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.
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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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.
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 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.
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 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 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.
My name is Joshua Higginbotham, and I’m a 5th-year senior studying Computer Science. At the end of my junior year (after the Spring 2016 semester), I took a semester off. No, I didn’t just stay home and chill all Summer, but I also didn’t go for an internship, or study abroad, or go on a mission trip, nor do any of the things that one might ordinarily expect a college student to do when not in classes. Further, it wasn’t just Summer but also the Fall, and I only very recently (for the Spring 2017 semester) returned to classes.
There were several reasons that I took a semester off, some personal and some practical.
To begin with, taking a semester off made my degree plan look a lot nicer. What does that mean? It means that my undergraduate course load has at most 2 computer science classes in any given semester. Many of my major-specific upper-level classes are Spring-only (according to Howdy), and I was staring down the prospect of having to take 4 such classes in a single semester (which would have been Spring 2017) because they couldn’t be taken at any other time. Up until the point at which I began considering this, I had never made lower than an “A” in any of my computer science classes. Nonetheless, taking four of them at once was not a challenge that I felt up to.
Taking a semester off obviously pushed my graduation date back by a semester, but it also allowed me to spread out my remaining computer science classes more efficiently, so that now I not only do not have a semester with 4 upper-level computer science classes, but do not have a semester with more than 2 of them. The Spring 2017 semester proved to be a very reasonable workload for me, so I have no reason to regret my decision to take a semester off: 2 upper-level CS classes is plenty.
I understand that many students can’t delay graduation for the sake of an easier course load because of financial issues or contractual obligations, but for anyone else I would highly recommend considering something like what I did: plan your courses as well as you can because you will learn better and make better grades when you are under less stress, and those benefits are ultimately more important than when exactly you graduate.
While this partly answers the question of why I took a semester off, there still remains the question of what I did with that time.
I devoted my time off to discerning a religious vocation with the Order of St. Benedict. What does that mean? In the Catholic Church (yes, I’m Catholic) there are a number of groups of men and women who live lives completely consecrated to God’s service. The Order of St. Bendedict (OSB for short) in particular is composed of a number of monasteries inhabited by male religious (or “monks”) and convents of women religious (or “nuns”) who live life in community and observe the famous Rule of St. Benedict. They eat, pray, and work together, and rather than having some distinctive “apostolate” (preaching, caring for the sick, teaching in schools, etc.) they are content to perform whatever works of charity that Providence sends their way, or even to live life completely separated from “the world.”
This explanation is given only to provide some context, and must necessarily be brief. To anyone who wishes to learn more about the Order of St. Benedict, I highly recommend googling “clear creek abbey tulsa ok” or “clear creek monks.”
Anyway, I spent my time off discerning whether that was the time to enter religious life. I spent the Summer at a small monastic foundation in Arlington, near where I live, and a few days in the Fall visiting Clear Creek Abbey (the same Clear Creek as was mentioned earlier). I also met with the bishop of my home diocese, attended Holy Mass very regularly (every day in fact, with few exceptions), and began praying the Divine Office more (something else you might learn about if you look up Clear Creek Abbey…). I spent a lot of time reading the Holy Scriptures and Church fathers, and talked matters over at great length with my parents and spiritual director.
Ultimately we came to the conclusion (as you might have guessed by this point) that it would be best to continue my undergraduate studies. There is no need (or space) to discuss the reasons for this, other than to say that it simply wasn’t yet the right time for me to attempt to enter the religious life.
Despite that (rather, because of it), I learned and grew a great deal during my time off. It was certainly difficult, but returning to classes was not as difficult for me as others had anticipated and I now have a much better sense of direction for my life. The monastic life is not for everyone, but everyone can learn from it, and even benefit from it, whether it be for just a few days or during a semester off. Who knows? One might even discover a calling, as I have, to live it for a lifetime.
The University Honors Program has been working this year to enlarge the list of benefits of being a student in the University Honors Program. Historically, we have focused on some abstract benefits of participating in the University Honors Program such as our interdisciplinary emphasis, strong community, and focus on personal, professional and intellectual development (see this link: https://goo.gl/TjIxOL). In addition to these benefits, we have also begun to make connections with programs around campus that we feel help students with their personal, professional, and intellectual development.
Many of these opportunities have been with programs run through the Memorial Student Center (MSC), including Opera & Performing Arts Society (OPAS), Wiley Lecture Series, L.T. Jordan Institute for International Awareness, Student Conference on Latino Affairs (SCOLA), Student Conference on National Affairs (SCONA), and Bethancourt, as well as the Southwestern Black Student Leadership Conference (SBSLC).
This year we were able to support seven students representing five of the academic colleges in attending SCONA. Below, we have reflections from six of those students on the impact of that experience.
Sarah Kilpatrick ’18, junior economics major
This semester, I had the opportunity to spend five days hearing eminent speakers and writing a brief policy proposal on the Intelligence Community with the help of other students at SCONA 62. The Student Conference on National Affairs brings together students from across the country to discuss, research, and attempt to find solutions for issues that are affecting our government and society. The Domestic Crisis Strategic Response Exercise was a two day pre-conference mock domestic crisis exercise that focused on negotiation, strategy, and teamwork to best allocate limited resources in a crisis event. In short, not once did my ability to take a test to prove mastery of coursework help me at all over the entire event.
What helped were the things that are either not taught in a classroom or not explicitly taught during classes. Things like risking misallocation of vital resources during a mock crisis in exchange for maintaining fairness between all partners, or risking a win (and your pride) while playing a game of 42 with strangers-turned-friends after the official conference day had concluded. The ability to stand up for your perspective when 14 other people hold a completely differing perspective also came in to play. Accepting mistakes but moving forward was important when my DCSRE group, representing the State of Texas in crisis, realized we did not get the resources we needed in time to help the state’s citizens. Most importantly, in my opinion, was having the ability to ask for help. The conference does not expect you to come in as an expert in whatever subject-based roundtable you sign up for, so they provide a plethora of subject-matter experts, people who work in the field, and guest lecturers so delegates can ask questions, get advice, and “pick their brains” (so to speak) from these people throughout the event.
Sometimes the advice they gave extended beyond just the scope of the conference. The most important thing that my roundtable’s expert told me was “Don’t let your coursework get in the way of your education.” The education you can receive here at A&M could just be whatever your degree requires, but when you sign up for things like conferences, organizations, and even spontaneous trips with friends, you are expanding your education into experiences and life stories. This conference also introduced me to a specific network of women within various branches of government that I can reach out to whenever I go to the D.C. area. SCONA strengthened both my interest in the field and given me some amazing memories I can keep with me long after graduation.
I would highly recommend going to SCONA next year, or any other opportunity that sparks your interest. You can meet people who challenge you and people who inspire you. You can find new applications for old goals, new friends, and even a newfound love for something outside of your major. Thank you to honors for providing me with this experience that I can genuinely say was one of the greatest experiences I have had here at A&M.
Karla Valerie Melendez ’19, sophomore international studies major
When we weren’t listening to speakers, we were in our roundtables, attempting to write a cohesive policy paper. My roundtable was Lady Liberties Promise, which basically called for a policy paper marrying the topic of immigration and national security. This is where I learned the most during the conference, and while it was frustrating at times, my team made it through and we managed to leave the conference with a policy paper we were proud of and friendships we didn’t expect to make even halfway through the second day.
There were 5 roundtable sessions throughout the conference, and from the beginning it was expected that we would be working very quickly. Even a group that had been working cohesively from the beginning would have found the task a challenge. With the topic of immigration, we were excited to potentially be able to explore various topics that are of current international interest and tackle them. We came out of roundtable session 1 with a blank paper, but feeling confident about our discussion. It felt natural that we’d need an hour and a half to talk through potential topics, since there are so many of interest and find where we needed to focus. The problem emerged when we came back and out differing opinions started to clash. We had a page limit, and naturally couldn’t talk about everything, and several people had trouble letting go of their ideas or understanding that just because it wasn’t addressed in the policy paper, didn’t mean it wasn’t important. We kept seeming to settle on a topic, and then trying to write only to find ourselves still divided and working on completely separate things. We were given roles, but we didn’t understand them, we weren’t communicating, and despite writing a concise outline, somehow we hadn’t managed to come to a consensus. We found ourselves arguing at the end of the 4th roundtable and with a paper that was far longer than it needed to be with no clear policy (which felt worse than a blank paper to me).
We had to call in our facilitator, who had been working outside with the couple of STEM majors who didn’t feel their humanitarian backgrounds sufficed enough to help with the writing of the policy and instead opted to start writing the skit. When we finally had someone with a higher rank than all of ours, listening to her and compromising became much easier. We met during dinner (despite the fact that we were supposed to be eating and not working) and worked out what exactly we were going to be doing, with Dr. Aubone carefully making sure we stayed within the parameters of two, closely related proposals that would fit within the page limit. When we started working from there, in small groups meant to tackle the different sections of the proposal, and even smaller groups within that meant to either find research or be writing, we found ourselves getting things done. At that point, when we finally had a chain of command, a concrete goal and set roles within the team, we were able to start getting things done effectively. Somehow, we managed to complete the proposal within a couple of hours. Where we didn’t have a single point down by the end of roundtable session 4, but the end of session 5 we had a complete, cohesive policy proposal that all of us were proud of (mostly because of the circumstances with which we managed to complete it). Where we had been frustrated and arguing, after finally coming together to tackle and complete the paper, we were too relieved and amazed at our own accomplishment to feel anything but mutual relief and excitement that we conquered that hurdle together. I’m so glad I got to meet all of those wonderful individuals and work with them, and I’m excited to be able to see them again because I know we’ll cross paths.
It was overwhelming and frustrating and tiring and a whole lot of other things but that experience was something I needed. I got to be in a team that failed, and came back from it. I got to see the importance of roles and being on the same page in a team and having a leaders of some sort because when those things weren’t present we weren’t working and when they were we literally managed what none of us thought we’d be able to do. I’d know the importance of these things in theory. I’d seen how they worked and how they didn’t on television or in groups around me. Sometimes I’d have a group that didn’t exactly mesh together but worked something out anyway, but I had never been in a group that showed me both extremes of teamwork in a matter of days. It was kind of a shock, but I think even if I didn’t learn a single thing from the talks or a single piece of new information about immigration and national security (which I did), I learned more about teamwork in those 3 days than I have in 3 years of being a color guard captain, countless group assignment, and countless group tasks in subcommittees or officer positions of organizations.
Grace Cunningham ’18, junior bioenvironmental sciences major
Every year the MSC holds the Student Conference on National Affairs (SCONA), with delegates from all over the country traveling to Aggieland to take part in remarkably curated programming. As a student-led and student-run organization, SCONA gives students the chance to discuss complex policy issues on a range of topics in an interdisciplinary setting. This year, at SCONA 62, we approached social, economic, and scientific issues with the theme Against All Enemies Foreign and Domestic: Securing the Homeland in mind. Each student was placed into a roundtable with a specific topic, such as cybersecurity or espionage that they then discussed in terms of national security. Ultimately, each roundtable discussion group was tasked with creating a policy proposal in the duration of the 3-day conference. My roundtable discussion, Mother Nature and Uncle Sam, focused our policy paper around the inevitable effects of climate change on national infrastructure. With the obvious impacts of a compromised infrastructure on national security, my group was able to make a sound argument for diversifying the US energy sources in preparation for extreme weather events and rising sea levels affecting coastal oil refineries. Through in-depth discussion and compromise, we were able to construct a policy suggestion that went on to win the conference-wide Policy Paper Award, judged by General William Rapp, Commandant of the U.S. Army War College.
When we were not in our group discussions, the other delegates and I were attending talks from high-ranking officials, such as Admiral Michael Rogers, Director of the NSA and Commander of U.S. Cyber Command, and General Robert B. Neller, Commandant of the Marine Corps. A particularly notable experience for me, the talk and subsequent question and answer by Dr. Charles McMillian, Director of Los Alamos National Laboratory, provided interesting insights into the history of the Manhattan project as well as the future of quantum computing. The most controversial speaker, Dr. Tawfiq Hamid, former Islamic extremist and author, provided interesting views on US tolerance. All of these experiences, from the thought-provoking roundtable discussions to the remarkable speakers, made for an informative conference. However, the most impactful part of the conference was the relationships we made with students from the other universities and the after-hours conversations we were able to have, learning about the other roundtable topics and discussions as well as the student experience at other universities.
Nicole Guentzel ’19, sophomore biology major
This semester I was fortunate enough to be sponsored to attend SCONA or the Student Conference on National Affairs. This year’s topic was “Against all Enemies, Foreign and
Domestic: Securing the Homeland.” I attended the second portion of the conference that revolved around roundtable discussions and keynote speakers. Delegates were mainly
from Texas A&M University, but many other universities were in attendance providing the opportunity to learn about how other universities are structured.
The roundtable I participated in was called “Under the Microscope: Epidemics and Public Health.” Our facilitator was Dr. Jennifer Griffith who is the Associate Dean for
Public Health Practice for the Texas A&M School of Public Health and the Associate Department Chair for the Department of Public Health studies. She had many contacts in
the Public Health sector and we actually had the opportunity to speak to one of these contacts on the phone to ask him about current problems and areas of improvement in the
Public Health sector. The main purpose of these roundtables was to draft a policy paper in three days between keynote speakers. Ultimately, we decided to draft a policy about
improving communication in healthcare by forming local coalitions to mitigate medical surge due to public panic. Medical surge occurs when there is an influx of patients at a
hospital typically due to a large-scale medical disaster. We then had to formulate a skit and present our policy to the other SCONA delegates and facilitators.
Participating in the conference was very intimidating. I do not know a lot about public policy and I entered the conference surrounded by people in Cadet uniforms and formal
business attire. Furthermore, my roundtable focused on Public Health, an area I am not actively studying because I am pursuing a non-medical Biology degree. Even though the
conference was completely different than anything I have ever participated in, the experience was amazing. I learned about how Public Health plays a role in Americans’
everyday lives, and that hospitals and other healthcare facilities practice to be prepared for disaster situations to efficiently treat patients. Additionally, delegates in my
roundtable were studying political science, chemistry, meat science, etc. so I was able to learn how their fields of study were influenced by Public Health.
Some skills I gained from attending this conference includes learning how to work in a team of twelve strangers from across the United States with different educational
backgrounds to draft a public policy in three days. It was stressful, yet rewarding because we finished on time with a product we were all proud of. I also had the opportunity to learn about the National Security Agency (NSA), Los Alamos National Laboratory, the Marine Corps, and Radical Islam. This conference made me aware of issues I did not know existed and broadened my perspective. I hope to participate in the conference next year and to try the Domestic Crisis Strategic Response Experience. I thank University Honors for my sponsorship and strongly encourage anyone who is interested to participate in the conference. Expanding your comfort zone allows you to gain many additional skills and acquire new knowledge that can be used both to decide on and excel in a career.
Matthew Kiihne ’18, junior computer science major
SCONA or Student Conference on National Affairs is a long running program put on by the MSC organization of the same name. It originally started 62 years ago under the vision of the MSC director at the time, Wayne Stark, and is based on a similar program started at the United States Military Academy at West Point. The conference this year was titled “Securing the Homeland” and consisted of two different parts both revolving around the topic. The first part was a DCSRE (Domestic Crisis Strategic Response Exercise) that was put on by the United States Army War College. This was followed by 3 days of roundtable discussions as well as listening to distinguished speakers.
The DCSRE was an amazing experience where several teams, acting as federal and state agencies as well as non-governmental organizations, worked to deal with a major crisis in the best way possible. I was a little wary starting as a Computer Science major in the midst Political Science and International Studies majors but I quickly learned that mattered far less than my ability to interact with people and communicate my position. The other important lesson I learned from this exercise was how teamwork is actually beneficial, a view that has been tainted by group projects at school. The other lesson I learned was to always be aware of resources at your disposal, especially people who already have the experience that you are lacking. The first day I was acting as the Adjunct General of Texas and was relatively lost until I talked with some of the experts about what were the powers and responsibilities of the office. Overall this exercise opened my eyes as to how the United States responds to disasters and crises as well as provided the basis to friendships that have extended beyond the conference.
The second portion of this amazing, excused absence week was filled with roundtable discussions on a wide variety of topics, topical lectures by admirals and generals, as well as more informal events that gave the opportunity to interact with the facilitators brought in for SCONA. The facilitators had a wide range of backgrounds from military to academia to industry which was a great way to learn about career opportunities in all the areas as well as to just get general life advice about anything you might be unsure about. More than anything else, this was the most valuable portion of the conference as I am rapidly approaching my senior year trying to put together my life.
I am incredibly glad I attended SCONA not only because of the networking and friendships with similarly motivated people but also because it broadened my horizons as to what is possible to achieve. I am looking forward to at- tending the conference next year and I would recommend that anyone who is even slightly curious learn more and go as well. This applies to more than just SCONA though, even if an event or organization is not “typically” part of your major that doesn’t mean you can’t do it, in fact that is even more reason to do it!
Abby Spiegelman ’18, junior biomedical sciences major
I can easily say that attending MSC SCONA 62 as a delegate was one of the best experiences of my college career. I was introduced to several new viewpoints that had never occurred to me before on a variety of different topics. My focus group’s topic was “Good Morning America: The Hidden Agendas of the Media.” My group attempted to provide a solution to the, now common, phenomenon of “fake news”. After hours of debate we decided that the only real solution was for people to take responsibility for themselves and check their own facts. Though there is no practical way to enforce that it was heartening to see so many people passionate about making sure the truth continues to remain mainstream in the mainstream news.
In addition to my focus group I got to listen to amazing speakers that had experience in the things that we hear on the news. I enjoyed being able to hear what they had to say directly from them, instead of reading it later. It brought these amazing people out of clouds down to our level, but not in a negative way. Instead of being mysterious and completely unattainable, these speakers made it clear that they were just normal people that had worked hard and were good at their jobs. It showed that everything that is being dealt with in the world is being dealt with people, just like myself and the hundreds of other delegates that were around me. That was frightening, yes, because humans aren’t perfect, but it was comforting for that same reason. Mistakes will be made, yes, but as long as we have so many people willing to serve their country, I have faith that everything will work out in the end.
I’ve always known that it’s important to be a responsible citizen and to do my part, but being a part of SCONA made the problems of today, and the solutions, more tangible. It was refreshing to be actively trying to find solutions to the big problems that are currently affecting us. Instead of thinking in the abstract we were dealing with things we see and encounter every day. As long as we have so many dedicated people in our world, like the SCONA delegates, we should be able to handle most anything that comes our way.
Right now, your biggest concern is probably How will I make friends? You may be wondering Why do I have to live in the Honors Housing Community? Or What if I don’t like my roommate?
Worry no more. Living in Honors Housing is one of the best experiences you can have at Texas A&M. It’s one thing for me, as an Honors Advisor, to tell you that you’ll make plenty of friends. It’s another thing for me, as a former Honors student who lived in Lechner Hall for two years, to tell you that my cohort of fellow Honors students is still in contact more than a year after graduation. For Memorial Day weekend, more than a dozen former students from the University Honors program, Class of 2015, reunited in Houston. Our weekend included volleyball, bowling, swimming, two-stepping at Wild West, a crawfish boil, a visit to the planetarium, and about eight rounds of the card game Werewolf. We also put our college educations to the test at Escape the Room Texas, where we solved puzzles and searched for clues to find keys and open combo locks in order to “escape.” You’ll be delighted to hear that Honors pays off: we got out with one minute to spare on the one-hour time limit!
More important than anything we did was reminiscing about our time in the Honors Housing Community, where we met as freshmen. Most of us were Sophomore Advisors (SAs) in 2012-2013; a few were “spouses,” or partners chosen by Sophomore Advisors to help mentor Honors freshmen. Living in Lechner and McFadden Halls together bonded us. We pulled all-nighters in Hobofo, Lechner’s second-floor foyer. As freshmen, we designed the greatest shack ever for Habitat for Humanity’s annual fundraiser, Shack-a-thon. It featured an enormous and detailed Nazgul for our Lord of the Rings theme. As SAs, we painted ourselves blue for free food at Blue Baker and hosted our own Hunger Games for the freshmen, arming them with pool noodles and flour-filled socks. We opened the annual talent show with our own rendition of “The Circle of Life” from The Lion King. And even after we moved out of HHC, we volunteered for Big Event, attended Muster, celebrated Ring Day, and dressed up for Ring Dance together.
The Aggie spirit is still strong in our hearts, and we still hold to our identity as Honors students. So if you’re afraid that you’re going to be alone in college, I hope I can reassure you. Living in the Honors Housing Community, I felt that I had found people who spoke not only my language but my dialect. My fellow Honors students liked what I liked; we watched the same sci-fi TV shows and knew the same geek culture references. You’ll make connections, like we did. You’ll make memories, like we did. You might meet your future spouse (no pressure!). And you very well could have a one-year reunion of your own in 2021.
Oh, and I haven’t forgotten your second worry, which is probably What’s my plan? What am I going to do after college? Not knowing the answer right now is okay! You have plenty of time (and plenty of guidance within Honors) to help you figure it out. We were there, too, and we made it. Here’s what we’re doing now:
Alyssa Bennett is pursuing a PhD in naval architecture at the University of Michigan. She majored in ocean engineering and graduated with Foundation Honors. Alyssa was a Sophomore Advisor and a Junior Advisor.
Sam Carey is pursuing a master’s degree in electrical engineering at Georgia Tech through the Critical Skills Master’s Program at Sandia National Laboratories. Sam spends his summers working for Sandia in Albuquerque, NM. He majored in electrical engineering and graduated with University Honors and an Honors Minor in mathematics. Sam was a Sophomore Advisor.
Mallory Carson is a PhD student studying medical physics at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. She is working on methods to detect and correct errors in dose calculations to improve the quality of radiation therapy. Mallory majored in radiological health engineering and minored in mathematics. She was a Sophomore Advisor and an Undergraduate Research Scholar.
Danielle Cope is a planning/project engineer for ExxonMobil at the Baytown Olefins Plant. She majored in chemical engineering, minored in chemistry, and graduated with Engineering Honors and Foundation Honors. Danielle was Pj’s “spouse” in the Honors Housing Community.
Pj Downey is a systems engineer for Rockwell Collins in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He majored in aerospace engineering and was a Sophomore Advisor. Pj graduated with certificates in engineering project management and engineering business management.
Jacob Glenn is a healthcare consultant at Apogee Consulting Group in Houston. He majored in economics and was an Undergraduate Research Scholar and Sophomore Advisor.
April Holland is a business consultant at PricewaterhouseCoopers in Houston. She double-majored in business honors and supply chain management. April was a Sophomore Advisor and graduated with Business Honors.
Edward Ji is in the Baylor College of Medicine Physician Assistant Program in Houston and continues performing as a violinist with the Brazos Valley Symphony Orchestra. He majored in biomedical sciences with a minor in psychology.
Taylor Peterson is an administrative assistant with Switched Over Consulting and plans a career with Texas Parks and Wildlife. She is majoring in wildlife & fisheries sciences and was a Sophomore Advisor.
Lauren Roverse is a second-year student at the University of Houston College of Optometry, where she is pursuing a Doctor of Optometry degree. Lauren majored in biology and was a Sophomore Advisor.
Eric Vavra is a chemical engineering PhD student at Rice University, where he is investigating foam flow dynamics in porous media. He majored in chemical engineering, minored in chemistry, and graduated with Engineering Honors. Eric was a Sophomore Advisor.
Trey Whitaker works as a developer for the Advance Technology Division of AmRisc, LLC. Trey majored in computer science and was April’s “spouse” in the Honors Housing Community.
As for me, I’m currently an Honors Advisor and the program coordinator for National Fellowships and University Scholars at Texas A&M, but I’ll soon be moving to Boston to begin graduate school at Emerson College. Leaving College Station after five years feels like the end of an era because Texas A&M, and particularly the Honors community, has been my second home. I hope you find that same sense of belonging, security, and no-holds-barred fun when you arrive.
The Undergraduate Research Scholars program is LAUNCH’s longest-standing and largest capstone program, with 227 Scholars completing the distinction this year. Research Scholars undertake the yearlong process of conducting research with a faculty mentor and writing an undergraduate thesis. Each spring, two Scholars are honored with the Outstanding Thesis Award, which is offered in two categories: Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics and Social Studies & Humanities.
The 2016 recipient of the Outstanding Thesis Award in Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics is senior David LaCroix ’16, and Engineering Honors student and computer science major. Describing his work, David writes, “The goal of this research project is to characterize the most effective data architecture in terms of locally or remote hosted for a given Internet-of-things workload.” He explains that neither the research nor industry communities have guidelines for handling data in applications on Internet-of-things devices. The goal of David’s thesis, titled “Data Services for Internet of Things,” is to provide information to developers about issues – including security, efficiency, and accessibility – involved in choosing the best host for data repositories. David undertook this study with the support of his research advisor, Dr. Dilma Da Silva in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering.
The 2016 recipient of the Outstanding Thesis Award in Social Studies & Humanities is senior John T. Davis ’16, an Honors Fellows student and double major in international studies and French. Working with his research advisor, Dr. Dinah Hannaford in the Department of International Studies, John explored the question Does helping hurt?, an examination of the connections between Christian mission work and international development. Studying the shift from faith-based aid to a more global and modern approach to social change, John sought to address questions regarding the role of faith in motivating positive change. “By understanding this issue,” John writes, “the institutions that make decisions regarding international development, religious or not, will have a clearer understanding of how their motivations and objectives affect the progress and quality of international development.” John’s thesis is titled “The Historical Impact of Christian Missions on International Development and its Effects on Contemporary Practices.”
David’s and John’s achievements were recognized at the LAUNCH Recognition Ceremony on May 12, 2016, in the Bethancourt Ballroom in the MSC. All Undergraduate Research Scholars receive a medallion to wear at graduation, and the Research Scholars distinction is indicated in their graduation programs and on their transcripts. The 2015-2016 cohort of Research Scholars was the largest ever.
Students interested in participating in the Undergraduate Research Scholars program should contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Eligibility requirements include a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or above and 60 hours of undergraduate coursework, 24 of which must be completed at TAMU.
LAUNCH: National Fellowships has nominated Eleni Mijalis ’16 for the Churchill Scholarship. The Churchill Scholarship was established to help American STEM students pursue graduate study in Master of Philosophy (MPhil) or Master of Advanced Study (MASt) programs at the University of Cambridge in the UK. The Churchill Scholarship will present 15 awards in the current application cycle, each of which covers all University and College tuition and fees and provides a living allowance. Mijalis, a senior biology major and University Honors Student with a minor in computer science, hopes to pursue an MPhil in bioengineering through the scholarship.
While in high school, Mijalis joined the Health Sciences Center lab at Louisiana State University (LSU) to research type 1 diabetes. She engineered a new method that allows the number of experiments conducted per day to increase from one to five so that statistical relevance can be determined. Mijalis also presented at a meeting of the American Diabetes Association as a college freshman and published her work in Diabetologia as a sophomore. She then transitioned to the Center for Phage Technology at Texas A&M, where she annotated a previously unstudied genome, resulting in her first-author publication for Genome Announcements.
Mijalis’s second love is computer programming, which she dubs a “lifestyle” that “permeates [her] whole life.” She channels this enthusiasm into hackathons, where she competes on a team to design novel software applications. Mijalis estimates that she has participated in ten “hacks,” and her creative programming expertise has netted her first place in competitions at other universities and at Facebook’s Austin headquarters. After participating in a poorly organized hack, Mijalis and her teammates decided they could do better and founded TAMUHack, an annual event with over 350 participants. The 24-hour hack is Texas A&M’s largest programming event and has now occurred twice. As treasurer of TAMUHack, Mijalis manages the budget, approves all purchases, organizes food and prizes, and oversees approximately 40 volunteers.
By serving as a prominent organizer of TAMUHack, Mijalis hopes to boost the confidence of other women in STEM fields. She feels driven to represent women in computer science, having observed the skewed gender ratio at programming events. Mijalis’s efforts in establishing TAMUHack comprised her Undergraduate Leadership Scholars capstone project for the University Honors program. She applied computer science theory to leadership theory to create her own hybrid theory on group leadership.
Seeking to bridge her medical research and programming Interests, Mijalis began research in bioinformatics last fall. Currently, she uses Python, a programming language, to design a module that can identify specific RNA and DNA segments. She intends to add this module to Galaxy, a platform for genome analysis. Uniting her two areas of specialty through bioinformatics, Mijalis is preparing for her career goal of becoming the chief medical officer of a technology company.
For more information about applying to the Churchill Scholarship or another nationally-competitive award, please contact email@example.com. You can also learn more about the Churchill Scholarship on the LAUNCH website.
The University Honors Program encourages our students to make the most of their undergraduate experience by finding activities that are challenging, personally meaningful, and a good foundation for lifelong learning. In this post, computer science major Oliver Hatfield ’13 describes how he discovered a way to tune in to his passion.
By Oliver Hatfield
I first learned about KANM through one of my old friends from freshman year. He hosted a show playing the influences of popular bands back through the ages, like a musical genealogy: Coldplay was inspired by U2 which was inspired by David Bowie who was inspired by The Beatles which were inspired by Elvis Presley, and so on. Since I had the preconception that college radio was either super avant-garde or just hooligans messing around, this sounded like a neat concept. I didn’t give it much thought though, given my class workload at the time.
Music has probably been my longest love, besides my family and my church. I grew up listening to classical, acid house, singer-songwriter, classic rock, and everything in between. Hardly a day goes by without me playing some Steely Dan or Chemical Brothers. I even experimented with DJing as a hobby in high school and my freshman year of college. Unfortunately, the growing pressures of school and life kept me from devoting much time to DJing, and my accumulated gear gathered dust.
My final semester of college was looking to be relatively light, so I checked the KANM website and the process of applying for a show. The more I thought about it, the more it excited me: a chance to play music live for real people, to expose them to new artists, to share songs I love! I could dust off my old DJing skills and put them back to use. How could I get one of the few time-slots available, though? I specifically angled my application towards very niche source material: 90s electronica and chiptunes. And voila: I snagged a slot, and my radio show blips + beats was born.
Once a week, on Wednesdays around midday, I walk over to the KANM station in the basement of the MSC and get to host blips + beats live. Sometimes I have a certain theme or set of songs I want to play, and other days I just see where the flow takes us. I try to keep talking to a minimum, letting the music speak for itself, but occasionally I come on to share fun facts. 90s electronica (with artists like Orbital, The Chemical Brothers, Underworld, and Massive Attack) is fairly well-known, but did you know that Norman Cook, Yum Yum Head Food, Mighty Dub Katz, and Fatboy Slim are all the same person? Or that Orbital was the first electronic band to headline Glastonbury, in 1994? I especially like to spread the word about chiptunes, which most people have only heard while playing Super Mario Bros. Chiptunes are original music made with old computer and video game hardware, from the ZX Spectrum and the Commodore Amiga to the Atari and the Sega Genesis. The limitations of old sound chips lead to a wide variety of styles, genres, and sound qualities, and I like to highlight that diversity with the songs I play.
DJing with KANM has been an awesome experience, and I truly regret not getting involved earlier. My fellow DJs and the station officers are all unique, interesting, and as passionate about music as I am. No matter what my mood is Wednesday morning, I can come in to the studio, turn up the monitors, and feel my problems fade away. (More than once I got so into it that I started dancing and jamming with the music, which everyone outside the studio windows could see. I didn’t care.) While my post-graduation plans are still in the air, one thing is certain: I want to keep the music spinning, either at my local public-access radio station or on the Internet with my own DJ gear.
The Chemical Brothers “Got Glint?”
This track is sampled under fair use from the album Surrender, copyright 1999 Virgin Records Ltd., copyright 1999 Astralwerks.
We love sharing our students’ stories and demonstrating the impact that Honors Students are having across campus! If you are an Honors Student and would like to share your story with us, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.