Honors Students away from campus for study abroad, co-ops, or internships are encouraged to write about their experiences to share them with the Honors community. In the excerpt below, junior biomedical engineering major Farhan Rob ’18 reflects on his co-op experience.
Starting from January 2016 all the way to current day, I have worked as a co-op in the R&D division of St. Jude Medical Neuromodulation Division. This division of the major medical device company deals specifically with implantable medical devices for the brain and spinal cord in efforts to suppress debilitating movement disorders such as Parkinson’s Disease and tremors. Sounds pretty cool already right? I have worked here for a total of seven months and will be ending my term August 19th for a total of eight months and some change working here. This is longer than the traditional co-op (six months) and I am extremely grateful for the extra time here. From start to finish, there was no dull moment experienced in this co-op and I gained experiences and memories that will last a lifetime.
I have had no prior internships or co-ops to this one so I was a little nervous coming in on my first day as I had no idea what to expect. This was my first experience in the corporate world, much less the engineering world. However, the engineers that I would soon call my team helped me out every step of the way from figuring out the routes of the building to familiarizing myself with SJM policies. The first couple of weeks were largely uneventful since I was working on trainings and policy reviews. After that, I started to get my first tasks which in hindsight, were pretty small but they definitely left a lasting impact on me. The other engineers would help me every step of the way in the beginning and dealt with my constant questions in a very helpful manner. The best training was actually working on R&D tasks hands-on and getting familiar with how the team operates and what my role on the team was. I helped other engineers with their projects, I did small lab tasks, I wrote simple technical reports, the works. All of this is considered the woodworks of the engineering world, but nevertheless crucial in product development & innovation. This continued for several weeks as I started to get more and more comfortable with this new lifestyle.
Honors Students away from campus for study abroad, co-ops, or internships are encouraged to write about their experiences to share them with the Honors community. In the excerpt below, junior biomedical engineering major Blake Smith ’18 reflects on his time in Germany.
One habit I picked up while abroad is calling the US The States instead. Somehow it just seemed more natural while in Europe. I am back now, and I don’t think there is as much of an adjustment period as people made me think there would be. Things don’t feel weird now that I am back in Texas. Its a little hot, which unfortunate because I don’t like the heat at all, but this has been my “normal” for my entire life, so spending a few months in a strange environment isn’t going to make my normal feel any different to me. All that is going to happen (and did happen) is me getting used to the strange environment I landed in back in January when I flew across the ocean to Germany.
When I woke up in Germany I rode the bus into a completely foreign city (although it became familiar). I took classes in a small classroom of 20 or less students. I would go eat and be faced with odd foods and cooks/cashiers who do not speak my language. I would either get by with rudimentary German or they would get the clue from my blank stare and respond in English if they could. When I was not in class or eating, I walked around a town with buildings older than the existence of my country. There were bakeries on every corner, and somehow German’s not obese (the German people must have some secret that allows them to eat copious amounts of bread without gaining weight). When I was done in the city I would take the bus back to a home that was not my own. I ate dinner with a family of strangers who were nice enough to let me stay in their house. They fed me great food, but it was all very different than what I would eat at home. In many ways it was better, but sometimes I would yearn for the comfort of familiar foods. This feeling or desiring familiarity changed though. The feeling of being out of place when surrounded by a foreign environment, people, language and food soon changed. These things never actually stopped being strange to me. What was foreign when I landed in Germany was still foreign when I boarded the plane back home. Instead these things changing, I changed. I became accustomed to the feeling of being out of place.
Part of me is happy that I am back in my normal, but part of me isn’t. Germany was such an adventure and there was always something going on at all times. I feel like this aspect is going to be really missing now that I am back home, but I am sure I will stop missing this over time. I am glad to be back and able to see family and friends. I have missed them a lot and its been good to see them and tell them all about my experiences. People always talk about how hard it is to answer the question of how studying abroad went, and I can understand that now. There were so many different adventures, feelings, and environments experienced that anything short of telling it all would not do it justice.
Honors Students away from campus for study abroad, co-ops, or internships are encouraged to write about their experiences to share them with the Honors community. In the excerpt below, junior biomedical engineering major Jay Garza ’18 shares some of the anxiety he had approaching his study abroad experience, as well as his rationale for pursuing experience abroad.
– By Jay Garza
It is only hours before my flight which will take me thousands of miles away. I’m fumbling around with my passport and ticket at DFW Airport Security. Holding up the line, I try to speed up. When a TSA worker asked me, “Staying or Going?” My mind went blank when i attempted to think of a response. Unable to answer the worker, I look up at the man with a dumbfounded stare as I walk through the X-ray machine and collect my things.
Situated at my gate, I began to realize that I have not put much—if any—thought at all into this trip. I did not learn any German. I did not pack any school supplies. I started to panic. Did I leave anything important? Are my friends going back home to forget about me? What will I do if my host family hates me? What am I going to do if my host family only eats beets?! I HATE beets! Who the hell signed me up for this trip?! Oh crap! That was me. What was I thinking?
Calmed down by a few deep breaths and some rational thoughts, I knew these worries were just a bit of pre-trip anxiety. Still though, I felt unprepared to embark on this journey, especially since this trip would be my first time traveling alone. Then I began to think of why I wanted to come in the first place.
I knew growing up where I did and going to school at Texas A&M, I was part of a bubble, unaffected by the changing world around it. Going to Germany would be an opportunity to burst that bubble and really explore an entirely different world outside my own small one. All I have to do is talk to the people. Coming to Germany would give me a chance to travel alone for the first time in my life. Knowing that I could single-handedly navigate myself through international borders not only gave me an incredible feeling of independence, but also gave me an enormous amount of confidence.
Right now, your biggest concern is probably How will I make friends? You may be wondering Why do I have to live in the Honors Housing Community? Or What if I don’t like my roommate?
Worry no more. Living in Honors Housing is one of the best experiences you can have at Texas A&M. It’s one thing for me, as an Honors Advisor, to tell you that you’ll make plenty of friends. It’s another thing for me, as a former Honors student who lived in Lechner Hall for two years, to tell you that my cohort of fellow Honors students is still in contact more than a year after graduation. For Memorial Day weekend, more than a dozen former students from the University Honors program, Class of 2015, reunited in Houston. Our weekend included volleyball, bowling, swimming, two-stepping at Wild West, a crawfish boil, a visit to the planetarium, and about eight rounds of the card game Werewolf. We also put our college educations to the test at Escape the Room Texas, where we solved puzzles and searched for clues to find keys and open combo locks in order to “escape.” You’ll be delighted to hear that Honors pays off: we got out with one minute to spare on the one-hour time limit!
More important than anything we did was reminiscing about our time in the Honors Housing Community, where we met as freshmen. Most of us were Sophomore Advisors (SAs) in 2012-2013; a few were “spouses,” or partners chosen by Sophomore Advisors to help mentor Honors freshmen. Living in Lechner and McFadden Halls together bonded us. We pulled all-nighters in Hobofo, Lechner’s second-floor foyer. As freshmen, we designed the greatest shack ever for Habitat for Humanity’s annual fundraiser, Shack-a-thon. It featured an enormous and detailed Nazgul for our Lord of the Rings theme. As SAs, we painted ourselves blue for free food at Blue Baker and hosted our own Hunger Games for the freshmen, arming them with pool noodles and flour-filled socks. We opened the annual talent show with our own rendition of “The Circle of Life” from The Lion King. And even after we moved out of HHC, we volunteered for Big Event, attended Muster, celebrated Ring Day, and dressed up for Ring Dance together.
The Aggie spirit is still strong in our hearts, and we still hold to our identity as Honors students. So if you’re afraid that you’re going to be alone in college, I hope I can reassure you. Living in the Honors Housing Community, I felt that I had found people who spoke not only my language but my dialect. My fellow Honors students liked what I liked; we watched the same sci-fi TV shows and knew the same geek culture references. You’ll make connections, like we did. You’ll make memories, like we did. You might meet your future spouse (no pressure!). And you very well could have a one-year reunion of your own in 2021.
Oh, and I haven’t forgotten your second worry, which is probably What’s my plan? What am I going to do after college? Not knowing the answer right now is okay! You have plenty of time (and plenty of guidance within Honors) to help you figure it out. We were there, too, and we made it. Here’s what we’re doing now:
Alyssa Bennett is pursuing a PhD in naval architecture at the University of Michigan. She majored in ocean engineering and graduated with Foundation Honors. Alyssa was a Sophomore Advisor and a Junior Advisor.
Sam Carey is pursuing a master’s degree in electrical engineering at Georgia Tech through the Critical Skills Master’s Program at Sandia National Laboratories. Sam spends his summers working for Sandia in Albuquerque, NM. He majored in electrical engineering and graduated with University Honors and an Honors Minor in mathematics. Sam was a Sophomore Advisor.
Mallory Carson is a PhD student studying medical physics at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. She is working on methods to detect and correct errors in dose calculations to improve the quality of radiation therapy. Mallory majored in radiological health engineering and minored in mathematics. She was a Sophomore Advisor and an Undergraduate Research Scholar.
Danielle Cope is a planning/project engineer for ExxonMobil at the Baytown Olefins Plant. She majored in chemical engineering, minored in chemistry, and graduated with Engineering Honors and Foundation Honors. Danielle was Pj’s “spouse” in the Honors Housing Community.
Pj Downey is a systems engineer for Rockwell Collins in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He majored in aerospace engineering and was a Sophomore Advisor. Pj graduated with certificates in engineering project management and engineering business management.
Jacob Glenn is a healthcare consultant at Apogee Consulting Group in Houston. He majored in economics and was an Undergraduate Research Scholar and Sophomore Advisor.
April Holland is a business consultant at PricewaterhouseCoopers in Houston. She double-majored in business honors and supply chain management. April was a Sophomore Advisor and graduated with Business Honors.
Edward Ji is in the Baylor College of Medicine Physician Assistant Program in Houston and continues performing as a violinist with the Brazos Valley Symphony Orchestra. He majored in biomedical sciences with a minor in psychology.
Taylor Peterson is an administrative assistant with Switched Over Consulting and plans a career with Texas Parks and Wildlife. She is majoring in wildlife & fisheries sciences and was a Sophomore Advisor.
Lauren Roverse is a second-year student at the University of Houston College of Optometry, where she is pursuing a Doctor of Optometry degree. Lauren majored in biology and was a Sophomore Advisor.
Eric Vavra is a chemical engineering PhD student at Rice University, where he is investigating foam flow dynamics in porous media. He majored in chemical engineering, minored in chemistry, and graduated with Engineering Honors. Eric was a Sophomore Advisor.
Trey Whitaker works as a developer for the Advance Technology Division of AmRisc, LLC. Trey majored in computer science and was April’s “spouse” in the Honors Housing Community.
As for me, I’m currently an Honors Advisor and the program coordinator for National Fellowships and University Scholars at Texas A&M, but I’ll soon be moving to Boston to begin graduate school at Emerson College. Leaving College Station after five years feels like the end of an era because Texas A&M, and particularly the Honors community, has been my second home. I hope you find that same sense of belonging, security, and no-holds-barred fun when you arrive.
Each semester, the University Scholars enroll in small-group, discussion-based seminars. Barbara Tsao ’17, a biomedical sciences major and Undergraduate Research Scholar, participated in the Animal Conservation seminar this spring. Here, she explores the philosophical implications of the course topics.
By Barbara Tsao ’17
See, Brothers; Spring is here.
The earth has taken the embrace
of the Sun, and soon we shall see
The children of all that love.
All seeds are awake, and all animals.
From this great power we too have our lives.
And therefore we concede
to our fellow creatures
even our animal fellows,
The same rights as ourselves
To live on this earth.
-Sitting Bull, Plains Indians Chief
(Fuchs and Havighurst 1972, p. xv)
At first glance, the issue of animal conservation is not decidedly controversial if approached from an entirely scientific mindset. Indeed, there is an undeniable consensus in the scientific community that animal conservation is essential for reasons such as preserving genetic biodiversity, maintaining the biological balance of ecosystems, and promoting the overall health of the planet. But beyond prospects ultimately connected to human survival, the argument for animal conservation becomes increasingly complex, and subsequently, interesting. In truth, the heart of the debate surrounding animal conservation involves elements of religion, culture, economics, and morality – all topics that leave a great deal of room for subjectivity. One may even claim that the controversy surrounding animal conservation is not even about whether it should be pursued; it is about how it must be pursued. For example, is it strictly a human survival concern or is it also an ethical matter? This spring semester, the University Scholars Animal Conservation Seminar undertook this extensive topic in order to acquire a greater understanding for the roots of the controversy and the holistic solutions we can provide in exchange.
In the beginning of the semester, we delved into the philosophical origins that affect our modern worldviews of animal conservation. We discussed how Native American and Hindu cultures are intrinsically respectful to the spiritual and societal status of wildlife. We then compared this ideology to the Judaeo-Christian theology of the Western world that believed that animals existed solely for the use of man. This latter attitude still lives on in the aggressive practices of American capitalism today, while the former attitude dwindles along with the exploitation of the indigenous people that sustain it.
Nevertheless, our seminar encountered a variety of modern attempts to foster a more conscious position on animal conservation. These efforts have primarily taken ethical manifestations in the animal rights and animal welfare movements. The animal rights movement in particular has made massive strides by combating entertainment groups (ex. Ringling Bros and SeaWorld) through litigation and slander, and perhaps indicates a cultural shift toward anthropomorphism. However, data still suggests these efforts are not effective in the absence of sensationalist animal injustice stories. Furthermore, the animal rights movement inherently contradicts the modern practices of animal and habitat exploitation. Progress in the ethical motivations behind animal conservation is indeed especially without the incorporation of Mother Nature into the daily philosophy of the modern citizen.
Beyond philosophical considerations, our seminar engaged in extensive conversations with professors and researchers about their efforts in animal conservation and the number of real-world challenges that directly affect the human quality of life. The national bee shortage, IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, chronic marine pollution, zoo conservation efforts, and feline genetic diversity are just a few of the many topics we covered. In our seminar about elephant conservation, we looked over reports of increasingly frequent and aggressive elephant attacks in Africa, India, and Southeast Asia as a result of psychological trauma from poaching and habitat reduction. Another challenge we reviewed was the collapse of large-fish populations in our oceans as a result of our overfishing for specific seafood. Throughout the course of the semester, it had become evident to my fellow honors colleagues and myself that if true progress is not made in animal conservation efforts, irreparable consequences will continue to occur.
As a final note, I firmly believe that our efforts in animal conservation cannot simply be reactive in nature. Consider this, if technological advances one day develop to where we can sustain our species without a need for the biodiversity our planet currently supports, should we still believe there is a need for animal conservation? The answer to this question can only be yes if we as species learn to see animals beyond a self-serving lens. True and long-lasting animal conservation is the act of recognizing value in life simply because it is life. Past civilizations developed intimate, trusting relationships with animals as a result of the demands of survival. There is no reason for our modernized generation to be detached from the natural world that is, if anything, more integrated with our lives than we may ever imagine.
Each semester, the University Scholars enroll in small-group, discussion-based seminars. In Spring 2016, recently graduated Scholar Amy Arndt ’16 taught the seminar “Psychology of Superheroes,” using the medium of comic books as an introduction to psychology. One of her students, landscape architecture major Phillip Hammond ’17, reflects on the class’s debates and fun.
By Phillip Hammond ’17
After a studio dinner of popcorn or the stereotypical microwave mac n’ cheese, I would have to inform my remaining studio-mates left working on projects that I will be leaving briefly to attend my Monday night class for Honors. As they lament for me, saying “Phillip, what awful class must meet after 6 P.M. on a Monday?!” I just chuckle to myself, because this was not any old Honors class. THIS was Psychology of Superheroes!
Psych of Supes, as I like to abbreviate it for my own amusement and efficiency, was a University Scholar class in which I expected to learn – hmm, I don’t know – possibly something nerdy and fun but, more importantly, distinct and engaging!! Whether psychoanalyzing the stress-induced trauma that a vigilante faces from their nightly “hobby” or receiving education on the factors and behaviors of common social disorders with identification through well-known comic book heroes, I would most certainly have to relate this class to a similar phenomenon that occurs with the recent Marvel franchise: entering in with the knowledge that it is going to be excellent, but leaving with an even greater sense of reward and intense need for another one!
As we may know, the University Scholars tend to represent a population with little to no displays of violence. However, had there been the option, I believe that gladiatorial combat would not have been out of the question for a seat in Amy Arndt’s seminar. Luckily, just barely achieving priority for the class, I was honored, elated, and ready to start the semester, expecting that we would likely be reading comics and going through each and every popular superhero, like Batman, Wonder Woman, Spiderman, or Superman, to pick their brains for intriguing psychological characteristics. While Amy made certain to perfectly incorporate all the aforementioned fun, she managed to add even more, all the while revealing to us the functions within the human brain responsible for both sociological and psychological behaviors.
Along the way, we were brought on a journey through several different studies on the human psyche, which explained in a tangible manner the importance of identity in a reality shaped by our own perception, finding or relating to realistic experiences in fiction, representation through our heroes, and how good and evil cannot be simply trained into or isolated within an individual’s mind. The theories and scientific studies sparked several intense discussions on societal issues, such as the application of justice for criminals with psychological disorders or the complications of gender, ethnic, and sexual representation in media for token appeal versus proper relatability for the audience. Needless to say, we had a plethora of superheroes and supervillains to use as examples for these discussions and all our hypothetical situations.
All in all, after creating my own superhero, identifying myself as a superhero, learning which superheroes my fellow University Scholars view me as, taking the time to enjoy a few comic books more, and critically reviewing the most recent Superman movie as an official part of the seminar, I would most certainly say that my Monday nights were excellently spent in Psych of Supes. Now, I can’t wait for the next superhero University Scholar seminar, hint hint!
The National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) is one of the most prestigious awards to support graduate students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Nearly 17,000 applications were submitted for the 2016 NSF Fellowship competition, resulting in 2,000 award offers. This spring, 14 current and former Texas A&M University students were selected as 2016 NSF Graduate Fellows, while 21 were named Honorable Mention. Several of these students participated in LAUNCH programs at Texas A&M, including 5 who completed an undergraduate research thesis as an Undergraduate Research Scholar, 4 who participated in the University Honors program, one Undergraduate Research Ambassador, and two authors for Explorations: the Texas A&M Undergraduate Journal.
2016 NSF Graduate Fellow Alexandria Payne recently graduated from Texas A&M, where she double-majored in bioenvironmental sciences and wildlife & fisheries sciences. Alex began her research experience in the labs of Dr. Karen-Beth Scholthof and Dr. Herman Scholthof in the Department of Plant Pathology and Microbiology. Alex will continue at A&M for a PhD in entomology, studying with Dr. Juliana Rangel in the Honey Bee Lab, where Alex will investigate the interactions of honey bees and the invasive Tawny crazy ant. Alex, a University Scholar and Undergraduate Research Scholar, was previously nominated for the Udall Scholarship recognizing commitment to environmental issues. She graduated cum laude with the Honors Fellows and Honors in Bioenvironmental Sciences distinctions. Alex has an upcoming publication, “Do More Promiscuous Honey Bee Queens Produce Healthier Hives?” in Explorations: the Texas A&M Undergraduate Journal, Volume 8, to be published in fall 2016.
In addition to the GRFP, Alex’s graduate study will be supported by Texas A&M’s Diversity Fellowship. She also received the Senior Merit award from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Reflecting on the benefits of the GRFP, Alex says, “This fellowship has given me the gift of being able to choose research topics I find interesting and wish to delve into. I wish to advise everyone to apply for or reach for the seemingly impossible as you may surprise yourself with the results.”
Ana Chang-Gonzalez, another 2016 NSF Graduate Fellow, recently graduated from Texas A&M with a bachelor’s in biomedical engineering and the Engineering Honors distinction. As an undergraduate, she volunteered in the Molecular Biomechanics Lab and conducted protein simulation in an AggiE-Challenge. She also began working with the University of Pittsburgh’s Human Engineering Research Laboratories to develop software for biological purposes. With NSF support, Ana will continue that project in her graduate studies, expanding a software that builds computational models of biological images and analyzes them for quantitative information. Ana is a former resident of the Honors Housing Community and a member of Alpha Eta Mu Beta, the Biomedical Engineering Honor Society, and Tau Beta Pi, the Engineering Honor Society. She has an upcoming publication, “A Picture is Worth a Thousand Numbers,” in Explorations: the Texas A&M Undergraduate Journal, Volume 8, to be published in fall 2016.
A three-time recipient of the Dean’s Honor Roll, Ana says that, through her NSF application, she “learned how to neatly craft all [her] experiences into a concise form, how to formulate a research proposal, and the value of having faculty mentors that truly care about [her] success.” This fellowship will allow her “to focus more on conducting high-impact research and making a true difference in the field.”
LAUNCH would like to congratulate the Aggie 2016 National Science Foundation Graduate Fellows and Honorable Mentions and acknowledge their valuable contributions to our programs!
National Science Foundation 2016 Graduate Research Fellowship Awardees: