Five Undergraduates Selected as Fulbright Semi-Finalists

The Fulbright U.S. Student Program is the largest U.S. exchange program offering opportunities for students and young professionals to undertake international graduate study, advanced research, university teaching, and primary and secondary school teaching worldwide. The program currently awards approximately 1,900 grants annually in all fields of study, and operates in more than 140 countries worldwide.

Texas A&M had 5 undergraduate students named semi-finalists and 3 graduates students named semi-finalists in the 2018-19 competition. Semi-finalists have been reviewed in the U.S. by the National Screening Committees and have been forwarded to the host country for final review. The final selection decisions will be made by the supervising agency in the host country and the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board.

Fulbright Semi-Finalist Alyssa Brady ’17

Alyssa Brady ’17 is a senior supply chain management major at Texas A&M University from Houston, Texas. During her time as an undergrad, Brady worked as a conversation partner at the English Language Institute of Texas A&M. She recently completed a six-month internship with Niagara Bottling in the Corporate Giving department where she created two international employee volunteer programs that the company will embark on in 2018. Brady hopes to combine her interests in both supply chain and global humanitarian efforts in the future and enter into a Masters of Supply Chain program with a focus on humanitarian logistics at MIT. In her free time, Brady loves to watch documentaries and plan her next trip.

Fulbright Semi-Finalist Rachel Keathley ’18

Rachel Keathley ’18 is a senior business honors and management major from Austin, Texas. She is applying to the Fulbright Binational Internship program in Mexico where she hopes to further her study of the Spanish language while working in the international business environment. During college, Keathley participated in three short study abroad trips to Central America, which fueled her passion for international business development. In college, she spent her time working as the events coordinator for the Business Honors department and in various positions in Student Government as well as campus ministry organizations. Keathley previously interned as the International Trade Administration in Washington, D.C. with the Public Policy Internship Program and hopes to use the knowledge gained from the Fulbright program to pursue a career in public policy.

Fulbright Semi-Finalist Hannah Holbrook ’17

Hannah Holbrook ‘17 is an international studies graduate with a concentration in international commerce, and particular interests in North Africa and French language. Holbrook grew up with a deep love for the world, fed by spending time in West Africa while growing up.  In her time at Texas A&M University Holbrook was afforded the opportunity to grow, educate, and act out that love. During the summer of 2017 She had the privilege of studying abroad and working at a women’s development center in Morocco. Holbrook currently works a professional writer and is passionate about teaching English, learning languages, and songwriting. Her long-term plans include teaching English in Morocco and working with Moroccan women to improve their condition in society.

Fulbright Semi-Finalist Masden Stribling ’18

Masden Stribling ’18 is a senior international studies major from Coppell, Texas, where she lives with her parents and three beloved cats. Her extracurricular activities include working at the Texas A&M University Writing Center, volunteering with the MSC L.T. Jordan Institute for International Awareness, dancing with the Aggie Swing Cats, and singing in the Texas A&M Century Singers choir. Stribling’s long-term plans include teaching abroad in France and Ireland.

Fulbright Semi-Finalist Stephanie Wilcox ’18

Stephanie Wilcox ‘18 is a senior electrical engineering major with minors in Mandarin Chinese and international engineering. She is also a member of the University Honors Program, the Engineering Honors program, and is an Undergraduate Research Scholar. During her time at A&M, Wilcox has participated in over seven semesters of research. During the summer of 2016, she conducted research on a temperature and nutrient platform for biofuel in Dr. Han’s Nano-Bio Systems Lab through the Undergraduate Summer Research Grant Program. The poster presentation for this research was recognized with a 1st place prize in Technology and engineering category at the Emerging Research’s National Conference in Spring of 2017. In addition to research, Wilcox is also TAMUmake Hackathon Coordinator for the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and is an active volunteer with St. Mary’s Church’s service and social justice organization, Advocates for Christ Today (ACT).

Undergraduates who are interested in applying to the Fulbright Scholarship or any other nationally-competitive award are encouraged to review the opportunities at http://tx.ag/NatlFellows and contact Benjamin Simington for an appointment natlfellows@tamu.edu.

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Honors Former Student Spotlight – Justin Montgomery

Honors Former Student Justin Montgomery ’13 from McKinney, TX is a Ph.D. candidate in computational science and engineering at MIT. His research findings on U.S. oil output forecasts were featured in a story at Bloomberg* in December 2017 and he was invited to give a talk at the Energy Information Administration’s Energy Forecasting Forum in January 2018.

Honors Former Student Justin Montgomery ’13 at his invited talk for the Department of Energy

Montgomery graduated with university-level Honors distinctions, Engineering Honors, and as an Undergraduate Research Scholar in May 2013. He took a degree in mechanical engineering and a philosophy minor. We recently asked Montgomery to share about his experiences to help provide some context for how these experiences in Honors at Texas A&M have helped prepare him to contribute to the national discussion on energy.

Q: How did you end up at Texas A&M?

I had the honor of being selected for the Brown Foundation scholarship through the Honors Program. After my meeting with Craig Brown, the Aggie sponsoring this scholarship, I visited campus and met with staff and faculty in the Honors Program, the Mechanical Engineering department, and the College of Engineering. Through all of these meetings, particularly the one with Craig Brown, I felt a strong sense of community and of caring deeply about others. These values really stood out to me as a key part of Texas A&M’s culture that I wanted to be a part of and I did not feel this same emphasis on people and relationships at other large state universities (ahem…). Additionally, I felt that A&M and the Honors Program would provide me with many tremendous and unique opportunities as a student—which certainly turned out to be true! Although I had grown up in a very UT-Austin-centric family and always thought I wanted to attend there, after discovering these things about A&M I had no doubt that it was where I wanted to attend and the best place for me to spend those four years.

Q: What were you involved in while at A&M?

The group I was most involved with throughout my time at A&M was the student chapter of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), in which I served as Vice President and Events Chair and made several close friends. I also played music throughout my time at Texas A&M with brief stints in a local rock group called The Jeremiahs (TAMU Battle of the Bands winner in 2012!) and in the TAMU Jazz Ensemble. I practiced and competed several times with the Triathlon Club team and held a few leadership roles in the Memorial Student Center. I was very busy and active on campus during those four years! I definitely recommend for students to try many things out and find ways to get involved while at Texas A&M because I think it is both an important and very fun part of the college experience.

Q: What are your favorite memories of the Honors Program?

My favorite memory is without a doubt the Champe Fitzhugh trip to Italy. It was my first time traveling abroad so the entire experience was really memorable and special. I formed some really great friendships and I think the program helped me to go into my time at A&M with the right mentality to get the most out of it. In high school I had been a bit of a nerd about the Renaissance so getting to learn about and see Renaissance art and architecture in person was also amazing. And the food…così buono!

More generally though, my experience in the University Scholars program was very memorable. It was an incredible community to be a part of and I really valued the relationships and experiences I formed through this. The University Scholar seminars were academically and creatively stimulating and it was great to have these close interactions with other students and the faculty. I certainly have fond memories from some of these seminars—podcasting for Invisible Jungle, learning to paint, and diving deep into the cultural complexities of iconoclasm. These classes, and the other Honors classes I took as well, made my curriculum much more varied and interesting than if I had just taken the standard set of classes in Mechanical Engineering. It was important for me to have this breadth in my studies and the Honors Program allowed me to shape my time at A&M in this way. Another example of this was the undergraduate research I did through the honors program combining engineering design with my minor in philosophy which made for a really interesting, challenging, and creative experience during my last few semesters.

Q: How did your Honors experience help prepare you for graduate school?

In so many ways. The honors undergraduate research that I did was really what led me to the decision to go to graduate school actually. Although I got a fantastic education in mechanical engineering, it was the interdisciplinary experiences I had in the honors program that really led me to the work I am doing today which I am very passionate about—using data science and machine learning to understand unconventional oil and gas resources and the technology of extraction. The honors classes I took were very academically challenging and I think more representative of graduate school coursework which I appreciate now. Finally, the honors program puts significant responsibility on you as a student to plan your academic career and consider what you want out of your academic career. This is one of the most important aspects of being a graduate student in my opinion.

Q: What advice can you offer Honors students as they prepare for an uncertain future?

Look at your education as an opportunity to invest in yourself and expose yourself to new ideas rather than as a set of requirements to satisfy for the next stage in life. Learn to code—regardless of the field you’re in, take a philosophy class or two, read books outside of your coursework, and read The Economist. Also, take every opportunity you get to travel somewhere new and when you do, try to learn as much as you can and immerse yourself in the culture and experience.

Q: Other thoughts/advice?

Your time at Texas A&M will go by very fast so stay busy, enjoy the ride, and don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone!

*Check out a video of Justin’s interview with Bloomberg!

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.

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

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.

 

 

Two Outstanding Seniors Nominated for Gaither Fellowships

The James C. Gaither Junior Fellows Program is a post-baccalaureate fellowship with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace which provides outstanding recent graduates who are serious about careers in international affairs with an opportunity to learn about and help shape policy on important international topics.

Junior Fellows work as research assistants to senior scholars whose projects include nuclear policy, democracy and rule of law, energy and climate issues, Middle East studies, Asia politics and economics, South Asian politics, Southeast Asian politics, Japan studies, and Russian and Eurasian affairs.

The fellowship provides a one-year full time position at the Carnegie Endowment in Washington, D.C. during which Junior Fellows may conduct research, contribute to op-eds, papers, reports, and books, participate in meetings with high-level officials, contribute to congressional testimony and organize briefings attended by scholars, activists, journalists and government officials.

Texas A&M is one of over 400 participating schools and institutions and may nominate up to two students each year. Only 10-12 Junior Fellows will be selected, making this a highly-competitive program. Mokhtar Awad ’12 was selected as a Junior Fellow with the Middle East program in 2012.

We are pleased to announce our 2018 nominees are Kanika Gakhar ‘18, who is applying to the Energy and Climate Program, and Lucia Winkeler ‘18 who is applying to the Russia/Eurasia Program.

Kanika Gakhar ’18, Gaither Junior Fellows Nominee

Kanika Gakhar makes an impact on campus as a University Scholar and University Innovation Fellow by spreading her love for learning and working on revolutionary projects. As an Undergraduate Research Assistant at the Advanced Vertical Flight Lab, she conducts research on a Robotic Hummingbird. She is also a team-lead for the Society of Automotive Engineers Aero Design Team, which is an organization that designs, builds, and flies a radio-controlled aircraft at an international competition every year. Last summer, she interned for Boeing and was able to submit a patent for one of her designs. She is also very passionate about policy and has participated in debates, discussions, and Model United Nations. She enjoys dancing and is currently a performer for two dance teams: Texas A&M Belly Dance Association and Philsa Modern Hip-Hop Dance Team. She is currently Vice-President of Sigma Gama Tau and has served as President of Lambda Sigma Sophomore Honors Society and Director of Focus Groups for the MSC Fall Leadership Conference. She is also an active member of Maroon and White Leadership Association.

Lucia Winkeler ’18, Gaither Junior Fellows Nominee

Lucia Winkeler is originally from Austin, Texas. She is a senior international studies and Russian language and culture double major. Within, international studies, her focus is politics and diplomacy. Lucia is currently a member of the research subcommittee for the MSC Student Conference on National Affairs (SCONA)—currently preparing its 63rd conference—and also a member of Texas A&M University’s Russian Club. During her sophomore year, she was a member of the international subcommittee for the MSC L.T. Jordan Institute for International Awareness. Russian language and culture have always been a part of her life because her mother’s side of the family is Russian, and she has many relatives still living in Russia. During the summer of 2016, Lucia was a Fulbright Hays GPA Scholar as part of the Moscow-Texas Connections Program, during which she studied Russian intensively at the Higher School of Economics for 10 weeks. She was also inducted into the National Slavic Honor Society, Dobro Slavo, at the end of the spring 2016 semester. Last spring semester, in 2017, she had the opportunity to intern at the U.S. Department of Commerce through A&M’s Public Policy Internship Program and increased her knowledge of U.S.-Russian relations in a business context. After graduation, she plans to earn her Master’s in International Relations with a focus on Eurasia, and then enter a federal career to work on improving the state of U.S.-Russian relations and affect U.S. interests in the Eurasian region overall.

Congratulations to our nominees! If you are interested in applying to the Carnegie Junior Fellows program or another nationally-competitive scholarship or fellowship, please visit http://tx.ag/NatlFellows.

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.

Jamaica Pouncy: On Travel, Personal & Professional Development, Part 2

Jamaica Pouncy was the National Fellowships Coordinator in LAUNCH and advisor for University Scholars from 2012-2016, and continued to work with our office on a part time basis through 2017. In the post below (part 2 of 2), she reflects on how travel and reflection on her professional goals led her to pursue a career abroad.

By Jamaica Pouncy –

I had been working as a fellowship advisor for three years when I began to feel the itch. After helping students to craft their applications and listen to their hopes and dreams I knew that I wanted to have a similar experience. I decided to apply for a fellowship. I sat down with Dr. Datta and Dr. Kotinek and we talked about my thoughts, what I hoped to accomplish, and how what I wanted to do could be beneficial both for myself and my position in the office.

It was a fascinating experience; first narrowing my plans from the nebulous idea of applying to a fellowship to and then figuring out how I would accomplish it. The shoe was on the other foot and I needed to understand the process from the inside out. I looked into fellowships that would fit with my goals and ultimately decided to apply for a few that seemed to match well. I drafted essay after essay; trying to be as harsh with my own writing as I am whenever I review someone else’s. I scoured the website, searching for all the little tips and guidelines that would help me make my application better. Then I submitted and crossed my fingers.

I was cautiously optimistic when I was invited for an interview and over the moon when I was selected for the Princeton in Asia program. My PiA supervisor suggested a post in northern China that I had never heard of and I said ‘sure.’ Throughout this process I had the support and encouragement of the LAUNCH office. They worried with me, celebrated with me and gave me the courage to go forward with this crazy plan. We even arranged for me to keep working for the university at a reduced capacity (talk to your supervisors about alternative work locations and flexible time schedules; you won’t regret it).

Jamaica Pouncy (left) with colleagues from Princeton in Asia

I arrived in China and, while overcoming culture shock, I learned how to juggle two different positions with different expectations and demands on my time. While I was in China I found that I loved the international life. There is something absolutely exhilarating about trying to figure out a new and different culture and understand your place in it. When I returned to A&M in July 2016 I talked to my supervisor about wanting to pursue a career abroad. Even as Dr. Datta and Dr. Kotinek acknowledged that my career path was moving further and further from our office, they supported my plans and told me they’d do whatever they could to help.

I began looking at positions abroad but I also started to think about ways that I could move forward in the field of fellowships advising. I wanted to be sure that I was exploring all my possibilities. I had submitted resumes for several positions at international schools abroad when I heard of a position in fellowships advising that was opening at Yale University. I debated applying; schools like Yale have such a reputation that sometimes they can seem almost “untouchable” but, ultimately, I submitted my application, interviewed, and was offered the position. I am so appreciative of my time at Yale as a reminder to never pigeonhole myself or decide that any opportunity is too good for me – no position or institution is out of my league. I moved to Connecticut and worked for Yale for six months but I simply could not shake my desire to be in an international position. When one of the openings I had applied for in China contacted me suddenly, I took it as a sign and decided to pack up my life once again, this time making a permanent move into an international career.

Realizing that I needed to make a major life move and that I only had two weeks within which to accomplish it was a scary thing. This was completely different from my Princeton in Asia experience – this was not temporary, no short-term jaunt of self-discovery and horizon-broadening; there was no safety net, no job to return to if things didn’t work out. I was walking out onto a limb and hoping with everything I had in me that it didn’t snap and send me falling to the ground. I’ll always be grateful to LAUNCH for providing the safety that they did during my Princeton in Asia experience but now I realize that I needed this – I needed to do something crazy and bold and different with no guarantee of success and no safety net. As much as I’ve preached the idea to my students, I needed to take the chance that I could try this out and seriously fail. Not the gentle failure of merely going back home to all things familiar, but the true sense of having to pick myself up, dust myself off, and deal with a failed career move. As I write this, I am still in the middle of that experiment, still standing out on that limb and looking at the ground. I don’t know if this will make me happy. I don’t know if this will be my life path. I just know that I would have regretted not taking the chance.

These past six years I’ve learned a lot about who I am; particularly how much, for me, my career impacts my sense of self and how important it is to me to see my personality reflected in my career choices. I’ve also learned to live in a completely “foreign” culture and that taught me a lot about life, expectations, and the different facets of my own personality. After traveling to see a bit of the world and growing and experiencing so many new things one of the most important lessons that I’ve learned is the importance of establishing a solid, trusting relationship with your supervisors and coworkers and of finding an employer that is willing to invest in you. I’ve come to believe that it is the truest and most trustworthy sign of belief in your potential and ability.

When I look back on my time with Princeton in Asia I find it fascinating that my job was willing to offer me the chance to take that opportunity; knowing full well that it could (and eventually did) lead me out the door and away from A&M. I didn’t have to resign to go after my dream and I didn’t have to worry that I needed to hide my plans from the people in my office; people I cared for and spent as much time with as I did with my family. I know that there are many places that would not have allowed me to go after that opportunity; that would have required that I pick, either ‘them’ or the fellowship.

My job at Texas A&M was my first fulltime position. I really didn’t know what to expect going into it. I had, after all, taken the job, sight unseen. My entire interview process had been carried out via telephone and Skype while I lived in Alabama. At that point I had a very general, vague notion of what it meant to have a fulltime job; a career. I would wear business casual, show up to work on time, and complete the tasks I was assigned. I would do these things and I would receive a paycheck. Simple enough.  But I had never thought about the idea of professional development: my office’s obligation to provide me with opportunities for growth and development.

I had never considered professional development or what it meant to invest in an employee. That’s why I was so fortunate to end up in our office. I couldn’t have asked for a better launching pad for my career.  I was surrounded by people who wanted to see me succeed. Who were interested in my ideas and saw my ability as more than something they could use but rather something that could be cultivated both for their and my benefit. So, I think that after all my adventures and travels, the most important lesson that I’ve learned is that, no matter what city, state, or country you find yourself in, it’s always going to be the people you surround yourself with that make all the difference.

Thank you, Dr. Kotinek and Dr. Datta. Thank you, LAUNCH. Thank you, Texas A&M University. Thank you all for being amazing people to be surrounded by and for helping me to have amazing, transformative experiences. Wherever life takes me, please know that you made this possible.

From Promise to Achievement