Category Archives: Honors Programs News

Announcements of policy changes, course information, registration updates, etc.

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

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.

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

INTRODUCING THE CLASS OF 2020 UNIVERSITY SCHOLARS

Today’s Honors Welcome recognized twelve new students joining the University Scholars program. University Scholars is a personal and professional development program for high-achieving students who serve as ambassadors for the University Honors program. Each spring, ten to twelve freshmen are selected for the Scholars program through an intensive application and interview process. The program seeks students who are intellectually curious and who demonstrate critical thinking, self-awareness, poise, and maturity. Scholars are able to engage in rigorous conversation and to defend their ideas. They’re also highly accomplished and motivated students who love learning for the sake of learning.

University Scholars Class of 2020: (left to right) Immanuel Ponminissery, Hannah Lehman, Loan Do, Seth Reine, Sydney Tejml, Caleb Allison, Tessa Williams, Alex Sharma, Sarah Swift, Jon Williamson, Katherine Miller

These new Scholars will join their twenty upperclassman peers in the Exploration Series, seminar courses offered to Scholars each semester. Previous Exploration Series have delved into transportation, education, television, comedy, and animal conservation; this coming fall will feature seminars on Aggie History and Food and the Sacred. Sophomores new to the program participate in a personal statement writing seminar, “Futuring Yourself,” together.

Throughout the program, University Scholars seek intellectual challenge and share their unique perspectives from an array of academic and cultural backgrounds. We are excited for twelve new University Scholars to grow in this program during the next three years and look forward to seeing their future accomplishments both at Texas A&M and in the world!

Caleb Allison ’20, University Scholar

Caleb Allison

Caleb Allison is a sophomore business major from Argyle, TX. Allison is an outdoorsman and adventurer, and he loves anything to do with mountains, snow, and conservation. He was a member of MSC ALOT as a freshman and will be on staff as a Group Leader for his sophomore year. He is also a member of the University Disciplinary Appeals Panel and Discovery Church. Allison went abroad to Italy the summer before his freshman year as part of the Champe Fitzhugh Honors Freshman International Leadership seminar.

Loan Do ’20, University Scholar

Loan Do

Loan Do is an allied health major from Houston, TX, who plans to go to Nursing School. Do is interested in studying either neonatal medicine or oncology for her specialization someday. She is a member of the Regents’ Scholars Orientation Planning Board and Texas A&M University’s Texas Emergency Care Team (TAMECT).

Hannah Lehman ’20, University Scholar

Hannah Lehman

Hannah Lehman is an aerospace engineering major and mathematics minor from Austin, Texas. Lehman is interested in one day combining air and spacecraft with more advanced artificial intelligence. She loves sculpture and martial arts and is a certified Black Belt in Tae Kwon Do. She is involved in Vietnamese Student Association (VSA), Virtual Reality Club, and the Honors community.

Larry Liu ’20, University Scholar

Larry Liu

Larry Liu is an economics major from Alpharetta, Georgia. Liu has always been interested in history and human expression through the arts. He enjoys literature and films, and he is particularly interested in the story and the human struggle in these. Liu is an avid runner, and is often seen running with the Corps early in the morning. He has made Dean’s List, is a recipient of the Sul Ross Corps Scholarship, and serves as the Scholastics Sergeant for his outfit in the Corps.

Katherine Miller ’20, University Scholar

Katherine Miller

Katherine Miller is a biology major and Latin minor from Denver, Colorado. She is a recipient of the President’s Endowed Scholarship and National Merit Semi-Finalist. In her free time Miller enjoys reading fiction, studying languages, and communing with the great outdoors. When she is not studying, Miller is involved in Venture Crew, a co-ed organization of the Boy Scouts of America.

Immanuel Ponminissery ’20, University Scholar

Immanuel Ponminissery

Immanuel Ponminissery is a mechanical engineering major and economics minor from Thrissur, India. Technology and its benefits never fail to excite him, especially developments in his major. Ponminissery also enjoys reading the news, monitoring stock prices, and occasionally getting deeply philosophical. Another passion of his is immersing himself in different cultures. Ponminissery was briefly involved with Model United Nations at Texas A&M and currently serve as Treasurer of the Lambda Sigma Sophomore Honor Society.

Seth Reine ’20, University Scholar

Seth Reine

Seth Reine is a biomedical engineering major from Arlington, TX. Reine is interested in the applications of shape memory polymer biomaterials, increasing medical care across different cultures, and service as a disciple of God. Besides the University Honors program, he is involved with Engineering Honors, Class Councils, Residence Life, and research in the Biomedical Device Laboratory under Dr. Duncan Maitland. Reine is also a Plum Family Endowed Scholar and a President’s Endowed Scholar. He enjoys amateur weightlifting and learning to cook. While away from A&M, Seth works at Camp Thurman as a Christian youth outreach counselor.

Alex Sharma ’20, University Scholar

Eikagra “Alex” Sharma

Alex Sharma is a computer science major and mathematics minor from Bareilly, India. Sharma is currently working at the Energy Systems Laboratory, TEES to improve the software platform for engineering efficiency in buildings. He wants to work in the field of Sustainable Energy Production. Sharma is a member of the Christian Engineering Leaders organization, and is active in volunteering and community service. He is motivated to learn new cultures and skills, and is also passionate about mathematics. Sharma contributes Calculus problems for an e-book as part of the MYMathApps project and is also conducting research under Dr. Philip Yasskin on improving a parser that converts math input to Sage code.

Sarah Swift ’20, University Scholar

Sarah Swift

Sarah Swift is a biomedical engineering major and philosophy minor from Magnolia, TX, where she graduated from Magnolia High School as Valedictorian. She is a National Merit Scholar and Brown Foundation Scholar. Swift’s academic interests lie in medical technology innovation, medical care in underdeveloped countries, and the ethical implications of engineering research. Her personal interests include dance, writing, travel, and spending time outdoors. In the summer of 2016, Swift attended the MSC Champe Fitzhugh International Honors Leadership Seminar in Italy. She is a volunteer for the Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership seminar and is passionate about empowering the youth. During her freshman year at Texas A&M, Swift served as a staff member for The Big Event, as a member of the TEDxTAMU committee of MSC Aggie Leaders of Tomorrow, and a delegate for the Gilbert Leadership Conference. She is also an active member of Kappa Alpha Theta.

Sydeny Tejml ’20, University Scholar

Sydney Tejml

Sydney Tejml is a biomedical sciences and animal sciences double-major with a minor in psychology from Hutto, Texas. Academically, Tejml is interested in veterinary medicine and disease pathology and epidemiology. Her personal interests include travel, camping, and hunting. She loves backpacking, canoeing, snorkeling, and scuba diving! She is involved in ASPIRE, the Terry Foundation, and Pre-Vet Society on campus. Her achievements at Texas A&M include becoming a member of Phi Eta Sigma and the National Society of Collegiate Scholars, and making the Dean’s List for both semesters of her freshman year.

Tessa Williams ’20, University Scholar

Tessa Williams

Tessa Williams is a business major and psychology minor from Friendswood, TX. She is interested in psychology, especially neuroscience and abnormal and forensic psychology, as well as literature and political science. Outside of school, Williams enjoys reading, hiking, and exploring new places, whether foreign or local. This past year, she was a member of Memorial Student Center Freshman Leadership International, in which she was able to develop leadership and communication skills while putting on educational programs and developing relationships with an amazing group of peers.

Jon Williamson ’20, University Scholar

Jon Williamson

Jon Williamson is a mechanical engineering major from Centennial, CO, he also plans on adding a computer science major and mathematics minor. Throughout his childhood, he was fascinated with math, science, and space exploration. Williamson is a President’s Endowed Scholaras well as a Craig and Galen Brown Foundation Scholar. Outside of academics, he is extremely involved in MSC Aggie Leaders of Tomorrow and is the TEDxTAMU Executive for the 2018 conference. Williamson is an avid sports fan, especially for the Denver Broncos. In his free time, he enjoys reading, working out, and playing basketball.

Freshmen interested in applying for the University Scholars program can learn more by attending information sessions in November or the recruitment mixer in December. The application will open in January 2018. See our website at http://launch.tamu.edu/Honors/University-Scholars.

HSC Announces Changes for Fall 2017

Howdy!

This brief update is intended to explain upcoming changes to Honors Student Council (HSC).

Based on feedback from Honors Students this past year, HSC presented a proposal to the Honors and Undergraduate Research Advisory Committee (HURAC) to change the University Honors Program participation requirement beginning in Fall 2017. The proposal was discussed and approved at the December 2016 HURAC meeting.

In order to meet the participation requirement going forward, all non-freshman University Honors Program students will need to attend two events per semester, one of which must be academic in nature. While participation in HSC-sponsored events is a requirement of the program and a responsibility of Honors students, our goal as  HSC leadership is to ensure that these are such  outstanding opportunities that you look forward to taking part in them, rather than see them as an obligation. Thus, we will always look forward to your feedback and suggestions on potential HSC events.

These changes are designed to strengthen the larger Honors community outside of our freshman Living Learning Community. Our perspective is that increased interaction will strengthen our community, start new conversations, and advance the common ideals we share as Honors students. We aim to diversify and enrich your experience as an Honors student and invite you to broaden your horizons!

We hope that you will benefit from this change. If you have any questions or concerns about this, please email us at tamuhonorsstudentcounil@gmail.com or come to any of our general Honors Student Council meetings, which will now occur monthly.

Thanks & Gig ‘Em,

The 2016-17 HSC Officer Team

2016-17 HSC Officers
Left to right: Katie Ferry ’18 — President, Sanjana Srikanth ’18 — Executive Vice President, Zowey Lidyard ’18 — Chair of Information Technology, Regan Puckett ’17 — Treasurer / Secretary, Valerie Melendez ’19 — Vice President of Social Activities, Sarah Kilpatrick ’18 — Vice President of Special Events and Academics

Honors Benefits: MSC SCONA 2017

The University Honors Program has been working this year to enlarge the list of benefits of being a student in the University Honors Program. Historically, we have focused on some abstract benefits of participating in the University Honors Program such as our interdisciplinary emphasis, strong community, and focus on personal, professional and intellectual development (see this link: https://goo.gl/TjIxOL). In addition to these benefits, we have also begun to make connections with programs around campus that we feel help students with their personal, professional, and intellectual development.

Many of these opportunities have been with 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), and Bethancourt, as well as the Southwestern Black Student Leadership Conference (SBSLC).

University Honors Students dressed up for SCONA 2017! Left to right: Sarah Kilpatrick ’18, Karla Valerie Melendez ’19, Grace Cunningham ’18, Nicole Guentzel ’19, Matthew Kiihne ’18

This year we were able to support seven students representing five of the academic colleges in attending SCONA. Below, we have reflections from six of those students on the impact of that experience.

Sarah Kilpatrick ’18, junior economics major

This semester, I had the opportunity to spend five days hearing eminent speakers and writing a brief policy proposal on the Intelligence Community with the help of other students at SCONA 62. The Student Conference on National Affairs brings together students from across the country to discuss, research, and attempt to find solutions for issues that are affecting our government and society. The Domestic Crisis Strategic Response Exercise was a two day pre-conference mock domestic crisis exercise that focused on negotiation, strategy, and teamwork to best allocate limited resources in a crisis event. In short, not once did my ability to take a test to prove mastery of coursework help me at all over the entire event.

What helped were the things that are either not taught in a classroom or not explicitly taught during classes. Things like risking misallocation of vital resources during a mock crisis in exchange for maintaining fairness between all partners, or risking a win (and your pride) while playing a game of 42 with strangers-turned-friends after the official conference day had concluded. The ability to stand up for your perspective when 14 other people hold a completely differing perspective also came in to play. Accepting mistakes but moving forward was important when my DCSRE group, representing the State of Texas in crisis, realized we did not get the resources we needed in time to help the state’s citizens. Most importantly, in my opinion, was having the ability to ask for help. The conference does not expect you to come in as an expert in whatever subject-based roundtable you sign up for, so they provide a plethora of subject-matter experts, people who work in the field, and guest lecturers so delegates can ask questions, get advice, and “pick their brains” (so to speak) from these people throughout the event.

Sometimes the advice they gave extended beyond just the scope of the conference. The most important thing that my roundtable’s expert told me was “Don’t let your coursework get in the way of your education.” The education you can receive here at A&M could just be whatever your degree requires, but when you sign up for things like conferences, organizations, and even spontaneous trips with friends, you are expanding your education into experiences and life stories. This conference also introduced me to a specific network of women within various branches of government that I can reach out to whenever I go to the D.C. area. SCONA strengthened both my interest in the field and given me some amazing memories I can keep with me long after graduation.

I would highly recommend going to SCONA next year, or any other opportunity that sparks your interest. You can meet people who challenge you and people who inspire you. You can find new applications for old goals, new friends, and even a newfound love for something outside of your major. Thank you to honors for providing me with this experience that I can genuinely say was one of the greatest experiences I have had here at A&M.

Karla Valerie Melendez ’19, sophomore international studies major

When we weren’t listening to speakers, we were in our roundtables, attempting to write a cohesive policy paper. My roundtable was Lady Liberties Promise, which basically called for a policy paper marrying the topic of immigration and national security. This is where I learned the most during the conference, and while it was frustrating at times, my team made it through and we managed to leave the conference with a policy paper we were proud of and friendships we didn’t expect to make even halfway through the second day.

There were 5 roundtable sessions throughout the conference, and from the beginning it was expected that we would be working very quickly. Even a group that had been working cohesively from the beginning would have found the task a challenge. With the topic of immigration, we were excited to potentially be able to explore various topics that are of current international interest and tackle them. We came out of roundtable session 1 with a blank paper, but feeling confident about our discussion. It felt natural that we’d need an hour and a half to talk through potential topics, since there are so many of interest and find where we needed to focus. The problem emerged when we came back and out differing opinions started to clash. We had a page limit, and naturally couldn’t talk about everything, and several people had trouble letting go of their ideas or understanding that just because it wasn’t addressed in the policy paper, didn’t mean it wasn’t important. We kept seeming to settle on a topic, and then trying to write only to find ourselves still divided and working on completely separate things. We were given roles, but we didn’t understand them, we weren’t communicating, and despite writing a concise outline, somehow we hadn’t managed to come to a consensus. We found ourselves arguing at the end of the 4th roundtable and with a paper that was far longer than it needed to be with no clear policy (which felt worse than a blank paper to me).

We had to call in our facilitator, who had been working outside with the couple of STEM majors who didn’t feel their humanitarian backgrounds sufficed enough to help with the writing of the policy and instead opted to start writing the skit. When we finally had someone with a higher rank than all of ours, listening to her and compromising became much easier. We met during dinner (despite the fact that we were supposed to be eating and not working) and worked out what exactly we were going to be doing, with Dr. Aubone carefully making sure we stayed within the parameters of two, closely related proposals that would fit within the page limit. When we started working from there, in small groups meant to tackle the different sections of the proposal, and even smaller groups within that meant to either find research or be writing, we found ourselves getting things done. At that point, when we finally had a chain of command, a concrete goal and set roles within the team, we were able to start getting things done effectively. Somehow, we managed to complete the proposal within a couple of hours. Where we didn’t have a single point down by the end of roundtable session 4, but the end of session 5 we had a complete, cohesive policy proposal that all of us were proud of (mostly because of the circumstances with which we managed to complete it). Where we had been frustrated and arguing, after finally coming together to tackle and complete the paper, we were too relieved and amazed at our own accomplishment to feel anything but mutual relief and excitement that we conquered that hurdle together. I’m so glad I got to meet all of those wonderful individuals and work with them, and I’m excited to be able to see them again because I know we’ll cross paths.

It was overwhelming and frustrating and tiring and a whole lot of other things but that experience was something I needed. I got to be in a team that failed, and came back from it. I got to see the importance of roles and being on the same page in a team and having a leaders of some sort because when those things weren’t present we weren’t working and when they were we literally managed what none of us thought we’d be able to do. I’d know the importance of these things in theory. I’d seen how they worked and how they didn’t on television or in groups around me. Sometimes I’d have a group that didn’t exactly mesh together but worked something out anyway, but I had never been in a group that showed me both extremes of teamwork in a matter of days. It was kind of a shock, but I think even if I didn’t learn a single thing from the talks or a single piece of new information about immigration and national security (which I did), I learned more about teamwork in those 3 days than I have in 3 years of being a color guard captain, countless group assignment, and countless group tasks in subcommittees or officer positions of organizations.

To read Karla Valerie Melendez’s full SCONA reflection, visit https://goo.gl/Vozlw2

Grace Cunningham ’18, junior bioenvironmental sciences major

Every year the MSC holds the Student Conference on National Affairs (SCONA), with delegates from all over the country traveling to Aggieland to take part in remarkably curated programming. As a student-led and student-run organization, SCONA gives students the chance to discuss complex policy issues on a range of topics in an interdisciplinary setting. This year, at SCONA 62, we approached social, economic, and scientific issues with the theme Against All Enemies Foreign and Domestic: Securing the Homeland in mind. Each student was placed into a roundtable with a specific topic, such as cybersecurity or espionage that they then discussed in terms of national security. Ultimately, each roundtable discussion group was tasked with creating a policy proposal in the duration of the 3-day conference. My roundtable discussion, Mother Nature and Uncle Sam, focused our policy paper around the inevitable effects of climate change on national infrastructure. With the obvious impacts of a compromised infrastructure on national security, my group was able to make a sound argument for diversifying the US energy sources in preparation for extreme weather events and rising sea levels affecting coastal oil refineries. Through in-depth discussion and compromise, we were able to construct a policy suggestion that went on to win the conference-wide Policy Paper Award, judged by General William Rapp, Commandant of the U.S. Army War College.

When we were not in our group discussions, the other delegates and I were attending talks from high-ranking officials, such as Admiral Michael Rogers, Director of the NSA and Commander of U.S. Cyber Command, and General Robert B. Neller, Commandant of the Marine Corps. A particularly notable experience for me, the talk and subsequent question and answer by Dr. Charles McMillian, Director of Los Alamos National Laboratory, provided interesting insights into the history of the Manhattan project as well as the future of quantum computing. The most controversial speaker, Dr. Tawfiq Hamid, former Islamic extremist and author, provided interesting views on US tolerance. All of these experiences, from the thought-provoking roundtable discussions to the remarkable speakers, made for an informative conference. However, the most impactful part of the conference was the relationships we made with students from the other universities and the after-hours conversations we were able to have, learning about the other roundtable topics and discussions as well as the student experience at other universities.

Nicole Guentzel ’19, sophomore biology major

This semester I was fortunate enough to be sponsored to attend SCONA or the Student Conference on National Affairs. This year’s topic was “Against all Enemies, Foreign and
Domestic: Securing the Homeland.” I attended the second portion of the conference that revolved around roundtable discussions and keynote speakers. Delegates were mainly
from Texas A&M University, but many other universities were in attendance providing the opportunity to learn about how other universities are structured.

The roundtable I participated in was called “Under the Microscope: Epidemics and Public Health.” Our facilitator was Dr. Jennifer Griffith who is the Associate Dean for
Public Health Practice for the Texas A&M School of Public Health and the Associate Department Chair for the Department of Public Health studies. She had many contacts in
the Public Health sector and we actually had the opportunity to speak to one of these contacts on the phone to ask him about current problems and areas of improvement in the
Public Health sector. The main purpose of these roundtables was to draft a policy paper in three days between keynote speakers. Ultimately, we decided to draft a policy about
improving communication in healthcare by forming local coalitions to mitigate medical surge due to public panic. Medical surge occurs when there is an influx of patients at a
hospital typically due to a large-scale medical disaster. We then had to formulate a skit and present our policy to the other SCONA delegates and facilitators.

Participating in the conference was very intimidating. I do not know a lot about public policy and I entered the conference surrounded by people in Cadet uniforms and formal
business attire. Furthermore, my roundtable focused on Public Health, an area I am not actively studying because I am pursuing a non-medical Biology degree. Even though the
conference was completely different than anything I have ever participated in, the experience was amazing. I learned about how Public Health plays a role in Americans’
everyday lives, and that hospitals and other healthcare facilities practice to be prepared for disaster situations to efficiently treat patients. Additionally, delegates in my
roundtable were studying political science, chemistry, meat science, etc. so I was able to learn how their fields of study were influenced by Public Health.

Some skills I gained from attending this conference includes learning how to work in a team of twelve strangers from across the United States with different educational
backgrounds to draft a public policy in three days. It was stressful, yet rewarding because we finished on time with a product we were all proud of. I also had the opportunity to learn about the National Security Agency (NSA), Los Alamos National Laboratory, the Marine Corps, and Radical Islam. This conference made me aware of issues I did not know existed and broadened my perspective. I hope to participate in the conference next year and to try the Domestic Crisis Strategic Response Experience. I thank University Honors for my sponsorship and strongly encourage anyone who is interested to participate in the conference. Expanding your comfort zone allows you to gain many additional skills and acquire new knowledge that can be used both to decide on and excel in a career.

Matthew Kiihne ’18, junior computer science major

SCONA or Student Conference on National Affairs is a long running program put on by the MSC organization of the same name. It originally started 62 years ago under the vision of the MSC director at the time, Wayne Stark, and is based on a similar program started at the United States Military Academy at West Point. The conference this year was titled “Securing the Homeland” and consisted of two different parts both revolving around the topic. The first part was a DCSRE (Domestic Crisis Strategic Response Exercise) that was put on by the United States Army War College. This was followed by 3 days of roundtable discussions as well as listening to distinguished speakers.

The DCSRE was an amazing experience where several teams, acting as federal and state agencies as well as non-governmental organizations, worked to deal with a major crisis in the best way possible. I was a little wary starting as a Computer Science major in the midst Political Science and International Studies majors but I quickly learned that mattered far less than my ability to interact with people and communicate my position. The other important lesson I learned from this exercise was how teamwork is actually beneficial, a view that has been tainted by group projects at school. The other lesson I learned was to always be aware of resources at your disposal, especially people who already have the experience that you are lacking. The first day I was acting as the Adjunct General of Texas and was relatively lost until I talked with some of the experts about what were the powers and responsibilities of the office. Overall this exercise opened my eyes as to how the United States responds to disasters and crises as well as provided the basis to friendships that have extended beyond the conference.

The second portion of this amazing, excused absence week was filled with roundtable discussions on a wide variety of topics, topical lectures by admirals and generals, as well as more informal events that gave the opportunity to interact with the facilitators brought in for SCONA. The facilitators had a wide range of backgrounds from military to academia to industry which was a great way to learn about career opportunities in all the areas as well as to just get general life advice about anything you might be unsure about. More than anything else, this was the most valuable portion of the conference as I am rapidly approaching my senior year trying to put together my life.

I am incredibly glad I attended SCONA not only because of the networking and friendships with similarly motivated people but also because it broadened my horizons as to what is possible to achieve. I am looking forward to at- tending the conference next year and I would recommend that anyone who is even slightly curious learn more and go as well. This applies to more than just SCONA though, even if an event or organization is not “typically” part of your major that doesn’t mean you can’t do it, in fact that is even more reason to do it!

Abby Spiegelman ’18, junior biomedical sciences major

I can easily say that attending MSC SCONA 62 as a delegate was one of the best experiences of my college career. I was introduced to several new viewpoints that had never occurred to me before on a variety of different topics. My focus group’s topic was “Good Morning America: The Hidden Agendas of the Media.” My group attempted to provide a solution to the, now common, phenomenon of “fake news”. After hours of debate we decided that the only real solution was for people to take responsibility for themselves and check their own facts. Though there is no practical way to enforce that it was heartening to see so many people passionate about making sure the truth continues to remain mainstream in the mainstream news.

In addition to my focus group I got to listen to amazing speakers that had experience in the things that we hear on the news. I enjoyed being able to hear what they had to say directly from them, instead of reading it later. It brought these amazing people out of clouds down to our level, but not in a negative way. Instead of being mysterious and completely unattainable, these speakers made it clear that they were just normal people that had worked hard and were good at their jobs. It showed that everything that is being dealt with in the world is being dealt with people, just like myself and the hundreds of other delegates that were around me. That was frightening, yes, because humans aren’t perfect, but it was comforting for that same reason. Mistakes will be made, yes, but as long as we have so many people willing to serve their country, I have faith that everything will work out in the end.

I’ve always known that it’s important to be a responsible citizen and to do my part, but being a part of SCONA made the problems of today, and the solutions, more tangible. It was refreshing to be actively trying to find solutions to the big problems that are currently affecting us. Instead of thinking in the abstract we were dealing with things we see and encounter every day. As long as we have so many dedicated people in our world, like the SCONA delegates, we should be able to handle most anything that comes our way.