Tag Archives: Economics

Honors Benefits: MSC SCONA 2017

The University Honors Program has been working this year to enlarge the list of benefits of being a student in the University Honors Program. Historically, we have focused on some abstract benefits of participating in the University Honors Program such as our interdisciplinary emphasis, strong community, and focus on personal, professional and intellectual development (see this link: 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).

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

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

Sarah Kilpatrick ’18, junior economics major

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

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

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

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

Karla Valerie Melendez ’19, sophomore international studies major

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

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

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

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

To read Karla Valerie Melendez’s full SCONA reflection, visit https://goo.gl/Vozlw2

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!

Honors Reunion (A Letter to Honors Freshmen)

By Adelia Humme ’15

Dear Honors freshmen,

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!

escape room
Honors Former Students Conquered the room!
Sam & Edward patriotism
Sam & Edward are patriotic!

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.

Nerd Shack 2012
Nerd Shack 2012
sports
Sports!

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.

crawfish boil better
Honors Former Students enjoy a crawfish boil

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.

Best of luck, and gig ’em!

 

Two Students Nominated for Carnegie Junior Fellows Program

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

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

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

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

We are pleased to announce our 2016 nominees are Fabiola Casas ‘16, who is applying to the Democracy program, and Nancy Kuri ‘15 who is applying to the Middle East program.

Fabiola Casas '16, Carnegie Junior Fellow nominee
Fabiola Casas ’16, Carnegie Junior Fellow nominee

Fabiola Casas is a senior maritime administration major with a minor in economics. Casas has been involved in maritime business research, studying the application of managerial theories and international legislation to maritime ports, as an Undergraduate Research Scholar under the instruction of Dr. Joan Mileski. For this project, she has worked as a Texas Institute of Oceanography Fellow. Casas has served Texas A&M-Galveston Campus through her founding of Student Association of Latino Leaders, the only Hispanic culture club on campus, her representation of the senior class in the Lambda Kappa Alpha Honors program, and as a writer for The Nautilus student newspaper. In addition, Casas has served internships in the Macae region of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and at the International Maritime Organization in London, England. After attending law school, Fabiola hopes to pursue a legal career working for a non-profit organization.

Nancy Kuri '15, Carnegie Junior Fellow nominee
Nancy Kuri ’15, Carnegie Junior Fellow nominee

Nancy Kuri ’15 is a recent graduate from Texas A&M University with a degree in international studies and a minor in Arabic studies. A native from South Texas, she is a fluent Spanish speaker and seeks fluency in Arabic. Interested in cultural and foreign affairs, Kuri interned abroad as a foreign language instructor in China and studied abroad in Morocco. Throughout university she served as president of Delta Xi Nu Multicultural Sorority, Inc., where she contributed to the establishment of an annual multicultural art exhibition that donates to families living with HIV/AIDS, and co-founded a Global Brigades Human Rights chapter, which prepares students for volunteer brigades handling civil cases in Panama. Before assuming her positions as assistant to the editor at Callaloo, a journal of African Diaspora Arts and Letters and as an educational program assistant at The Children’s Museum of the Brazos Valley, Kuri enjoyed volunteering as an English teacher for non-native speakers. She is excited for the opportunity to add to her professional and cultural experiences this spring as a Public Policy Intern in Washington, D.C. Kuri plans a federal career working on improving diplomatic relations in the Middle East.

Congratulations to our nominees! If you are interested in applying to the Carnegie Junior Fellows program or another nationally-competitive scholarship or fellowship, please visit http://natlfellows.tamu.edu/National-Fellowships/About-National-Fellowships.

Five Aggies Nominated for Rhodes, Marshall, Mitchell Scholarships

LAUNCH: National Fellowships congratulates our five 2015 nominees for the Rhodes, Marshall, and Mitchell Scholarships for post-graduate study!

Each of these applicants has devoted time to self-reflection and goal development as they revised their essays, requested letters of recommendation, and poured over detailed application instructions. We are equally proud of their perseverance in the fellowship process and of their outstanding accomplishments throughout their college careers.

2015 Marshall Nominee Mariah Bastin '14
2015 Marshall Nominee Mariah Bastin ’14

Mariah Bastin ’14, who double-majored in German and international studies – politics and diplomacy, has been nominated for the Marshall Scholarship and hopes to obtain a PhD in International Relations. She graduated Magna Cum Laude in 2013 with Honors Fellows and Undergraduate Research Scholars distinctions, as well as National Society of Collegiate Scholars, Phi Eta Sigma National Society, Phi Beta Kappa and Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi honors cords. In 2015, Mariah graduated from the George Bush School of Government & Public Service with a Master of International Affairs. She received the Dean’s Certificate in Leadership. She also served as the President of the German Club and was elected as an International Affairs Representative for the Class of 2015. Fluent in German and French, Mariah has previously worked on the Military Staff Committee of the US Mission to the United Nations and as a German instructor for the Bush School. She is currently employed as an editorial fellow by GovLoop in Washington DC.

2015 Rhodes, Marshall, and Mitchell Nominee Andy Baxter '16
2015 Rhodes, Marshall, and Mitchell Nominee Andy Baxter ’16

Andy Baxter ’16, a Physics and mathematics double major with a business administration minor, has been nominated for the Rhodes, Marshall, and Mitchell Scholarships. He hopes to combine a business education with studies in aerospace physics and engineering in preparation for a management career in aerospace innovation. Additionally, if selected for a scholarship at the University of Oxford, Andy plans to join the Oxford Center for Christian Apologetics to apply his studies in physics and business to his Christian faith. Andy’s primary involvement at Texas A&M has been through Freshmen Leaders in Christ, in which he served as a director. He has also been a Muster Host for the past two years, founded a discussion group for Christian physicists, served as an Impact counselor, assisted with a “Five for Yell” campaign, played in many intramural sports, and is currently serving as treasurer for the Society of Physics Students. During his summers as a college student, Andy has participated in research on superconducting magnets at the Texas A&M Accelerator Research Laboratory, studied abroad through the Budapest Semesters in Mathematics program, and interned at the IT Alliance for Public Sector in Washington DC through the Texas A&M Public Policy Internship Program.

2015 Rhodes Nominee Hunter Hampton '16
2015 Rhodes Nominee Hunter Hampton ’16

Hunter Hampton ’16, seeking degrees in economics and international studies, with a minor in German, has been nominated for the Rhodes Scholarship with the goal of studying international relations at Oxford University. Hunter is a University Scholar, an Undergraduate Research Scholar, and a member of the Cornerstone Liberal Arts Honors Program, University Honors, and Phi Beta Kappa. As a junior, Hunter wrote his undergraduate thesis on entrepreneurship and conflict resolution in Palestine, and now as a senior, he works in the A&M Economics Research Laboratory on a project about the effects of mandated volunteering on total volunteering. Along with his academic pursuits, Hunter interned at the Institut für Europäische Politik in Berlin, Germany, and spent three years as a member of the Student Conference on National Affairs (SCONA), rising to Chief of Staff in his final year. Outside of academics, Hunter enjoys biking, playing the erhu poorly, and drinking copious amounts of coffee.

2015 Marshall Nominee Molly Huff '16
2015 Marshall Nominee Molly Huff ’16

Molly Huff ’16, a Chemistry major with a minor in mathematics, has been nominated for the Marshall Scholarship to pursue a Masters of Philosophy in chemistry at a UK university. She is an active undergraduate researcher, working in the Polymer Nanocomposites Laboratory for two years and presenting her two publications at an American Chemical Society national conference. Currently, Molly is writing an Undergraduate Research Scholar thesis in physical organic chemistry, studying heavy-atom tunneling both experimentally and computationally. This summer, she completed an internship at OXEA in Bay City where she worked on research and development of a new homogeneous catalyst for the plant. She has also been actively involved in Aggie Sisters for Christ and as a tutor for all levels of chemistry courses. Molly has traveled around the world and hopes to one day live in a foreign country to enhance global chemistry research.

2015 Rhodes and Marshall Nominee Annie Melton '16
2015 Rhodes and Marshall Nominee Annie Melton ’16

Annie Melton ‘16, an anthropology and classics double major with a minor in geoinformatics, has been nominated for the Rhodes and Marshall Scholarships. Annie, a University Scholar and Undergraduate Research Ambassador, has been heavily involved in archaeological research, beginning her freshman year in the research lab of Dr. Mike Waters. Several of these projects, including her senior honors thesis under the direction of Dr. Kelly Graf, were presented at national and regional conferences. Annie has taken part in archaeological projects in Alaska, Israel, and Portugal, while also analyzing stone tool assemblages from sites in Kentucky and Tennessee, all of which date to differing time periods in the archaeological record. Following graduate school, where she will pursue a PhD in archaeology and focus on the emergence of early modern humans, she hopes to pursue a career in which she can juggle her research passions while teaching the next generation of archaeologists.

The Rhodes Scholarship is for graduate study at Oxford University, the Marshall Scholarship is for graduate study at any UK university, and the George J. Mitchell Scholarship is for graduate study at any university in Ireland. Nominees will soon be notified whether they have been chosen to advance to the interview round of selection. We wish them the best of luck!

LAUNCH: National Fellowships is grateful to the Association of Former Students for their generous support, which applicants benefit from through our programs as well as support for travel to interviews.

Undergraduate Research Scholars Best Thesis Awards

Last month 170 students completed the Undergraduate Research Scholars Program. This Capstone program is open to any TAMU student with a GPR of 3.0 or better who is interested in undertaking a research project under the mentorship of a TAMU faculty member over the course of consecutive Fall and Spring semesters. Undergraduate Research Scholars submit a proposal and timeline for their project in early Fall, attend a series of events and workshops designed to support their progress over the two semesters, present their work publicly at TAMU Student Research Week or a professional conference in their field, and submit a final scholarly piece (most commonly a thesis) by early April. The majority of award winners at Student Research Week are Undergraduate Research Scholars. Since the Undergraduate Research Scholars Program is an official Honors distinction, students who finish the program are designated Undergraduate Research Scholars in their graduation program and on their transcript, and receive a beautiful medallion commemorating their achievement at the Honors and Undergraduate Research Recognition Ceremony in May of each year. Honors and Undergraduate Research staff evaluate student engagement and accomplishment to select two best thesis award winners—one in Humanities/Arts/Social Science and one in Science/Technology/Engineering/Mathematics disciplines.

Humanities/Arts/Social Sciences 2015 Best Thesis  winner Susannah Barr '15 (left) with her research mentor Dr. Cynthia Werner (right).
Humanities/Arts/Social Sciences 2015 Best Thesis winner Susannah Barr ’15 (left) with her research mentor Dr. Cynthia Werner (right).

Our best thesis winner for the Humanities/Arts/Social Sciences is Susannah Barr, a class of 2015 graduating senior majoring in anthropology and minoring in Spanish and economics. Susannah did her research under the mentorship of Dr. Cynthia Werner, Head of the Department of Anthropology. Susannah chose to focus her studies on the Sunflower Project, a small aid organization dedicated to children’s health and nutrition in the rural Dominican Republic, which Susannah and three friends founded in May 2013. Susannah’s engagement with the Sunflower Project led her to the realization that the group had begun aid programming without understanding the needs and desires of the community they were working in. Her thesis project aimed to address this problem by performing a needs assessment that took into account wealth, income inequality, proximity to markets, current diet, preferred diet, and obstacles to dietary change. Susannah’s studies demonstrated that while some of the Sunflower Project’s assumptions were wrong, many of the initiatives undertaken by the project were appropriate for the community. More importantly, the information uncovered through her research allowed Susannah to make concrete suggestions for different or additional programming that will have a major and welcome impact on the diet and health of the community the Sunflower Project serves.

STEM 2015 Best Thesis winner Connor Aimone '15 (left) with HUR Executive Director Dr. Suma Datta (middle), and his research mentor Dr. Le Xie (right).
STEM 2015 Best Thesis winner Connor Aimone ’15 (left) with HUR Executive Director Dr. Suma Datta (middle), and his research mentor Dr. Le Xie (right).

Our best thesis winner for the STEM fields is Connor Aimone, a class of 2015 senior majoring in electrical engineering and minoring in mathematics. Connor completed his thesis work under the mentorship of Dr. Le Xie, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering. Connor chose to focus on developing and testing mathematical models for voltage source converter based DC lines for transmission and distribution of power. The motivation behind this work revolved around finding an improved method for integrating renewable resources, such as wind or solar power. Improper connection of these energy sources into the nation’s power system has the potential to cause stability issues that would “crash” the power grid and leave large swaths of the community without electricity. Connor’s sophisticated mathematical representations allowed him to generate a detailed model that operators will be able to use to better understand the capabilities and limits of a particular system. He was also able to generate a simplified model that is easier and faster to use, allowing for modeling of systems over time. Both of his models are capable of standalone simulation or coupling with preexisting power system models.

Comedy: Work, Play, or Both?

This guest post from Brenton Cooper ’15 highlights his experience in the University Scholars comedy exploration group. Brenton, an economics and philosophy double-major, is on Twitter @brentonhcooper. You can learn more about Brenton’s experience as an Honors Student at Texas A&M by visiting his ePortfolio.

– by Brenton Cooper ’15

University Scholar Brenton Cooper '16
University Scholar Brenton Cooper ’16

We often view humor as somewhat of a toy and perceive it as being on par with kids’ video games or Cartoon Network: cheap, silly sources of quick entertainment. Maybe this is evidenced by the fact that many of our comedy shows are late at night. Whether it’s The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon or The Late Show with David Letterman (please note here that definitions of what constitutes “comedy” vary), our most popular comedians seem to be scheduled at a ridiculously late hour of the night. We take care of our work, come home and take care of dinner and chores, and watch our primetime dramas and sports events. Finally, when our brain is fried and we can no longer take part in anything of importance, we revel in comedy.

Comedy can, however, be quite serious and deeply important. In some senses, it might in fact be the most serious and most important thing in the world. This past semester, some of my fellow University Scholars and I took part in a seminar on comedy led by Jamaica Pouncy. We got to hear from a professor from the business school who explored comedy’s applications in marketing. We heard from a scholar on Jewish, female comedians who made social statements through their comedy about their lives and times in the 1950s. And we heard from a graduate student who studies how cultures and nations appropriate and reflect on themselves through the use of internet memes.

This experience showed us that comedy has tremendous applications of a serious nature. “Humor is a rubber sword,” says comedian Mary Hirsh. “It allows you to make a point without drawing blood.” Because of its ability to spread messages without offending people, humor plays an immensely important role in politics. For better or worse, people are more likely to share and pay attention to clips of John Oliver or satire from The Onion than whatever publications the Congressional Budget Office puts out. Comedy also has a huge impact on our purchasing habits. Last year, companies paid $4 million for a thirty-second opportunity to make Super Bowl viewers laugh. And it has an immense role in the way in which we understand our cultures and communities. Sometimes it is only by laughing at ourselves that we are able to be honest with ourselves about who we are as people and as a broader community.

The philosopher Michael Oakeshott once made a helpful distinction between work and play. Work, he argues, is what we do when we use the materials the world provides for the sake of something else. Play, on the other hand, is that in which we participate for its own sake. This dichotomy presents a helpful lens for viewing the role of comedy. To be sure, comedy is play—something which can be wholly and thoroughly enjoyed for its own sake alone. To deny this would be to deprive comedy of its most important function: enriching our lives by making us laugh. But we would be remiss not to recognize that in some ways it constitutes work. As a society, we wield comedy as a potent weapon for a number of serious endeavors. In that way humor, which appears silly and childish on the surface can, in fact–for better or worse–be one of the most serious forces in the world.

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.

Economic growth for Texas A&M students

While the country might still be going through some economic growing pains, Texas A&M University Economics students are seizing the opportunity to apply their knowledge through summer research.  Honors and Undergraduate Research is providing a new and rare opportunity to become fully immersed in a research project through the Summer Program for Undergraduate Research (SPUR).  These programs help to foster the development of innovative summer research experiences for undergraduates. 

The Economics Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (EUROP) has received SPUR support to provide students with research experience by pairing them with faculty member for summer research assistantships.  Students interested in the EUROP program submit an application with areas of interest to the Committee on Undergraduate Research and Awards of the Department of Economics, led by Dr. Jonathan Meer, Assistant Professor, Dr. Stephanie Houghton, Assistant Professor, and Dr. Dennis Jansen, Professor and Director of Undergraduate Programs.  This year the committee chose five students to participate in the program.

Students in EUROP work alongside faculty members for the summer as paid research assistants.  During the summer students are expected to explore several areas of economic research and narrow down a topic for more in depth research during the fall semester.  EUROP students are required to enroll in the Undergraduate Research Scholars program for the following fall and spring, during which time they will complete a research paper under the direction of their faculty advisor.

After just one year this program has seen success.  All four students in the 2011-2012 program presented their research at Student Research Week and two went on to speak at the Dallas Federal Reserve conference in March.  One student was even asked to speak at the Association of Private Enterprise Education conference in Las Vegas.  “We are hoping to build on the success of this past year with our new students.  We had an impressive crop of students and want to see this year’s participants produce the great research that we know they are capable of,” said Dr. Jonathan Meer, Assistant Professor in the Department of Economics.

With the success of this program, students who are accepted into EUROP this summer have the opportunity of a lifetime ahead of them.  The SPUR award will an additional student for the program, and help fund travel for students who are selected to speak at economic conferences off campus.

Contact: Chrystina Rago, chrysrago@honors.tamu.edu