Honors Benefits: SCONA 2018

The University Honors Program continued to focus on benefits of being a student in the University Honors Program this year by supporting student registration for campus programs run through the Memorial Student Center (MSC) including Opera & Performing Arts Society (OPAS), Wiley Lecture Series, L.T. Jordan Institute for International Awareness, Student Conference on Latino Affairs (SCOLA), Student Conference on National Affairs (SCONA), as well as the Southwestern Black Student Leadership Conference (SBSLC).  We focus on these programs because they are designed to help students grow in their personal, professional, and intellectual development.

SCONA 2018 Attendees (left to right): Adrian Rangel ’18, Mustafa Ahmad ’21, Brooke Versaw ’18, Zowey Lidyard ’18, Matthew Kiihne ’18

We were able to support six students representing three academic colleges in attending SCONA 63. Please see the reflections from two of those students on the impact of that experience.

Brooke Versaw ’18, senior chemistry major

This February, I took a brief recess from my formal coursework in chemistry and turned my attention to the development of science-guided policy as a delegate to SCONA 63 and member of the round-table From Paris with Love: The Future of US Climate Agreements.  Over three days, I participated in the development of a policy paper that proposes future directions for US climate policy after withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement.   Though I gained familiarity with a variety of topics pertinent to national affairs over the course of the conference, my most salient learning experience was in viewing science from the perspective of a policymaker.

While not a subject matter expert in environmental science or technologies relevant to renewable energy sources, I benefit from the general understanding of science provided by my background in chemistry and from the availability of time to improve my understanding of those topics, when required.  Legislators are rarely afforded those luxuries.  The Congressional Research Service’s report on the membership of the 115th United States Congress indicated that just 10 of the 435 members of the House of Representatives and 1 of the 50 Senators have professional expertise in the STEM fields.  Moreover, time is a scarce commodity for legislators of any occupation.

Consequently, the importance of effective communication between scientists and policymakers becomes apparent.  To draft policies that best allocate resources and meet the needs of their constituents, legislators and their staff require concise, timely, and transparent information from scientists and engineers, both about the current status of research and the time required for translation of fundamental knowledge to technologies that can be produced on scales and at costs feasible for nationwide implementation.

Luke Oaks ’19, junior interdisciplinary engineering major

Since the 1950s, the Texas A&M Memorial Student Center (MSC) has hosted the Student Conference on National Affairs (SCONA). As a student-led organization, SCONA provides undergraduates the chance to discuss complex policy issues through the lens of national security. This past February, delegates from across the country converged on Aggieland to engage with fellow students and policy leaders on subjects ranging from information security to the evolving purpose of the National Guard. As a conference participant, I was joined by delegates from schools including the University of North Carolina, University of Nebraska, and Texas A&M University at Prairie View to develop a policy proposal regarding the United States’ involvement in the Syrian Civil War.

My group’s roundtable discussion was titled “Syria’s Web: Untangling the Conflict in the Middle East”. We developed and addressed a policy proposal brief for the acting United States National Security Advisor, General H.R. McMaster. After two days of discussion and writing, we ultimately concluded that the United States can diminish Iran’s influence in Syria by further sanctioning the state of Iran and relevant Hezbollah actors, restricting current Iranian military routes of access into Syria, and continuing support for current Syrian partners while progressively amplifying stabilization efforts of liberated territories in western Syria. Our proposal was centered around the fundamental ideology that successful implementation of policy will reduce the Iranian threat to U.S. interests in the Middle East, prevent the creation of a regional hegemon, and bring about an accelerated solution to the crisis in Syria.

Actors involved in the Syrian conflict at the time of our proposal

Outside of proposal discussions, our team enjoyed developing a short skit, which provided social commentary on the conflict in the Middle East through the analogy of a custody battle over a child named Syria. Characters included a judge (USA), invested Mom (Iran), wealthy Dad (Saudi Arabia), questionable character witness (Russia), social workers (United Nations), as well as a child (Syria) and his older brother (Assad). This was an oddly poignant parallel, and our skit was consequently voted as third best of the conference. Reflecting back to my time on conference, I also particularly enjoyed a talk on the future role of the National Guard within the United States military. All things considered, SCONA was a significant experience for me because it served as my first opportunity to engage in critical discourse on a topic of international significance with students of various backgrounds and higher education institutions. In that vein, I would like to thank my team – Jacob Bennett, Ulises Bennett, Anna Houk, Charles Nasser, Joshua Rivers, John Thomas, Melissa Throener, Evan Walker, and Lacey Wallace – for a memorable weekend. Further, I extend my gratitude to Ms. Tamara K. Fitzgerald for facilitating our group’s development of a policy proposal and skit.

To learn more about the benefits of being in the University Honors Program, see our FAQ at http://launch.tamu.edu/Honors/Honors-FAQs#FAQcollapse25.

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