By Caitlyn Meisner | Staff Writer
Allen senior Reagan Whitaker will be competing at the SEC championship game this weekend for the Dr Pepper Tuition Giveaway.
Whitaker posted a TikTok on Oct. 8 under the #DrPepperTuitionContest and was notified of her finalist position on Nov. 1. She said she applied because of her career aspirations to become an audiologist and help underserved communities.
“There’s a lot of health care disparities in that minorities and those with low socioeconomic status experience limited access to health care,” Whitaker said. “Within the field of audiology, we see minorities and those with low [socioeconomic status] getting delayed cochlear implantation and then not being able to afford state-of-the-art technology despite having insurance.”
Whitaker said delayed cochlear implantation can impact someone’s development and social skills. As an audiologist, she said she wants to close the gap of health care disparities and improve the lives of others.
Regarding the money she could win, Whitaker said it would go toward her graduate school education. She said she has four years left of school, and the money would help her reach her goals.
The giveaway required students ages 18 to 24 to send in a TikTok describing their academic and professional goals and how winning the prize money would impact their lives.
Whitaker said that after thousands of videos were sent in, three people were chosen per conference to compete for the $100,000 prize at a conference championship game. Whitaker will be competing at the SEC championship game in Atlanta.
“Students will do a football toss into a giant Dr Pepper can, and they have 30 seconds to make the most footballs, and whoever wins gets $100,000,” Whitaker said.
There are three prize amounts that the 15 finalists can receive: 10 $2,500 consolation prizes, five $25,000 runner-up prizes and five $100,000 tuition prizes.
Whitaker will be up against Caymen Hawkins from the Centenary College of Louisiana and Kayla Gibson from the University of St. Augustine. On Dec. 2 — the day before the game — all three will compete. Whoever gets third place will be immediately knocked out of the competition, and the top two will go on to compete at halftime on Saturday.
Whitaker said she will be taking Fairfax, Va., sophomore Naomi White — her friend and coach who filmed the TikTok for her in October.
“The deal was if I got picked, she was coming with me,” Whitaker said.
Whitaker and White said they don’t have many of their own plans since Dr Pepper has a packed schedule for them from when they fly into Atlanta on Thursday to when they fly back to Waco on Sunday.
“We land in Atlanta around 2 p.m., go to the hotel, meet everybody and then we have a steakhouse dinner,” Whitaker said. “We have a stadium tour of the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the preliminary position, and if I make the top two, I have network talks of how the TV is going to work.”
Whitaker and White said they have been going out and practicing almost every night with Whitaker’s dog, 12 footballs and a makeshift Dr Pepper can.
“I took PVC pipes, and I built a little hoop,” Whitaker said. “And it’s like a 2-foot diameter hula hoop, which is the same dimensions as the thing I’m tossing it into. I measure out 5 yards because that’s how much you have, and I work really hard.”
White said she has been having fun preparing for the trip with Whitaker and that there has been a lot of improvement since they started practicing.
“Helping Reagan train has been fabulous,” White said. “It’s been fun prepping for a fun trip. No matter what happens, I’m proud of Reagan, and I know she’ll achieve her goals.”
Whitaker will be competing at the preliminary competition at 11 a.m. on Dec. 2, and if she advances, her final competition will be during the SEC championship game halftime show.