By Hayley Cox
“A capstone is a culminating experience that allows a student to bring the learning and experience of their undergraduate education together to address an issue or question that interests them. While capstone experiences are required for Honors Students, any undergraduate at Texas A&M may apply to these programs” (http://hur.tamu.edu/TAMU-Students/Capstones).
Currently, the capstone programs include Undergraduate Research Scholars, Undergraduate Teacher Scholars, and Undergraduate Service Scholars. The mission of the Undergraduate Service Scholar Program (USSP) is “to give students an opportunity to integrate classroom education in their major with their career goals and gain a better understanding of the nature of service…” Each Undergraduate Service Scholar is required to develop a project to be carried out over the course of the academic year. Honors students Erica Cottingham and Lauren Simcic are piloting this capstone program with their service projects under the direction of Dr. Sumana Datta.
As Undergraduate Service Scholars, students first identify a need for service in Bryan-College Station and gather volunteers to address that need. Scholars also attend at least one social justice event per semester and write reflection papers on their experiences.
Lauren Simcic, a senior political science and Honors student from San Antonio, Texas, has been involved with Honors since her freshman year. She began her Honors career as secretary for the Lechner-McFadden Hall Council. The senior chose to participate in USSP because of her high school’s heavy emphasis on community service. She had missed volunteering regularly since entering college at Texas A&M.
Simcic’s parents were her inspiration to commit to service, as they always made time in their busy schedules to help those in need. Simcic said, “My father was a successful doctor, but he still made time to volunteer at church. Everyone was worth his time, and he never overlooked ‘the little guy’.” Another reason Simcic continues in service is to honor her father, who passed away six years ago.
The service scholar volunteers at a nursing home, which she has found to be very fulfilling. She said, “When I show up, people say hi to me and hug me. The residents wait eagerly for anyone unfamiliar to walk into the facility because it adds variety to their days.” Simcic hopes to plan a large service event for the end of the spring semester. In the future, she aims to obtain her Masters degree in the Texas A&M University Masters of Urban Planning program.
Simcic encourages students interested in service to choose a need that stimulates their personal interests. She found herself more likely to attend regularly if she loved the work that she was doing. On the other hand, the service scholar recommends that students try to stretch themselves every time they volunteer. Simcic said, “I find that when I encounter a really lonely, discouraged person, the things I used to find ‘gross’ or ‘not my job’ don’t [make me uncomfortable] anymore. I just want to help the person.”
Honors students are encouraged to apply for the Undergraduate Service Scholars Program. Applications will require a two-page proposal and a timeline of activities in late spring or early fall semester. Honors and Undergraduate Research is very excited to continue and expand this new capstone with the help of more students like Lauren!