Piloting the Undergraduate Leadership Scholars Program

Eleni Mijalis ’16 is a junior biology major, but she was involved in research well before she got to Texas A&M. Mijalis’s research on Type I diabetes with the LSU Science and Math Academic Research Training (SMART) program garnered a $1500 scholarship from the Louisiana Junior Science and Humanities Symposium and $4000 from the national Symposium competition. Mijalis wants to pursue biomedical engineering, but unlike many students who simply focus on biology and chemistry, she is investing a great deal of time into how technology can be used to enhance health care.

Mijalis is one of five students who are helping to pilot the new Undergraduate Leadership Scholars (ULS) capstone run by program coordinator Antoine Jefferson. The ULS program gives participants background in personal and organizational leadership theory to help them develop an enhancement project for an organization in which they are leaders.

Eleni Mijalis '16 distributes prizes at TAMUHack.
Eleni Mijalis ’16  (far left) distributes prizes at the 2014 Lone Star Hackathon

Mijalis’s ULS project is helping to establish a new organization, TAMUHack. TAMUHack provides opportunities for students with all levels of experience to learn code through real-world projects. Here are some of Mijalis’s reflections on the first hacking event hosted at Texas A&M, the Lone Star Hackathon, hosted on October 24-25, 2014:

When it was time for hacking to start, I was stressed. Dinner was supposed to be at the venue by 7:45, but it did not arrive until an hour later. I had to keep my cool, but I calmly communicated to the vendor that the tardiness was unacceptable. My teammates told me that they were proud that I did not let myself get stepped on. Dinner was served to the attendees. A fed hacker is a happy hacker.

As two hours turned into four, volunteers were phasing out of their shifts, and new ones were coming in. I helped them sign in, get a shirt, name tag, and walkie-talkie, and showed them to their posts. I tried to make the volunteers feel as appreciated as possible because without them we would not have been able to run the event.

The rest of the meals went smoothly. I am actually really glad we did not have the full 500 expected attendees. Although we ordered food for 500 people, some meals would not have been enough; some only fed the 350 we had there! Other meals, on the otherhand, served way too many people. Any leftover food we did have went to the local homeless shelter, so none went to waste.

As the hackathon came to a close, we were all tired. Some of us had not slept a wink or taken a break the whole time. Our exhaustion made way for high tension among us organizers. The judging portion of the hackathon was rough. We could have done a much better job planning it. There was too much miscommunication between us and the building proctors, who thought we would be out of the building as judging commenced.

The tension didn’t last long, thank goodness. We all know that a divided team has no power. We must work together. Always. The first TAMUHack was done.

The day after the event was a huge relief. I was happy with the way the event went, as a whole. For hackers, TAMUHack was over. They could say, “Until next year!” For us organizers, there was a lot of work still yet to be done.

I think it was during this phase of leadership I learned most about money. Until now we had not really had to pay anyone. Most of our vendors said we could pay for goods and services once the event was over. Because I am the treasurer, most of this work falls on me to complete.

Working with the Student Financial Center can be tough because so much paperwork has to be done and signed by a thousand people (not really, but it feels like it).

I told the vendors that I would need to get the payments cleared through the financial center before I could give them a check. Although it is unrealistic, most vendors expect to be paid within the week of the event. I think I could have avoided any hairy situation by doing a better job communicating the situation to the vendors and/or getting payments processed pre-event.

Although the jobs of the treasurer aren’t always very fun, I am actually happy my teammates trust me enough to take care of them. These relationships with vendors are crucial to success of future TAMUHack events. There are only so many people willing to provide, for example, 500 servings of food or 600 shirts. Building trusting relationships is a delicate process, and not getting money to people on time can stress these relationships

And that is where I am, now. I am continuing to take care of post-TAMUHack financial matters.

One more thing I will be helping out with is organizing a giveaway of our leftover snacks, complete with an advertisement for TAMUHack. I think it is essential to inform and reach out to as many people as possible when leading new event. TAMUHack is the first taste of hacking culture on the Texas A&M campus, and I am responsible for its perpetuity.

Capstones like the Undergraduate Leadership Scholars program give students an opportunity to take the expertise they build in their degree programs and put this to work in a real-world project. To learn more about capstones offered through TAMU Honors and Undergraduate Research, visit http://tx.ag/capstones.

Enriching programs like the Undergraduate Leadership Scholars are made possible through the generous support of the Association of Former Students. Thank you!

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