All posts by tamuhonors

Honors Benefits: SBSLC 2018

The benefits of participating in the University Honors Program include some things that may be considered more abstract such as our interdisciplinary emphasis, strong community, and focus on personal, professional and intellectual development (see this link: https://goo.gl/TjIxOL).

Other benefits are more concrete, such as our partnership with other programs on campus that provide special access to campus conferences that assist our students in their personal, professional, and intellectual development.

This year LAUNCH: Honors was proud to support registration for three of our students to attend the annual Southwestern Black Student Leadership Conference (SBSCLC). Now in its 30th year, SBSLC provides students with important perspective and encouragement to grow into leaders of character dedicated to the greater good (http://sbslc.tamu.edu/about/). Read below for reflections from our students on their experience this year.

Ecaroh Jackson ’19 (left) and Nicole Guenztel ’19 (right) at SBSLC 2018

Ecaroh Jackson ’19
University Scholar and interdisciplinary studies major from Caldwell, TX

This January, I was fortunate in receiving the opportunity to attend the Southwestern Black Student Leadership Conference (SBSLC) for a second time. The topic this year was “A Legacy in Living Color”.

I was able to attend three workshops that gave me new insights on current issues and provided me with tools to use when going about life. My favorite workshop was one that used a nontraditional approach for its platform. The speaker divided the room in half and gave each side a topic. One side of the room was designated “for” and the other side was assigned “against”. By this point, the room was up in arms. The topic was one that was unanimously agreed on, so by making some of us argue in support of such a sensitive topic, emotions ran high and cooperation ran low. During the activity, the “for” side started to change their opinions and came up with really good points that opposed some of their own beliefs. After the conclusion of the debate, the speaker asked us how it felt to argue the other side’s opinion. At first it was distressing, but after a few rounds, we started to understand why the “for” side supported the opinion that they held, although we still didn’t change our viewpoints. The goal of this was to show us that to truly become influential, you have to understand and be able to argue both sides of an issue. Whether you are right or not, if you can’t come up with educated rebuttals, you will not only lose an argument, but additionally lose a chance at educating someone about a topic that means a lot to you.

My favorite part of the conference as a whole was the speech given by Amanda Seales during the closing banquet. She spoke about many things, but the thing I found to be most pertinent was her viewpoint on opportunities. As an actress, she had been turned down many times before finding her way onto the hit TV show “Insecure”. While others may have been discouraged, Seales was determined to make it in the industry. When asked if she was disappointed about not getting chosen for certain occasions, she emphasized that she was not deterred, because it just wasn’t her time or opportunity. Timing is key and you have to realize that while not everything is meant for you, something is, and it will only come when the time is right.

As a future educator, it is very important that I understand different cultures and how to maneuver a diverse climate. Attending the SBSLC has allowed me to interact with groups of people that don’t I normal have the chance to talk to. Hearing different ideas has allowed me to expand my knowledge about others and become more prepared for a career that isn’t a stranger to diversity.

This conference is so powerful in the way that it highlights a group that may not commonly receive a platform like this to discuss current issues. I encourage all students to attend a conference similar to this whether it be the SBSLC, SCOLA, or SCONA. I challenge you to broaden your horizons and see the world from different perspectives. Step out of your comfort zone and embrace the variety of experiences that A&M has to offer.

Karissa Yamaguchi ’19
Undergraduate Research Ambassador and biochemistry and genetics double major from Phoenix, AZ

This conference provided many professional and personal development workshops. Notably, the “Face Your Fears and Frame your success” workshop provided me with valuable insights into how to embrace success. This workshop also pinpointed implicit fears I have allowed to hinder my development in leadership and academics.

I aim to be a physician, a career dependent on leadership skills and the ability to connect with people of all backgrounds. This experience allowed me to expand my comfort zone and provided a venue for me to practice these skills. As an Asian American woman in STEM and who’s primary leadership engagements are in research and ministry, this was a fantastic opportunity to do just that. I was able to learn from the perspectives of leaders with an alternative ethnic identity on issues such as leadership, failure, social justice and what people wished they had learned before they were 25. The workshops not only challenged me to think deeper, but broadened my awareness to viewpoints of people with a different ethnic and socioeconomic background.

Do not be shy. I jumped at the opportunity to attend a leadership conference financed by the honors program. After reading more information about the conference, I was nervous to be a minority and stick out. However, once I attended I realized my fears of rejection and alienation were unfounded. Even if you do not identify as “black” or “student” or “leader”, please attend this conference. Everyone was also extremely welcoming and engaging. But more importantly, stretch yourself to experience the more diverse perspectives you can. I was able to learn the unique perspective of people of a different ethnicity and better define my own cultural influence on my leadership style. The responsibility of a leader is to be sensitive to and aware of the needs of his or her community. SBSLC allowed me to listen to the leaders of another minority and gain some awareness of the issues faced by my peers.

Nicole Guenztel ’19 (center) with LAUNCH staff Benjamin Simington (left) and Dustin Kemp (right) at SBSLC 2018

Nicole Guentzel ’19
Honors Housing Community Junior Advisor and biology major from Beach City, TX

The Southwestern Black Student Leadership Conference (SBSLC) is a yearly conference that empowers students to be successful leaders by providing workshops and keynote speakers that teach students financial responsibility, how to create a positive impact, and how to overcome various challenges. The theme of this conference was a Legacy in Living Color.

One reason I attended this conference as a white female is because I find it very important to step out of my comfort zone and be the minority every once in a while, whether this is going to a country that does not speak English, or going to a conference where people look different than me. I enjoy learning new perspectives. It was uncomfortable at times since many of the students had faced discrimination from mostly white individuals. In fact, the only time discrimination from another race was acknowledged was during a question the last speaker answered. It brought into perspective how much of a problem racial discrimination is in just daily life.

The first Keynote speaker, Dr. Wickliff, was my favorite presenter. He graduated with a PhD at the age of 25, thus accomplishing one of his lifelong goals. It was very inspiring to hear how he overcame challenges because it was very similar to how I approach obstacles. When people do not believe in us we both strive to prove them wrong. Recently, I have been trying to console myself that if I do not achieve my goal, I am not a failure. Although, this would be true, it is not a healthy mindset because it is taking away my motivation to complete my goal. The speaker re-inspired me to pursue my goal and he also made sure that everyone present knew that they were enough- that we all have the potential to accomplish our goals.

My advice is to attend this conference no matter your racial identity. Come with an open mind and really listen to the workshop presenters. I learned many skills that will help me become a more independent adult and a more effective leader in the workforce. I also recommend meeting new people and not just staying with the people from your same university the whole time because I met wonderful people from all over the nation that I would not have met if I just stayed with the Texas A&M students.

I would like to thank the LAUNCH office for sponsoring me to attend this conference.

 

 

Advertisements

Two Outstanding Seniors Nominated for Gaither Fellowships

The James C. Gaither Junior Fellows Program is a post-baccalaureate fellowship with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace which provides outstanding recent graduates who are serious about careers in international affairs with an opportunity to learn about and help shape policy on important international topics.

Junior Fellows work as research assistants to senior scholars whose projects include nuclear policy, democracy and rule of law, energy and climate issues, Middle East studies, Asia politics and economics, South Asian politics, Southeast Asian politics, Japan studies, and Russian and Eurasian affairs.

The fellowship provides a one-year full time position at the Carnegie Endowment in Washington, D.C. during which Junior Fellows may conduct research, contribute to op-eds, papers, reports, and books, participate in meetings with high-level officials, contribute to congressional testimony and organize briefings attended by scholars, activists, journalists and government officials.

Texas A&M is one of over 400 participating schools and institutions and may nominate up to two students each year. Only 10-12 Junior Fellows will be selected, making this a highly-competitive program. Mokhtar Awad ’12 was selected as a Junior Fellow with the Middle East program in 2012.

We are pleased to announce our 2018 nominees are Kanika Gakhar ‘18, who is applying to the Energy and Climate Program, and Lucia Winkler ‘18 who is applying to the Russia/Eurasia Program.

Kanika Gakhar ’18, Gaither Junior Fellows Nominee

Kanika Gakhar makes an impact on campus as a University Scholar and University Innovation Fellow by spreading her love for learning and working on revolutionary projects. As an Undergraduate Research Assistant at the Advanced Vertical Flight Lab, she conducts research on a Robotic Hummingbird. She is also a team-lead for the Society of Automotive Engineers Aero Design Team, which is an organization that designs, builds, and flies a radio-controlled aircraft at an international competition every year. Last summer, she interned for Boeing and was able to submit a patent for one of her designs. She is also very passionate about policy and has participated in debates, discussions, and Model United Nations. She enjoys dancing and is currently a performer for two dance teams: Texas A&M Belly Dance Association and Philsa Modern Hip-Hop Dance Team. She is currently Vice-President of Sigma Gama Tau and has served as President of Lambda Sigma Sophomore Honors Society and Director of Focus Groups for the MSC Fall Leadership Conference. She is also an active member of Maroon and White Leadership Association.

Lucia Winkeler ’18, Gaither Junior Fellows Nominee

Lucia Winkeler is originally from Austin, Texas. She is a senior international studies and Russian language and culture double major. Within, international studies, her focus is politics and diplomacy. Lucia is currently a member of the research subcommittee for the MSC Student Conference on National Affairs (SCONA)—currently preparing its 63rd conference—and also a member of Texas A&M University’s Russian Club. During her sophomore year, she was a member of the international subcommittee for the MSC L.T. Jordan Institute for International Awareness. Russian language and culture have always been a part of her life because her mother’s side of the family is Russian, and she has many relatives still living in Russia. During the summer of 2016, Lucia was a Fulbright Hays GPA Scholar as part of the Moscow-Texas Connections Program, during which she studied Russian intensively at the Higher School of Economics for 10 weeks. She was also inducted into the National Slavic Honor Society, Dobro Slavo, at the end of the spring 2016 semester. Last spring semester, in 2017, she had the opportunity to intern at the U.S. Department of Commerce through A&M’s Public Policy Internship Program and increased her knowledge of U.S.-Russian relations in a business context. After graduation, she plans to earn her Master’s in International Relations with a focus on Eurasia, and then enter a federal career to work on improving the state of U.S.-Russian relations and affect U.S. interests in the Eurasian region overall.

Congratulations to our nominees! If you are interested in applying to the Carnegie Junior Fellows program or another nationally-competitive scholarship or fellowship, please visit http://tx.ag/NatlFellows.

Honors Course Contract – Creative Writing

Honors Course Contracts provide students who are pursuing an Honors graduation distinction the opportunity to earn Honors credit for courses that are not already being offered as Honors. The Honors Course Contract experience varies depending on the discipline, course material, and instructor. No matter what the expectation, though, students can expect an Honors Course Contract to ask for higher-level thinking and reflection.

The post below, Asteria Gonzalez ’20 shares an excerpt from work done for her Honors Course Contract for ENGL 235 – Elements of Creative Writing with Dr. Lowell White.

Reflecting on why she pursued this contract experience, Gonzalez says:

 “As an aspiring author, the chance to challenge myself creatively was the perfect opportunity for a course contract. By writing a short story that was outside of my typical genre, I pushed myself to explore other genres and write a story that didn’t span a 90,000 word novel or a series. The short nature of the story encouraged me to tighten my prose and focus on the core of the story, which has already changed how I now approach writing a novel.”

Gonzalez also shared helpful advice about how to approach course contract opportunities:

“If you are considering a course contract, be sure that the course contract will link to your interests and further your knowledge or skills. With this particular course contract, which ties in directly with my goal of becoming a published author, I expanded my writing skills and walked away with a short story that I’m proud of.”

Asteria Gonzalez ’20

“The Illicit Bridge”

I’d heard all my life that rules existed for reasons.

They were there to keep you safe from yourself and from others. Whether it was from eating dessert before dinner or from a madman charging through the streets, rules were alive to keep you well and whole.

Rules dragged the fun out of everything.

“Don’t cross the bridge at night,” everyone said, but they never said why. Everyone knew which bridge they were referring to—the wooden bridge with rusted rails that arced over a dry riverbed that never filled with water, no matter how much it rained.

On the twelfth of November, I watched from the window of my room as three figures approached the bridge, located a stone’s throw from my apartment. The sun was setting, and they were toying with the limits of the rule. I leaned my shoulder against the wall and kept my gaze on them.

Behind me, there was a meow, and then Thetis hopped onto the windowsill. Not taking my eyes off the three that were getting ever closer to the bridge, I scratched behind the tabby’s ears. Thetis pawed at my hand when I stopped.

“Quit, you six-toed demon,” I told her, “I’m trying to see what’s happening.”

The Hemingway cat flicked her tail and leapt from the windowsill to the desk. She batted a pencil off the surface, and I rolled my eyes. While Thetis entertained herself with knocking things off my desk, I returned my full attention to the three. They were almost to the bridge, their shadows giants falling across the wooden arch.

“What are you doing?” I muttered.

They stopped and huddled up, looking over their shoulders at the bridge repeatedly. One of them flung an arm out towards the bridge and shook a green-haired head. I furrowed my brow because I recognized that particular person—Shane, a bagger at the grocery store and the resident of the unit above mine.

One of the others held a conversation with Shane, a furious conversation punctuated with broad gestures. It ended with Shane throwing his arms up and storming off, back into town. The other two remained, looking around themselves in a manner that spoke of sudden uncertainty.

I checked my watch. 18:28. The sun had fully set, and darkness was creeping over the bridge. I could barely see the two standing there, but I hadn’t seen them walk by the street lamps yet, so they had to be there.

Ten minutes later, I was still at the window, trying to peer through the complete night. The moon was just a sliver, a pathetic sliver that cast no light on the bridge.

So focused was I on the bridge that I nearly jumped out of my skin when there was a knock on the door. Thetis sprang to her paws as I hurried from my bedroom to the door, nerves on edge.

I wasn’t expecting company tonight.

To learn more about contracting a course for Honors credit, please visit http://honors.tamu.edu/Honors/Earning-Honors-Credit.

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.

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.

Back to top


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.

Back to top


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.

Back to top

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