Student Voices – How my internship in Washington, D.C. made me realize something: our government is run by people

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, Abby Spiegelman ’18 shares her biggest lesson from interning in Washington, D.C.

– By Abigail Spiegelman

My name is Abby Spiegelman and I’m a senior University Studies major with a concentration in Biomedical Science. Two summers ago, I had the privilege of interning for Congressman Bill Flores (TX-17) in his Washington D.C. office.

Abby Spiegelman ’18 and Congressman Bill Flores ’76 (TX-17)

First and foremost, let me confirm and deny some assumptions you might be having at this moment. You are correct in your assumption that interns are at the bottom of the totem pole. Two of us shared a small desk that placed our backs to the door. After our computers, keyboards, and phones were positioned on this desk there was additional room for one of use to place an elbow on the corner. But we were interns, we shouldn’t have expected anything more- and we didn’t.

Nevertheless, you would be wrong to assume that all we did was fetch coffee and copy papers. There was some of that throughout my summer, but there was so much more.  I answered calls from constituents, helped write responses to constituent questions, gave tours of the U.S. Capitol, and attended Congressional committee hearings. These activities were amazing, and I learned from them all. But I don’t consider any of these impactful enough to dedicate this post to.

There is a general progression that interns tend to follow. On the first day we feel extremely important: after all, we’re interning in our nation’s capital. We select few are helping the cogs turn in our legislative branch. However, our bubble is burst when we quickly come to realize that “we select few” is actually applicable to hundreds of other interns, just as qualified (if not more so) as us. We then settle into a dazed stupor as comprehension dawns: the sheer number of people that work on the Hill is intimidating. How will we ever stand out? How will we make an impression? These questions lead to the acceptance phase. We realize that we probably won’t stand out, that the only way we’ll leave an impression is if we do something seriously wrong (and I’m talking “setting the copy machine on fire” wrong). We didn’t go to D.C. to rub elbows; we came to learn. Once we’ve accepted this we hunker down and get to work. That’s when the internship becomes meaningful.

Over the course of my summer I watched congressional staffers do their jobs and sometimes even helped them. I didn’t so much learn about the legislative process, but about the people behind that process. The staffers had good days, they had bad days, and they had days in-between. They made mistakes and were forgiving when I made more. I’m telling you this because there’s a tendency to glorify—or more accurately, vilify—our nation’s capital, and by extension, the people that work there. But if we’re being honest with ourselves, everyone there is someone just like us. They’re people that do the best they can with what they have and hope that that’s enough. Sometimes it is, and sometimes it isn’t.

When I started my internship, I didn’t realize this. I don’t know why; it should have been common sense, but it wasn’t. Congressman Flores has a remarkable staff (yes, of course I’m biased, but that doesn’t mean I’m wrong). Every one of his staffers knew what they were doing and how to do it; the shared experience in the office was impressive. Each day I learned something new that I didn’t know before, be it a technical skill or a life lesson. I don’t have the time to write about everything I learned from each person, and you don’t have the patience to read it. Therefore, I’ll pick the one thing that stuck out to me the most about my internship in D.C.

Working in D.C. is not constant fun. The people there are overworked, overqualified, and underpaid. Like all jobs, it has its ups, but not enough to justify the corresponding downs. The volume of calls that I fielded from angry, unappreciative constituents was impressive and not in a good way. But as I stated earlier, there is a vast number of people that work there. Why? Obviously, you have some people that are using these jobs as a stepping stone for something they deem to be better. But most of the people I interacted with over the course of my summer were there because they felt a duty to help their country. It’s that calling, if you will, that keeps staffers working late nights and early mornings for seemingly little benefit. Our government is dependent on these staffers and the members they work for, and that’s why government will never be perfect. My internship taught me to appreciate the imperfections in our government because achieving perfection would mean the loss of the people that make our government meaningful.

Unfortunately, I can’t write about that one moment that changed it all for me. That single, profound occurrence that set me on my future path. That’s because my internship didn’t come down to moments, it came down to people. There are some incredible people that work in Washington, D.C. and there are some not so incredible people that work there too. But meeting and interacting with them all was truly an experience of a lifetime.

I don’t know if I want to work for Congress once I graduate. I still don’t know what I want to do with my post-college life, and that’s okay. But I do know that if I decide I want to work for Congress that I’ll be working alongside some of the most driven and brightest individuals I’ve ever met. Washington, D.C. isn’t for everyone, and Congress is for even fewer. But those few are why I still believe it’s possible for America’s government to be that “shining city on a hill” and why I’ll always appreciate my internship in Washington, D.C.

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Student Voices: How My Experience in Nepal Forced Me to Grow Up, Toughen Up, and Face the Reality of What It Really Takes to be a Doctor

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, Parker Bamback ’20 describes how his medical clerkship in Nepal helped him better understand a career in medicine.

– By Parker Bamback

My name is Parker Bamback and I’m a senior Biology student with hopes of going to medical school. This past summer, I had the privilege of spending almost two months in Nepal participating in various medical activities.

I’ve had numerous interesting and exciting experiences in medicine through past volunteering and job-shadowing, but my experiences in Nepal exposed me to the most difficult parts of what being in medicine entails. Many who want to become doctors, like me, imagine a career of helping people and improving quality of life. We envision ourselves as the hero in the stories of our patients. We don’t want to ponder the part of being a doctor that involves dealing with suffering, or possibly even death. During a four week medical clerkship at Model Hospital in Kathmandu, I was faced with having to experience what is truly involved in being a doctor.

I began my first day of the program in Internal Medicine. I woke up feeling both nervous and excited, and couldn’t wait to meet the doctors I would be spending the next two weeks with. They exceeded my expectations: they were friendly, nice, funny, and best of all they could speak English! After morning coffee, it was time to start rounds on all the patients and the first stop was the ICU. The second patient we observed had been unresponsive for a couple of days and today was the day the doctors felt comfortable giving him the diagnosis of vegetative state. The doctor called in the patient’s daughter, a young woman who worked as a nurse at the hospital, and explained to her that although her father’s pneumonia had been cured, it had entered his brain and he was now trapped in a permanent vegetative state. It was painful to watch all hope drain from this woman’s face. I asked one of the doctors to explain the treatment options for this man and was told: “she either takes him off life support so he dies, or we wait for him to die on his own.”

The situation with the next patient in the ICU was not much easier as she was hysterical and I had to assist in restraining her for a test. She was in the ICU due to a pulmonary embolism and the test was to see if her thirty-two-week pregnancy was still viable—she hadn’t felt the baby move for several weeks. The test concluded that the pregnancy was no longer viable. The day did not get much better from there, and ended with me holding the hand of a young girl while doctors performed a painful bone marrow aspiration on her. In the U.S., an aspiration is normally a quick procedure performed under general anesthesia; however, the doctors here did not use anesthesia, nor did they have the proper equipment for the procedure. They had to use a knife to chip down the outer layer of the syringe to get it to fit with the needle. It was not a perfect fit so they had to keep trying to use their fingers to form suction between the syringe and the needle. It took them over thirty minutes, using both the girl’s hipbones, for them to get enough marrow. During this time, the girl was dry heaving from the pain, crying, and begging us to stop. It was excruciating to watch. This was not how I pictured my first of my clerkship. I tried to reassure myself that there are some bad days in medicine, and that surely tomorrow would be better.

Day two was worse. I arrived at the hospital to see new faces in the ICU. I was very happy, thinking that some people got discharged, but was quickly informed that they had all died during the night. Later, while doing our rounds in the ER to see if any patients needed to be admitted, a man came in unresponsive and I watched as the doctors tried vigorously to revive him. They were not successful and walked away, leaving the man lying on the bed uncovered and alone. I walked out of the ER and saw the family of the patient waiting in the hallway, unaware that he was no longer alive. That was the first time I witnessed someone die. It was hard, but I tried to take comfort in the fact that everything was done to try and save him.

I can’t say that about a patient later in the week. I had been in internal medicine for about five days at this point, all of them just as grim. In fact, I had, gone from being excited every morning to being distressed over what pain I would witnesses that day. On this particular day, a forty-five-year-old man was going to be the first patient to leave the ICU alive since I had started. Unfortunately, he was leaving because his sons were taking him home to die. From the look of him, no one would know he was dying: he was happy, joking around, and full of color. This was because he was on medication to combat his liver disease. Without the medication, he would die within a week or two. His sons were removing him from the hospital because they had run out of money and had already used what little savings they had to pay for the $50 a day stay in the ICU. They would also have to discontinue their father’s medication which cost $5 a day (a daily foot-long sandwich at Subway costs more than it would to keep this man alive). It was so disheartening. The only person to leave the ICU alive was the pregnant woman who came in on my first day.  Although I was sad that this woman had lost her baby, the fact that she was leaving the ICU was the highlight of my first week. At least someone was getting out of this place alive and healthy. It made me happy to think about it.

My second week in Internal Medicine was much more optimistic: only one patient died and many were sent home. It was during this week that I was exposed to just how different the practice is of U.S. medicine versus that of Nepalese medicine. A man had just been diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer, and I was preparing myself for the miserable conversation between the doctor and patient regarding the diagnosis and prognosis. But, it never happened. The doctors took the wife aside and told her the diagnosis and prognosis. She was devastated and weeping, but when she calmed down she instructed the doctors not to tell her husband and the doctors agreed. I was shocked when the doctors went to the patient and told him that he just had a bad stomach ache that would eventually go away. The patient was then discharged. I discovered that in Nepal, patients have very few rights. In this culture, the family of the patient makes all decisions. It juxtaposes the individualistic culture in the U.S. In Nepal, a patient’s family gets to decide what the patient is allowed to know, and they are the ones who must consent to any tests or treatments. Only one doctor I spoke with, a pediatric surgeon, felt that patients should have the right to know their diagnosis and prognosis. Everyone else believed it to be an acceptable practice.

I am so grateful for all my experiences during this clerkship—the good and the bad. I learned so much about medicine in general and it was invaluable to have the opportunity to observe doctors working in a poor, undeveloped country. I am most appreciative of my rotation in Internal Medicine. Although they were probably the hardest two weeks of my life, they forced me to experience the harsh realities of being a doctor; the messy and depressing parts I hadn’t really wanted to think about. Initially, it made me question whether or not I could handle it every day—accepting that people will die and that I won’t be able to stop it—but because of these experiences, I know it is all worth it just to watch that one patient go from being so sick they need a feeding tube, to being healthy enough to walk out of the hospital. Smiling! This is the memory that will motivate me every day. It is the memory that makes me know for certain that I want to be a doctor.

Parker Bamback ’20 holds a patient during his medical clerkship in Nepal.

INTRODUCING THE CLASS OF 2020 UNIVERSITY SCHOLARS

Today’s Honors Welcome recognized twelve new students joining the University Scholars program. University Scholars is a personal and professional development program for high-achieving students who serve as ambassadors for the University Honors program. Each spring, ten to twelve freshmen are selected for the Scholars program through an intensive application and interview process. The program seeks students who are intellectually curious and who demonstrate critical thinking, self-awareness, poise, and maturity. Scholars are able to engage in rigorous conversation and to defend their ideas. They’re also highly accomplished and motivated students who love learning for the sake of learning.

University Scholars Class of 2020: (left to right) Immanuel Ponminissery, Hannah Lehman, Loan Do, Seth Reine, Sydney Tejml, Caleb Allison, Tessa Williams, Alex Sharma, Sarah Swift, Jon Williamson, Katherine Miller

These new Scholars will join their twenty upperclassman peers in the Exploration Series, seminar courses offered to Scholars each semester. Previous Exploration Series have delved into transportation, education, television, comedy, and animal conservation; this coming fall will feature seminars on Aggie History and Food and the Sacred. Sophomores new to the program participate in a personal statement writing seminar, “Futuring Yourself,” together.

Throughout the program, University Scholars seek intellectual challenge and share their unique perspectives from an array of academic and cultural backgrounds. We are excited for twelve new University Scholars to grow in this program during the next three years and look forward to seeing their future accomplishments both at Texas A&M and in the world!

Caleb Allison ’20, University Scholar

Caleb Allison

Caleb Allison is a sophomore business major from Argyle, TX. Allison is an outdoorsman and adventurer, and he loves anything to do with mountains, snow, and conservation. He was a member of MSC ALOT as a freshman and will be on staff as a Group Leader for his sophomore year. He is also a member of the University Disciplinary Appeals Panel and Discovery Church. Allison went abroad to Italy the summer before his freshman year as part of the Champe Fitzhugh Honors Freshman International Leadership seminar.

Loan Do ’20, University Scholar

Loan Do

Loan Do is an allied health major from Houston, TX, who plans to go to Nursing School. Do is interested in studying either neonatal medicine or oncology for her specialization someday. She is a member of the Regents’ Scholars Orientation Planning Board and Texas A&M University’s Texas Emergency Care Team (TAMECT).

Hannah Lehman ’20, University Scholar

Hannah Lehman

Hannah Lehman is an aerospace engineering major and mathematics minor from Austin, Texas. Lehman is interested in one day combining air and spacecraft with more advanced artificial intelligence. She loves sculpture and martial arts and is a certified Black Belt in Tae Kwon Do. She is involved in Vietnamese Student Association (VSA), Virtual Reality Club, and the Honors community.

Larry Liu ’20, University Scholar

Larry Liu

Larry Liu is an economics major from Alpharetta, Georgia. Liu has always been interested in history and human expression through the arts. He enjoys literature and films, and he is particularly interested in the story and the human struggle in these. Liu is an avid runner, and is often seen running with the Corps early in the morning. He has made Dean’s List, is a recipient of the Sul Ross Corps Scholarship, and serves as the Scholastics Sergeant for his outfit in the Corps.

Katherine Miller ’20, University Scholar

Katherine Miller

Katherine Miller is a biology major and Latin minor from Denver, Colorado. She is a recipient of the President’s Endowed Scholarship and National Merit Semi-Finalist. In her free time Miller enjoys reading fiction, studying languages, and communing with the great outdoors. When she is not studying, Miller is involved in Venture Crew, a co-ed organization of the Boy Scouts of America.

Immanuel Ponminissery ’20, University Scholar

Immanuel Ponminissery

Immanuel Ponminissery is a mechanical engineering major and economics minor from Thrissur, India. Technology and its benefits never fail to excite him, especially developments in his major. Ponminissery also enjoys reading the news, monitoring stock prices, and occasionally getting deeply philosophical. Another passion of his is immersing himself in different cultures. Ponminissery was briefly involved with Model United Nations at Texas A&M and currently serve as Treasurer of the Lambda Sigma Sophomore Honor Society.

Seth Reine ’20, University Scholar

Seth Reine

Seth Reine is a biomedical engineering major from Arlington, TX. Reine is interested in the applications of shape memory polymer biomaterials, increasing medical care across different cultures, and service as a disciple of God. Besides the University Honors program, he is involved with Engineering Honors, Class Councils, Residence Life, and research in the Biomedical Device Laboratory under Dr. Duncan Maitland. Reine is also a Plum Family Endowed Scholar and a President’s Endowed Scholar. He enjoys amateur weightlifting and learning to cook. While away from A&M, Seth works at Camp Thurman as a Christian youth outreach counselor.

Alex Sharma ’20, University Scholar

Eikagra “Alex” Sharma

Alex Sharma is a computer science major and mathematics minor from Bareilly, India. Sharma is currently working at the Energy Systems Laboratory, TEES to improve the software platform for engineering efficiency in buildings. He wants to work in the field of Sustainable Energy Production. Sharma is a member of the Christian Engineering Leaders organization, and is active in volunteering and community service. He is motivated to learn new cultures and skills, and is also passionate about mathematics. Sharma contributes Calculus problems for an e-book as part of the MYMathApps project and is also conducting research under Dr. Philip Yasskin on improving a parser that converts math input to Sage code.

Sarah Swift ’20, University Scholar

Sarah Swift

Sarah Swift is a biomedical engineering major and philosophy minor from Magnolia, TX, where she graduated from Magnolia High School as Valedictorian. She is a National Merit Scholar and Brown Foundation Scholar. Swift’s academic interests lie in medical technology innovation, medical care in underdeveloped countries, and the ethical implications of engineering research. Her personal interests include dance, writing, travel, and spending time outdoors. In the summer of 2016, Swift attended the MSC Champe Fitzhugh International Honors Leadership Seminar in Italy. She is a volunteer for the Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership seminar and is passionate about empowering the youth. During her freshman year at Texas A&M, Swift served as a staff member for The Big Event, as a member of the TEDxTAMU committee of MSC Aggie Leaders of Tomorrow, and a delegate for the Gilbert Leadership Conference. She is also an active member of Kappa Alpha Theta.

Sydeny Tejml ’20, University Scholar

Sydney Tejml

Sydney Tejml is a biomedical sciences and animal sciences double-major with a minor in psychology from Hutto, Texas. Academically, Tejml is interested in veterinary medicine and disease pathology and epidemiology. Her personal interests include travel, camping, and hunting. She loves backpacking, canoeing, snorkeling, and scuba diving! She is involved in ASPIRE, the Terry Foundation, and Pre-Vet Society on campus. Her achievements at Texas A&M include becoming a member of Phi Eta Sigma and the National Society of Collegiate Scholars, and making the Dean’s List for both semesters of her freshman year.

Tessa Williams ’20, University Scholar

Tessa Williams

Tessa Williams is a business major and psychology minor from Friendswood, TX. She is interested in psychology, especially neuroscience and abnormal and forensic psychology, as well as literature and political science. Outside of school, Williams enjoys reading, hiking, and exploring new places, whether foreign or local. This past year, she was a member of Memorial Student Center Freshman Leadership International, in which she was able to develop leadership and communication skills while putting on educational programs and developing relationships with an amazing group of peers.

Jon Williamson ’20, University Scholar

Jon Williamson

Jon Williamson is a mechanical engineering major from Centennial, CO, he also plans on adding a computer science major and mathematics minor. Throughout his childhood, he was fascinated with math, science, and space exploration. Williamson is a President’s Endowed Scholaras well as a Craig and Galen Brown Foundation Scholar. Outside of academics, he is extremely involved in MSC Aggie Leaders of Tomorrow and is the TEDxTAMU Executive for the 2018 conference. Williamson is an avid sports fan, especially for the Denver Broncos. In his free time, he enjoys reading, working out, and playing basketball.

Freshmen interested in applying for the University Scholars program can learn more by attending information sessions in November or the recruitment mixer in December. The application will open in January 2018. See our website at http://launch.tamu.edu/Honors/University-Scholars.

Honors Students Selected for D.C. Internships

Two University Honors Students, Gabrielle Ford ’18 and Clare Elizondo ’18, were selected for Summer 2017 internships in Washington, D.C. as part of the Public Policy Internship Program.

Ford provided some a brief reflection on the process to help students who may be interested in applying to the program themselves.

Gabrielle Ford ’18, 2017 PPIP Summer Intern

Where will you be interning?

I will be interning in the Bureau of East Asia and the Pacific, Office of Economic Policy at the U.S. Department of State.

What advice to you have for applicants?

To apply for PPIP you had to submit a resume, 2 letters of rec, and a 1-2 page paper covering an area of policy that interests you. After that you signed up for a panel interview. It was one of the most difficult interviews I’ve been through, but it made me think about what I wanted to do in life and exactly how I was going to accomplish it. You have to go in there with a plan you can clearly articulate.

How will this experience help you work toward your future goals?

When I graduate I will be doing Teach for America (TFA) in Memphis TN. I plan on obtaining a graduate degree through TFA’s partnership with John Hopkins online, and pursuing a career in education policy. My internship helped solidify that I was on the right track in choosing Teach for America, and gave me a deeper understanding of how to push policies and projects through the federal government.

Interested in applying? Visit http://ppip.tamu.edu/Internships/Apply-Now, or for more information check out the blog posts from interns at http://ppip.tamu.edu/Blog/Public-Policy-Internship-Program-Blog/.

Undergraduate Teacher Scholars: A Transformative Learning Experience

In the post below, Randal McDonald ’15 describes how his Undergraduate Teacher Scholar (UTS) experience led to the formation of Aggie Kolbitar Society. This is an excellent example of how “high-impact experiences” can truly transform the educational experience, not only for the students that experience them, but for others they are in contact with, too!

by Randal McDonald-

The Aggie Kolbitar Society is a student-led exploration of what we call the classical liberal arts. We’re a collection of the curious, of those who want to understand the fields of literature, music, and art (just to name a few), regardless of our ultimate career goals. But the society wasn’t born from a single cohesive idea. Rather, it began as an assortment of eclectic interests, and an extraordinary opportunity through the Teacher Scholar capstone.

First iteration of the AKS logo.The first part of the society manifested with my friend Laura, with her love of anime, visual art, and writing. For my own part, a love for literature and writing were coupled with my growing up in a family of classical pianists. Neither of us had time for more than one club, but the desire remained for a club that could be about more than one interest exclusively.

The difficulty that Laura and I both recognized was the challenge of fitting so many interests into a single student organization. And, for a long time, our focus remained on starting a club focused on just creative writing. We would periodically talk about this idea, but things never progressed far beyond that point.

Second iteration of the AKS logo.At the same time, I was moving forward through the University Honors program. I became increasingly interested in the program after learning about the Teacher Scholar Capstone. I loved the idea of developing a one-hour seminar course alongside a faculty mentor. It was the perfect excuse to research two of my favorite authors, and the teaching side of the capstone allowed me to explore collegiate pedagogy.

It wasn’t until my last semester of undergrad that I connected this piece with the earlier desires for a liberal arts club. The capstone thoroughly changed my perspective on the classroom dynamic between instructor and students, and I repeatedly wished that all students had the opportunity to go through the process of research, content development, and presentation. And that was where the Kolbitars began. What if a club could give students the opportunity to stand up in front of their peers and talk about their personal interests and passions?

The club’s first meeting was four students in an apartment off campus. Aside from a semi-regular rotation of who acted as the ‘host’ (presenter), the society was fairly informal with no logo, no dues, and no concrete structure. These more visible facets of our society developed later, when AKS moved onto campus as a recognized student organization.

The Kolbitar crest was a design that Laura and I worked on extensively, but it serves as a symbol of the society as a whole. The logo consists of four icons in a diamond shape: the open book, the artist’s palette, the lyre, and the closed book.

Each icon not only represents a fundamental value of the society, but also a part of its founding. AKS members are driven by a desire to learn (the open book), by a sense of wonder and awe at the world we inhabit (the palette), guided by a precise and well-executed form (lyre), with the realization that the absolute is unattainable (the closed book).

AKS constantly works toward self-improvement, and the entire executive committee is thrilled by the coming school year. We hope to continue encouraging student exploration of the liberal arts, and are always excited to meet new people and hear about their interests.

AKS will meet weekly during the fall semester on Thursday at 7 PM in the Liberal Arts and Humanities Building (LAAH), room 504.

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

Former Student Spotlight – Nahua Kang

Nahua Kang ’14 graduated in December 2013 with a degree in history. While at A&M, Nahua was a University Scholar and a member of the Corps of Cadets. In the post linked below, he shares lessons learned working with entrepreneurs and start-ups in Germany. Here’s an excerpt:

Spending a summer in the startup scene in the beautiful Frankfurt am Main has taught me a lot. I met interesting people and have luckily been inspired by some true entrepreneurs. I’ve also made mistakes, “contributed” to misunderstandings and miscommunication, and observed different leadership styles. Here are some thoughts for others who are exploring startups and entrepreneurship.

On Personal Development

  1. Most people you have met are replaceable. Be irreplaceable.

  2. An easy way to be irreplaceable is to be a generalist-specialist in seemingly unrelated fields: Be a top strategy consultant who knows how to hack AI; be a great artist who knows the intricacies of blockchain.

  3. Generalist-specialist doesn’t mean “generalist”. It means interdisciplinary specialist (my personal interpretation of Peter Thiel’s sharp opinion against generalists in Zero to One).

  4. Curiosity and open-mindedness drive learning. Be a life-long learner and reader. The moment you stop learning is the moment you become replaceable.

  5. So learn, learn, and learn. Yes you can do math. Yes you can paint. All you need is passion, practice, and perseverance.

  6. Communication matters. Writing matters. (I got 2 new internship opportunities, both of which require generalist-specialist skill sets and solid writing skills in English).

To read the full post including Nahua’s additional advice on Career and Leadership, visit his post on Medium.com (please be aware that there is some strong language used).

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.

Student Voices: The Short Version

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

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

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

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

IMG_4017
Sarah Gibson ’17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Promise to Achievement