Category Archives: Student Voices

Md. Mashfique Reza – Gilman Scholar Reflection

The Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship is a grant program that helps students with limited financial means to experience the enriching experience of study abroad and help prepare them for work in a global economy. The reflection below describes an experience from a recent Gilman Scholar.

By Mohammad Reza ‘19

Gilman Scholar Md. Mashfique Reza ’19

My name is Md. Mashfique Reza. I am one of the ten students from the aerospace engineering department who got the opportunity to come to the Indian Institute of technology (IIT) Gandhinagar with departmental professor Dr. Kinra who mentored us throughout and after the program.

I am grateful that I took this trip. As a Bengali American, I spent a lot of my life in the U.S. and my teenage years in Bangladesh. I got a good experience of life in both worlds. I would proudly say that I accept the good and bad in both American and South Asian culture.
When I was nineteen, I moved back to the United States. I had nostalgia for home and struggled with adapting culturally. However, as time passed I adapted myself, while not forgetting my own South Asian cultural principles that I gained in my teenage years.

However, I never realized what American culture had taught me. I never knew that I am a totally different individual than I used to be ten years ago before moving back to U.S. American culture has taught me to be more humane, practice more responsible habits, such as not throwing garbage anywhere on the road, and learn different concepts of good manners, such as waiting in line. U.S. culture removed the social class and pride from my soul.

During the trip each night, I would think about the past me compared to the present me. I can see how sensitive I became to my surroundings. I could see the current me being sensitive to the fact that  the past me would not have noticed the racial discrimination with the so-called lower class, such as waiters and cooks having to treat so-called upper class with extra respect. If they were sitting down watching TV when we arrived, they would give up their seat. They would not sit beside us and watch TV because upper-class society would see this as disrespectful.

However, Indian people are generally very friendly. People would go out of their way to help us. Anywhere I went, I did not feel uncomfortable or unsafe asking a random individual on the street for directions or any question. There were a couple of incidents where we were not sure about our destination, and we got local strangers giving going out of their way to show us our destination.

The cultural places we visited were really glorious. This country is rich with monarchs and the architecture of forts and palaces left by them. The gems, stones, and clothing were handcrafted and unique. We visited the fortress of King Jai Singh and the gems and clothing stores in Jaipur. The Dilhi Jami mosque was fascinating. The tour to Akshardham temple with its  historical details was mind-boggling.

Another fascinating part of the India tour was the food. Each state has its own way to spice the food and each dish, with different recipes tasting totally different. Parotas, fish, mutton curries, different type of veggie dishes, such as lentils and beans, and appetizers, such as dosas and puris, are some of the unique indian foods that we got to taste. The street food in Delhi is something we do not get to see much in the U.S. It is like a gyro cart in New York City, but  it has its own unique Indian set up, with ten times the taste and variety to choose from.

Indian culture is rich with strong family values. People are very hospitable, welcoming, and less alienating to foreigners. It was easy for me to connect with them, as I could speak and understand Hindi. I was able to practice my foreign language skills and interpret for my team while we were navigating and communicating during in trips to Jaipur, the Taj Mahal, and Delhi. I made some good friends in India who I have been in touch with via Facebook. I was also able to create academic exchanges as well, comparing our academics with theirs.

At the end of the day there are good and bad sides in every culture. I am glad that I got a taste of both cultures. This trip to India gave me an opportunity to understand the value of American lifestyle and technology. I was able to reflect on the values I adopted from the US that differs from my culture. This trip also allowed me to cherish the principles of Bengali Indian culture and family values.

To learn more about the Gilman Scholarship or other nationally-competitive awards, please visit http://tx.ag/NatlFellows or contact natlfellows@tamu.edu.

Learning Outside the Classroom – Briana Bryson Study Abroad

Honors Students away from campus for study abroad, co-ops, or internships are encouraged to write about their experiences to share them with the Honors community. In the excerpt below, senior animal science major Briana Bryson ’17 describes her learning experiences—both in and out of the classroom—on her study abroad program to Japan.

By Briana Bryson –

During the fall of my junior year, I decided that my undergraduate experience wouldn’t be complete without a study abroad. I chose Japan as my destination, with food, language development, and the desire to experience a non-Western culture being my biggest motivators. I applied to a transfer credit program through the University Studies Abroad Consortium (USAC) and was accepted into the Nagasaki University of Foreign Studies (NUFS). With an enrollment of less than 700 students, the university is less than a quarter of the size of my old high school. Most of the students who go there are native Japanese students who are pursuing degrees in foreign languages, or international students, so I thought it would be the perfect environment for me to improve my skills in Japanese.

I consider my study abroad one of my best undergraduate experiences so far! There are few better ways to test your abilities to problem-solve than to travel to a country with a native tongue you can barely understand. Before my semester at NUFS began, I traveled around Japan on my own for a week, visiting various sites in Tokyo, Kyoto, Nara, and Osaka, and making use of their extensive railroad system.

Briana Bryson '17 in front of the Golden Pavilion in Kyoto
Briana Bryson ’17 in front of the Golden Pavilion in Kyoto

Considering how my poor my Japanese was at the time, looking back, I am amazed by how I managed to survive on my own for a week without even a reliable Internet connection to rely on!

Nagasaki is a beautiful coastal city described as one of the best natural harbors in the world. The modern city is a far cry from the scenes of destruction a Google image search is likely to come up with. The picture on a right is a photograph I took from a viewing deck near the city’s penguin aquarium, near the end of summer. 72% of the Japan is covered in mountains, and Nagasaki gives a good idea of how the country’s 120 + million people manage to make efficient use of the land.

Perhaps number one on the list of Nagasaki’s must-see sites is the 平和公園, or Peace Park. Built in order to remember the lives lost when the city was hit with an atomic bomb at the end of World War II, it lies in the center of the city just a short walk away from the bomb’s epicenter. It is a beautiful place to visit, possessing walkways adorned with flowers and artistic statues gifted to the city of Nagasaki from countries all over the world bearing messages of peace. The statue in the picture to the right faces the bomb’s epicenter. I learned from my Peace Studies professor that the arm extended outwards is meant to gesture towards the prosperity peace brings – the wealthy, modern city of Nagasaki – while the arm pointing upwards serves as a warning of the potential danger of future weapons of mass destruction

Believe it or not, studying actually took up a decent chunk of my study abroad. The Nagasaki University of Foreign Studies, or “Gai-dai”, as shortened from its Japanese name, was about an hour-long commute from my host family’s house via bus, and 20 minutes away if driving directly by car. It’s situated in a town called Togitsu, which lies north of Nagasaki. I took 16 hours’ worth of classes – Japanese 3, Peace Studies, Modern Japanese History (MJH), Introduction to Japanese Society (IJS), Kanji and Vocabulary 2&3, Tea Ceremony, Calligraphy, and Shogi. I am proud to say I only got one A! Such a statement may sound odd coming from an honors student, but the Japanese grading system is different from ours, with an S, corresponding to an A+, being the highest achievable grade. I was surprised when all of my classes, barring Peace Studies, MJH, and IJS, were taught in Japanese, but I quickly adapted and am grateful for the listening practice.

To read more about Bryson’s experience in Japan, check out the Study Abroad page of her Honors ePortfolio: https://sites.google.com/site/brianashonorseportfolio/study-abroad.

From Intimidated to Inspired: Joshua Fuller’s First National Research Conference

The post below comes from Joshua Fuller, an Undergraduate Research Ambassador, former President of Honors Student Council, former Junior Advisor and Sophomore Advisor for the Honors Housing Community. Fuller is a senior psychology and Spanish double-major, with a minor in neuroscience. You can find his ePortfolio at http://joshuafuller.weebly.com.

– By Joshua Fuller ’17

Exhilarating. Intimidating. Inspiring.

These three words explain my four-day long journey at my first national research conference, the 36th National Academy of Neuropsychology (NAN) annual meeting.

Applying to NAN 2016 was admittingly somewhat of a last-minute endeavor. I remembered my research mentor, Dr. Steve Balsis, talking about his experience at NAN 2015 in Austin, Texas, and thought NAN 2016 would be a great forum to present my most recent work, a first-author publication on the nature of neuropsychiatric symptom presentation in Alzheimer’s disease. Fortunately, we caught the abstract deadline two weeks before it passed (which still blows my mind since the abstract deadline was in February and the conference was in October). As an undergraduate interested in pursuing a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology with an emphasis on neuropsychology, or the assessment of neurological conditions, this conference was an obvious place to submit my work.

Undergraduate Research Ambassador Joshua Fuller '17 with his poster at the 2016 National Academy of Neuropsychology annual meeting.
Undergraduate Research Ambassador Joshua Fuller ’17 with his poster at the 2016 National Academy of Neuropsychology annual meeting.

As a seasoned undergraduate Alzheimer’s researcher and an aspiring neuropsychologist, I was simultaneously excited and timid as I exited my cab and walked into the Westin Hotel in downtown Seattle, the site of NAN 2016. Sure, I had presented my lab’s work before at the Texas A&M Student Research Week (and even took home an award), but this was clearly a whole different ball game. Instead of answering A&M student or faculty members’ questions about my work, I was going to be fielding questions from actual real-life neuropsychologists (some of whom are faculty at the Ph.D. programs I am currently applying to, so that was also terrifying).

I attended two long lectures the morning of my poster presentation, the first on neuroimaging and the second on diversity in clinical practice. Following the lectures, I immediately went to the exhibit hall where I hung my poster and talked to passerby for two hours. In the mix of visitors, two judges came by my poster and seemed to be very impressed by the quality of my work (especially because I was an undergrad among a sea of graduate students and post-docs). I had also networked some via email with Dr. Laura Lacritz, the President of our conference, because she studies Alzheimer’s disease is a professor at the UT Southwestern Clinical Psychology Ph.D. program (one of the Ph.D. programs I applied to this application cycle). Well… if there’s one thing I have learned by now it is that networking sometimes can really pay off! Dr. Lacritz stopped by my poster, talked to me for about fifteen minutes, and as we parted ways she complimented my research me that if I ever have any questions or would like to collaborate she’s just an email away.

After my poster presentation, I had the chance to listen to other world-renown Alzheimer’s experts, like Dr. Yaakov Stern of Columbia and Dr. Dorene Retnz of Harvard, give lectures on their inspirational research. I also had a chance to go to a few events for students where I met many graduate students (including a large plethora from UT Southwestern) who talked to me about their experiences and their research, giving me more encouragement during my Ph.D. application season.

I was sad that I had to leave the conference early to get back to College Station for a fundraiser, as I was truly in nerd-heaven. Before I left, a new graduate student friend told me to be on the lookout for the student poster award recipients (as I was going to miss the award ceremony). I knew I had a nice poster and that I gave an excellent presentation, but my poster was one of several hundred at the conference eligible for five awards. Surely I was not going to win a student poster award…

Well, I did… and I am still surprised and humbled to this day. Honestly, though, receiving such an honor is not a testament to my ability, but rather the time and energy that Dr. Balsis and so many other mentors have poured into me throughout my undergraduate research career. Being among the top poster presentations at the conference was an amazing way to close my first ever national research conference.

When I left College Station for Seattle, I felt anxious. When I returned, I was inspired. Undergraduate research has been a winding (and sometimes cyclical) journey for me, but I am so proud of the relationships I’ve built and the projects that I’ve been a part of over the years. As someone who was cynical about research before coming to A&M, I encourage you to keep an open mind! There are so many different questions that need to be answered, and you have an incredibly unique opportunity to explore alongside some of the world’s most talented research faculty. If I got involved in research (and have now won multiple awards and first-authored a publication currently in review) simply because I asked my professor about research opportunities in the Alzheimer’s arena, so can you! Get started today by visiting the LAUNCH website and talking with your professors about topics you would like to research.

Community Engagement Spotlight: How cycling plays into my life

Honors Students do so much more than just study and go to class. We encourage our students to find ways to weave together what they’re passionate about with what they do, and the post below from sophomore mechanical engineering major  Charles Arnold does an excellent job of illustrating how that can work out. When he’s not cycling or studying, Charlie may be found in the Honors Housing Community where he is serving this year as a Sophomore Advisor.

By Charlie Arnold ’19

I came to Texas A&M from a distant land known as “Kansas” for a quality education in engineering and affordable out of state tuition, but I also found some good times with the cycling team along the way. My first year was stressful with a new workload and new responsibilities, but I was always able to make time for cycling and doing the thing I love. When officer elections for the cycling team rolled around in the spring I instantly wanted to help the team and be involved. I became the vice president of road cycling and was determined to help the team, but before I could help the team I spent a summer helping provide affordable housing.

Build Day in Bremerton Washington. Left to right: Garret Jones, Colleen Flynn, Charlie Arnold, and Daniel Clarke
Build Day in Bremerton Washington. Left to right: Garret Jones, Colleen Flynn, Charlie Arnold, and Daniel Clarke

In my summer between freshman year and sophomore year I was taking classes, working a part time job, and raising money and volunteering for Bike and Build. Bike and Build is a non-profit that empowers young people to bike across the country raising awareness and volunteering for affordable housing. After I raised $2,500, finished the required 10 hours of volunteer work and my summer school, I drove to Oregon to start my Bike and Build trip. I rode 900 miles with twenty other participants through Oregon and Washington building at an affordable housing site every third day. I was able to see mountains, rivers, and sights that gave me shivers, but I also saw economic inequality, angry people in cars who hate cyclist, and good people doing great work for communities in Washington. Once our trip reached Seattle I was on a plane to College Station and started working on a new school year.

Once I was back at Texas A&M, I was able to resume my work with the cycling team. I created a video of the team to be entered into the Camelbak Collegiate Grant, and to our amazement our video won. We were selected with 4 other teams (One being UT-Austin, like what a coincidence?) to receive a $5,000 grant for the team as well as a trip to California for 2 team members to visit Camelbak HQ and receive the grant. The videographer Ryan Stankard and I were chosen to go to California. We left Monday November 7th and came back Wednesday November 9th. We had to miss school but with the permission of our professors and lots of studying on the plane it was well worth it.

While we were there we went for a ride in the beautiful hills of Petaluma, California with pro cyclist Andrew Talanski. Then we presented our video to Camelbak and the other winners, had a lesson on how to sell yourself from the hiring manager at Camelbak, had a photoshoot and interviews, talked with the Research and Development branch to see how their products are made, and finally took a tour of their lab (my favorite part, I’m a mechanical engineering nerd). I was extremely grateful to the team for letting me go on this trip and to my teachers for letting me take time away from class. #gotyourbak

Andrew Talansky and Charlie Arnold at Camelbak HQ in Petaluma, CA
Andrew Talansky and Charlie Arnold at Camelbak HQ in Petaluma, CA

My current projects include planning a joint training camp between Texas A&M cycling and UT cycling and creating a solar kit and shelter for use in rural Burkina Faso in West Africa for an “Engineers in Community Service” class. So yes, college is difficult and especially so with my additional responsibilities for the Honors program, but I still always find time for cycling, volunteering, and the things I love.

Want us to spotlight your community engagement? Send an email with details to honors@tamu.edu!

Elise Hackney – From Class to Competition

This post from freshman engineering student, Elise Hackney ’20, describes the success her team from ENDS 101 – Design Process has enjoyed so far. ENDS 101 is a perennial favorite with undergraduates because it fulfills both the Creative Arts and International & Cultural Diversity degree requirements. Students also enjoy the focus on building creative thinking skills in the course. Professor Rodney Hill, who created the course, requires his students to submit their class projects to real-life competitions. Here, Hackney describes the experience competing at the National Association of Broadcasters Pilot Competition in Pebble Beach, CA, October 30, 2016 – November 1, 2016.

sales-hackney
Jordan Sales ’19 & Elise Hackney ’20 in Pebble Beach

– By Elise Hackney

Introduction

Through the class ENDS 101, groups were randomly assigned for assignment purposes. The first group assignment was to enter into two competitions. One of the competitions our group entered was the Pilot Innovation Challenge. The Challenge Question for this competition was “How might local television and radio broadcasters engage their communities with next generation content on any device, whether big, small or moving?” Our idea is called History GO.

As evident by the success of the game Pokemon GO, people enjoy the interesting dynamics of augmented virtual reality. Virtual History uses the same principals and technology to allow people to see what History has happened or is happening where they are standing.

History GO is an app that will allow the user to connect with the history of their surroundings as well as current events. When opened, the app connects to the user’s current location. Using AR technology, History GO supplements a person’s environment with relevant facts, pictures, and videos. This app allows users to see the world through virtual eyes and connect where they are standing with where others have stood before.

As a result of the initial judging process our idea of History GO finalized in the top three of the Pilot Innovation Challenge. Our team quickly scrambled to book flights to the convention in Pebble Beach, CA where we needed to present our idea before the attendees decided the respective places of third, second, and first. Being that the trip was so last minute only Jordan Sales and I were able to attend the convention in CA.

Prototype view of app History GO on an iPhone
Prototype view of app History GO on an iPhone
Pictured above (left to right): Eric Acensio, Mike Le, Claire Lohn, Jordan Sales, Elise Hackney, Alberta Lin | Texas A&M University
ENDS 101 History GO Team, Pictured above (left to right): Eric Acensio, Mike Le, Claire Lohn, Jordan Sales, Elise Hackney, Alberta Lin | Texas A&M University

NAB Futures Convention

We arrived the Spanish Inn at Pebble Beach where the convention was being held Monday morning, October 31st, and were quickly led through the process for presentation that was to be at 3:00pm. After the logistics of the presentation were explained, Jordan and I went up to our room to practice. After our presentation, we were assigned to podiums where the attendees of the conference could ask questions before voting. Throughout this process we were asked challenging questions and given great advice from many experts in the broadcasting industry. At the end of the voting our idea History GO won 2nd place which included a $15,000 award to support the development of our idea.

Throughout this experience Jordan and I met and spoke with highly-successful individuals. Socializing with the attendees of the conference rewarded us with so many benefits. From advice to future business contacts, we both came out of this trip with a different perspective. Having this real-world experience and interacting with businessmen and women led me to see a more refined view of my intended future career.

With this cash prize our group plans to develop the app through the help of Startup Aggieland. We hope that by the Las Vegas NAB Convention in April we will have a prototype app to display. After the Las Vegas event we will continue working on the app to launch a prototype version that will work on campus, referencing historical events as well as current events in the College Station area.

hackney-collage

Elise’s travel was funded, in part, by LAUNCH: Honors through generous contributions to the Honors Parents’ Fund and the Association of Former Students.

The Service Balance – Passion and Practicality: Ellen Wimmer Undergraduate Service Scholar Project

By Ellen Wimmer –

Undergraduate Service Scholar Ellen Wimmer '17
Undergraduate Service Scholar Ellen Wimmer ’17

After my first full semester as an A&M student, it became very clear that sexual assault and harassment was a prevailing issue on the A&M campus. I spoke to many women about this issue and decided to take an informal poll of 30 female friends. Out of these 30, each of these women had experienced at least 2 separate accounts of pervasive sexual harassment. From being yelled at while walking to class, to persistent stalking. 25 of the 30 women had experienced physical, sexual assault. This included groping, being slapped, and cornered into a room. 18 of the 30 women had been raped during their time at Texas A&M. This troubled me to my core, and I decided to do something about it.

My experience working with the Department of Student Life to improve sexual assault and harassment resources during my time here at A&M has been a long a winding endeavor. This experience did not turn out at all like I had imagined, but looking back I am so grateful for the complications and roadblocks that forced me to fine-tune my goals. This experience has opened my eyes to the collaborative nature of service work, and how one must balance their own passion with practicality to ensure that they are doing the most good possible.

Campus sexual assault and harassment is a complicated and intense problem. Often it is difficult to decide where to start. Whenever I asked women in the informal poll why they choose not to report many said that a. They did not believe that “it was bad enough” to merit a report, b. they “didn’t want to make a big deal out of it and just wanted to forget” and c. They did not know how to report and did not know what A&M could realistically do for them with the information they had. Responses A and B are directly related to rape culture; a culture that places responsibility of the assault on the victim and attempts to minimize the crime. However, response C is something I could help with.

During my past internship at SARC (Sexual Assault Resource Center, prev. Brazos Valley Rape Crisis Center), a colleague had told me about a new sexual assault/harassment reporting software called Callisto. Callisto is a program made by survivors for survivors, and is a reporting program that offers features that survivors wish that they had after their assault. It is a online software that college campuses can purchase and integrate into their own infrastructure. I pitched this to the Dean of Student Life, and was turned down due to “lack of funding”.

The words “lack of funding” rang in my ears as I walked home past the new $450 million dollar Kyle Field Stadium, and decided I needed a new plan. I decided to work with what A&M already has. I wanted to centralize, enhance, and advertise for a stronger, more student-friendly reporting system. One that students can submit reports on from their phones, as well as pictures and videos of bystander evidence. I created an easy-to-use website layout that would consolidate existing sexual assault and harassment resources on to one site, and include a new trauma-informed report form like the one utilized by Callisto.

I spent months meeting with involved parties (Student Life, Student Affairs, Marketing and Communications, University Police Department, Information Technology, Buetel Health, Risk and Compliance,) trying to get all to agree on one universally used, campus-wide website. No department was willing to change to a “new” system, despite that fact that their user experience would not change at all; it would only provide more resources for student users. It was turned down. Frustrated and tired, I stopped and thought about what it is I really wanted to do with my remaining time at Texas A&M. What can I realistically offer that will be used by staff to help the students? What can I offer?

I started writing; every day for at least three hours. Writing my own recommendations for a better sexual assault and harassment system. Everything from reporting form enhancements and advertising techniques to articles on trauma-informed language when dealing with survivors. I took every meeting, conversation, article, and idea I had over the past year and created one easy-to-use resource manual. This November, I will give this manual to my capstone supervisor at the Department of Student Life, the amazing Kristen Harrell. By having her reference this manual during administrative discussions, it allows my ideas and the input of my peers to have a voice in the future of sexual assault and harassment resources at Texas A&M.

Service is about passion, but also about practicality. You have to care about what you do. You have to feel attached to your cause. Passion is crucial, but too much can induce tunnel vision. My biggest take away from this capstone is something that I look forward to applying to my future in service. That is, balance. One must balance their passion with practicality. I poured my blood, sweat, and tears into solving campus rape culture at Texas A&M. I wanted to leave this school knowing that I had virtually erased sexual assault from the college culture. When you are this passionate about a cause, no goal seems too big. I learned that this issue cannot be solved in 1 year. This issue cannot be solved in 5 years.

Campus sexual assault and harassment is complicated and thus requires a complicated solution. It involves numerous people and departments with different ideas and goals, not just myself. This seems obvious now, but it was something I needed to learn through experience. By leaving A&M with a less-grand but more practical resource, I believe that I have done everything I can for this cause at this time. Perhaps in 10 years I will come back and work as Title IX director with a larger staff and more funding. Perhaps in 15 years of students speaking up with force the change that we need to see at A&M. I encourage future undergraduate service scholars to be flexible, to reflect often, and prioritize balance in their service, as well as their lives.

For more information about the Undergraduate Service Scholars program, visit http://tx.ag/capstones or contact Dr. Suma Datta (capstones@tamu.edu).

Katie Ferry – NCHC 2016 Report

HSC President Katie Ferry '18
HSC President Katie Ferry ’18

Honors Student Council (HSC) president Katie Ferry ’18 recently attended the annual conference of the National Collegiate Honors Council (NCHC) to network with Honors student leaders from across the country, think about what successes and struggles they have had that can help us improve HSC, and share those insights back to campus.

In the coming weeks, Ferry plans to share the ideas that she brought back from conference with the HSC leadership. If you’re interested to take part in these exciting projects, check out the HSC meeting schedule at http://tamuhonorsstudentcouncil.weebly.com/.

While at the conference, Katie kept a blog of her experiences. Here’s an excerpt from the first post:

I’ve been at the NCHC conference for about a day and a half now, and, to be frank it feels like Howdy Week 2.0: inwardly I feel tired, excited, and like my blood is slowly turning to coffee, but outwardly I look like a pristine representative for the best University on this planet. It’s hard not to have a touch of imposters syndrome while listening to students talk about how they have gone beyond the call of service and really pulled their honors program up by its bootstraps all while being an excellent student and person. It’s both inspiring and worrying.

I’ve tried to come up with some great and philosophical thing to write here about how my peers from across the country have filled me with this awesome energy to make Honors Great Again, but I can’t. I keep thinking about what I can do with HSC and how I wish I had more time to do it. I have six months left as my term as HSC president I’m realizing that if I want to make any of these long term projects achievable then I need to start thinking of how I can set this up for the future honors students.

To read more of Ferry’s reflections on the conference, visit http://katies-nchc-2k16.tumblr.com/.