Student Voices: Honors and Athletics

In the post below, molecular & cell biology and applied mathematical sciences double-major Antoine Marc ’16 describes the challenge he took on as an Honors Student and student-athlete during his time at Texas A&M, as well as the enrichment and growth that resulted from that challenge.

Howdy Y’all!

I am Antoine Marc, a current senior about to graduate next week, Whoop! As part of my final swan song to the university, I wanted to talk about my undergraduate journey both as an Honors Student and a student-athlete.

Honors Fellow Marc Antoine ’12
Photo Credit: TAMU Athletics


I was fortunate enough to be a part of the Texas A&M Men’s Swimming and Diving team these past five years. Five years? Yep, I’m a super-senior, taking my victory lap and enjoying A&M before I become an alum. It’s definitely being a unique experience being a student-athlete here, but it still came with its challenges. Ironically enough, I didn’t come to A&M for athletics. I enrolled at A&M as an Honors student with a goal to attend medical school. However, I couldn’t give up swimming. I dedicated my entire high school and the most of my middle school years training in hopes of competing at the NCAA level, but unfortunately, I wasn’t recruited by many Division I schools. Nevertheless, I decided to give it one more shot, and I emailed Coach Jay Holmes about a try-out. Luckily for me, he accepted. Now came the hard part, balancing life as a student and a student-athlete.

As a freshman, I lived in the Honors dorms, Lechner Hall, with my fellow Honors cohort. I decided to participate in the random roommate matching system that A&M provides. Things started off great, but as expected for young 18-year-olds living on their own for the first time the good times didn’t always last. I woke up early and had a strict schedule to adhere for athletics while he was laid back, was part of a band and worked best at night. Naturally, our schedules clashed, and that didn’t make things easy for either of us. After a couple of disagreements, we decided to make the best out of our living situation, and we managed to come up with compromises between each other’s habits and schedules. In the end, living in the dorms was a maturing process, and I learned a lot about myself as an individual.

The main challenge for a student-athlete isn’t the athletics. It’s the academics. Even though I came into college with good grades, college was a definite wake up call. Classes move fast, and once you realize you’re behind, it’s even harder to get back on track. With athletics, it compounded that effect. Balancing my time for Honors academics and athletics amidst a busy schedule was challenging. My daily routine consisted of long nights finishing homework and studying for exams knowing I had to be awake by 5:10 a.m. for practice the next morning.

During each fall, I trained non-stop to get into competitive shape, and each spring, I traveled around the country for competitions, missing days, even weeks, of school at a time. In my first two years of undergrad, I quickly got swamped and didn’t manage to get the same grades I was accustomed to in High School. However, it became easier after I decided to reach out for help.

Antoine prepares to compete in a meet versus Georgia at the TAMU Rec Center

One of the main advantages of Honors courses are the small class sizes meaning I could talk to my professors on a regular basis. Almost all of my Honors professors went out of their way to accommodate my competition and training schedule to arrange extra office hours if I needed it. The best example I can give was in my Organic Chemistry course. Our class was around 35 students, and every week instead of having assigned online homework assignments, we had weekly problem sets. Our professors encouraged a collaborative effort to solve these more complex homework assignments by scheduling an 8-11pm group session on Tuesday and Thursday nights. He would be available for questions while we work on the problem set together. Don’t be fooled, to finish these problem sets you needed to have all the students working together, attacking the problem from different approaches. Dr. Bregbreiter would have a gleeful smirk on his face when we got something wrong, but his unconventional methods of teaching made us actually learn and understand the material. Balancing swimming and Honors coursework was definitely a challenge, but looking back I’m glad went through it.

One of the unique things I’ve been able to do during my undergraduate career is holding the title as SEC Student-Athlete Representative. Because of my involvement in the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, an organization on campus with a goal to facilitate an inclusive relationship between the NCAA, Texas A&M student body, and the student-athlete population, I was chosen to represent the entire SEC conference as a student-athlete representative.

As one of three student-athlete representatives for the SEC, I was able to travel to various conferences and meetings across the nation to discuss the current state of the NCAA with regards to treatment/opportunities for student-athletes. At first, these meetings were incredibly intimidating, to say the least. Usually, I was in a room with around 20 different upper administrators from various universities.

Antoine at the SEC Spring Meeting in Destin, Florida as part of his work as SEC Student-Athlete Representative

To set the scene, I was sitting next to the President of the University of Georgia, the Athletic Director of Florida, and the Commissioner of the SEC was across the table. During the meetings, everyone looked at me for input on their proposed legislation and ideas for future legislation. It may have been ignorance, by I candidly described my experience as a student-athlete, my thoughts on what was working and my feedback on what needed improving. Fortunately, they liked what I said, and I kept getting invited back to similar meetings to discuss new NCAA legislation. This past January, at the NCAA Convention in Nashville, the entire NCAA voted on those new proposals.  All except one passed! I am extremely proud of my work with SAAC and the SEC. Advocating on behave of all student-athletes was my way of giving back to current and future student-athletes, so they might be able to have an even better student-athlete experience than I did.

Overall I am very fortunate to have been an Aggie. This University and the University Honors Program has given me so much and enabled me to pursue my passions both as a student and a student-athlete. I couldn’t have asked for a better undergraduate experience.

Thanks and Gig’em!

To see Marc’s athletics profile, visit

Student Voices: Haylee Matecko 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, Haylee Matecko ’18 shares her experience working as an intern this past semester and her thoughts on making mistakes and feeling at home.

– By Haylee Matecko

Be a sponge, be open, communicate, build relationships, have strong technical skills, be aware of everything going on around you. In a nutshell, I’ve described both my first week and the expectations that were set forth for this internship. It’s incredibly important for interns to constantly be learning and growing, while also taking responsibilities and working towards that potential job offer in our midst.

Our first week was pure training, and it was incredibly fun. We were in the Dallas office all week; just the North Texas region for the first couple days and joined by Houston on Wednesday. It felt a bit like summer camp instead of my actual job, and I think that was a result of the hotel and breakfast buffets. I met quite a few amazing people who were all my intern peers, one of whom I’ll be working with. Casey is a super sweet person who is interested in the same things as me, which we quickly discovered as roommates at training. HGTV and healthy foods became something fun that we bonded over.

Just when we made it to our home office in Austin, the interns were tasked with decorating the offices of our manager and partner for their birthdays, and I think we succeeded! Here’s a “candid” shot of us decorating. It’s supposed to go in their newsletter, which is exciting! (Basically, I’m going to be famous.)

Interns decorating for a party.

Throughout the internship, I had tasks similar to this, like ordering lunch for the whole office, or formulating letters to send to clients- these seem minimal, but to me they meant everything. I didn’t want to make a single mistake, because I was afraid of what would follow. In reality, everyone would probably be incredibly gracious about it and help me to the best of their abilities- and they were when I did make mistakes. But in my mind, they would be upset and/or hangry (we all know that could have happened), and always remember me as “the girl that fell through on lunch.” So anyways, I overcame my nerves once I saw the success of my actions, and I have definitely learned to get rid of the nerves at the onset. It’ll be a long time before that happens completely, though- it’s a process.

I also got to experience what it’s like to be working late…! I would say yay, but I wasn’t super excited to check that one off the bucket list. It was a long day – I started a project at the beginning of March, sent it to my manager for review, and hadn’t heard anything since. Then the project came back with an insane amount of comments and corrections – I know, I know. That’s how the review process works! But I had yet to experience this process, so I took every single comment incredibly personally and felt like I was the worst intern ever.

However, the comments weren’t personal. It took me some time to learn that, but when you’re working on a huge project with three years of tax returns and you get a PDF back with that many comments, it hurts. But I worked late and I’m happy to say 1) it was only until 9, and 2) it didn’t happen again. I later had a performance review for this stressful project, and it was surprisingly super positive. I was so happy to hear that I was doing a good job, because after so many corrective comments I felt that I wasn’t doing things very well around here, or that any efforts I had made went unnoticed.

Aside from the work commentary, the environment at my office was something I really appreciated. The people I worked with are hilarious and Austin is so quirky. I loved spending time with the people here, because it’s something so different from anything I’ve experienced in the past three years of college. I like the normalcy I found, with Casey and my Austin roommates and my UT friends and everything. Austin became my home and I had to leave it. This past summer I worked at a bakery in San Antonio, and that summer changed my life in many different ways. I really didn’t want to leave that environment; it was so hard to readjust once I had become part of that. Then in College Station, I finally began to feel a sense of true belonging when all my friends came for my 21st birthday and I was almost in tears because they were singing happy birthday to me and they were all there, surrounding me, smiling at me because they loved me. Wow, that was a big day. Then two weeks later, I shipped myself off to Dallas for training and then Austin for yet another chapter of this crazy life. I cried hugging my sisters at the airport, I started writing to note the stories of what I did at work, and instead it evolved into something so much bigger. I made friends with everyone in a real way, not just in a surface-level sense. I really feel like Austin is home now, but it’s not the only home. It’s one of three that I’ll be shuffling between for the next month and a half while I figure my life out, finish an online class, travel on family vacation, and celebrate important milestones in the lives of people I love.

And if all that doesn’t make you “feelsy,” maybe you just don’t know how attached I get to home. Home to me is the most beautiful sense of the word; home means people I love and it means comfort and happiness and being completely unguarded. Home is a place where I can let my walls down and just be myself and not worry about being judged or criticized. Every home has its quirks, to say the least – sometimes in Austin we don’t do the dishes, in College Station we had a few roach incidents, and in San Antonio one of the rooms in our house is constantly leaking in the corner when it rains a lot. But these things are beautiful in their own ways, and they (along with the people) make each place home. I am so lucky to have three homes, but it’s definitely a challenge. I want each one to be my primary home; I see a life I could and do lead in each place, and I struggle with that. Each city offers its own quirks and its own life pathway that I could head down, but until I get to the point where have to decide exactly which path to continue down, I think I’ll just let the wind blow me where it does.

So, how can I begin with the end? It’s a sad thing to realize, when your journey of sorts comes to a close. But it’s more about seasons of life; new things can’t begin if old things don’t end.

And now that I’ve spat out some life clichés, I’ll wrap up the way my semester in Austin ended. I finished my biggest projects, working on those babies up until the last possible day. I went home for Easter, and was quite literally checking my computer at home. We finished up filing, and while it felt awesome to be finishing up, I also I started to get emotional about the fact that everything was ending. Even though I had only worked at this office for two months, it had become another home (there’s that emotional buzzword again). The free lunches and free coffee were super nice, but I definitely will miss more than that.

On our last week, Monday we left the office early to head to College Station for a recruiting event which was such a blast! We had a cooking lesson, and I hung out with a lovely recruit. We wore cooking hats and made salad dressing, chicken parmesan, and whipped cream for our cheesecake. It was nice to be with work people, but also just to unplug and have a fun night being silly.

The next day we had our intern goodbye happy hour/party, which was great! Our last full day of “work” consisted of little work and mostly being super excited for the adventure that was the Goodnight (aka bowling and such). Everyone pretended it was such a hassle to drive there, or maybe they wouldn’t come, but guess what? Everyone came. And we had so much fun, bowling and eating and enjoying each other’s company for the last few hours we had it. I stayed a little later than the other interns because I just started getting so feelsy about leaving and I really didn’t want to. I ended up still going home earlier than I wish I had, because once I left the karaoke began! But it’s okay, I’ll just have to be sure I stick around for that one next time.

Austin interns at the goodbye party

Wednesday Casey and I stopped at the office to give our computers back, said our official goodbyes, and then headed out to the Domain mall for our last day of adventures! And with that folks, you have it – my Austin experience ending but with promises for much more in the future. (Surprise, that means I got a job offer!)

If I had to pass wisdom on to future interns, or to anyone willing to listen, it would be:

  • Stop worrying so much about your image. Literally just be yourself, and people will love you. Authenticity and kindness go a long way.
  • Do your best, but don’t be so stressed about being perfect that you make yourself physically sick. It’s not worth it because…
  • You will definitely make mistakes. So instead of kicking yourself for making them, just learn from it. Soak up all the criticism you can, and ensure that doesn’t happen next time.
  • If your coworkers invite you to any experience outside of work, go for it! That’s how you’ll get to know people on a personal level.

So, there you have it. Home #3 is slowly going on a hiatus for the next year or so, but I’ll be back. Back for more taxation and more Austin adventures and more friends and more fun.

Honors Student Kendal Ezell ’18 Named 2017 PKP University Outstanding Junior

April 12, 2017 The Texas A&M University Chapter of Phi Kappa Phi (PKP), the oldest and largest interdisciplinary honor society in the United States, selected Kendal Ezell, Dwight Look College of Engineering, as the 2017 University Outstanding Junior during an awards ceremony held April 9. Ezell received a $1,000 scholarship and a plaque. Kendal Ezell […]

via Kendal Ezell Named TAMU 2017 Outstanding Junior — Phi Kappa Phi at Texas A&M University

Student Research Week 2017

The 20th annual Student Research Week (SRW) was held March 27-31, 2017. The four-day celebration of student research is coordinated by the Graduate and Professional Student Council (GPSC) and provides opportunities for students to present–either orally or in poster form–the research they have conducted as students here at Texas A&M University. The theme for 2017 was inclusivity, and the SRW committee set a goal of representing all of the academic colleges. SRW helps foster a campus-wide culture of research and sets a high standard for student research by advertising the opportunities for inquiry at Texas A&M and inviting the university community to participate in this exciting endeavor.

LAUNCH: Undergraduate Research is excited to announce another successful year for our students at SRW. In addition to comprising a substantial proportion of the presenters, our undergraduates took home the following awards:


Jordan Lewallen, 1st Place Poster
Kendal Paige Ezell, 1st Place Oral
Kanika Gakhar, 2nd Place Oral

Lorna Min, 1st Place Poste
Sara Maynard 2nd Place Poster
Brooke Versace, 1st Place Oral
Miranda Apfel, 2nd Place Oral

Liberal Arts
Claire Nowka, 1st Place Poster
Daniel Joseph Welch, 2nd Place Poster
Amanda Gomez, 1st Place Oral
James McLean Bell, 2nd Place Oral

Agriculture and Life Sciences
Mackenzie Hartman, 1st Place Oral

Janna Brooks, 1st Place Poster

Education and Human Development
Katelyn Elaine Goodroe, 1st Place Poster
Devyn Chan Rice, 2nd Place Oral

Madison Moore, 1st Place Oral

Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences
Rebecca Harlow, 1st Place Poster
Rebecca Thornton & Michelle Hoathian, 1st Place Oral
Serene Yu, 2nd Place Oral

Health Sciences
Morgan Riba, 1st Place Poster
Gabriella Abouelkheir, 2nd Place Poster
Virginia Beth Neese, 1st Place Poster


Sigma Xi Symposium Theme Award
Brooke Versace, Undergraduate Winner

Sigma Xi Interdisciplinary Award
Thomas Edward Settlemyre, Undergraduate Winner

Melbern G. Glasscock Humanities Special Award
James McLean Bell, Undergraduate Winner

University Center Award for Outstanding Abstract
Nicole Green, Undergraduate Winner

University Writing Center Award for Outstanding Presentation
Amanda Gomez, Undergraduate Winner

Provost Watson presents Josh Fuller ‘17 with a certificate of appreciation for his help with SRW 2017
Photo credit: Elizabeth Peterson

For more information about getting involved in undergraduate research, visit

Three Aggies Selected for Goldwater Honorable Mention

LAUNCH: National Fellowships is delighted to announce the recognition of three outstanding students in this year’s Goldwater Scholarship competition. Kendal Ezell ‘18, Kanika Gakhar ‘18, and Brooke Versaw ’18 were all selected for Barry Goldwater Scholarship Honorable Mention.

Kanika says of the honor that “Receiving the Goldwater Honorable Mention has been a humbling reminder of the appreciation the research community has for projects like mine. By encouraging young undergraduate researchers like me to pursue topics of interest in the field of science and technology, the Goldwater Scholarship committee is truly doing a remarkable job at helping students recognize their passions and the significance of their work in a global research community. I am very grateful to LAUNCH for introducing me to this opportunity and giving me a chance to refine and present my research proposal to the prestigious Goldwater Committee. “

The Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program seeks sophomores and juniors who are planning careers in STEM research. Fewer than 300 Goldwater Scholars are chosen from across the nation each year, so the scholarship is both prestigious and highly competitive. Candidates must demonstrate strong research experience, clear vision for a research career, and academic excellence in STEM coursework. Students selected as Goldwater Scholars receive a $7,500 scholarship for the next academic year.

Goldwater Honorable Mention, Kendall Ezell ’18

Kendal Ezell ’18 is a junior biomedical engineering major from Corpus Christi, TX. Ezell’s extensive involvement at Texas A&M has included Kappa Alpha Theta sorority, Student Engineers’ Council, American Medical Student Association, and the University Honors Program and Engineering Honors. She has been selected for numerous honors and awards including as a Benjamin A. Gilman International Fellowship, as the 2017 Phi Kappa Phi Outstanding Junior for the College of Engineering, Southerland Aggie Leader Scholar, and Peter Chaplinsky Memorial Scholar.

Ezell currently works in the Biomedical Device Laboratory with Dr. Duncan Maitland, researching biomaterials and material characterization. She plans to pursue an M.D./Ph.D. in biomedical engineering and conduct research in a clinical setting to develop new medical technologies for practice. Her primary interest is treatment and prevention of tissue degradation in diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Ezell’s extensive undergraduate research will result in two first-author publications on independent projects as well as other publications by the time she graduates.

Goldwater Honorable Mention Kanika Gakhar ’18

Kanika Gakhar ’18 is a junior aerospace engineering major from Faridabad, Haryana, India. She has extensive leadership experience from her involvement in in Lambda Sigma Honor Society, the Memorial Student Center, Maroon & White Leadership Fellows, and Undergraduate Research Ambassadors. Gakhar has been selected as a University Scholar, for the TAMU Academic Excellence Award, the Larry J. McQuien ’76 “Take Flight Award,” and was part of a design team selected to present at the SpaceX Hyperloop Design Weekend.

Gakhar is currently working in the Advanced Vertical Flight Laboratory with Dr. Moble Benedict. Her Undergraduate Research Scholar thesis is on a robotic hummingbird project that seeks to revolutionize the field micro-aerial vehicles by improving efficiency of flapping-wing mechanisms through mimicry of insects and birds. Gakhar is also working with a team of mechanical, electrical, and aerospace engineering students on an Aggie Challenge Project focused on preventing railroad accidents and train derailments. She plans to pursue a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering and conduct research in biomimicry and nature-inspired design to revolutionize atmospheric and space flight. Gakhar’s research has resulted in multiple publications, including one for which she is first author.

Goldwater Honorable Mention Brooke Versaw ’18

Brooke Versaw ’18 is a junior chemistry major from College Station, TX. Versaw has served in leadership roles with the American Chemical Society and Aggie Honor Council, and has been active as a member of the MSC Visual Arts Committee and as a National Scholar Ambassador. Versaw was selected as a University Scholar, Beckman Scholar, Undergraduate Research Ambassador, and a Robert A. Welch Foundation Scholarship, and is proficient in Spanish.

Versaw has extensive experience in undergraduate research, having worked in Dr. Junha Jeon’s synthetic organic lab, with Dr. Steve Lockless’s protein chemistry group, and in Dr. Karen Wooley’s polymers and functional macromolecules laboratory. She plans to pursue a Ph.D. in polymer chemistry and have an academic career conducting research on polymer synthesis and materials characterization. Versaw’s research has resulted in multiple first-author publications.

Texas A&M has a long history of success with the Goldwater Scholarship. Previous Goldwater Scholars include Nicholas Mondrik ’15 (physics), Erica Gacasan ’16 (biomedical engineering), Aaron Griffin ’16 (biochemistry & genetics), and Maura Cadigan ’17 (aerospace engineering). If you are a STEM student invested in research and would like to learn more about the Goldwater Scholarship, please contact National Fellowships coordinator Benjamin Simington ( or visit our website:

Honors Benefits: Seth Smitherman Honors Travel Fund Award

The University Honors Program has been working this year to enlarge the list of benefits of being a student in the University Honors Program. Historically, we have focused on some abstract benefits of participating in the University Honors Program such as our interdisciplinary emphasis, strong community, and focus on personal, professional and intellectual development (see this link: In addition to these benefits, we have also begun to make connections with programs around campus that we feel help students with their personal, professional, and intellectual development.

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

Seth Smitherman ’17

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

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

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

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

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

For more information about the Honors Travel Fund, visit 

Honors Benefits: MSC SCONA 2017

The University Honors Program has been working this year to enlarge the list of benefits of being a student in the University Honors Program. Historically, we have focused on some abstract benefits of participating in the University Honors Program such as our interdisciplinary emphasis, strong community, and focus on personal, professional and intellectual development (see this link: In addition to these benefits, we have also begun to make connections with programs around campus that we feel help students with their personal, professional, and intellectual development.

Many of these opportunities have been with programs run through the Memorial Student Center (MSC), including Opera & Performing Arts Society (OPAS), Wiley Lecture Series, L.T. Jordan Institute for International Awareness, Student Conference on Latino Affairs (SCOLA), Student Conference on National Affairs (SCONA), and Bethancourt, as well as the Southwestern Black Student Leadership Conference (SBSLC).

University Honors Students dressed up for SCONA 2017! Left to right: Sarah Kilpatrick ’18, Karla Valerie Melendez ’19, Grace Cunningham ’18, Nicole Guentzel ’19, Matthew Kiihne ’18

This year we were able to support seven students representing five of the academic colleges in attending SCONA. Below, we have reflections from six of those students on the impact of that experience.

Sarah Kilpatrick ’18, junior economics major

This semester, I had the opportunity to spend five days hearing eminent speakers and writing a brief policy proposal on the Intelligence Community with the help of other students at SCONA 62. The Student Conference on National Affairs brings together students from across the country to discuss, research, and attempt to find solutions for issues that are affecting our government and society. The Domestic Crisis Strategic Response Exercise was a two day pre-conference mock domestic crisis exercise that focused on negotiation, strategy, and teamwork to best allocate limited resources in a crisis event. In short, not once did my ability to take a test to prove mastery of coursework help me at all over the entire event.

What helped were the things that are either not taught in a classroom or not explicitly taught during classes. Things like risking misallocation of vital resources during a mock crisis in exchange for maintaining fairness between all partners, or risking a win (and your pride) while playing a game of 42 with strangers-turned-friends after the official conference day had concluded. The ability to stand up for your perspective when 14 other people hold a completely differing perspective also came in to play. Accepting mistakes but moving forward was important when my DCSRE group, representing the State of Texas in crisis, realized we did not get the resources we needed in time to help the state’s citizens. Most importantly, in my opinion, was having the ability to ask for help. The conference does not expect you to come in as an expert in whatever subject-based roundtable you sign up for, so they provide a plethora of subject-matter experts, people who work in the field, and guest lecturers so delegates can ask questions, get advice, and “pick their brains” (so to speak) from these people throughout the event.

Sometimes the advice they gave extended beyond just the scope of the conference. The most important thing that my roundtable’s expert told me was “Don’t let your coursework get in the way of your education.” The education you can receive here at A&M could just be whatever your degree requires, but when you sign up for things like conferences, organizations, and even spontaneous trips with friends, you are expanding your education into experiences and life stories. This conference also introduced me to a specific network of women within various branches of government that I can reach out to whenever I go to the D.C. area. SCONA strengthened both my interest in the field and given me some amazing memories I can keep with me long after graduation.

I would highly recommend going to SCONA next year, or any other opportunity that sparks your interest. You can meet people who challenge you and people who inspire you. You can find new applications for old goals, new friends, and even a newfound love for something outside of your major. Thank you to honors for providing me with this experience that I can genuinely say was one of the greatest experiences I have had here at A&M.

Karla Valerie Melendez ’19, sophomore international studies major

When we weren’t listening to speakers, we were in our roundtables, attempting to write a cohesive policy paper. My roundtable was Lady Liberties Promise, which basically called for a policy paper marrying the topic of immigration and national security. This is where I learned the most during the conference, and while it was frustrating at times, my team made it through and we managed to leave the conference with a policy paper we were proud of and friendships we didn’t expect to make even halfway through the second day.

There were 5 roundtable sessions throughout the conference, and from the beginning it was expected that we would be working very quickly. Even a group that had been working cohesively from the beginning would have found the task a challenge. With the topic of immigration, we were excited to potentially be able to explore various topics that are of current international interest and tackle them. We came out of roundtable session 1 with a blank paper, but feeling confident about our discussion. It felt natural that we’d need an hour and a half to talk through potential topics, since there are so many of interest and find where we needed to focus. The problem emerged when we came back and out differing opinions started to clash. We had a page limit, and naturally couldn’t talk about everything, and several people had trouble letting go of their ideas or understanding that just because it wasn’t addressed in the policy paper, didn’t mean it wasn’t important. We kept seeming to settle on a topic, and then trying to write only to find ourselves still divided and working on completely separate things. We were given roles, but we didn’t understand them, we weren’t communicating, and despite writing a concise outline, somehow we hadn’t managed to come to a consensus. We found ourselves arguing at the end of the 4th roundtable and with a paper that was far longer than it needed to be with no clear policy (which felt worse than a blank paper to me).

We had to call in our facilitator, who had been working outside with the couple of STEM majors who didn’t feel their humanitarian backgrounds sufficed enough to help with the writing of the policy and instead opted to start writing the skit. When we finally had someone with a higher rank than all of ours, listening to her and compromising became much easier. We met during dinner (despite the fact that we were supposed to be eating and not working) and worked out what exactly we were going to be doing, with Dr. Aubone carefully making sure we stayed within the parameters of two, closely related proposals that would fit within the page limit. When we started working from there, in small groups meant to tackle the different sections of the proposal, and even smaller groups within that meant to either find research or be writing, we found ourselves getting things done. At that point, when we finally had a chain of command, a concrete goal and set roles within the team, we were able to start getting things done effectively. Somehow, we managed to complete the proposal within a couple of hours. Where we didn’t have a single point down by the end of roundtable session 4, but the end of session 5 we had a complete, cohesive policy proposal that all of us were proud of (mostly because of the circumstances with which we managed to complete it). Where we had been frustrated and arguing, after finally coming together to tackle and complete the paper, we were too relieved and amazed at our own accomplishment to feel anything but mutual relief and excitement that we conquered that hurdle together. I’m so glad I got to meet all of those wonderful individuals and work with them, and I’m excited to be able to see them again because I know we’ll cross paths.

It was overwhelming and frustrating and tiring and a whole lot of other things but that experience was something I needed. I got to be in a team that failed, and came back from it. I got to see the importance of roles and being on the same page in a team and having a leaders of some sort because when those things weren’t present we weren’t working and when they were we literally managed what none of us thought we’d be able to do. I’d know the importance of these things in theory. I’d seen how they worked and how they didn’t on television or in groups around me. Sometimes I’d have a group that didn’t exactly mesh together but worked something out anyway, but I had never been in a group that showed me both extremes of teamwork in a matter of days. It was kind of a shock, but I think even if I didn’t learn a single thing from the talks or a single piece of new information about immigration and national security (which I did), I learned more about teamwork in those 3 days than I have in 3 years of being a color guard captain, countless group assignment, and countless group tasks in subcommittees or officer positions of organizations.

To read Karla Valerie Melendez’s full SCONA reflection, visit

Grace Cunningham ’18, junior bioenvironmental sciences major

Every year the MSC holds the Student Conference on National Affairs (SCONA), with delegates from all over the country traveling to Aggieland to take part in remarkably curated programming. As a student-led and student-run organization, SCONA gives students the chance to discuss complex policy issues on a range of topics in an interdisciplinary setting. This year, at SCONA 62, we approached social, economic, and scientific issues with the theme Against All Enemies Foreign and Domestic: Securing the Homeland in mind. Each student was placed into a roundtable with a specific topic, such as cybersecurity or espionage that they then discussed in terms of national security. Ultimately, each roundtable discussion group was tasked with creating a policy proposal in the duration of the 3-day conference. My roundtable discussion, Mother Nature and Uncle Sam, focused our policy paper around the inevitable effects of climate change on national infrastructure. With the obvious impacts of a compromised infrastructure on national security, my group was able to make a sound argument for diversifying the US energy sources in preparation for extreme weather events and rising sea levels affecting coastal oil refineries. Through in-depth discussion and compromise, we were able to construct a policy suggestion that went on to win the conference-wide Policy Paper Award, judged by General William Rapp, Commandant of the U.S. Army War College.

When we were not in our group discussions, the other delegates and I were attending talks from high-ranking officials, such as Admiral Michael Rogers, Director of the NSA and Commander of U.S. Cyber Command, and General Robert B. Neller, Commandant of the Marine Corps. A particularly notable experience for me, the talk and subsequent question and answer by Dr. Charles McMillian, Director of Los Alamos National Laboratory, provided interesting insights into the history of the Manhattan project as well as the future of quantum computing. The most controversial speaker, Dr. Tawfiq Hamid, former Islamic extremist and author, provided interesting views on US tolerance. All of these experiences, from the thought-provoking roundtable discussions to the remarkable speakers, made for an informative conference. However, the most impactful part of the conference was the relationships we made with students from the other universities and the after-hours conversations we were able to have, learning about the other roundtable topics and discussions as well as the student experience at other universities.

Nicole Guentzel ’19, sophomore biology major

This semester I was fortunate enough to be sponsored to attend SCONA or the Student Conference on National Affairs. This year’s topic was “Against all Enemies, Foreign and
Domestic: Securing the Homeland.” I attended the second portion of the conference that revolved around roundtable discussions and keynote speakers. Delegates were mainly
from Texas A&M University, but many other universities were in attendance providing the opportunity to learn about how other universities are structured.

The roundtable I participated in was called “Under the Microscope: Epidemics and Public Health.” Our facilitator was Dr. Jennifer Griffith who is the Associate Dean for
Public Health Practice for the Texas A&M School of Public Health and the Associate Department Chair for the Department of Public Health studies. She had many contacts in
the Public Health sector and we actually had the opportunity to speak to one of these contacts on the phone to ask him about current problems and areas of improvement in the
Public Health sector. The main purpose of these roundtables was to draft a policy paper in three days between keynote speakers. Ultimately, we decided to draft a policy about
improving communication in healthcare by forming local coalitions to mitigate medical surge due to public panic. Medical surge occurs when there is an influx of patients at a
hospital typically due to a large-scale medical disaster. We then had to formulate a skit and present our policy to the other SCONA delegates and facilitators.

Participating in the conference was very intimidating. I do not know a lot about public policy and I entered the conference surrounded by people in Cadet uniforms and formal
business attire. Furthermore, my roundtable focused on Public Health, an area I am not actively studying because I am pursuing a non-medical Biology degree. Even though the
conference was completely different than anything I have ever participated in, the experience was amazing. I learned about how Public Health plays a role in Americans’
everyday lives, and that hospitals and other healthcare facilities practice to be prepared for disaster situations to efficiently treat patients. Additionally, delegates in my
roundtable were studying political science, chemistry, meat science, etc. so I was able to learn how their fields of study were influenced by Public Health.

Some skills I gained from attending this conference includes learning how to work in a team of twelve strangers from across the United States with different educational
backgrounds to draft a public policy in three days. It was stressful, yet rewarding because we finished on time with a product we were all proud of. I also had the opportunity to learn about the National Security Agency (NSA), Los Alamos National Laboratory, the Marine Corps, and Radical Islam. This conference made me aware of issues I did not know existed and broadened my perspective. I hope to participate in the conference next year and to try the Domestic Crisis Strategic Response Experience. I thank University Honors for my sponsorship and strongly encourage anyone who is interested to participate in the conference. Expanding your comfort zone allows you to gain many additional skills and acquire new knowledge that can be used both to decide on and excel in a career.

Matthew Kiihne ’18, junior computer science major

SCONA or Student Conference on National Affairs is a long running program put on by the MSC organization of the same name. It originally started 62 years ago under the vision of the MSC director at the time, Wayne Stark, and is based on a similar program started at the United States Military Academy at West Point. The conference this year was titled “Securing the Homeland” and consisted of two different parts both revolving around the topic. The first part was a DCSRE (Domestic Crisis Strategic Response Exercise) that was put on by the United States Army War College. This was followed by 3 days of roundtable discussions as well as listening to distinguished speakers.

The DCSRE was an amazing experience where several teams, acting as federal and state agencies as well as non-governmental organizations, worked to deal with a major crisis in the best way possible. I was a little wary starting as a Computer Science major in the midst Political Science and International Studies majors but I quickly learned that mattered far less than my ability to interact with people and communicate my position. The other important lesson I learned from this exercise was how teamwork is actually beneficial, a view that has been tainted by group projects at school. The other lesson I learned was to always be aware of resources at your disposal, especially people who already have the experience that you are lacking. The first day I was acting as the Adjunct General of Texas and was relatively lost until I talked with some of the experts about what were the powers and responsibilities of the office. Overall this exercise opened my eyes as to how the United States responds to disasters and crises as well as provided the basis to friendships that have extended beyond the conference.

The second portion of this amazing, excused absence week was filled with roundtable discussions on a wide variety of topics, topical lectures by admirals and generals, as well as more informal events that gave the opportunity to interact with the facilitators brought in for SCONA. The facilitators had a wide range of backgrounds from military to academia to industry which was a great way to learn about career opportunities in all the areas as well as to just get general life advice about anything you might be unsure about. More than anything else, this was the most valuable portion of the conference as I am rapidly approaching my senior year trying to put together my life.

I am incredibly glad I attended SCONA not only because of the networking and friendships with similarly motivated people but also because it broadened my horizons as to what is possible to achieve. I am looking forward to at- tending the conference next year and I would recommend that anyone who is even slightly curious learn more and go as well. This applies to more than just SCONA though, even if an event or organization is not “typically” part of your major that doesn’t mean you can’t do it, in fact that is even more reason to do it!

Abby Spiegelman ’18, junior biomedical sciences major

I can easily say that attending MSC SCONA 62 as a delegate was one of the best experiences of my college career. I was introduced to several new viewpoints that had never occurred to me before on a variety of different topics. My focus group’s topic was “Good Morning America: The Hidden Agendas of the Media.” My group attempted to provide a solution to the, now common, phenomenon of “fake news”. After hours of debate we decided that the only real solution was for people to take responsibility for themselves and check their own facts. Though there is no practical way to enforce that it was heartening to see so many people passionate about making sure the truth continues to remain mainstream in the mainstream news.

In addition to my focus group I got to listen to amazing speakers that had experience in the things that we hear on the news. I enjoyed being able to hear what they had to say directly from them, instead of reading it later. It brought these amazing people out of clouds down to our level, but not in a negative way. Instead of being mysterious and completely unattainable, these speakers made it clear that they were just normal people that had worked hard and were good at their jobs. It showed that everything that is being dealt with in the world is being dealt with people, just like myself and the hundreds of other delegates that were around me. That was frightening, yes, because humans aren’t perfect, but it was comforting for that same reason. Mistakes will be made, yes, but as long as we have so many people willing to serve their country, I have faith that everything will work out in the end.

I’ve always known that it’s important to be a responsible citizen and to do my part, but being a part of SCONA made the problems of today, and the solutions, more tangible. It was refreshing to be actively trying to find solutions to the big problems that are currently affecting us. Instead of thinking in the abstract we were dealing with things we see and encounter every day. As long as we have so many dedicated people in our world, like the SCONA delegates, we should be able to handle most anything that comes our way.

From Promise to Achievement