Category Archives: Student Voices

Student Voices: The Short Version

Sarah Gibson ’17 graduated in May  2017 with a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering and the Honors Fellows distinction. In the post below, she describes the determination and effort that went into being successful in and out of the classroom, as well as the support she received along the way.

Once upon a time, there was a high school senior who dreamed of competing in college athletics while pursuing an honors distinction in engineering. Naturally, everyone else thought she was a little crazy.

I am, but that’s only tangentially relevant to this story.

My name is Sarah Gibson, and I am a former biomedical engineering student and swimmer in addition to being the loudest and proudest member of the Fightin’ Texas Aggie Class of 2017! A WHOOP!

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Sarah Gibson ’17

Looking back on my time at this amazing university, I am left with two overwhelming impressions. Firstly, where did the time go? Secondly, did I really just do that?

That, for clarity’s sake, being the trifecta of graduating from engineering in four years while competing, representing the United States in World Championships, and being honored with far too many awards as a scholar athlete.

Now I’ll admit these were things I’d dreamt of, but in all honesty, my doubts outweighed my dreams quite exponentially. Picture this: my test scores were decent, my best times mediocre. Outside a burning hatred of being told “no” and a stubborn streak that went on for light-years, I wasn’t a five star recruit by any measure. Fortunately for me, there was a coach willing to take a chance on me, so I packed up my bags and headed over to Aggieland.

I’ve heard it said that many people discover who they are during their college years, but I spent more time discovering who and what I wasn’t. For example, I wasn’t able to keep up in practices for the first year or so. Throughout that first semester, every night I’d flop down in my dorm room and think “you’ve finally bit off more than you can chew, honey”, quickly followed by “there’s no way I can finish my homework and study for that test” with a dash of “I wonder how much Buc-ee’s pays its employees”.

I share this – not because it’s kinda funny after the fact, though it is very much so – because I know it is easy to look at someone successful and say “gee, I’d love to be like that if only <insert relevant qualifying statement of choice>”. That’s just an oversimplification.

I struggled every day. Whether it was getting through sets or staying awake in lecture, everything took tooth-and-nail clawing to reach the goals I had set for myself; however, I would be remiss in attributing this to myself alone. My friends enabled my achievements.

From my honors family coming to watch me at dual meets to the other BMEN-ites sharing notes and, more often, food, my classmates at Texas A&M provided the support I needed to be the woman I aspired to. Let’s walk through a typical day for illustrative purposes.

It’s 5:00 AM, my phone alarm blaring. I stumble out of bed, grab my things, and head over to the Rec for practice. We begin at six o’ clock exactly, so I have around twenty minutes once I’m in the locker room to review notes, check my email, and eat a meal bar before workout begins. My teammates arrive, and we mumble and grumble about it being too early and the water too cold. The clock strikes six, and the workout begins.

If you’ve never trained in a competitive sport before, I’m not sure how to describe the utterly jaw-clenching, body-aching, oh-dear-lord-make-it-stop pain of workouts. To those of you who’re nodding along, you know what I mean. It’s a deep burn, an exhaustion that turns even the most menial of tasks into Herculean trials, both physically and mentally. It’s the kind of tired where you come home and flop onto your bed, only to start sobbing because you remember all the assignments due tomorrow that you haven’t even touched yet.

Okay, so that last one might be a little more me-specific, but you get the picture. Workouts last two hours on paper, and a little longer in practice. After swimming, it’s time to head over to the weight room for our morning lift. That takes another hour out of the day, so it’s 9:00 in the morning and we’ve done more work than most people will do all day, before the average college student has rolled out of bed. Not bad for a bunch of meathead jocks, right?

Off to class, already three hours deep in physical and mental exertion, is it any wonder athletes have such a hard time being present in the classroom? I was fortunate to have friends in class who would lend a hand by helping me stay awake or letting me look over their notes. Honors classes helped in that regard by being smaller and more focused, so paying attention required less effort on my end. I also deeply enjoyed getting to know my professors, who are hands down some of the most interesting people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting.

After surviving class and getting assigned several hours of homework that I mentally defer until the weekend, I go back to the Rec for another two hours of workout. Then, I scrounge up some dinner, try to study, and go to bed before 11:00. Before long, the alarm goes off and the cycle begins anew.

Add, atop the grueling training schedule, the absences of in-season competition, which takes several weeks away from student-athletes, and it become apparent that while representing your school is an incredible honor, it is also fraught with obligations and expectations. I know, without an iota of doubt in my heart, that I could not have achieved the success I have without the support of my friends and colleagues. The Honors Program provided an opportunity to make those connections with people I otherwise would never have met, to which I am grateful.

Why embark on this journey if it’s so difficult? Well, although I admit to enjoying the simple things in life as much as the next person, something about reaching beyond what’s safe – what smaller minds may dub “unattainable” – makes the success all the more sweet. Without having chased my dream, I would be less than half the woman I am today, let alone the caliber of athlete and scholar

As I write this recollection from my hotel room in Budapest, where I await the beginning of the pool swimming portion of the 17th FINA World Championships, my phone is constantly buzzing with well wishes from friends around the globe, but with a noticeably higher concentration of Aggies than average. It is with their belief and support that I can step forward on the international stage without being crippled by fear.

After all, what’s a 100 butterfly when compared to solving partial differentials on three hours of sleep?

To view Gibson’s athletics roster profile, visit http://www.12thman.com/roster.aspx?rp_id=3399 

Finding Motivation: Raoul Bascon Internship

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 post below, senior applied mathematical sciences major Raoul Bascon ‘18 describes what he learned about motivation in his internship last semester.

 By Raoul Bascon –

I’ve run the Aramco Half Marathon in Houston five times and the Chevron Marathon in Houston once. The course has changed once since I’ve been running, so I’ve seen a good amount of Houston in the 13 plus hours I’ve run during the races over the years.  But when I joined the other 20,000 runners at the starting line on January 16th earlier this year, I was not thinking about the miles I was about to run.  My mind was focused on the weeks I’m about to spend living and working in this city that seemed unknown and new.

Men and women run down a residential street wearing race bibs.
Raoul Bascon ’18 (foreground) running in his first half marathon in 2010.

Fast forward three months later.  It’s 4:30pm, I get to my uncle and aunt’s place from my internship, and I’m about to lace up my sneakers and go for a run…….on the same circular route……that I have run…… every Tuesday and Thursday……for the past I don’t know how many weeks…………and I really don’t want to go.

If you couldn’t tell, I love running. I also really love analogies. So, as I sat on the couch contemplating the existence of that day’s afternoon run, I was faced with the reality of my life: I wasn’t made to do the same thing over and over and over again.

I wasn’t made to keep making the same mistakes; I wasn’t made to achieve the same accomplishments; I wasn’t made to see the same sights time and again.

I was made for more.

Now, of course, I had come across this notion before in my life, but this semester, it really clicked.  I was working in Houston while most of my friends kept taking classes at Texas A&M.  I have a lot of extended family in Houston but often times my interests didn’t match theirs.  So, I found myself bored and lonely, caught in the same routine, day after day, week after week: wake up early, go to work, do work, go back home, work out, shower, eat, read, go to the chapel, sleep, wake up early….

And now it was April.  I had hit a wall.

Don’t get me wrong: I am extremely grateful for the opportunity I have been given with this internship, I love the people I work with and the work that I am doing, and I understand that I am undeniably fortunate in the life that I lead.  But, in the monotony of the course of my semester, I found it hard to believe that I meant those three statements.

Then, a mentor invited me and another member of the program I am in to dinner.  While holding a beer in one hand and a slice of pizza in the other he straight-up asked me, “Are you motivated by money?” And like a good, little Christian, my direct, immediate response was (and is), “No.” And the conversation carried on.

Later that night, I found myself mulling over his question, or, more accurately, a variation of his question: What motivates me?  The question literally begged me to think back to the beginning. The answer became my second wind.

For better or worse, I am a results oriented individual.  As such, I am motivated by the results of my work, and if they do not match up with what I perceive is my best work, I am left unsatisfied.  When I look back at this past semester with this realization, I am significantly less confused and significantly more ready for the remainder of my….well….for the rest of my life.

I lulled in the comfort and ease of what I was used to: the routine, the people I knew, the course that was familiar.  But, I knew that I was made for more—that I wasn’t doing my best—and that left me unfulfilled, bored and tired.

When I settled for less than my best, I laid the foundation for the wall that cemented my aspirations and kept me from running the race that was designed for me. (Double analogy—bonus points!)

So, thank you Houston! Thank you to everyone I knew, everyone I met, everyone who helped me and everyone who challenged me to be better…to be my best.  I’m done with metaphorically running in circles and ready to run the race God designed for me. I’m ready to take wrong turns, trip many times, and trudge through walls. But, most importantly, I’m ready to enjoy the race with friends, family and Christ running alongside.

Finding Your Community in the Community: Sammi Hofstra’s Service Capstone Project

–  by Sammi Hofstra ’18

Look around you, your group of friends, your neighbors next door, your weekend activities, now tell me, what is your community? How are you involved in that community? Do we sometimes just stick with our close friends without reaching to others right next to us? Living in College Station, with a population overtaken by over 60,000 students, sometimes we assume that IS the community.  In the midst of this service project, I have learned so much about finding the steady community within College Station.

Knowing that I had a capstone project to plan, I knew right away I wanted to do a service project.  So many ideas popped to my head of thing I wanted to do and plans I had for the community.  But I learned that’s not what service is about; service is listening to the community and wanting to help with their wants and needs.  Going in to this project I had grand plans to build a community garden, inspiring a local neighborhood to eat affordable produce.  But after meeting with my mentor, Ann Boehm, and Community Parks and Recreation Director, David Schmitz, I had to be flexible an realize the community wanted a Monarch Garden and that many gardens had already died.  The community needed a sustainable garden that allowed the monarchs to have a place to stop in their migration as they are going extinct.

Two women smile and hug in front of a newly mulched garden.
Sammi Hofstra ’18 (right) with her mentor Amy Boehm. “One of the greatest pleasures of this capstone project was building a close relationship with a resident of the city.”

With the help of the city, providing water, mulch, and garden beds, the community gathered to plant a monarch garden in September at bee creek.  It had to be built it time in order for the monarch’s migration through college station in October.  The start to this project was one of my favorite college memories.  Starting with the generosity of the community to donate so many milkweeds and other specifics plants for the garden, I was overwhelmed.  It was wonderful to see the garden club, local people from ages 4-70, and students from a student organization, SAIL, all gather to complete this garden.  So often our service projects involve just the students doing something for the community, it was beautiful to see the community work with the students to achieve something for the community together.

See coverage of the planting at The Eagle

While there was so much inspiration in starting this garden, the next problem was sustaining it.  The upkeep of a garden is a lot of work, and the excitement dwindles.  Coordinating between the garden club and SAIL we were able to upkeep the watering and the mulching.  With encouragement and excitement, service can be fun.  SAIL (sophomores advancing in leadership) is the student organization that I am a part of.  While I will be graduating soon and no longer part of this organization, the leadership has been turned over to them and they will continue to take the responsibility of up keeping this garden.  So far we have enjoyed the mulching, weeding, and watering and meeting so much of the community.

A group of students poses in front of the garden.
The students of SAIL with the help of Aggie BELLES helped upkeep the garden by mulching, weeding, watering, and planting new plants!

Students dig in a garden bordered by large timbers.Three students smile while working on mulching the garden.

This project taught me so much more about service than I ever knew.  Service used to mean to me, saying yes to whatever project, but I did not realize how much is out there once you look.  While service takes so many shapes and forms, it was so special to work alongside other community members and to make our own project.  After doing this project, I would encourage others to seek out their community and find maybe a project within to really get to know the community.  It has been a blessing to meet so many people and build so many connections here in college station.

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

 

Honors Benefits: Shelby Kilpatrick Honors Travel Fund Award

Howdy! My name is Shelby Kilpatrick and I recently graduated as a member of the Class of 2017 with a B.S. in Entomology and Agricultural Leadership and Development. Between the dates of Monday, April 10th and Wednesday, April 12th, I participated in the 65th Annual Meeting of the Southwestern Branch of the Entomological Society of America (SWB-ESA). Entomology, the study of insects, incorporates applications within the fields of agriculture, urban, and medical sciences. This was my fourth SWB-ESA meeting to attend and represent Texas A&M University at as an undergraduate. These meetings allow entomologists an opportunity to both present their research and learn from others’ findings. It is also a great opportunity for networking, particularly for students interested in entomology.

On the first day of the meeting, I assisted with hosting the Insect Expo for over 850 youth and adults from the Austin area. During the Insect Expo, held at each SWB-ESA meeting regardless of its location, volunteers educate attendees about insects. Visitors rotate between booths on topics including insect metamorphosis, identification, biodiversity, collecting, pollination, and communication. I volunteered in the Entomophagy station, encouraging people to taste foods prepared with insects such as cookies and protein bars. I showed others that insects, prepared properly, can be quite tasty. I was surprised at the number of students who returned for multiple samples of roasted crickets! It was a lot of fun watching them convince their fiends to try them too.

Another one of the highlights of each year’s SWB-ESA meeting is the Linnaean Games competition. The Linnaean Games are a collegiate quiz-bowl style entomology contest where teams are asked questions from a wide range of entomology topics, both of historical and current day nature. This was my fourth year to serve as a member of the TAMU Department of Entomology’s Undergraduate Linnaean Games team. TAMU also has a Graduate Linnaean Games team that my team trained with in the months leading up to the SWB-ESA meeting. In addition to our teams representing TAMU at the SWB-ESA meeting, Oklahoma State University (OSU) brought both a Graduate and an Undergraduate team to compete this year.

The competition is a lot of fun to watch and can be intense to compete in. Teams compete in pairs and winning teams advance through a bracket system to compete with other teams. If a team loses two rounds however, they are removed from the brackets and do not compete any further. After everyone on each of the teams competing in a round introduces themselves, toss up questions are asked and available for anyone on either team to answer. If the person who buzzes in first answers correctly, their team earns points and is given a chance to earn more with a group bonus question. If the person presents a wrong answer, then anyone on the opposing team has a chance to answer the question correctly for a chance at bonus points. A panel of judges ultimately decides if a provided answer is correct. If the teams are unable to answer a question, the audience is called on and often, an expert on the topic will share the answer for all to learn. Sometimes no one knows, so the Games Master decides not to share the answer and saves the question for next year’s contest. The top two overall teams at each ESA branch meeting advance to the National ESA competition which will be held in Denver, Colorado this November.

The most difficult round that my team competed in this year, in my opinion, was against TAMU’s Graduate team. After practicing and learning with them, especially this semester, it was difficult to compete knowing that only one of our teams would have a chance at moving forward to the national competition. It was a close round, but my team won and, after a few more rounds, went on to receive 2nd Place Overall. The OSU Graduate Team received 1st Place Overall and will also be advancing to Nationals this fall.

The Undergraduate Games Linnaean Team. (From left to right: Shelby Kilpatrick, Bret Nash, Sam Shook, and Dayvion Adams. Not pictured: Jeffery Barbosa.) Photo by Juliana Rangel.

One of the requirements of being a member of the Linnaean Games Team at TAMU is presenting research at the SWB-ESA and the National ESA meeting (if your team advances). I have been fortunate to participate in several research projects during my undergraduate career with one of my most recent ones being on “Density-dependent phenotypic plasticity in Schistocerca lineata Scudder, 1899 (Orthoptera: Acrididae).” I gave an oral presentation under this title and was honored to received 2nd Place in the Undergraduate 10-Minute Paper category. Presenting my research at ESA meetings has helped prepare me for future opportunities to communicate scientific results and their importance to others in both the scientific and public communities.

In addition to presenting my own research, I attended several sessions and reviewed posters highlighting research on kissing bugs, fire ants, honey bees, lacewings, burying beetles, ticks, genetics, undergraduate entomology courses, and entomology outreach to name a few topics. I enjoy seeing and understanding other peoples’ research projects because I always learn something new related to entomology. Sometimes, I even learn things that I can apply to my own life or that inspire ideas for my own projects.

At the end of the SWB-ESA meeting, a brief business meeting was held before a seminar on entomophagy and the Awards Banquet. Several TAMU students were recognized for their research presentations and posters as well as insect photography. I was honored to be selected as the recipient of both the Undergraduate Student Achievement in Entomology Award – SWB and the Percival Scientific Undergraduate Entomology Student Activity Award.

Shelby Kilpatrick, center, with Wizzie Brown, left, and Dr. Carlos Bográn, right. Photo by Edmond Bonjour.

These awards recognized my achievements in entomology research, involvement in outreach, contributions to ESA, TAMU’s Department of Entomology, and my communities while maintaining academic excellence. It is a privilege to be recognized by the SWB-ESA in this way. I intend to stay actively involved in the ESA community as I begin the next phase of my academic and entomological career this fall; pursuing a Ph.D. in Entomology at The Pennsylvania State University studying native bees and participating in their new Integrative Pollinator Ecology (IPE) Graduate Training Program.

I would like to thank TAMU LAUNCH: Honors for their support of my SWB-ESA attendance through a Travel Fund Award. I learned a lot during the meeting and made many new friends and memories. Additionally, I would like to express my sincerest appreciation for the TAMU Department of Entomology and the SWB-ESA for allowing me opportunities to advance and share my knowledge of entomology throughout my undergraduate career. I look forward to continuing my education as well as my life journey.

If you are interested, please visit my ePortfolio for updated information about my academic and extracurricular activities: http://shelbykkilpatrick.weebly.com/.

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

Student Voices: Joshua Higginbotham Sabbatical

-By Joshua Higginbotham ’17

My name is Joshua Higginbotham, and I’m a 5th-year senior studying Computer Science. At the end of my junior year (after the Spring 2016 semester), I took a semester off. No, I didn’t just stay home and chill all Summer, but I also didn’t go for an internship, or study abroad, or go on a mission trip, nor do any of the things that one might ordinarily expect a college student to do when not in classes. Further, it wasn’t just Summer but also the Fall, and I only very recently (for the Spring 2017 semester) returned to classes.

There were several reasons that I took a semester off, some personal and some practical.

To begin with, taking a semester off made my degree plan look a lot nicer. What does that mean? It means that my undergraduate course load has at most 2 computer science classes in any given semester. Many of my major-specific upper-level classes are Spring-only (according to Howdy), and I was staring down the prospect of having to take 4 such classes in a single semester (which would have been Spring 2017) because they couldn’t be taken at any other time. Up until the point at which I began considering this, I had never made lower than an “A” in any of my computer science classes. Nonetheless, taking four of them at once was not a challenge that I felt up to.

Taking a semester off obviously pushed my graduation date back by a semester, but it also allowed me to spread out my remaining computer science classes more efficiently, so that now I not only do not have a semester with 4 upper-level computer science classes, but do not have a semester with more than 2 of them. The Spring 2017 semester proved to be a very reasonable workload for me, so I have no reason to regret my decision to take a semester off: 2 upper-level CS classes is plenty.

I understand that many students can’t delay graduation for the sake of an easier course load because of financial issues or contractual obligations, but for anyone else I would highly recommend considering something like what I did: plan your courses as well as you can because you will learn better and make better grades when you are under less stress, and those benefits are ultimately more important than when exactly you graduate.

While this partly answers the question of why I took a semester off, there still remains the question of what I did with that time.

Joshua Higginbotham ’17 in front of the abbey church at Clear Creek Monastery

I devoted my time off to discerning a religious vocation with the Order of St. Benedict. What does that mean? In the Catholic Church (yes, I’m Catholic) there are a number of groups of men and women who live lives completely consecrated to God’s service. The Order of St. Bendedict (OSB for short) in particular is composed of a number of monasteries inhabited by male religious (or “monks”) and convents of women religious (or “nuns”) who live life in community and observe the famous Rule of St. Benedict. They eat, pray, and work together, and rather than having some distinctive “apostolate” (preaching, caring for the sick, teaching in schools, etc.) they are content to perform whatever works of charity that Providence sends their way, or even to live life completely separated from “the world.”

This explanation is given only to provide some context, and must necessarily be brief. To anyone who wishes to learn more about the Order of St. Benedict, I highly recommend googling “clear creek abbey tulsa ok” or “clear creek monks.”

Anyway, I spent my time off discerning whether that was the time to enter religious life. I spent the Summer at a small monastic foundation in Arlington, near where I live, and a few days in the Fall visiting Clear Creek Abbey (the same Clear Creek as was mentioned earlier). I also met with the bishop of my home diocese, attended Holy Mass very regularly (every day in fact, with few exceptions), and began praying the Divine Office more (something else you might learn about if you look up Clear Creek Abbey…). I spent a lot of time reading the Holy Scriptures and Church fathers, and talked matters over at great length with my parents and spiritual director.

Ultimately we came to the conclusion (as you might have guessed by this point) that it would be best to continue my undergraduate studies. There is no need (or space) to discuss the reasons for this, other than to say that it simply wasn’t yet the right time for me to attempt to enter the religious life.

Despite that (rather, because of it), I learned and grew a great deal during my time off. It was certainly difficult, but returning to classes was not as difficult for me as others had anticipated and I now have a much better sense of direction for my life. The monastic life is not for everyone, but everyone can learn from it, and even benefit from it, whether it be for just a few days or during a semester off. Who knows? One might even discover a calling, as I have, to live it for a lifetime.