Category Archives: Former Students

Former Student Spotlight – Keri Stephens

One of the most powerful forces on any campus is a group of focused, motivated students. This is, in part, because the university as a marketplace of ideas is intended to be a place where students have the opportunity to put learning into practice. Student passion for progress has contributed to all sorts of change throughout the history of higher education.

One person who was effected significant change for Honors at Texas A&M is Dr. Keri Stephens ’90 (née Keilberg), who graduated with a B.S. in biochemistry and received the Rudder Award. Dr. Stephens now serves as an Associate Professor of Communication Studies at the University of Texas, where she earned her M.A. And Ph.D. in organizational communication. Prior to entering academia, Dr. Stephens did technical sales, marketing, and corporate training for Hewlett Packard, Zymark Corporation, and EGI.

Dr. Stephens visited with University Honors Program staff on a recent campus visit and shared some of her experiences and contributions that have shaped the Honors experience at Texas A&M for over 25 years.

In 1989-90, as president of Honors Student Council, Stephens was part of the committee that established special housing for Honors students. Stephens recalled that she was concerned that an Honors residential community not become “isolated nerds.” This might have been a particular concern to Stephens, who was a role-model for involvement on campus, winning a Buck Weirus Spirit award her sophomore year.

Visiting with Honors staff, Stephens was glad to hear that the Honors Housing Community has built a strong reputation for being highly involved in campus traditions such as Silver Taps, Muster, and Midnight Yell, and regularly attends football games together.

Honors students at Midnight Yell in 2015
Honors students at Midnight Yell in 2015

Another way in which Stephens has bequeathed a legacy to Honors students is in providing graduation recognition. She recalls that up until her senior year there was strong opposition to any kind of special recognition at graduation. Stephens attended a national conference as president of the Mortar Board Society in December of 1989 at which she observed that Texas A&M was the only school represented that did not have some kind of regalia for exceptional graduates. Returning to campus, Stephens led the leadership of Mortar Board Society in drafting a proposal and creating a prototype stole to present to Dr. William Mobley, then president of the university. Stephens felt she could get an audience with President Mobley since she had made a positive impression on him while traveling together to recruit students to the university.

Gold Latin Honors stoles featuring patches for the Foundation Honors, University Honors, and University Undergraduate Research Fellows distinctions
Latin Honors stoles featuring patches for the Foundation Honors, University Honors, and University Undergraduate Research Fellows distinctions

Stephens recalls that President Mobley didn’t let her get far into her proposal before interrupting to confirm that Texas A&M was the only school represented at the national meeting that did not present special regalia to Honors graduates. When Stephens confirmed this, he asked if she could make the stoles available for May graduations. A process that the Mortar Board officers imagined might take years was accomplished in just a few months. Now, close to 10,000 students each year receive that gold satin stole at graduation, recognizing their accomplishment as cum laude, manga cum laude, summa cum laude graduates.

In gratitude for her significant contributions to the culture of Honors at Texas A&M, Dr. Jonathan Kotinek, Associate Director for the University Honors Program presented Dr. Stephens with a gold stole and patches signifying Foundation Honors, University Honors, and University Undergraduate Research Scholars as well as a certificate of appreciation.

Honors staff Adelia Humme '15 (left) and Jonathan Kotinek '99 present a stole and certificate of appreciation to Keri Stephens '90
Honors staff Adelia Humme ’15 (left) and Jonathan Kotinek ’99 (right) present a stole and certificate of appreciation to Keri Stephens ’90 (center)

Dr. Stephens closed her visit by sharing that her undergraduate research experience was so formative (especially in helping her decide against a career in biochemistry research), that she now makes a point to guide students in research and has mentored 22 undergraduate projects.

We love to share news and success stories from our Honors Former Students! If you have something to share with our current, former, and prospective students and their families, please contact honors@tamu.edu.

Honors Reunion (A Letter to Honors Freshmen)

By Adelia Humme ’15

Dear Honors freshmen,

Right now, your biggest concern is probably How will I make friends? You may be wondering Why do I have to live in the Honors Housing Community? Or What if I don’t like my roommate?

Worry no more. Living in Honors Housing is one of the best experiences you can have at Texas A&M. It’s one thing for me, as an Honors Advisor, to tell you that you’ll make plenty of friends. It’s another thing for me, as a former Honors student who lived in Lechner Hall for two years, to tell you that my cohort of fellow Honors students is still in contact more than a year after graduation. For Memorial Day weekend, more than a dozen former students from the University Honors program, Class of 2015, reunited in Houston. Our weekend included volleyball, bowling, swimming, two-stepping at Wild West, a crawfish boil, a visit to the planetarium, and about eight rounds of the card game Werewolf. We also put our college educations to the test at Escape the Room Texas, where we solved puzzles and searched for clues to find keys and open combo locks in order to “escape.” You’ll be delighted to hear that Honors pays off: we got out with one minute to spare on the one-hour time limit!

escape room
Honors Former Students Conquered the room!
Sam & Edward patriotism
Sam & Edward are patriotic!

More important than anything we did was reminiscing about our time in the Honors Housing Community, where we met as freshmen. Most of us were Sophomore Advisors (SAs) in 2012-2013; a few were “spouses,” or partners chosen by Sophomore Advisors to help mentor Honors freshmen. Living in Lechner and McFadden Halls together bonded us. We pulled all-nighters in Hobofo, Lechner’s second-floor foyer. As freshmen, we designed the greatest shack ever for Habitat for Humanity’s annual fundraiser, Shack-a-thon. It featured an enormous and detailed Nazgul for our Lord of the Rings theme. As SAs, we painted ourselves blue for free food at Blue Baker and hosted our own Hunger Games for the freshmen, arming them with pool noodles and flour-filled socks. We opened the annual talent show with our own rendition of “The Circle of Life” from The Lion King. And even after we moved out of HHC, we volunteered for Big Event, attended Muster, celebrated Ring Day, and dressed up for Ring Dance together.

Nerd Shack 2012
Nerd Shack 2012
sports
Sports!

The Aggie spirit is still strong in our hearts, and we still hold to our identity as Honors students. So if you’re afraid that you’re going to be alone in college, I hope I can reassure you. Living in the Honors Housing Community, I felt that I had found people who spoke not only my language but my dialect. My fellow Honors students liked what I liked; we watched the same sci-fi TV shows and knew the same geek culture references. You’ll make connections, like we did. You’ll make memories, like we did. You might meet your future spouse (no pressure!). And you very well could have a one-year reunion of your own in 2021.

crawfish boil better
Honors Former Students enjoy a crawfish boil

Oh, and I haven’t forgotten your second worry, which is probably What’s my plan? What am I going to do after college? Not knowing the answer right now is okay! You have plenty of time (and plenty of guidance within Honors) to help you figure it out. We were there, too, and we made it. Here’s what we’re doing now:

  • Alyssa Bennett is pursuing a PhD in naval architecture at the University of Michigan. She majored in ocean engineering and graduated with Foundation Honors. Alyssa was a Sophomore Advisor and a Junior Advisor.
  • Sam Carey is pursuing a master’s degree in electrical engineering at Georgia Tech through the Critical Skills Master’s Program at Sandia National Laboratories. Sam spends his summers working for Sandia in Albuquerque, NM. He majored in electrical engineering and graduated with University Honors and an Honors Minor in mathematics. Sam was a Sophomore Advisor.
  • Mallory Carson is a PhD student studying medical physics at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. She is working on methods to detect and correct errors in dose calculations to improve the quality of radiation therapy. Mallory majored in radiological health engineering and minored in mathematics. She was a Sophomore Advisor and an Undergraduate Research Scholar.
  • Danielle Cope is a planning/project engineer for ExxonMobil at the Baytown Olefins Plant. She majored in chemical engineering, minored in chemistry, and graduated with Engineering Honors and Foundation Honors. Danielle was Pj’s “spouse” in the Honors Housing Community.
  • Pj Downey is a systems engineer for Rockwell Collins in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He majored in aerospace engineering and was a Sophomore Advisor. Pj graduated with certificates in engineering project management and engineering business management.
  • Jacob Glenn is a healthcare consultant at Apogee Consulting Group in Houston. He majored in economics and was an Undergraduate Research Scholar and Sophomore Advisor.
  • April Holland is a business consultant at PricewaterhouseCoopers in Houston. She double-majored in business honors and supply chain management. April was a Sophomore Advisor and graduated with Business Honors.
  • Edward Ji is in the Baylor College of Medicine Physician Assistant Program in Houston and continues performing as a violinist with the Brazos Valley Symphony Orchestra. He majored in biomedical sciences with a minor in psychology.
  • Taylor Peterson is an administrative assistant with Switched Over Consulting and plans a career with Texas Parks and Wildlife. She is majoring in wildlife & fisheries sciences and was a Sophomore Advisor.
  • Lauren Roverse is a second-year student at the University of Houston College of Optometry, where she is pursuing a Doctor of Optometry degree. Lauren majored in biology and was a Sophomore Advisor.
  • Eric Vavra is a chemical engineering PhD student at Rice University, where he is investigating foam flow dynamics in porous media. He majored in chemical engineering, minored in chemistry, and graduated with Engineering Honors. Eric was a Sophomore Advisor.
  • Trey Whitaker works as a developer for the Advance Technology Division of AmRisc, LLC. Trey majored in computer science and was April’s “spouse” in the Honors Housing Community.

As for me, I’m currently an Honors Advisor and the program coordinator for National Fellowships and University Scholars at Texas A&M, but I’ll soon be moving to Boston to begin graduate school at Emerson College. Leaving College Station after five years feels like the end of an era because Texas A&M, and particularly the Honors community, has been my second home. I hope you find that same sense of belonging, security, and no-holds-barred fun when you arrive.

Best of luck, and gig ’em!

 

Former Student Spotlight: Elizabeth Sawicki

Elizabeth Sawicki '10
Elizabeth Sawicki ’10

By Macy Moore

Honors former student Elizabeth Sawicki (née Joachim) ’10 is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in bioengineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She recently shared her reflection on the time she spent at Texas A&M and how her experience affected her in the long run.

Sawicki first heard about Texas A&M at her high school career fair, and she ultimately chose the university for its scholarship opportunities and programs. An Honors student, she started off studying biomedical engineering and participated in the Space Engineering Institute and USRG Summer Program, and a yearlong exchange program to Hong Kong. Sawicki has fond memories at Texas A&M such as her freshman year in Lechner Hall and attending her very first football game at Kyle Field.

“I met my best friends while at A&M,” Sawicki says. “I loved how even on a campus with tens of thousands of students I could walk down a random street and run into people I knew. I really liked the small feel of such a large school.”

When she first enrolled at Texas A&M, Sawicki planned on becoming a pharmacist. Since she enjoyed math and science, she studied engineering to do something a little different before pharmacy school. After a few years, she decided to change her major to University Studies – Honors.

“It turned out that I loved doing experiments in the lab, hated chemistry, and would much rather study brains and diseases than anything else,” Sawicki says. “I didn’t decide to go to medical school and change my major until junior year. Although it was difficult being one of the first two people with this new major, mainly because no one knew what it was, I got to do what worked best for me and still graduated on time. If I had stuck with my original major and never explored other options, I would have missed out on my true passion.”

When it comes to providing advice to current and future students, she says that thinking outside the box is key.

“Yes, it’s a little weird when people ask ‘What was your major?’ and I have to give a 2 minute explanation of how I designed my own thing, but I’m pretty sure that little bit of awkwardness is totally worth it.”

Though it was important to her to finish school in four years when she first began college, Sawicki is now on a 10-year plan to receive her master’s and doctoral degrees.

“Don’t worry if doing something different will take longer, or if you need a gap year, or even three, before you figure out what you want to do,” Sawicki says. “It sounds silly, but honestly, there’s no rush.”

Sawicki is first author on a paper recently published in Drug Delivery and Translational Research. You can read more about the article and the researchers Sawicki is working with at https://news.illinois.edu/blog/view/6367/204449.

We love to share news and success stories from our Honors Former Students! If you have something to share with our current, former, and prospective students and their families, please contact honors@tamu.edu.

 

Former Student Spotlight: Omar El-Halwagi

By Macy Moore

Omar El-Halwagi ’11, Texas A&M’s most recent Truman Scholar, is  pursuing a dual degree at The University of Michigan Law School, where he is working toward becoming an employment discrimination lawyer. El-Halwagi ultimately decided to attend Texas A&M University because of the enrichment opportunities offered by Honors.

“I was admitted to the Business Honors program and loved the idea that I could attend an institution with as many resources that only a large school like A&M could have, while receiving the personalized attention one could attain through the honors program,” El-Halwagi says. “My dad is a professor at A&M, and he was rooting for me to go to A&M the whole time. It was one of the best decisions of my life. There’s no way I would have had all the current success in my life without A&M.”

Omar El-Halwagi '11
Omar El-Halwagi ’11

Some of his favorite memories at Texas A&M are from his involvement on the Speech and Debate team.

“I served as President for three years of the team, and we traveled across the country giving speeches on issues we cared about. Plus, the road trips with my fellow Aggies never disappointed!”

Aside from the team, he also enjoyed participating in the Public Policy Internship Program. It was through PPIP that El-Halwagi interned at FEMA in 2010 and in love with Washington D.C. and government.

“The opportunity to be able to do that would not have been possible had I not been a student at A&M. That office was truly incredible in facilitating that experience for me.”

In 2011, El-Halwagi and a friend had the opportunity to design and teach their own upper-level business course, entitled “Hot Topics in Business,” under the supervision of a professor.

“It was an amazing professional opportunity to fill a gap I saw in the curriculum and grow as a communicator,” he says. “While at the business school, I also served as one of the coordinators of the Freshman Business Initiative, where I helped three classes of freshmen acclimate to Texas A&M and find a space for themselves where they could be supported.”

In 2009, he was granted the opportunity to travel to Beijing as a student ambassador to the China-US Relations Conference. George Bush founded the conference, and 20 of the 26 selected student ambassadors were from Texas A&M. He deems the experience “by far one of the best” of his life.

He personally considers the fellowship office the most helpful aspect of the Honors Program. He credits Kyle Mox, the former national fellowships coordinator, for helping him attain his Truman Scholarship, and says that without his assistance, his life would be completely different.

El-Halwagi refers to the Truman Scholarship as “the gift that keeps on giving” as he was hired by a former Truman scholar at the City of Houston following graduation. Along with the scholarship’s positive affects, he attributes his other academic involvement to his professional success.

“PPIP gave me experience working in a large governmental body that I was able to apply at the City of Houston,” he says. “My capstone strategic management course helped me as an internal consultant at the City of Houston on how to approach large problems and create efficient solutions. My desire to become an employment discrimination lawyer is founded in the courses I took at Mays from Professor Paetzold and Professor Hailey.”

Needless to say, his undergraduate experience at Texas A&M gave him the essential foundations for his career aspirations. El-Hawagi advises Texas A&M current students to take every opportunity that presents itself.

“So much of my success was just the fact that I kept building on the opportunities I was given,” he says. “Form relationships with professors. Find the classes you think will be engaging and take them. I took maybe five or six theatre classes while at A&M, and avoided accounting like the plague! Befriend people who inspire you. My friends at A&M are deserving of so much credit for my success. I’ll never forget when I sent out my Truman application to a few friends at A&M, and how within one hour, three of them told me how bad it was and gave me constructive criticism on how to improve it. I crafted an entirely new application within three days because of their support. And finally, believe in yourself. There is a huge world out there, and A&M has provided you with the tools to own it; do so.”

El-Halwagi was recently invited to present at TEDxACU. His talk, titled, “When Faced with Islamophobia, Will You Be an Ally?” can be found online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zw5zCYYSvGQ.

We love to share news and success stories from our Honors Former Students! If you have something to share with our current, former, and prospective students and their families, please contact honors@tamu.edu.

Kaye and Steve Horn Host Honors Recruiting Reception

In the spirit of the season, Honors and Undergraduate Research would like to express our appreciation to Kaye and Steve Horn (Class of ’79) for graciously hosting a reception for prospective Texas A&M University Honors students at their home in River Oaks on November 2.

Left to Right: Steve Horn '79, Adelia Humme '15, Ryan Trantham '15, and Kaye Horn.
Left to Right: Steve Horn ’79, Adelia Humme ’15, Ryan Trantham ’15, and Kaye Horn.

Former Texas Governor John Connally’s historic mansion provided a stunning backdrop for the mingling of 16 National Merit Finalists and their parents and representatives of Texas A&M University. The many reminders of Steve’s success at Texas A&M, where he earned his degree in Petroleum Engineering before moving to Harvard to pursue an MBA, ranged from the jackets on the Horns’ pet dogs to photos of the President’s Endowed Scholars the Horns have supported over the years. Kaye’s passion for her adopted institution and in particular our history as a military college and the contribution of Aggies to the “greatest generation” was evident in her remarks to the assembled group. In a beautiful synergy, current Honors student Adelia Humme ’15 told the prospective students about her grandfather Hubert V. King, who left Texas A&M to fight in World War II and was presented with an Aggie ring upon his return at the end of the war engraved with the year that he would have graduated had he stayed in college (1944).

The prospective students were welcomed by Kaye and Steve Horn personally, as well as by staff from TAMU Admissions, Scholarships & Financial Aid, and Honors and Undergraduate Research. The prospective students also had a chance to meet Ryan Trantham ’15, the current Memorial Student Center President, and Adelia Humme, both members of the selective University Scholars Program. Ryan, Adelia, and the staff answered questions from the students and their parents about coursework, applications, scholarships, program requirements, the Honors dorms and study abroad opportunities in Italy, among other topics.

We at Honors and Undergraduate Research are thrilled that Kaye and Steve were willing to open their hearts and home to help us recruit top academic achievers to Texas A&M University and to the University Honors program in particular. We were proud to be able to introduce the Horns to Ryan and Adelia, outstanding student ambassadors who exemplify how the programs we run help develop promising high school students into accomplished young people. And we hope the prospective Aggies who attended the reception could see in Kaye and Steve, and in Adelia and Ryan, where they might be at the height of a successful career or as college seniors after a start in University Honors at Texas A&M!

Former Student Spotlight: Katie Reed

Dr. Katie Reed ’07 was a double major in sociology and Spanish and an active member of the Honors community while an undergraduate at Texas A&M. She was an officer with the Honors Invitational Peer (HIP) Leader organization and the Summer Honors Invitational Program (SHIP) program that they helped to put on each year to attract high-achieving students to Texas A&M. She was also a member of the Cornerstone Liberal Arts Honors program. After graduation, Reed earned a PhD in educational theory and policy from Penn State. Currently, she is a postdoctoral research associate in the Department of Statistics at Texas A&M.

Dr. Katie Reed, '07
Dr. Katie Reed, ’07

 Among the several traits that we work to develop in Honors students are a capacity to think critically about events going on around them and the courage to become civically engaged. This article is Dr. Reed’s response to Glenn Harlan Reynolds’ “Catcalling a two-way street” published by USA Today on November 3, 2014. It is a wonderful example of an Honors Former Student demonstrating traits such as passion, commitment, and willingness to take a risk for the purpose of the greater good.

Reynolds’ Catcalling Response Disingenuous, Cheap

By Dr. Katie Reed –

In his opinion column discussing the video of street harassment, Reynolds defends the mens’ behavior by arguing that white feminists should not impose their values on catcallers and that women should, essentially, buck up and shut up.

He begins by making a disingenuous multiculturalist argument that Black and Latino men just have a different way of interacting with women.  White feminist women label it harassment, but for the Black and Latino men, it’s “just saying hello.” My suspicion is that Reynolds would not accept that standard of reasoning in any other setting, and to my knowledge there is no precedent for defending oneself from sexual harassment claims by saying “that’s just my way; I’m Black.” Suggesting these are cultural differences also has the demeaning implication that Black and Latina women are ok with being harassed because “it’s just the way” of Black and Latino men. Oh shucks, well I guess “(Black and Latino) Boys will be (Black and Latino) boys!”

His multiculturalist argument is disingenuous because Reynolds does not normally take a line of reasoning that goes, “diversity should be respected, including diversity in standards of moral or ethical behavior; therefore, I cannot apply my ideas of morality to situations where people of other racial/ethnic/socioeconomic backgrounds are involved.” Taken to the extreme, this line of thinking leads us to “men in India have different ideas of what constitutes ‘appropriate intersexual behavior’, so who am I to say they shouldn’t gang rape women?” It’s nonsense to imply that there is so much gray area in what constitutes respectful behavior that this is a po-tay-to/po-tah-to issue.

Reynolds also asks all the wrong questions.  Questions such as “Are women so delicate?” exacerbate the issue by putting the burden back on women to deal with men’s bad behavior. They distract from the real question: Why is it ok for men to behave this way?

Reynolds implies that women are trying to have it both ways by asking to be able to participate freely and fully in the public and professional spheres, and then whining when men talk to us in those spheres. The problem is that the first condition has not been met–women are not free to participate as equals in the public sphere because we’re still reduced to sexual objects that exist for the pleasure and at the discretion of men.

[Yes, yes, I know women and men are different in important ways. But our ability to give birth, love of chocolate, and inclination to talk about our feelings have no bearing on whether we should be able to walk down the street without being bothered.]

I reject the argument that the men in the video are “just saying hello” and have neutral intentions, and again, I think Reynolds is insincere to say so. They were not asking the woman in the video for the time or asking her thoughts on the midterm elections. Their comments were sexual in nature and come from men’s thinking that women owe men their attention and should feel excited to receive men’s attention any time it is given.

By bringing up Emmett Till, Mr. Reynolds is guilty of the same rhetorical ploys he accuses the video makers of: scoring cheap points. No reasonable person is calling for the lynching of any men in the video or of men who catcall. To imply that women’s asking not to be harassed while walking down the street is comparable to Emmett Till’s murder is absurd and disrespectful.

It’s true that these men are within their rights to speak in public, but I tend to think people should not exercise the right to be a jerk so often. I am not in favor of making street harassment illegal. I’m in favor of teaching boys that it is not acceptable to ask strangers who are women to perform on command (“smile more!”). I’m in favor of teaching boys what an appropriate compliment is and how and when to deliver it. After all, this will save me the trouble of learning to take a compliment.

An abridged version of Reed’s response was published by USA Today at http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2014/11/09/catcalling-women-harassment-your-say/18775217/.

We love to share news and success stories from our Honors Former Students! If you have something to share with our current, former, and prospective students and their families, please contact honors@tamu.edu.

The Undergraduate Experience: Job Training or Personal Development?

Lisa (Moorman) Quattrini ’06 graduated from Texas A&M with a bachelor’s of business administration in marketing and a master’s in international affairs. She updated this reflection written several years ago for Texas A&M University Honors Program’s first contribution to the second-annual National Honors Blog Week. The theme for this synchroblog is “Things You Can’t Learn in a Classroom.” To read other contributions to this effort, visit the hub hosted at http://www.honorslounge.com/taxonomy/term/3287.

2014 National Honors Blog Week

 By Lisa Quattrini –

Administrators, donors and elected officials all seem to agree that we should be treating the university more like a business with efficiency being the end goal. As I understand it, the idea is to pare down colleges which do not “produce” enough while bolstering colleges which provide revenue through private sector investment, federal grants, and other funding streams.

In theory, the idea sounds good, at least from one perspective: cut out those arms of the institution which do not generate money, and funnel investment toward those arms which do. I think in a lot of ways, we as students and former students accept this efficiency-based methodology without really considering the role a university plays in society.

To me, though, the question is: should we be treating a university like a business? Should the university simply be a place where money goes in, graduates and revenue-generating research goes out? Or should a university be a center of innovation and creativity, and a tool to secure our society’s place among the great thinkers and inventors?

The first approach seems to be the approach that prevails among administrators and elected officials. My fear with this approach is that treating a university as a factory for producing four year degrees, while treating university research as a tool for revenue generation, is performing a serious disservice to the students and to the creative future of our society.

I have learned this lesson the hard way, having treated my own university experience as merely a necessary step between graduating high school and getting a good paying job in the workforce. Rather than challenging my intellect and following the subjects I found interesting, I followed the four-year plan that came as part of my welcome packet to my college. I knew that I was going to be bored, but I thought getting a job upon graduation was the only metric for a successful college career, and I trusted my selected degree plan to get me there.

After graduate school, I got a job in international research, and quickly found that my undergraduate degree in something “practical for getting a job” had stunted my ability to think creatively. My writing skills had suffered tremendously in undergrad. And while the technical skills I had begun to acquire in graduate school were good, they were not enough to prepare me for the rigors of my job, as the degree was not targeted towards research as a destination career.

Now I sit, eight years out of undergrad, six years out of grad school, and I am completely confused as to where I “should” fit in. I never stopped to question whether I was missing something along the way – I thought my extracurricular activities were enough, so I never sought a degree plan that thrilled me.

As a student, it’s hard to know what to plan for. What I’ve learned from my experience is that I missed out on a very vital opportunity for intellectual development at the undergraduate level. I made all of my curriculum decisions based on getting a job. In doing so, I missed a vital opportunity to get to know myself, and what I want out of life.

I think that the place of an academic institution, especially at the undergraduate level, is to give young people a platform to be creative, to think through problems in new ways, and to force students to examine the world from different perspectives. I know it seems sentimental, but when you understand how the greater picture is connected, I have to believe the end result is better, simply because you understand what you’re working with and where it should go.

Treating a university like a factory where cost-cutting rules and no value is given to creative thought is likely to churn out workers who are interested in maintaining the status quo. A public university is specifically intended to expand the public knowledge, and it does no one any good to follow the same paths which have been traveled before you.

I leave you now with two challenges: one to the students, and one to administrators and elected officials.

To the students: it is my hope that you will not fall victim to the fear that you won’t have a job when you graduate. Treat your studies with respect – this is the only four (or five, or six) years you will ever be given to make mistakes, to learn, and to plan your future as you want it. Focus your degree plan on your passion: find something you love, and see as many sides of it as you can.

To the administrators and elected officials: don’t turn our campus into a factory of workers who simply toe the line and maintain the status quo. Help Texas A&M maintain and grow its reputation as a top-tier university which graduates innovators and thinkers. Help us promote a sentiment of wonder and exploration among the student population. I promise you’ll have more successful graduates if you do.