At the close of the 2015-2016 academic year, LAUNCH offers congratulations to the many students in our programs who have been recognized for outstanding achievements in academics, leadership, and other areas!
ASPIRE (Aggie Scholars Promoting Incentive, Resources, and Encouragement) Presented by LAUNCH: Learning Communities Hannah Gerken, Mentor of the Year
Abraham Hinojosa, Mentee of the Year
King Thrills, Small Community of the Year
Brown Foundation-Earl Rudder Outstanding Student Award Presented by Associate Provost for Undergraduate Studies
Andy Baxter, College of Science
Buck Weirus Spirit Award Presented by Department of Student Activities Isabelle “Izzy” Antes
W. Hayden Lander
Class Stars Award Presented by Department of Student Activities
Andy Baxter, Class of 2016 – Academics
Luke Oaks, Class of 2019 – Leadership
Phi Kappa Phi Outstanding Junior
Ali Jalal, College of Science
Women’s Progress Award Presented by Department of Multicultural Services Emily Parrish
Thank you to the Departments of Student Activities and Multicultural Services, the Association of Former Students, the Associate Provost of Undergraduate Studies, and our learning communities for supporting students across the university and for encouraging service, academic excellence, and high achievement!
In this post, aerospace engineering major and University Scholar Kanika Gakhar ‘18 describes her experience on the Texas A&M Society of Automotive Engineering AERO Design Team and how she plans to use her experience to become an aerospace engineer.
By Kanika Gahkar
The Texas A&M Society of Automotive Engineering (SAE) AERO Design Team is a student-run organization of 20 members that participates in the annual international SAE Aero Design Competition. This competition challenges teams to design, build, and fly a remote controlled aircraft capable of lifting an internally stored payload within the competition constraints. This year, my team will be returning as the reigning international champions as we took first in the Oral Presentation, second in the Written Report, and first in the Flight Portion, barely edging out a very competitive Canadian team in the 2014 competition. Our margin for victory came down to less than one point, highlighting the combined efforts of the whole team as we took first overall in an international competition.
When I had learned to tame my ideas and use sophisticated research methods to design engineering products, I looked for a hands-on experience. Before I could move on to innovate bio-influenced aviation technology, I had to understand the current engineering process involved in the building of unmanned aerial vehicles. So, I joined the Society of Automotive Engineering International Aero-Design Team.
As a member of the structures sub-team for the Texas A&M Society of Automotive Engineering AERO Design Team, I am currently working on building a radio-controlled aircraft. Being the only sophomore on the team, I had a hard time initially coping with the workload of my project and keeping up with my upper-classmen teammates. However, I stayed up late at night and tried to do additional research; I searched and searched till I found links between my introductory Aerospace courses and my project assignments. Now, as I work on the wing structures for our airplane, I simplify complex relationships using programming languages and fundamentals taught in freshman classes. I analyze the load distributions and force interactions to model the tandem wing. Laser cutting wood and bending sheet metal gives me hands-on experience. Outdoor flight runs and wind-tunnel testing helps me reflect on the effect of mathematical assumptions on real world situations. Additionally, I use my experience in material analysis from my research in ‘Applications of Shape Memory Alloys’ to work with my team on material testing. Hence, the knowledge gained from my various courses, in addition to my self-motivated research and learning, is helping me elevate myself to the level of my senior teammates and work with them diligently to design our structurally sound aircraft.
As a part of this student-run organization, my team of 20 members participates in the annual international SAE Aero Design Competition. This competition challenges teams to design, build, and fly a remote controlled aircraft capable of lifting an internally stored payload within the competition constraints. This year we will be returning as the reigning international champions as we took first in the Oral Presentation, second in the Written Report, and first in the Flight Portion, barely edging out a very competitive Canadian team in the 2014 competition. Our margin for victory came down to less than one point, highlighting the combined efforts of the whole team as we took first overall in an international competition.
As an aspiring aerospace engineer, I am very fortunate to be granted the opportunity to be on such a prestigious team; this team emulates industry by following a design process with technical analysis, experimentation, and trade-off studies, giving students the opportunity to gain experience unavailable in a classroom environment.
I hope to be able to share my story with the rest of the honors community and encourage them to expand their limits. Using myself as an example, I would like to show the students not to be afraid to chase their dreams even when they think they aren’t ready. In order to do this, I hope to conduct an outdoor session; in this session, I will share my first-hand engineering experiences with the rest of the honors society by conducting a flight demo where my team and I demonstrate our automated aircraft in action. This demo will help the students see tangible proof of my research and encourage them to step outside their comfort zones to expand their horizons. I will also work on recording footage of my team’s progress and my personal and professional development. I will finally compile all the footage in a short, fun video that students can watch at their own leisure.
Kanika’s project was supported, in part, with a University Scholar development grant. Enriching opportunities such as this one are made possible due to the generous support of the University Scholars program by the Association of Former Students.
Due to inclement weather, Kanika’s demo will be rescheduled. Stay tuned for the official date of Kanika’s flight demo.
LAUNCH: National Fellowships congratulates Andy Baxter ’16, a physics and mathematics double major with a business administration minor, on his selection as a finalist for the George J. Mitchell Scholarship. The Mitchell scholarship funds graduate study at any university in Ireland, and only twenty students nationally are chosen as finalists. Andy, who is a senior University Honors and Honors in Mathematics student, underwent an extensive application process at A&M in order to obtain the campus’s nomination for this National Fellowship.
In late November, Andy flew to Washington, D.C. for his finalist interview and reception, having previously succeeded in a semifinalist interview via Skype. He recounts the experience in his own words:
“The US-Ireland Alliance hosted me in the elegant DuPont Circle Hotel and treated us to a wonderful weekend. The evening before my interview, I had the privilege to attend a reception at the Irish Embassy in Washington, D.C. This reception was the best part of the process since I was able to meet former classes of Mitchell Scholars, some of the selection panel, and friends of the program. Serena and Trina, the directors of the Mitchell Scholarship, helped connect me to people working in my field so that they could provide me with advice for the future. During the reception, I also met the other finalists. Even though we had plenty of hors d’oeuvres at the reception, the group of finalists attended dinner at a nearby Irish restaurant. This allowed me to really get to know the other finalists. Throughout the process, Serena and Trina continually told the finalists that we were all qualified to be Mitchell Scholars, and the decision at that point was completely subjective. By having dinner with the other finalists, I truly discovered the truth behind this statement.
The day of the interview actually proceeded very slowly. My interview time was at 2:30 PM, so I was free until 2:00 PM when I had to have my picture taken. Even the process of selecting a portrait made me feel special as the photographer was extremely friendly and helpful. In the interview, I was seated at the head of an 11 person table. Serena and Trina sat closest to me, but they did not participate in the interview or selection. Although the interview is typically a very casual conversation, almost as if at a dinner party, one of my interviewers turned the conversation to politics and religion. Another interviewer humorously noted after about five minutes of discussion, “Those are the two topics you should never discuss at a dinner party.” Perhaps the divisive nature of this issue worked against me in the selection, but the selection panel takes so many other factors into account, including the collective dynamic of the 12 Mitchell Scholars, that this may not have even affected the selection.”
Among the notables present at the embassy reception were Frank Bruni, op-ed columnist for The New York Times, and representatives from BioMarin Pharmaceutical, the Department of Justice, the Retail Industry Leaders Association, and Palantir Technologies. Although not selected as a Mitchell Scholar, Andy considers the finalists’ weekend “an amazing opportunity to meet incredible people, see an amazing city and learn a lot more about Ireland.”
Andy and the LAUNCH office extend their thanks to the Association of Former Students for its generous support of fellowship candidates’ travel to interviews.
Honors Student Council (HSC) is charged with hosting events that unite the community of honors students at Texas A&M University. HSC also advocates for honors students’ concerns to the Honors and Undergraduate Research Advisory Committee (HURAC), the committee that shapes honors education at Texas A&M. Each semester, Honors Student Council hosts dozens of events for honors students, including socials, academic events, and special-topic panels. Recently, HSC has also found service opportunities to unite honors students. In the post below, junior Spanish and psychology double-major, and 2015-16 Honors Student Council President Joshua Fuller details the work that HSC has done over the past year.
By: Joshua Fuller ’17
In the past year, Honors Student Council has hosted dozens of events for the honors population at A&M, uniting the community through shared experiences. While the events traditionally focus in 3 key areas — socials, academic events, and special-topic panels — HSC has recently added service as another way to unite honors students. Below is a list of some example events we have put on over the past year:
Socials: HSC sees socials as a relaxed way to bring honors students together to participate in a relaxing and fun experience. HSC has hosted a “cool down” for finals event before finals May and a “warm up” for finals event in December. At the “cool down,” students watched a demonstration from the physics department where a student mad ice cream using liquid nitrogen, and then they ate the ice cream he created (as well as some pre-Blue-Bell famine ice cream). At the “warm up,” students made s’mores and drank hot cocoa while warming up around the fire in Tweener — the area between the Lechner and McFadden honors dorms. HSC also hosted 2 tailgates during football season that united honors students and their families over good old fashioned barbeque and sweet tea. Due to us being in an election year, HSC has additionally hosted “Presidential Bingo,” a fun night where we watched the debate and played bingo based off of what candidates said. In the coming semester, we hope to host a “Drunk Goggles MarioKart” event that warns about the dangers of drunk driving in a fun setting, more presidential bingo, and a bowling social at the Grand Station arcade.
Academics: HSC prides itself on uniting honors students through interdisciplinary learning opportunities. One of the most common HSC events is our “Donuts and Discussion” series. At a “Donuts and Discussion,” a distinguished undergraduate researcher, such as an Undergraduate Research Ambassador, comes and talks to students about their research while students enjoy Shipley’s donuts and juice. Topics have ranged from research about enhancing radiology techniques, to the removal of an invasive species of fish in Belize, to archeological digs in the Middle East. Speakers also tell students how to get involved with research at A&M. We will have more “Donuts and Discussions” in the spring. Additionally, we plan on hosting a practice poster session for the individuals who plan to present at Student Research Week in late March, as well as anyone interested in learning about research.
Special Topics Panels: In the fall of 2014, HSC hosted a panel entitled “Women in STEM: Overcoming Sexual Discrimination Barriers to Excel in Traditionally Male-Dominated Fields.” At the panel, 6 distinguished STEM professors spoke about their experiences being a woman in STEM, a traditionally male-dominated field, and how overcoming sexual barriers was (and is) difficult for them. The faculty inspired the audience by their resilience and reminded us that we all need to do our part to end sexual discrimination.
Following in the footsteps of “Women in STEM,” HSC hosted another panel event in the fall of 2015 about the culture of mental health among honors students. Entitled “”Breaking the Silence: Mental Health Stigma in the Honors Community,” the panel was moderated by Dr. Maggie Gartner, the director of the Texas A&M Student Counseling Services, and featured 5 honors students and an one former honors student who live with mental health issues like anxiety disorders, depression, and suicidal thoughts. The panel’s diverse background of experiences and accomplishments, ranging from receiving prestigious national fellowships to participating in specialized internships, demonstrated that you can be successful while battling a mental illness or mental distress. This challenged the misconception that mental health struggles and success are dichotomous. The panel ignited an important discussion about how we treat mental health in the honors community, as well as provided important resources like the counseling center to students. HSC will likely host another large panel in the spring, potentially initiating a series relating to mental and physical health.
Service: Beginning in the fall of 2015, HSC has started to arrange service opportunities for honors students in the Bryan/College Station community. VP of Activities, Alyssa Salisbury, has been working with local schools to arrange tutoring opportunities for honors students that will hopefully begin this spring. VP of Academics and Special Events, Mita Coker, arranged several opportunities to volunteer with the Bryan animal shelter. We will be continuing our work with the animal shelter in the spring, including hopefully having a puppy-petting station on campus and an adoption center during parents weekend in April.
In addition to the events listed above, HSC is also responsible for advocating for honors students concerns to HURAC. Thanks to your feedback, within the past year there was a change from an honors “credits” system to an honors “points” system. Essentially, this gives more flexibility in reaching the required 30 “hours/credits” needed to get the University Honors distinction. This flexibility allows for some points to be earned from honors extracurricular activities, such as being an executive in Honors Student Council, as well as points from high-impact experiences, like study abroad and internships.
Honors Student Council is able to provide enriching events and serve as advocates for Honors Students’ interests because of the generous support from the Association of Former Students. We are very grateful for their ongoing support!
The end of the spring semester and the approach of graduation comes with a number of award announcements. This is an exciting and busy time of year as we recognize and bid farewell to our 2015 Honors and Undergraduate Research graduates.
In addition to the successes in nationally-competitive awards such as the Goldwater and Fulbright competitions, our students have been recognized for their outstanding achievement in and out of the classroom with campus awards.
Nominating outstanding students for nationally-competitive scholarships and fellowships is one way to showcase the world-class undergraduate experience at Texas A&M. Not only do the winners in these competitions receive valuable support for their educational expenses, but they also join professional networks that will continue to open doors throughout their careers. But a student does not have to win a competition to realize the value of the national fellowships application process. The applications for these awards ask students to reflect on their ambitions and how they are building knowledge, skills, and experience related to following their dreams. Students report that the application is a truly clarifying experience.
One of the awards that Honors and Undergraduate Research serves as a nominating official for is the Udall Scholarship. This award, from the the Morris K. & Stuart L. Udall Foundation, recognizes top students planning careers related to the environment, tribal public policy, or Native American health care. Students who are selected will receive scholarships of up to $5000 and join a community of scholars whose dedication to sustainable public policy honors the legacy of the Arizona congressmen.
We are proud to announce the nomination of six TAMU students for the 2015 Udall Scholarship competition: Sean Castillo, Jaclyn Guz, Jessica Gwinn, Alyson Miranda, Alexandria Payne, and Jennifer Rangel.
Sean Castillo ’16 is a junior bioenvironmental sciences major, minoring in geography. He served as a sophomore mentor for Aggies Selflessly Serving in Shaping Tomorrow (ASSIST). Castillo participates in undergraduate research in the Scholthof labs in the Texas A&M Department of Plant Pathology and Microbiology where he studies the Panicum Mosaic Virus, Citrus Tatter Leaf Virus, Tobacco Mosaic Virus, and Tomato Bushy Stunt Virus. He plans a career studying the effects of environmental toxins with the hope that his work will inform lawmakers and educate citizens about the need to reduce pollution.
Jessica Gwinn ’16 is a junior bioenvironmental sciences and wildlife & fisheries sciences double degree student. She served as secretary and webmaster for the National Association of Environmental Professionals (NAEP) and is a staff member for Aggie RePlant. Gwinn is an undergraduate researcher in the Roelke Lab studying the toxic effects of Prymnesium parvum, an algae with potentially useful biofuel applications that is known to cause massive fish kills. Gwinn is also employed as a student worker in Dr. Ong’s plant pathology lab studying Rose Rosette Virus and writing Extension publications about rose diseases. She plans a career researching the ecological relationships between micro- and macro-organisms and the importance of these relationships to humans.
Alyson Miranda ’17 is a sophomore University Scholar, majoring in bioenvironmental sciences with a minor in business administration. She has served as a site leader and local service executive for Alternative Spring Break, volunteers with the Texas A&M Howdy Farm and Brazos County Senior Citizens’ Association, and is a sophomore advisor (SA) in the Honors Housing Community. She was also recently selected as a 2015 Public Policy Intern with PPIP. Miranda is conducting undergraduate research in the Lacher lab, performing regional extinction risk assessments for the Gulf of Mexico. She plans a career bridging the gap between science and policy in making food production chains more sustainable.
Alexandria Payne ’16 is a junior University Scholar, double-majoring in bioenvironmental sciences and wildlife & fisheries sciences. She is the president of the Human Environmental Animal Team (HEAT) and is the Department of Bioenvironmental Sciences representative to the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (COALS) Student Council. Payne has conducted undergraduate research related to plant virology in the Scholthof labs, on the invasive Tawny crazy ant as part of an NSF-REU at the University of Texas with Dr. Edward LeBrun, and most recently in the Honey Bee Lab at TAMU with Dr. Juliana Rangel. She plans a career researching the mystery of honey bee Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) in order to create a healthy bee population and stable food supply.
Jennifer Rangel ’16 is a junior recreation, park & tourism sciences major with minors in sociology and urban & regional planning. She is the coordinator of registration for the Student Conference on Latino Affairs, an officer for Going Out and Leading from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and a member of Future Former Students from the Association of Former Students, and the I Lead Maroon program. Rangel serves as an intern with the Family and Consumer Sciences Program as part of the TAMU AgriLife Extension. She is particularly interested in the intersection of a community’s space and infrastructure design, and the implications of this intersection for human behavior. Rangel plans a career educating people about the positive impacts of green space in a community, especially for low-income and high-risk families.
Since 1996, Texas A&M has had seven Udall Scholars and two Honorable Mentions. The most recent Udall Scholar was Victoria Easton ‘15, who was the first TAMU Udall Scholar selected in the Tribal Public Policy category.
To read more about how Honors and Undergraduate Research helps prepare outstanding students to compete for nationally-competitive awards such as the Udall Scholarship with the generous support of the Association of Former Students, please visit http://hur.tamu.edu/National-Fellowships.
This guest post from Adelia Humme ’15 summarizes her experience with the University Scholars art exploration seminar this past fall. You can find more of Adelia’s writing on The English Aggie, the blog of A&M’s English department. http://englishaggie.blogspot.com/.
This semester, the University Scholars program underwent a change in the structure of its weekly seminar courses. The seminars introduced the “Exploration” lecture series, inviting A&M professors to each present one lesson to the groups of Scholars. The Art class, composed of Adelia Humme ’15, Ryan Trantham ’15, Adri Galvan ’16, and Aaron Griffin ’16, benefitted from the visits of Dr. Karen-Beth Scholthof, a professor in the Department of Plant Pathology and Mircrobiology; Dr. Jill Zarestky, who teaches in both the Department of Mathematics and the Department of Educational Administration and Human Resource Development; and Dr. Vatche Tchakerian, a professor of Geography and Geology & Geophysics. From Dr. Scholthof, the class learned that Beatrice Potter, beloved children’s author best known for creating the character of Peter Rabbit, was an expert botanist skilled in highly accurate illustrations of flora. Dr. Zarestky, who in previous years has led a freshman seminar course about using math in arts and crafts, provided supplies for a brief lesson in knitting, which the Scholars agreed was an addicting yet soothing activity. Demonstrating how to examine the depictions of geology in landscape painting, Dr. Tchakerian explained his fascination with identifying specific rock types and structures in art.
In between professor-led sessions, the Scholars investigated other topics, such as Caldecott Award winners, and engaged our persistence and creativity to carve pumpkins for a Halloween celebration. Over the course of the semester, the class visited two on-campus art galleries, beginning with the Wright Gallery in Langford Architecture Center. Here we viewed the mandalas – circular religious symbols – created out of brightly colored plastic bags by Virginia Fleck as a commentary on consumerism and our society’s obsession with Hollywood culture. A later visit to the Forsyth Galleries introduced us to the MSC’s portraiture collection.
During our discussions, we debated what art is. While some Scholars felt that art required an emotional response in the viewer, others thought that art was a piece intentionally created for the purpose of conveying the artist’s message. One idea proposed was that art is the process through which media are transformed. For the first week’s written reflection, a weekly assignment that allowed the Scholars to respond to the topics presented in class, each of us had to compose a personal definition of art. Confronted with controversial examples, such as Marcel Duchamp’s “Fountain,” a urinal turned on its side, we had to consider whether art, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, a concept that led us to conclude that art often has a social component, a public “approval rating” that increases the value of certain works.
Arguably the best outcome of this course is that, thanks to the array of perspectives provided by professors from STEM fields and our own diverse areas of study, we have learned that art is not limited to the humanities. Discovering how to apply this subject in new ways allows us to imagine how else we might cross the normally intimidating boundaries between academic fields and become more willing to dabble outside of our areas of expertise.
Enriching programs like University Scholars would not be possible without the guidance of Program Coordinator Jamaica Pouncy, the tireless support of our faculty, and the generous contributions the Association of Former Students.