Category Archives: Student Voices

Equine Summer Study Abroad in Scotland

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 animal science major Jessica Kuyawa ’18 describes her summer experience in Scotland which was funded by a Gilman Scholarship.

– By Jessica Kuyawa

During the early part of the summer I was lucky enough to go on a 4 week study abroad program to Scotland to work with horses. During my program I took 2 equine classes, Equine Anatomy & Physiology and Equine Fitness, as well as rode horses at the college the program was hosted at multiple times a week. Plus, outside of the coursework, they also had planned excursions they took us on to show us how incredible Scotland is. During my time there I made many Scottish friends that I have kept in contact with since the end of the program. The Gilman Scholarship helped me fund my study abroad program and thus enhanced my experience.

I found this program simply by doing a Google search for ‘equine study abroad programs in Europe’ and came upon “Adelante Equine Summer Study Abroad in Scotland.” I chose those search terms because the criteria I had for a study abroad program I would want to go on had to be working with horses and in Europe. As I am a pre-vet student, plan on working with horses in my career, and have 3 horses of my own, I wanted a program that enabled me to work directly with them. I also have an admiration and fascination with Europe, especially the United Kingdom. So, when I found this program I knew it was the perfect fit. I bring this up in order to explain to students that, just because the university may not have a program that suits their interests, does not mean there is not a program out there that would suit their interests. With a little researching it is possible to find a program that best suits one’s interests and/or career goals, just like mine did for me.

We stayed on Scotland’s Rural College campus in Broxburn, where the classes and horse riding was held. We each had our own rooms, which I greatly enjoyed. The entirety of Scotland is beautiful, there were places to hike all around, even at the college. One law Scotland has is the “Right to Roam Law” which allows people to roam and hike anywhere, whether it be private or public property, so long as they leave things as they found it. During the riding part of the program we learned some basic dressage and jumping skills. While I had ridden English for some time prior to the program, I had never had any formal instruction so they helped me work on bettering my riding seat and form. Some of the excursions we went on were to Loch Lomond, Stirling Castle, Edinburgh Castle, 2 horse yards near the Scottish Boarders, the Kelpies, the Perth Races, and the Linlithgow Marches. They also had 2 weekends during the program where we were able to go and do as we wished. During one of the weekends and friend and I went to explore Edinburgh, and on the other weekend I went to Glendevon to ride Exmoor Ponies. During my last weekend of the program I also went to ride Clydesdales on a beach in Ayr.

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I very much enjoyed my time in Scotland and wished it to never end. It has made me want to go to veterinary school at the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies at the University of Edinburgh. With a degree from there I would be able to practice in both the U.K. and the U.S. It is a dream of mine to eventually move to the U.K., which is my favorite part of the world. Going on this study abroad and being able to have these experiences has made that dream even stronger.

The Gilman Scholarship application is fairly simple and straightforward and can be found on their website (https://www.gilmanscholarship.org/). There are 2 application periods, an early application and a regular application period for the summer application. If the program is in the summer an applicant is able to apply to both periods if they do not get accepted in the early summer application period. To be eligible to apply for the Gilman Scholarship, a student must be a citizen of the U.S., be receiving the Federal Pell Grant, be applying to a study abroad or internship program that is at least 3 weeks long and eligible for credit at the home institution, and not be travelling to a country that is on the travel warning list. Based on the length of study and the application, a student is eligible to receive up to $5,000 if awarded the scholarship.

As an honors student at Texas A&M University, many believe it is near impossible to embark on a study abroad while being an honors student and having a rigorous course load. I want to address the falseness of this assumption. It is easily doable for any student, honors or otherwise, to go on a study abroad, especially during the summer. There are study abroad programs that are a mere week or 2 weeks. Many students will also say it is too expensive to study abroad, but this is also untrue as there are many grants and scholarships available to enable students to study abroad and gain valuable experience. I recommend any and every student to go on a study abroad during their college career. It is a life changing experience that I certainly do not regret. I am very grateful to have been able to go to Scotland for 4 weeks doing something I love and enjoy, as well as meeting new people and making new friends.

In closing I implore anyone who is thinking about going on a study abroad to do it. It is also possible to get credit to transfer back to the home institution for any classes taken abroad. There is funding available for study abroad programs, including the Gilman Scholarship. I would like to thank the Gilman Program for helping make my study abroad experience possible.

For more information about applying to nationally-competitive scholarships and fellowships, visit http://tx.ag/NatlFellows.

To find exciting opportunities for study abroad, visit http://studyabroad.tamu.edu

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Honors Benefits: SBSLC 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Honors Course Contract – Creative Writing

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

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

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

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

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

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

Asteria Gonzalez ’20

“The Illicit Bridge”

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

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

Rules dragged the fun out of everything.

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

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

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

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

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

“What are you doing?” I muttered.

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

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

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

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

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

I wasn’t expecting company tonight.

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

Congratulations Ecaroh Jackson, Black and Proud Scholarship Recipient!

In this post from University Scholar Ecaroh Jackson ’19 describes how her experience in the University Scholar Exploration Groups helped prepare her to apply for the Black and Proud Corporation Scholarship.

Howdy! My name is Ecaroh Jackson and I am a junior math/science education major.  Earlier this semester I had the privilege of receiving the first annual scholarship from the Black and Proud Corporation.  The Black and Proud Corporation is a nonprofit company established in 2016 to promote educational, economic, and cultural development in the African American community.

University Scholar Ecaroh Jackson ’19

This scholarship application process was a time for self-exploration – something I’ve had a lot of practice with in the last 3 semesters due to the University Scholars Exploration series.  I have participated in the “Futuring Yourself,” “Controversy,” and “Conspiracy Theories” classes.  As I prepared to write my essays for the scholarship, I reflected over the many lessons I learned while in those classes.

In “Futuring Yourself,” I learned that to advance your future, it is necessary to address your past.  As a future driven individual, I often look upon the past with disdain.  Why look back when the future is much brighter?  Avoiding the past hinders you from discovering your strengths and weaknesses, and without being knowledgeable about them, hinders you from improving.  With each week’s reflections, I learned more about myself.  I learned about my true interests, what inspires me, and most importantly, who I am.

“Controversy” retaught me that it is okay to openly disagree.  Variations in opinions allow us to shape well-rounded solutions to divisive problems.  Before college, I wasn’t one to back down from an argument, but after coming to A&M, I have struggled with my desire to voice my perspectives to known dissenters.  Conflict is healthy, and shouldn’t be neglected.  Being in a class of nine students gave me the opportunity to slowly integrate my input in a supportive, but challenging manner.

In “Conspiracy Theories,” I learned that anything is possible.  Our universe’s ultimate truth (if there is such a thing) has yet to be discovered, meaning that our current possibilities are endless.  Knowing this allowed me to not only formulate, but refine my ideas.  Social movements, such as the movement that the Black and Proud Corporation supports, don’t usually achieve their ultimate objective without drawbacks that require them to modify their plans.  Learning about conspiracy theories and their history gave me the tools needed to devise plans that include a variety of different scenarios.

All of my exploration classes have helped me develop my thought process in a way that I didn’t think was possible before.  I am now able to develop responses to divisive questions.  These responses allowed me to write a successful application to the Black and Proud Corporation and ultimately allowed me to receive the scholarship.

Freshmen interested in applying for the University Scholars program can learn more by going to our website at http://launch.tamu.edu/Honors/University-Scholars.  The application will open in January 2018.

HSC Reports – NCHC 2017

Honors Student Council continued a tradition of representing TAMU at the annual national conference for Honors this year with three members attending: Sarah Kilpatrick ’18, President; Luke Oaks ’19, Vice President for Activities, and Megan Whitlock ’18, member-at-large.

The purpose in having students attend this conference is two fold:

  1. We want our students to get valuable perspective about what Honors education looks like nationally, to make connections with students from across the country and around the world, and to have an appreciation of how Honors opportunities at Texas A&M stack up to those offered elsewhere.
  2. We want our students to bring their broadened perspective back to Texas A&M and use the energy gained from these interactions and the ideas gleaned to improve our programs.
Texas A&M contingent at NCHC 2017 (left to right): Megan Whitlock, Benjamin Simington, Dustin Kemp, Luke Oaks, Jonathan Kotinek, Sarah Kilpatrick

Read below to hear what each of these students got out of the conference and the ideas inspired by this conference that they’d like to see take root at Texas A&M:

Sarah Kilpatrick

Luke Oaks

Megan Whitlock


Sarah Kilpatrick
This past November, Honors gave me the opportunity to go to the National Collegiate Honors Conference in Atlanta, Georgia. Conferences in the past that I have attended were very topic-specific, from a specific industry to national affairs. However, this conference felt so unlike others that I have attended because it covered so many different aspects of honors education, personal development, organization development, and even seeking adventures in any situation.

The first major program that I went to was called “City as a Text”. There was not much description given to the event before it began, the only thing that we could know was where in the city we would be exploring that day. Eventually the coordinators explained what the premise of the event was– to discover how a neighborhood formed and exists today based on observation of social norms and by talking to those who live in it. As someone who generally enjoys the art of wandering an unfamiliar place, it sounded like a perfect match. My group ended up in the Buckhead neighborhood and spent the afternoon walking around old, multimillion dollar homes surrounded by parks established in the early 1900’s and high-end shopping. Even more fascinating than the actual wandering was the analysis of the area at the end of the day by different groups. Some groups saw how the area subtly discouraged poorer groups of people from being seen on their streets and the “acceptable aesthetics” of some old buildings while others were torn down to make room for more acceptable looking buildings. Other groups were fascinated with the friendliness of the people of Atlanta and fell in love with the affluent charm of that area. The sharing of perspectives that is a hallmark of many honors programs shone through during this time.

The rest of the conference was spent in different panels and discussion groups. My goal was to come out of the conference with ideas on how to improve Honors Student Council programs and to hear how other schools fostered their communities for the full four years. I also learned more than expected from the presentations that were selected on a whim, like the value that is found for honors programs in nontraditional college students or how countries like China are creating honors colleges. Altogether these topics will lead to radical improvements on Honors Student Council representation, events, and expectations.

In the end, the value of any conference is the ability to hear and speak to individuals in similar circumstances that have explored different ways to solve problems or challenges. I highly encourage anyone who can to find a way to go to at least one conference that you are interested in before graduation, because it expands perspectives in such a unique way and creates memories and friendships that will last for years. These perspectives can be found both inside the conference or even while exploring the city itself. The world is full of people that can teach you something new about life, and I highly recommend putting yourself in the situation to find and to learn from them.

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Luke Oaks
On November 11th, I was sitting at a diner counter in the National Center for Civil and Human Rights. The museum staff directed me to put on a pair of headphones and place my hands on the counter. A surround-sound recording indicative of the atmosphere at lunch counter sit-ins during the Civil Rights Movement began to play. I listened to two minutes of hate, and was overwhelmed with emotion. First, there was shame for historic injustices and a continued lack of social equity in the United States. But hours later, there was hope. In February of 1960, four black college students tactfully sat at a whites-only lunch counter after purchasing items in same department store. They brought national attention to the Civil Rights Movement, and lunch counters were desegregated en masse following over four months of protest that grew out of their initiative. These men met during their freshman year at North Carolina A&T State University, and none were pursuing the same undergraduate degree; their legacy has nothing to do with their undergraduate specialty. What role do our K-12 and college education systems play in promoting informed multi-disciplinary efforts that impact the public? This question has been on my mind since attending the 2017 National Collegiate Honors Council’s Annual Conference (NCHC 2017) in Atlanta, Georgia. Both are worth addressing from an academic’s lens of research, teaching, and service.

Through my undergraduate education, I have had the opportunity to conduct research with physiologists, biomedical engineers, and industrial engineers. Bringing these experiences together, my intention is to pursue a Ph.D. in industrial and systems engineering. I currently work with a multi-disciplinary cognitive ergonomics research group to increase the accessibility of medicine for individuals with reduced access to primary care alongside a consortium of university, industry, and government partners. While at NCHC 2017, I heard from MacArthur Fellow and human rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson on the significance of being proximate to those in need. I also enjoyed visited with Dr. Cristina McIntyre of Virginia Tech; we discussed the logistics of becoming a public intellectual and she directed me towards Dr. Patricia Raun – a colleague who teaches science communication. I look forward to continued conversations with our National Fellowships Advisor, Ben Simington, on how my multi-disciplinary efforts to impact health care and education can further develop.

My engineering degree here at Texas A&M includes courses on physiology, bioresponse, nanotechnology, human factors, and sociology. To my own surprise, my favorite classes have been taught in the department of sociology. I’ve had the opportunity to take Intro to Sociology as well as Sociology of Death & Dying with Dr. Alex Hernandez. He has inspired me to analyze culture and is now collaborating with me to teach a new class on the sociology of cultural change. The goal of this elective course is to provide students with the tools to properly handle difficult situations in leadership and activism, overcome obstacles to enacting change, and impact those they serve. I enjoy sociology because it challenges me to view life as a system, and it inherently promotes multi-disciplinary thinking. For example, the sociology of change affects every major social, political, and economic institution in the world. I met the University of Florida Honors Dean, Dr. Mark Law, at NCHC 2017, and discussed the role of Honors programs in preparing students to teach at the university level. I will be working with our Capstones Advisor, Dustin Kemp, to prepare for teaching my first course with the support of Dr. Hernandez.

How do we promote multidisciplinary learning and outreach at the university and K-12 level? What was a Cohort-based program for researchers to become public intellectuals look like?

As this academic year’s Vice President of Academic Affairs for our Student Government Association, I have been extensively engaged with promoting an improved student academic experience across all college disciplines. I serve as the chair of a faculty subcommittee for the development of plenary event at a teaching conference at Texas A&M in April of 2017. I work with the Provost’s Office on a effort to improve student success through a centralized application that improves advising. I co-lead an award program that recognizes and incentivizes the usage of open educational resources over costly textbooks. Further, I have directed a student-run volunteer afterschool tennis program called “Serve it Up!”, served a resident advisor, and remain an ambassador for our university’s Honors program. Service is an integral component of my life, and my time at NCHC 2017 further informed my perspective on the subject. Ben Reno-Weber of Mobile Serve discussed efforts to use decision science for deeper student engagement. Dr. Jose Rodriguez at Florida International University shared his study of personality and motivation within Honors. Tom Matson of Gallup talked about strengths-based leadership. My futurist and activator strengths are alive in my thinking about what it would look like to develop a cohort-based program for researchers and faculty to be trained as public intellectuals. I am excited for future conversations with Associate Director of LAUNCH, Dr. Jonathan Kotinek, on how a university would translate such an idea into a reality.

Multi-disciplinary research allows me to freely work at the intersection of fields. I intend to have a faculty career built upon collaborating with leaders from biomedical engineering, public policy, and beyond to increase the accessibility medicine for individuals with reduced access to primary care. It is also a goal of mine to work with teachers, parents, and politicians to broaden participation in STEM and promote more high-impact learning experiences from kindergarten through higher education. These are engaging multi-disciplinary efforts, but certainly not what I initially expected out of my college experience. While at Texas A&M, I changed my major to pursue my dual interest in biomedical and systems engineering. As an interdisciplinary engineering major, I am developing a foundation for a lifetime of multi-disciplinary work. And yet, if it were not for the support of the University Honors program, I may not have changed majors. I am employable in that I create value through the collaborative integration of fields – biomedical and systems engineering, sociology and education, etc. As our world grows increasingly more complex, we need more multi-disciplinary research, teaching, and service efforts to think systemically about our cities, schools, and world. Since attending the National Collegiate Honors Council’s Annual Conference, I have grown all the more excited to take on this charge. Thanks & Gig ‘Em.

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Megan Whitlock
This November, I had the opportunity to attend the National Collegiate Honors Council conference in Atlanta, Georgia, and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. After a long road trip to Atlanta (14 hours in the car-yikes), plenty of road trip games and bathroom breaks in sketchy bathrooms (Buc-ee’s, where you at?), and being told “there’s no room left in the inn” (literally, but that’s a whole other story), the four days of the conference began, which boasted a variety of speakers, sessions, and experiences. For an introvert like myself, this was super daunting at first and exhausting at the time, but super rewarding afterwards.

Close to the beginning of the conference, as part of the City As Text experience, we explored part of Atlanta in my favorite way: wandering and getting lost. We were tasked with observing the neighborhood of Buckhead and everything it had to offer, as well as the issues we perceived there. It is fascinating to discover a city in this way, having no preconceived notions of what it would be like. There was time to explore the city on our own as well; we found good coffee at Café Lucia, because like any good college students, we don’t go long without coffee. And after the conference was over one night, I suggested a trip to the local natural history museum, because what else does a good science nerd do with free time, amiright?

All these experiences were enjoyable, but the real reason we were there was to network and learn from faculty, staff, directors, and students from other honors programs and colleges. Because there were so many sessions offered, I was able to find topics I was passionate about applying to our honors program. A few of my favorites include addressing student mental health concerns in high-achieving honors environments, making honors courses and course contracts more accessible and less intimidating, and making creative, non-research capstone projects as appealing and prestigious as the research capstone. But before this conference, I would have assumed that these issues would have to be addressed and solved by the “real adults” that work in the LAUNCH office. As students, we often don’t feel like we have influence in the way our University and its programs run. But if there is one thing this experience taught me, it’s this: Students have power. If we want something to be changed, it is possible for us to initiate and advocate for that change. So a small piece of advice from an outgoing senior who feels old at this point: Don’t underestimate the power of your voice. Find things you’re passionate about and speak up about them. Eventually, people will listen. Gig ‘em, Nerds.

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Megan Whitlock ’18

 

Maggie Branch’s Capstone

A capstone is a project that takes the knowledge and skills our undergraduates learn in their courses and brings these together in a practical experience. LAUNCH  offers five capstone programs–Undergraduate Research Scholars, Undergraduate Teacher Scholars, Undergraduate Service Scholars, Undergraduate Leadership Scholars (a collaboration with Maroon & White Society), and Undergraduate Performance Scholats–that are open to all Texas A&M Undergraduates.

Students in the University Honors Program are expected to complete a capstone experience as part of the Honors Fellows distinction requirements but sometimes our existing programs do not fit a student’s career goals. Students who have an existing departmental capstone can modify that experience to fit our requirements and have the capstone count for both the department and the University Honors Program.

Maggie Branch ’19

Junior agricultural economics major Maggie Branch ’19 chose to do a departmental capstone to fulfill her capstone requirement. Her project, a study on factors related to the purchase and consumption of specialty eggs, gave Branch specialized knowledge about this topic as well as a better understanding of the tools needed to perform analysis and communicate findings. Below is an excerpt from her reflection on this experience:

I was surprised to discover when I began my project that I wouldn’t even look at my data for several months. The first steps in my project involved learning, and learning, and more learning. I had to first master the program that I would be using to do most of the analysis, called the Statistical Analysis System (SAS). This program is based on a computer programming language used for statistical analysis, and can read data from common spreadsheets and databases and output the results of statistical analyses in tables, graphs, and as RTF, HTML and PDF documents. The most useful thing about SAS is that it can sort through thousands upon thousands of data points in moments, allowing economists to create more accurate models. This program is often used in the Agriculture Economics Masters Programs, but is not introduced to undergraduates until their senior year. While it is extremely useful, it is very difficult to master. One wrong punctuation or letter placement in the programming leaves you with no results at all. It felt like learning a new language in the span of a month or two. Dr. Dharmasena provided me with reading material and practice data to help with the learning process, for which I was extremely grateful. After becoming familiar with SAS, I then did research on the Probit model, which is what I would eventually use to find the probabilities of how different demographic information affected a consumer’s propensity to purchase different egg varieties. After several months of reading and practice, I finally got to take my first look at the data I would use for my project.

The process of sorting the consumer purchase information first involved separating the egg products from the other products using the product descriptor code. The easily identified “Control Brand” egg types were worked with first and separating into regular eggs and specialty eggs. Specialty eggs were defined as any production process that varied from the traditional cage system egg production used by most producers. After the control brands were sorted, the name brands were exported and given a bi-variable indicator (0 or 1) to indicate if it was regular or specialty. This process took several months as I had to individually give the indicator to each one of the over 6000 different egg purchases. At the end of the sorting process I had a table for regular eggs and a table of specialty eggs. Then I added the household and demographic information and started sorting again. Thankfully SAS was actually able to help with the sorting process this time and it took considerably less time. At the end of the second sorting process I had a table for the households that purchased eggs, a table for the households that purchased only regular eggs, a table for the households that purchased only specialty eggs, and a table for the households that purchased both regular and specialty eggs.

To learn more about Branch’s project, visit her blog at: https://mbranchmaggie.wixsite.com/research.

To learn more about capstone opportunities at Texas A&M, visit http://tx.ag/capstones.

Ezell and Versaw to Receive Astronaut Scholarship Foundation Awards Thursday

Kendal Ezell ‘18 and Brooke Versaw ‘18 have been selected to receive 2017 Astronaut Scholarship Foundation Astronaut Scholarship awards. Both students previously received Honorable Mention recognition in the 2017 Goldwater scholarship competition.

In 1984, the six surviving members of the Mercury 7 mission created the scholarship to encourage students to pursue scientific endeavors. Today the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation (ASF) program members include astronauts from the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Skylab, and Space Shuttle programs. Over the last 33 years the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation has awarded over $4 million in scholarships to more than 400 of the nation’s top scholars over the last 32 years. This year only 45 students nationwide are being honored with this prestigious scholarship.

2017 Astronaut Scholar, Kendal Ezell ’18

Kendal Ezell is a senior biomedical engineering student minoring in neuroscience. She was honored in 2017 as the Phi Kappa Phi Outstanding Junior for Texas A&M after being selected as the Outstanding Junior from the College of Engineering. As noted above, Ezell was selected for Honorable Mention in the 2017 Goldwater Scholarship competition, and is a member of both the University Honors Program and the Engineering Honors program. Ezell was an Undergraduate Research Scholar, completing her undergraduate thesis on shape-memory polymer foam devices for the treatment of brain aneurysms with Dr. Duncan Maitland in the Biomedical Device Lab. She has also conducted research on the relationship between emotions and learning memory with Dr. Mark Packard in the Institute of Neuroscience, and on biotech device design with Dr. Jeremy Wasser in the Germany Biosciences Study Abroad Program. Ezell’s research has resulted in three publications, including one in the American Society of Mechanical Engineers Journal for Design of Medical Devices Conference for which she is first author. She also was awarded a Gilman scholarship for international study and has gained inventorship on provisional patent applications.

Ezell plans to pursue an M.D./Ph.D. dual degree and work in medical device development and treatment and prevention of tissue degradation in diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Ezell’s grandmother’s struggle with Alzheimer’s sparked her passion in this direction. “Before my grandmother’s passing,” she says, “medicine was my chosen field, but her illness gave me further direction into a research career. I realized that I want to do more than just treat patients; I want to conduct research so that I can develop new ways to help and treat patients like my grandmother. The fields of neurology and tissue engineering interest me. It is at the intersections of these fields where I hope to apply interdisciplinary strategies to solve problems in unique ways.”

2017 Astronaut Scholar, Brooke Versaw ’18

Brooke Versaw is a senior chemistry student with a minor in business administration. Versaw was selected as a Beckman Scholar and University Scholar in 2015, and has served in multiple leadership capacities within the University Honors Program Honors Housing Community and Honors Student Council. Versaw also has extensive research experience. The summer before her senior year in high school, she worked with Dr. Junha Jeon at the University of Texas at Arlington as a Welch Foundation Summer Scholar. The summer before her freshman year at Texas A&M, she worked with Dr. Steve Lockless in the Department of Biology to study intracellular signaling. Most recently, Versaw has worked with her Beckman Scholar mentor, Dr. Karen Wooley, as an Undergraduate Research Scholar. Her thesis examined the development of a novel class of degradable polycarbonate materials to create environmentally-responsible plastics. In addition to conducting original research, Versaw is also invested in extolling the virtues of scientific research.

“While my research experience has undoubtedly informed and inspired my desire for a career in scientific research,” Versaw says, “it has also made me an enthusiastic advocate for science outreach. As an Undergraduate Research Ambassador for Texas A&M University, a volunteer for the annual Chemistry Open House, and a workshop leader for Expanding Your Horizons, a STEM initiative for 6th grade girls, I discovered that I enjoy both conducting research and communicating its findings. Moreover, I enjoy serving as a role model and a source of encouragement for younger students.”

Following graduation, Versaw plans to pursue a doctoral degree in chemistry and a career as a polymer chemist on the faculty of a Tier-1 research institution, where she can impact both her field of polymer and materials synthesis, and help cultivate future generations of scientists.

Ezell and Versaw will be presented their ASF awards at a special ceremony on Thursday, October 26, by former astronaut Fred Gregory.

2017 ASF Award Presentation, Reach for the Stars, with astronaut Fred Gregory. Gregory will present awards to Ezell and Versaw before making public comments.

To read more about how LAUNCH: National Fellowships helps prepare outstanding students to compete for nationally-competitive awards such as the Astronaut Scholarship with the generous support of the Association of Former Students, please visit http://natlfellows.tamu.edu.