Jamaica Pouncy: On Travel, Personal & Professional Development, Part 2

Jamaica Pouncy was the National Fellowships Coordinator in LAUNCH and advisor for University Scholars from 2012-2016, and continued to work with our office on a part time basis through 2017. In the post below (part 2 of 2), she reflects on how travel and reflection on her professional goals led her to pursue a career abroad.

By Jamaica Pouncy –

I had been working as a fellowship advisor for three years when I began to feel the itch. After helping students to craft their applications and listen to their hopes and dreams I knew that I wanted to have a similar experience. I decided to apply for a fellowship. I sat down with Dr. Datta and Dr. Kotinek and we talked about my thoughts, what I hoped to accomplish, and how what I wanted to do could be beneficial both for myself and my position in the office.

It was a fascinating experience; first narrowing my plans from the nebulous idea of applying to a fellowship to and then figuring out how I would accomplish it. The shoe was on the other foot and I needed to understand the process from the inside out. I looked into fellowships that would fit with my goals and ultimately decided to apply for a few that seemed to match well. I drafted essay after essay; trying to be as harsh with my own writing as I am whenever I review someone else’s. I scoured the website, searching for all the little tips and guidelines that would help me make my application better. Then I submitted and crossed my fingers.

I was cautiously optimistic when I was invited for an interview and over the moon when I was selected for the Princeton in Asia program. My PiA supervisor suggested a post in northern China that I had never heard of and I said ‘sure.’ Throughout this process I had the support and encouragement of the LAUNCH office. They worried with me, celebrated with me and gave me the courage to go forward with this crazy plan. We even arranged for me to keep working for the university at a reduced capacity (talk to your supervisors about alternative work locations and flexible time schedules; you won’t regret it).

Jamaica Pouncy (left) with colleagues from Princeton in Asia

I arrived in China and, while overcoming culture shock, I learned how to juggle two different positions with different expectations and demands on my time. While I was in China I found that I loved the international life. There is something absolutely exhilarating about trying to figure out a new and different culture and understand your place in it. When I returned to A&M in July 2016 I talked to my supervisor about wanting to pursue a career abroad. Even as Dr. Datta and Dr. Kotinek acknowledged that my career path was moving further and further from our office, they supported my plans and told me they’d do whatever they could to help.

I began looking at positions abroad but I also started to think about ways that I could move forward in the field of fellowships advising. I wanted to be sure that I was exploring all my possibilities. I had submitted resumes for several positions at international schools abroad when I heard of a position in fellowships advising that was opening at Yale University. I debated applying; schools like Yale have such a reputation that sometimes they can seem almost “untouchable” but, ultimately, I submitted my application, interviewed, and was offered the position. I am so appreciative of my time at Yale as a reminder to never pigeonhole myself or decide that any opportunity is too good for me – no position or institution is out of my league. I moved to Connecticut and worked for Yale for six months but I simply could not shake my desire to be in an international position. When one of the openings I had applied for in China contacted me suddenly, I took it as a sign and decided to pack up my life once again, this time making a permanent move into an international career.

Realizing that I needed to make a major life move and that I only had two weeks within which to accomplish it was a scary thing. This was completely different from my Princeton in Asia experience – this was not temporary, no short-term jaunt of self-discovery and horizon-broadening; there was no safety net, no job to return to if things didn’t work out. I was walking out onto a limb and hoping with everything I had in me that it didn’t snap and send me falling to the ground. I’ll always be grateful to LAUNCH for providing the safety that they did during my Princeton in Asia experience but now I realize that I needed this – I needed to do something crazy and bold and different with no guarantee of success and no safety net. As much as I’ve preached the idea to my students, I needed to take the chance that I could try this out and seriously fail. Not the gentle failure of merely going back home to all things familiar, but the true sense of having to pick myself up, dust myself off, and deal with a failed career move. As I write this, I am still in the middle of that experiment, still standing out on that limb and looking at the ground. I don’t know if this will make me happy. I don’t know if this will be my life path. I just know that I would have regretted not taking the chance.

These past six years I’ve learned a lot about who I am; particularly how much, for me, my career impacts my sense of self and how important it is to me to see my personality reflected in my career choices. I’ve also learned to live in a completely “foreign” culture and that taught me a lot about life, expectations, and the different facets of my own personality. After traveling to see a bit of the world and growing and experiencing so many new things one of the most important lessons that I’ve learned is the importance of establishing a solid, trusting relationship with your supervisors and coworkers and of finding an employer that is willing to invest in you. I’ve come to believe that it is the truest and most trustworthy sign of belief in your potential and ability.

When I look back on my time with Princeton in Asia I find it fascinating that my job was willing to offer me the chance to take that opportunity; knowing full well that it could (and eventually did) lead me out the door and away from A&M. I didn’t have to resign to go after my dream and I didn’t have to worry that I needed to hide my plans from the people in my office; people I cared for and spent as much time with as I did with my family. I know that there are many places that would not have allowed me to go after that opportunity; that would have required that I pick, either ‘them’ or the fellowship.

My job at Texas A&M was my first fulltime position. I really didn’t know what to expect going into it. I had, after all, taken the job, sight unseen. My entire interview process had been carried out via telephone and Skype while I lived in Alabama. At that point I had a very general, vague notion of what it meant to have a fulltime job; a career. I would wear business casual, show up to work on time, and complete the tasks I was assigned. I would do these things and I would receive a paycheck. Simple enough.  But I had never thought about the idea of professional development: my office’s obligation to provide me with opportunities for growth and development.

I had never considered professional development or what it meant to invest in an employee. That’s why I was so fortunate to end up in our office. I couldn’t have asked for a better launching pad for my career.  I was surrounded by people who wanted to see me succeed. Who were interested in my ideas and saw my ability as more than something they could use but rather something that could be cultivated both for their and my benefit. So, I think that after all my adventures and travels, the most important lesson that I’ve learned is that, no matter what city, state, or country you find yourself in, it’s always going to be the people you surround yourself with that make all the difference.

Thank you, Dr. Kotinek and Dr. Datta. Thank you, LAUNCH. Thank you, Texas A&M University. Thank you all for being amazing people to be surrounded by and for helping me to have amazing, transformative experiences. Wherever life takes me, please know that you made this possible.

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Congratulations Ecaroh Jackson, Black and Proud Scholarship Recipient!

In this post from University Scholar Ecaroh Jackson ’19 describes how her experience in the University Scholar Exploration Groups helped prepare her to apply for the Black and Proud Corporation Scholarship.

Howdy! My name is Ecaroh Jackson and I am a junior math/science education major.  Earlier this semester I had the privilege of receiving the first annual scholarship from the Black and Proud Corporation.  The Black and Proud Corporation is a nonprofit company established in 2016 to promote educational, economic, and cultural development in the African American community.

University Scholar Ecaroh Jackson ’19

This scholarship application process was a time for self-exploration – something I’ve had a lot of practice with in the last 3 semesters due to the University Scholars Exploration series.  I have participated in the “Futuring Yourself,” “Controversy,” and “Conspiracy Theories” classes.  As I prepared to write my essays for the scholarship, I reflected over the many lessons I learned while in those classes.

In “Futuring Yourself,” I learned that to advance your future, it is necessary to address your past.  As a future driven individual, I often look upon the past with disdain.  Why look back when the future is much brighter?  Avoiding the past hinders you from discovering your strengths and weaknesses, and without being knowledgeable about them, hinders you from improving.  With each week’s reflections, I learned more about myself.  I learned about my true interests, what inspires me, and most importantly, who I am.

“Controversy” retaught me that it is okay to openly disagree.  Variations in opinions allow us to shape well-rounded solutions to divisive problems.  Before college, I wasn’t one to back down from an argument, but after coming to A&M, I have struggled with my desire to voice my perspectives to known dissenters.  Conflict is healthy, and shouldn’t be neglected.  Being in a class of nine students gave me the opportunity to slowly integrate my input in a supportive, but challenging manner.

In “Conspiracy Theories,” I learned that anything is possible.  Our universe’s ultimate truth (if there is such a thing) has yet to be discovered, meaning that our current possibilities are endless.  Knowing this allowed me to not only formulate, but refine my ideas.  Social movements, such as the movement that the Black and Proud Corporation supports, don’t usually achieve their ultimate objective without drawbacks that require them to modify their plans.  Learning about conspiracy theories and their history gave me the tools needed to devise plans that include a variety of different scenarios.

All of my exploration classes have helped me develop my thought process in a way that I didn’t think was possible before.  I am now able to develop responses to divisive questions.  These responses allowed me to write a successful application to the Black and Proud Corporation and ultimately allowed me to receive the scholarship.

Freshmen interested in applying for the University Scholars program can learn more by going to our website at http://launch.tamu.edu/Honors/University-Scholars.  The application will open in January 2018.

HSC Reports – NCHC 2017

Honors Student Council continued a tradition of representing TAMU at the annual national conference for Honors this year with three members attending: Sarah Kilpatrick ’18, President; Luke Oaks ’19, Vice President for Activities, and Megan Whitlock ’18, member-at-large.

The purpose in having students attend this conference is two fold:

  1. We want our students to get valuable perspective about what Honors education looks like nationally, to make connections with students from across the country and around the world, and to have an appreciation of how Honors opportunities at Texas A&M stack up to those offered elsewhere.
  2. We want our students to bring their broadened perspective back to Texas A&M and use the energy gained from these interactions and the ideas gleaned to improve our programs.
Texas A&M contingent at NCHC 2017 (left to right): Megan Whitlock, Benjamin Simington, Dustin Kemp, Luke Oaks, Jonathan Kotinek, Sarah Kilpatrick

Read below to hear what each of these students got out of the conference and the ideas inspired by this conference that they’d like to see take root at Texas A&M:

Sarah Kilpatrick

Luke Oaks

Megan Whitlock


Sarah Kilpatrick
This past November, Honors gave me the opportunity to go to the National Collegiate Honors Conference in Atlanta, Georgia. Conferences in the past that I have attended were very topic-specific, from a specific industry to national affairs. However, this conference felt so unlike others that I have attended because it covered so many different aspects of honors education, personal development, organization development, and even seeking adventures in any situation.

The first major program that I went to was called “City as a Text”. There was not much description given to the event before it began, the only thing that we could know was where in the city we would be exploring that day. Eventually the coordinators explained what the premise of the event was– to discover how a neighborhood formed and exists today based on observation of social norms and by talking to those who live in it. As someone who generally enjoys the art of wandering an unfamiliar place, it sounded like a perfect match. My group ended up in the Buckhead neighborhood and spent the afternoon walking around old, multimillion dollar homes surrounded by parks established in the early 1900’s and high-end shopping. Even more fascinating than the actual wandering was the analysis of the area at the end of the day by different groups. Some groups saw how the area subtly discouraged poorer groups of people from being seen on their streets and the “acceptable aesthetics” of some old buildings while others were torn down to make room for more acceptable looking buildings. Other groups were fascinated with the friendliness of the people of Atlanta and fell in love with the affluent charm of that area. The sharing of perspectives that is a hallmark of many honors programs shone through during this time.

The rest of the conference was spent in different panels and discussion groups. My goal was to come out of the conference with ideas on how to improve Honors Student Council programs and to hear how other schools fostered their communities for the full four years. I also learned more than expected from the presentations that were selected on a whim, like the value that is found for honors programs in nontraditional college students or how countries like China are creating honors colleges. Altogether these topics will lead to radical improvements on Honors Student Council representation, events, and expectations.

In the end, the value of any conference is the ability to hear and speak to individuals in similar circumstances that have explored different ways to solve problems or challenges. I highly encourage anyone who can to find a way to go to at least one conference that you are interested in before graduation, because it expands perspectives in such a unique way and creates memories and friendships that will last for years. These perspectives can be found both inside the conference or even while exploring the city itself. The world is full of people that can teach you something new about life, and I highly recommend putting yourself in the situation to find and to learn from them.

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Luke Oaks
On November 11th, I was sitting at a diner counter in the National Center for Civil and Human Rights. The museum staff directed me to put on a pair of headphones and place my hands on the counter. A surround-sound recording indicative of the atmosphere at lunch counter sit-ins during the Civil Rights Movement began to play. I listened to two minutes of hate, and was overwhelmed with emotion. First, there was shame for historic injustices and a continued lack of social equity in the United States. But hours later, there was hope. In February of 1960, four black college students tactfully sat at a whites-only lunch counter after purchasing items in same department store. They brought national attention to the Civil Rights Movement, and lunch counters were desegregated en masse following over four months of protest that grew out of their initiative. These men met during their freshman year at North Carolina A&T State University, and none were pursuing the same undergraduate degree; their legacy has nothing to do with their undergraduate specialty. What role do our K-12 and college education systems play in promoting informed multi-disciplinary efforts that impact the public? This question has been on my mind since attending the 2017 National Collegiate Honors Council’s Annual Conference (NCHC 2017) in Atlanta, Georgia. Both are worth addressing from an academic’s lens of research, teaching, and service.

Through my undergraduate education, I have had the opportunity to conduct research with physiologists, biomedical engineers, and industrial engineers. Bringing these experiences together, my intention is to pursue a Ph.D. in industrial and systems engineering. I currently work with a multi-disciplinary cognitive ergonomics research group to increase the accessibility of medicine for individuals with reduced access to primary care alongside a consortium of university, industry, and government partners. While at NCHC 2017, I heard from MacArthur Fellow and human rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson on the significance of being proximate to those in need. I also enjoyed visited with Dr. Cristina McIntyre of Virginia Tech; we discussed the logistics of becoming a public intellectual and she directed me towards Dr. Patricia Raun – a colleague who teaches science communication. I look forward to continued conversations with our National Fellowships Advisor, Ben Simington, on how my multi-disciplinary efforts to impact health care and education can further develop.

My engineering degree here at Texas A&M includes courses on physiology, bioresponse, nanotechnology, human factors, and sociology. To my own surprise, my favorite classes have been taught in the department of sociology. I’ve had the opportunity to take Intro to Sociology as well as Sociology of Death & Dying with Dr. Alex Hernandez. He has inspired me to analyze culture and is now collaborating with me to teach a new class on the sociology of cultural change. The goal of this elective course is to provide students with the tools to properly handle difficult situations in leadership and activism, overcome obstacles to enacting change, and impact those they serve. I enjoy sociology because it challenges me to view life as a system, and it inherently promotes multi-disciplinary thinking. For example, the sociology of change affects every major social, political, and economic institution in the world. I met the University of Florida Honors Dean, Dr. Mark Law, at NCHC 2017, and discussed the role of Honors programs in preparing students to teach at the university level. I will be working with our Capstones Advisor, Dustin Kemp, to prepare for teaching my first course with the support of Dr. Hernandez.

How do we promote multidisciplinary learning and outreach at the university and K-12 level? What was a Cohort-based program for researchers to become public intellectuals look like?

As this academic year’s Vice President of Academic Affairs for our Student Government Association, I have been extensively engaged with promoting an improved student academic experience across all college disciplines. I serve as the chair of a faculty subcommittee for the development of plenary event at a teaching conference at Texas A&M in April of 2017. I work with the Provost’s Office on a effort to improve student success through a centralized application that improves advising. I co-lead an award program that recognizes and incentivizes the usage of open educational resources over costly textbooks. Further, I have directed a student-run volunteer afterschool tennis program called “Serve it Up!”, served a resident advisor, and remain an ambassador for our university’s Honors program. Service is an integral component of my life, and my time at NCHC 2017 further informed my perspective on the subject. Ben Reno-Weber of Mobile Serve discussed efforts to use decision science for deeper student engagement. Dr. Jose Rodriguez at Florida International University shared his study of personality and motivation within Honors. Tom Matson of Gallup talked about strengths-based leadership. My futurist and activator strengths are alive in my thinking about what it would look like to develop a cohort-based program for researchers and faculty to be trained as public intellectuals. I am excited for future conversations with Associate Director of LAUNCH, Dr. Jonathan Kotinek, on how a university would translate such an idea into a reality.

Multi-disciplinary research allows me to freely work at the intersection of fields. I intend to have a faculty career built upon collaborating with leaders from biomedical engineering, public policy, and beyond to increase the accessibility medicine for individuals with reduced access to primary care. It is also a goal of mine to work with teachers, parents, and politicians to broaden participation in STEM and promote more high-impact learning experiences from kindergarten through higher education. These are engaging multi-disciplinary efforts, but certainly not what I initially expected out of my college experience. While at Texas A&M, I changed my major to pursue my dual interest in biomedical and systems engineering. As an interdisciplinary engineering major, I am developing a foundation for a lifetime of multi-disciplinary work. And yet, if it were not for the support of the University Honors program, I may not have changed majors. I am employable in that I create value through the collaborative integration of fields – biomedical and systems engineering, sociology and education, etc. As our world grows increasingly more complex, we need more multi-disciplinary research, teaching, and service efforts to think systemically about our cities, schools, and world. Since attending the National Collegiate Honors Council’s Annual Conference, I have grown all the more excited to take on this charge. Thanks & Gig ‘Em.

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Megan Whitlock
This November, I had the opportunity to attend the National Collegiate Honors Council conference in Atlanta, Georgia, and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. After a long road trip to Atlanta (14 hours in the car-yikes), plenty of road trip games and bathroom breaks in sketchy bathrooms (Buc-ee’s, where you at?), and being told “there’s no room left in the inn” (literally, but that’s a whole other story), the four days of the conference began, which boasted a variety of speakers, sessions, and experiences. For an introvert like myself, this was super daunting at first and exhausting at the time, but super rewarding afterwards.

Close to the beginning of the conference, as part of the City As Text experience, we explored part of Atlanta in my favorite way: wandering and getting lost. We were tasked with observing the neighborhood of Buckhead and everything it had to offer, as well as the issues we perceived there. It is fascinating to discover a city in this way, having no preconceived notions of what it would be like. There was time to explore the city on our own as well; we found good coffee at Café Lucia, because like any good college students, we don’t go long without coffee. And after the conference was over one night, I suggested a trip to the local natural history museum, because what else does a good science nerd do with free time, amiright?

All these experiences were enjoyable, but the real reason we were there was to network and learn from faculty, staff, directors, and students from other honors programs and colleges. Because there were so many sessions offered, I was able to find topics I was passionate about applying to our honors program. A few of my favorites include addressing student mental health concerns in high-achieving honors environments, making honors courses and course contracts more accessible and less intimidating, and making creative, non-research capstone projects as appealing and prestigious as the research capstone. But before this conference, I would have assumed that these issues would have to be addressed and solved by the “real adults” that work in the LAUNCH office. As students, we often don’t feel like we have influence in the way our University and its programs run. But if there is one thing this experience taught me, it’s this: Students have power. If we want something to be changed, it is possible for us to initiate and advocate for that change. So a small piece of advice from an outgoing senior who feels old at this point: Don’t underestimate the power of your voice. Find things you’re passionate about and speak up about them. Eventually, people will listen. Gig ‘em, Nerds.

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Megan Whitlock ’18

 

Jamaica Pouncy: On Travel, Personal & Professional Development, Part 1

Jamaica Pouncy was the National Fellowships Coordinator in LAUNCH and advisor for University Scholars from 2012-2016, and continued to work with our office on a part time basis through 2017. In the post below (part 1 of 2), she reflects on how travel and reflection on her professional goals led her to pursue a career abroad.

By Jamaica Pouncy –

My intention in writing this piece is twofold: first, I want to tell my story because I hope that it can inspire and help others and because it is immensely gratifying to work with those who believe my experiences are worth hearing about (thank you, Dr. Kotinek!).

My first international trip was technically as a baby. My parents were leaving a military base in Germany and they brought me on the plane where my mother tells me I slept…. well, like a baby, for the entire journey. Hardly worth mentioning except that I really like the story my parents tell about my birth and trip to the U.S.  And since it fit with my theme of international travel I thought, ‘why not?’ However, I’ll be the first to acknowledge that this trip doesn’t really count, at least in my opinion, as international travel. I wasn’t required to navigate the complicated bureaucracy and paperwork related to visas and passports; repack my suitcase three or four times; or figure out how to ask for the bathroom when the person I’m talking to doesn’t speak English and I don’t know the word for bathroom in any other language. So I think my story of international travel and what it has taught me should really begin with my time at A&M.

Jamaica Pouncy (right) with students on the MSC Champe Fitzhugh Honors International Leadership trip.

I had been in the LAUNCH office (Honors and Undergraduate Research at the time) for about 6 months when Dr. Datta and Dr. Kotinek approached me about co-leading the Champe Fitzhugh trip in Italy. I jumped at the opportunity to have my first “real” international trip. I learned a lot in that initial experience; much of it before I even left Texas. I had never been through the passport process or attempted to convert currency or had to decide what to pack when you couldn’t be guaranteed a quick trip to the corner store to pick up anything you forgot.  In some weird way I didn’t really believe I was going to go. And that feeling persisted until the plane actually left the runway. Honestly, even while I was in the air it didn’t feel real. But several hours later we touched down in Germany for our layover and I was walking through customs (where I had a fascinating conversation about my inability to speak German despite having Germany listed as my place of birth on my passport).

The Champe Fitzhugh trip was everything you could want for your first international trip; Italy was beautiful, my traveling companions were delightful, and we had few mishaps. I think, for many people and certainly for me, international travel holds equal parts fascination and fear. There is the desire to see other parts of the world combined with the idea that, somehow, something might go wrong and you will simply be out of your element and incapable of functioning. That trip taught me not to be fearful of the international landscape and I left Italy hooked on international travel and thinking about where I might go next. As it turns out, my next international trip was also related to my work in the LAUNCH office.

It was during my first year as fellowships coordinator that I was able to recognize a large gap in my professional understanding. I was working with students as they applied to awards that would fund graduate study in the UK and Ireland. Naturally we would talk about the British and Irish educational systems; the best programs; and the appropriate fit for each student. Except I really had no experience with either educational system. The information I was providing could really have been found online and I felt superfluous. I spoke to Dr. Datta and she suggested that I submit a proposal detailing my ideas for changing that situation.

The proposal, which asked the university to fund a trip to the UK and Ireland, was my first experience with grant writing. And that experience was transformative. I didn’t really expect the proposal to be successful. I was there to do a job for the university, why would any of the upper administration be interested in my inability to do that job except as it relates to my employability? But, they were interested. Not only were they interested in what was best for the students but they were interested in helping me cultivate and refine my skillset. They agreed, Dr. Datta said, because they saw something worthwhile in me; something that was worth investing in. So I packed my bags and headed off to the UK and Ireland.

My mother was much more worried about my trip to the UK and Ireland than I was. It was after all my first international trip completely alone. I would be responsible for myself and there would be no one to lean on if something went wrong. But it was Great Britain. An English-speaking, first world country. I assured her I’d be fine and the worst thing that would happen would be spending Thanksgiving in a hotel instead of at home with family. I boarded my flight with no problems and relaxed into my seat where I slept for the majority of the 6 hours. I landed in Heathrow and sailed through customs. I strolled through the airport to pick up my luggage and approached the carousel to grab my bag. Only to discover that my luggage had been damaged on the trip. And not just a few bumps and scrapes, it was absolutely, completely, destroyed and clearly couldn’t fly anymore. Heck it couldn’t even roll anymore. I couldn’t lug that thing around a foreign country for 4 weeks!

Oh well. It was getting late and dark and I decided to tackle the problem in the morning. I figured there was nothing to be done about it then so I went to the information desk to ask about a shuttle to my hotel. I walked up, asked about the shuttle, and the desk attendant smiled and started to speak…. And I couldn’t understand a word he was saying. Was that really English? It was so fast and…. different. Cue my first (of many) international freak-outs. I’m proud to say that, after several opportunities to practice and hone the ability over the years, I’ve now mastered the art of the internal freak-out. No need to disturb (and terrify) everyone around you when the entire episode can happen in your head! I asked him to repeat the information (twice!) and finally figured out that I needed to buy a shuttle ticket. I went to the ATM to pull out money and discovered that all of my cards were frozen for international use. A word to the wise: always remember to tell your banks when you plan to travel out of the country, my friends. So, there I was, in the airport as night descended with a busted suitcase and no money.

Luckily the shuttle agent took pity on me and let me ride to my hotel for free where, after a night of sleep, I was able to straighten things out. I like to think that by frontloading all of my issues into the first day at the airport I managed to avoid having constant mishaps throughout my journey. Apart from getting lost and wandering the oddly deserted streets of Edinburgh for a few hours, the rest of my trip went off without a hitch. I think I will always feel that my time in the UK and Ireland struck a perfect balance between the acquisition of professional knowledge and personal confidence. I learned a lot about the UK and Irish education systems (which, of course, was the goal after all). But I also learned that when things do go wrong (as they often do) I am capable of finding solutions and pushing forward. It’s a lesson I have been able to take and apply to all parts of my life.

Continue to Part 2

Maggie Branch’s Capstone

A capstone is a project that takes the knowledge and skills our undergraduates learn in their courses and brings these together in a practical experience. LAUNCH  offers five capstone programs–Undergraduate Research Scholars, Undergraduate Teacher Scholars, Undergraduate Service Scholars, Undergraduate Leadership Scholars (a collaboration with Maroon & White Society), and Undergraduate Performance Scholats–that are open to all Texas A&M Undergraduates.

Students in the University Honors Program are expected to complete a capstone experience as part of the Honors Fellows distinction requirements but sometimes our existing programs do not fit a student’s career goals. Students who have an existing departmental capstone can modify that experience to fit our requirements and have the capstone count for both the department and the University Honors Program.

Maggie Branch ’19

Junior agricultural economics major Maggie Branch ’19 chose to do a departmental capstone to fulfill her capstone requirement. Her project, a study on factors related to the purchase and consumption of specialty eggs, gave Branch specialized knowledge about this topic as well as a better understanding of the tools needed to perform analysis and communicate findings. Below is an excerpt from her reflection on this experience:

I was surprised to discover when I began my project that I wouldn’t even look at my data for several months. The first steps in my project involved learning, and learning, and more learning. I had to first master the program that I would be using to do most of the analysis, called the Statistical Analysis System (SAS). This program is based on a computer programming language used for statistical analysis, and can read data from common spreadsheets and databases and output the results of statistical analyses in tables, graphs, and as RTF, HTML and PDF documents. The most useful thing about SAS is that it can sort through thousands upon thousands of data points in moments, allowing economists to create more accurate models. This program is often used in the Agriculture Economics Masters Programs, but is not introduced to undergraduates until their senior year. While it is extremely useful, it is very difficult to master. One wrong punctuation or letter placement in the programming leaves you with no results at all. It felt like learning a new language in the span of a month or two. Dr. Dharmasena provided me with reading material and practice data to help with the learning process, for which I was extremely grateful. After becoming familiar with SAS, I then did research on the Probit model, which is what I would eventually use to find the probabilities of how different demographic information affected a consumer’s propensity to purchase different egg varieties. After several months of reading and practice, I finally got to take my first look at the data I would use for my project.

The process of sorting the consumer purchase information first involved separating the egg products from the other products using the product descriptor code. The easily identified “Control Brand” egg types were worked with first and separating into regular eggs and specialty eggs. Specialty eggs were defined as any production process that varied from the traditional cage system egg production used by most producers. After the control brands were sorted, the name brands were exported and given a bi-variable indicator (0 or 1) to indicate if it was regular or specialty. This process took several months as I had to individually give the indicator to each one of the over 6000 different egg purchases. At the end of the sorting process I had a table for regular eggs and a table of specialty eggs. Then I added the household and demographic information and started sorting again. Thankfully SAS was actually able to help with the sorting process this time and it took considerably less time. At the end of the second sorting process I had a table for the households that purchased eggs, a table for the households that purchased only regular eggs, a table for the households that purchased only specialty eggs, and a table for the households that purchased both regular and specialty eggs.

To learn more about Branch’s project, visit her blog at: https://mbranchmaggie.wixsite.com/research.

To learn more about capstone opportunities at Texas A&M, visit http://tx.ag/capstones.

Ezell and Versaw to Receive Astronaut Scholarship Foundation Awards Thursday

Kendal Ezell ‘18 and Brooke Versaw ‘18 have been selected to receive 2017 Astronaut Scholarship Foundation Astronaut Scholarship awards. Both students previously received Honorable Mention recognition in the 2017 Goldwater scholarship competition.

In 1984, the six surviving members of the Mercury 7 mission created the scholarship to encourage students to pursue scientific endeavors. Today the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation (ASF) program members include astronauts from the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Skylab, and Space Shuttle programs. Over the last 33 years the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation has awarded over $4 million in scholarships to more than 400 of the nation’s top scholars over the last 32 years. This year only 45 students nationwide are being honored with this prestigious scholarship.

2017 Astronaut Scholar, Kendal Ezell ’18

Kendal Ezell is a senior biomedical engineering student minoring in neuroscience. She was honored in 2017 as the Phi Kappa Phi Outstanding Junior for Texas A&M after being selected as the Outstanding Junior from the College of Engineering. As noted above, Ezell was selected for Honorable Mention in the 2017 Goldwater Scholarship competition, and is a member of both the University Honors Program and the Engineering Honors program. Ezell was an Undergraduate Research Scholar, completing her undergraduate thesis on shape-memory polymer foam devices for the treatment of brain aneurysms with Dr. Duncan Maitland in the Biomedical Device Lab. She has also conducted research on the relationship between emotions and learning memory with Dr. Mark Packard in the Institute of Neuroscience, and on biotech device design with Dr. Jeremy Wasser in the Germany Biosciences Study Abroad Program. Ezell’s research has resulted in three publications, including one in the American Society of Mechanical Engineers Journal for Design of Medical Devices Conference for which she is first author. She also was awarded a Gilman scholarship for international study and has gained inventorship on provisional patent applications.

Ezell plans to pursue an M.D./Ph.D. dual degree and work in medical device development and treatment and prevention of tissue degradation in diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Ezell’s grandmother’s struggle with Alzheimer’s sparked her passion in this direction. “Before my grandmother’s passing,” she says, “medicine was my chosen field, but her illness gave me further direction into a research career. I realized that I want to do more than just treat patients; I want to conduct research so that I can develop new ways to help and treat patients like my grandmother. The fields of neurology and tissue engineering interest me. It is at the intersections of these fields where I hope to apply interdisciplinary strategies to solve problems in unique ways.”

2017 Astronaut Scholar, Brooke Versaw ’18

Brooke Versaw is a senior chemistry student with a minor in business administration. Versaw was selected as a Beckman Scholar and University Scholar in 2015, and has served in multiple leadership capacities within the University Honors Program Honors Housing Community and Honors Student Council. Versaw also has extensive research experience. The summer before her senior year in high school, she worked with Dr. Junha Jeon at the University of Texas at Arlington as a Welch Foundation Summer Scholar. The summer before her freshman year at Texas A&M, she worked with Dr. Steve Lockless in the Department of Biology to study intracellular signaling. Most recently, Versaw has worked with her Beckman Scholar mentor, Dr. Karen Wooley, as an Undergraduate Research Scholar. Her thesis examined the development of a novel class of degradable polycarbonate materials to create environmentally-responsible plastics. In addition to conducting original research, Versaw is also invested in extolling the virtues of scientific research.

“While my research experience has undoubtedly informed and inspired my desire for a career in scientific research,” Versaw says, “it has also made me an enthusiastic advocate for science outreach. As an Undergraduate Research Ambassador for Texas A&M University, a volunteer for the annual Chemistry Open House, and a workshop leader for Expanding Your Horizons, a STEM initiative for 6th grade girls, I discovered that I enjoy both conducting research and communicating its findings. Moreover, I enjoy serving as a role model and a source of encouragement for younger students.”

Following graduation, Versaw plans to pursue a doctoral degree in chemistry and a career as a polymer chemist on the faculty of a Tier-1 research institution, where she can impact both her field of polymer and materials synthesis, and help cultivate future generations of scientists.

Ezell and Versaw will be presented their ASF awards at a special ceremony on Thursday, October 26, by former astronaut Fred Gregory.

2017 ASF Award Presentation, Reach for the Stars, with astronaut Fred Gregory. Gregory will present awards to Ezell and Versaw before making public comments.

To read more about how LAUNCH: National Fellowships helps prepare outstanding students to compete for nationally-competitive awards such as the Astronaut Scholarship with the generous support of the Association of Former Students, please visit http://natlfellows.tamu.edu.

Four Nominated for Rhodes, Marshall Scholarships

Four outstanding students at Texas A&M University have been nominated for the 2018 Marshall and Rhodes Scholarships, the two most prestigious and highly-coveted academic scholarships available to students in the United States.

The Marshall Scholarship is awarded to 40 students and is tenable for two years of graduate study at any university in the United Kingdom; the well-known Rhodes Scholarship is given to 32 students and is tenable for two to three years of graduate study at Oxford University.  Among the most competitive scholarship competitions in the world, only about 4% of the nationwide pool of over 1,000 university-nominated applicants receive either award.

LAUNCH: National Fellowships congratulates the four Texas A&M nominees to these prestigious competitions for their hard work and dedication to the process of intensive self-reflection required in these applications.

Rhodes Nominees

Andy Baxter ’16, Rhodes Nominee

Andy Baxter ‘16 is a management consultant for Credera in Dallas, Texas. He grew up on a cattle ranch in Franklin, Texas and graduated from Texas A&M with a dual degree in physics and mathematics and a minor in business. He was honored with the Brown Foundation-Earl Rudder Memorial Outstanding Student Award which is presented annually to the top two graduating students for their exemplification of the leadership of General Rudder and dedication to academics and Texas A&M University. While at A&M, Andy was broadly involved and an active leader. He served as Director for Freshmen Leaders in Christ (FliC), Treasurer for the Society of Physics Students, Muster Host, and Impact Counselor. He also worked in Washington, D.C. through the Public Policy Internship Program, studied abroad in Budapest, Hungary, and worked in the Accelerator Research Laboratory. Andy is applying for the Rhodes Scholarship to study for two degrees: M.Sc. in Global Governance and Diplomacy and an M.B.A. He hopes to work as a humanitarian strategy consultant to equip organizations in fighting issues such as water scarcity and modern-day slavery.

Caralie Brewer ’18, Rhodes Nominee

Caralie Brewer ‘18 is a senior bioenvironmental sciences and wildlife & fisheries science double major with a minor in environmental soil science. She grew up hiking and exploring the outdoors in the greenbelt of Austin, TX and have always been fascinated by the environment. Here at Texas A&M, she has been involved in Environmental Issues Committee and Alternative Spring Break, working in both towards environmentally-centered community service and community involvement. Caralie also served as an animal care technician for the Aggieland Humane society; in this capacity, she handled animal care, gave vaccines, and aided in adoption counseling.  Caralie was selected as the COALS Alpha Zeta Outstanding Sophomore Award recipient; this is the highest award given to non-seniors in the College of Agriculture. Last fall, she studied ecology in Quito and the Galapagos, Ecuador, where she fell in love with the high-altitude Andean ecosystem known as the páramo. Since then, Caralie has been working towards returning to Ecuador as an applicant to the Fulbright Program; she would hope to aid in conservation initiatives that will help preserve the páramo and maintain a habitat for the species that call it home. Caralie is applying for the Rhodes Scholarship to study for a Ph.D. In Zoology.

Cora Drozd ’18, Rhodes Nominee

Cora Drozd ‘18 is a philosophy major and dance minor. An advocate for pre-college philosophy instruction, Cora’s passion is promoting civil discourse by leading philosophy discussions in K-12 classrooms. Cora’s Undergraduate Research Scholar thesis is on the implications of pre-college philosophy for American democracy. Cora was selected as the Manuel Davenport Prize winner for service to the mission of the Department of Philosophy, served as a public ambassador for Philosophy for Children, was selected as Miss College Station 2017 and was as a finalist for Miss Texas. A student leader, she served as the president of the Association of Cornerstone Students, a liberal arts honors students program, and led RYLLIES, her women’s service organization, to accomplish over fifty community service events as a chair of service. Cora is a group fitness instructor at the Texas A&M Recreation Center where she teaches pilates and dance cardio. She previously interned in the U.S. Congress and studied abroad as an associate member at New College, Oxford. Cora hopes to pursue master’s degrees in Global Governance and Diplomacy and Political Theory at Oxford for a career in law or diplomacy.

Marshall Nominee

Matthew Murdoch ’16, Marshall Nominee

Matthew Murdoch ’16 graduated Summa Cum Laude from Texas A&M in December 2016 with a bachelor of science in political science. While at Texas A&M, Matthew enjoyed an active role in community service and leadership as a Sunday School teacher at his church, a volunteer at the Twin City Mission in Downtown Bryan, and  Special Events Subcommittee member and Ring Day Coordinator with MSC Hospitality. Along with his studies and research assistance, Matthew took part in the Texas A&M Summer European Academy, where his experience witnessing the impact of the Syrian refugee crisis spurred his interest international relations. Matthew was selected for the Public Policy Internship Program and interned at the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Public Affairs, working closely with the National Security Division in Washington, D.C.  After graduation, Matthew worked as a legislative aid/policy analyst with Senator Bryan Hughes in Austin, Texas. He is currently serving as the Deputy Campaign Manager for the Thomas McNutt House District 8 campaign. Looking forward, Matthew is pursuing a career in foreign service. Matthew hopes to pursue an M.Phil. in International Relations at Oxford.

Although these awards are highly competitive, students from Texas A&M are competitive. In fact, since 2001, 18 Aggies have been selected as finalists for the Rhodes or Marshall Scholarships, and four Aggies have been selected as Rhodes or Marshall Scholars! Students interested in applying to nationally-competitive awards such as the Rhodes and Marshall scholarships are encouraged to review opportunities at http://tx.ag/NatlFellows and contact National Fellowships Program Assistant Benjamin Simington at natlfellows@tamu.edu.

From Promise to Achievement