heard about CSD because I knew I wanted to be an audiologist, and I was looking at different programs across the country when getting ready to apply for college. I came across Baylor’s CSD department, and I immediately knew this was the fit for me.
What are your future goals as an audiologist?
I work at Baylor’s Speech and Hearing Clinic right now, so I’ve had a lot of exposure to the pediatric population, and that’s definitely something I want to be a part of. I want to specialize in pediatrics, and I do research with Dr. Yoon, so I’ve learned a lot about cochlear implantation. Something I want to do as an audiologist is work with children and maybe specialize in cochlear implantation, but my overall goal is to help close the gaps and health care disparities within my field.
I have a minor in Medical Humanities, and we’ve learned about how those with a low socioeconomic status (SES), and minority groups often experience limited access to health care. What this looks like within audiology is minorities and those with low SES having delayed cochlear implantation or not being able to afford hearing devices despite insurance, and that will affect someone’s development and their entire life if they don’t have access to those things.
How did you enter the contest and get ready for it?
This year, the Dr Pepper Tuition Giveaway took submissions via Tiktok, so I made a one- minute video explaining what I want to do with my life, how I want to impact the world, and why this tuition could change my life. I added the hashtag to it, #DrPepperTuitionContest, and that was my submission. Within a couple weeks, I heard back and I was selected as a finalist. It was crazy. I was so fortunate that they selected me. After I got the call from them, I started practicing right away. I ordered materials and made a stand that mimics the real toss, I bought a ton of footballs, and I went to Touchdown Alley. I practiced every day for about a month, and then, I went to Atlanta.
What was the experience of competing at the SEC Championship like?
Absolutely wild. Dr Pepper is such a great company, and they’re so generous in everything they do. Not only with the tuition, but they flew us out there and got us hotel rooms that were really nice. They gave us Dr Pepper gear, and they were all so welcoming the entire time. I met with the other contestants as well and we instantly bonded, so it was more like I was hanging out with my friends, not just competing the entire weekend. The day before the game, we had the prelim competition where the top two would make it to the half-time show. Kayla [Reagan’s Halftime Show opponent] and I made the top two, and we started getting ready for the real game.
We walked to the stadium. First of all, the place was huge. We watched the first half, and then we got ready to go. I remember looking out of the tunnel as I was about to walk on the field, and I saw 75,000 people and the producers saying we were at 14 million viewers. I couldn’t really believe what I was about to go out there and do. It was the most surreal experience of my life. It was a crazy adrenaline rush because I had never been on that type of stage before, with the world watching essentially, but the entire production team and Dr Pepper did an amazing job of making us feel comfortable and boosting us up, saying we could do this.
I did the first toss, and we tied. We were just shocked, and then we tied again. Since we tied twice on TV, it meant that the one who got first place in the prelim round the day before won. I got first place the day before, and since we tied twice, I knew that meant I had won the $100,000. I was utterly shocked. My face dropped; I was so excited. I tried to thank everybody as much as I could in the twenty seconds I had, and then we walked back to the tunnels. I couldn’t even believe it. I felt like I blinked and it was over, and my life changed all because of Dr Pepper.
How will winning impact your future?
I have four more years of school left. I graduate in May, but I’m going to go on and do my doctorate. Winning this scholarship means that I can go out there and do that. Four more years of school is a financial challenge, but with the generosity of Dr Pepper, it’s possible. I can pursue my dreams, make an impact, and “fling my green and gold afar.”
What does it mean to you to be one of three Baylor winners in the past six years?
It means everything. Baylor is such a great university, and I’m not surprised that there have been more than just me who have one this. I’m so happy to represent Baylor, and having the support behind me from the Baylor Family has been amazing. Now that I’m one of three, I’m in good company, and I’m excited that I get to share this with my university and the world.
Any final thoughts?
Eventually, after the competition, they announced that my friend and opponent, Kayla, also went home with $100,000. We were so excited. Our worlds changed. I want to acknowledge that she is amazing. We both ended up on top and had a super happy ending overall, and it’s all because of Dr Pepper! Dr Pepper’s such a generous company, and they’re doing amazing things, so I highly recommend for anyone who sees this opportunity in the future to just go for it. Good things can happen.