Category Archives: Student Voices

Honors Benefits: Seth Smitherman Honors Travel Fund Award

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.

In addition  expanding opportunities on campus, this year LAUNCH: Honors also established an Honors Travel Fund, providing up to 10 awards of $200 each to support activities aligned with the University Honors Program mission of challenging high-achieving undergraduate students to develop the personal, professional, and intellectual skills they will need to address tomorrow’s multifaceted problems. In this post, Seth Smitherman describes the conference he attended with the support of his Honors Travel Fund award.

Seth Smitherman ’17

My name is Seth Smitherman ’17. I am a senior Biomedical Sciences major graduating in August, and I am an undergraduate researcher with Dr. Jennifer Horney in the School of Public Health. We conducted a unique public health assessment of Bryan College Station and the surrounding area last December to assess risk for certain neglected tropical diseases in Brazos County. Dr. Horney encouraged me to submit my abstract for a poster presentation spot at the Annual Education Conference of the Texas Public Health Association. Under her careful tutelage, I was able to get the abstract accepted, and before I knew it, I was off to Fort Worth.

As I sheepishly approached the registration desk at the Hilton in the heart of downtown Fort Worth to check in at my first professional research conference, I was both excited and slightly nervous about what was in store for me over the next few days. Here I stood, a know-nothing undergraduate biomedical sciences student, surrounded by M.D., Ph.D. and MPH-bestowed professionals, many with extensive and highly decorated careers in the field of public health. Over the course of the next two days, I was pleasantly surprised by the warmth with which I received into this conference of professionals. Any concerns I may have initially had about not fitting in or being out of my league were quickly put to rest by the friendliness my fellow attendees showed me. It was obvious that they saw young students such as me as the future continuation of all the work they did on a day to day basis and encouraged me to continue to pursue the field of public health.

While presenting at the grand opening poster presentation, I was able to discuss the results of my research with the lead epidemiologists in various public health jurisdictions across the state, including people from Travis, Brazos, Williamson, and Tarrant counties. I received some tips and pointers on how to effectively write the rest of my thesis based on the data I presented and was even able to teach the experts a thing or two about how to modernize their public health data collection techniques.

As always, I was able to lean on the support of Kahler Stone, a DrPH student working with me on the project with Dr. Horney for guidance and advice on how to navigate a research conference. During those times when we weren’t by our posters, I took Kahler’s advice attending some of the various breakout presentations. Among other talks, I got to hear David Gruber, a commissioner at the Texas Department of State Health Services, discuss the state of the state’s health and compare the state of Texas to the rest of the United States. He also talked about short- and long-term strategies for improving the state’s health any places where we fall behind – mainly in maternal health and infant mortality rates. I also got to hear presentations that were directly relevant to my research topic, covering such topics as Chagas disease, the emergence of Zika virus, and infectious diseases like rabies and tuberculosis.

Overall, I sincerely enjoyed my experiences at the TPHA conference. It was a chance to teach and learn from some of the most accomplished public health professionals in the state of Texas, and I hope that my research leads me back to their annual conference at some point in the future.

For more information about the Honors Travel Fund, visit http://to.ag/HonorsTravelFund. 

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 five 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!

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.