As a benefit of membership, the University Honors Program supports 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. Please see below for reflections from students we supported at SCONA 64.
Junior biomedical sciences major Emma Haschke ‘21
This semester I had the wonderful opportunity to participate in the student led program of the Student Conference on National Affairs through the Memorial Student Center or “MSC SCONA”. The conference was centered on the role of the United States in the issue of global terrorism, and the topic I chose to evaluate within this subject was formulating policy related to agroterrorism. Agroterrorism is a sub-topic of bioterrorism focusing on the usage of biological agents to target the food and agriculture industries. The conference hosts students from universities all over the country allowing for the unique opportunity to collaborate with individuals that are not only outside of your field of study, but offer a completely fresh perspective overall.
As a student in a science-based major, the world of policy is very foreign to me, which is why I felt this would be the perfect opportunity to improve those skills while still applying it to a topic I am very passionate about. The roundtable in which I participated in was titled “Crops, Cattle, and Catastrophe: Securing America’s Food Supply”. Over the course of three days, my team and I worked alongside a student host representing MSC SCONA and Dr. Christine Blackburn who served as our subject matter expert for our policy discussions. Between the several invited speakers, the panel discussions, and roundtable policy writing sessions, the experience was incredibly immersive and gave expertise from several perspectives on U.S. strategy in combatting global terrorism.
Due to my limited prior experience in formulating policy, I found that I was able to contribute to our discussions by offering insight on epidemiology and the livestock and greater agriculture industries. Overall, the experience allowed for me to develop a better understanding of how to translate these ideas into policy and action that can actually be implemented. The series of group discussions and speakers were drawn to a close with a presentation from each of the student roundtable groups in front of Major General John S. Kem. Another student and I represented our group by presenting a hypothetical act of agroterrorism on the soybean industry and the profound impact something as specific as the targeting of a single staple crop could have on the security of America’s food supply and overall social stability. We then proceeded to explain how a “whole government” approach could be implemented along with involvement with the private sector. By proposing a breakdown of skill sets and resources for handling such an issue, we provided a preventative plan for rapid response in the face of such an issue. At the end of this conference, I found that this process was a stimulating and enjoyable challenge that introduced me to policy in a role that I previously had a very limited understanding of.
Junior biomedical sciences major Cora Garcia ‘21
As a Biomedical Sciences major, my days are typically bursting with various types of biological and physical sciences. Consequently, when the chance arose to do something completely unrelated to my usual coursework, I jumped at the opportunity. The 64th MSC SCONA Conference was this chance for learning. The focus of this year’s conference was global terrorism and as a delegate to the table, “Homegrown and Homebound: Domestic Radicalization,” I had the privilege to learn about fundamental principles of terrorism and their devastating impact on the United States from a variety of subject matter experts, including Dr. Danny Davis. As a retired lieutenant colonel in the US Army and a professor at the Bush School for over ten years, Dr. Davis provided my group and I with information essential to crafting a public policy paper combatting domestic radicalization.
In addition to Dr. Davis, I worked with a group of six other college students to prepare the public policy. This in itself was another learning opportunity as I partnered with military students from Georgia State University, Texas A&M at Galveston, and Corp of Cadet members from Texas A&M University. Through speaking with these students, I gained new perspectives and a newfound respect for ROTC college students. With our different backgrounds, beliefs, and knowledge, we were able to construct a public policy paper that specifically targeted the growing menace of violent far-right extremism.
In our research, we discovered the alarming threat of these terroristic groups and presented our information and suggested solutions to Major General John Kem. Within our solutions, our team of delegates proposed amending present domestic counter-terrorism protocol by removing time constraints of investigations and implementing a progressive media campaign aimed at spreading a counter-message to educate and empower the general public against far-right extremist ideology.
Over the course of three days, I had the absolute joy of learning about military and FBI investigations and methods of fighting international terrorism. As I return to my chemistry and biology courses, the desire to learn about topics of global significance is predominant and I will undoubtedly return to the 65th MSC SCONA Conference next year.