Honors Former Student Justin Montgomery ’13 from McKinney, TX is a Ph.D. candidate in computational science and engineering at MIT. His research findings on U.S. oil output forecasts were featured in a story at Bloomberg* in December 2017 and he was invited to give a talk at the Energy Information Administration’s Energy Forecasting Forum in January 2018.
Montgomery graduated with university-level Honors distinctions, Engineering Honors, and as an Undergraduate Research Scholar in May 2013. He took a degree in mechanical engineering and a philosophy minor. We recently asked Montgomery to share about his experiences to help provide some context for how these experiences in Honors at Texas A&M have helped prepare him to contribute to the national discussion on energy.
Q: How did you end up at Texas A&M?
I had the honor of being selected for the Brown Foundation scholarship through the Honors Program. After my meeting with Craig Brown, the Aggie sponsoring this scholarship, I visited campus and met with staff and faculty in the Honors Program, the Mechanical Engineering department, and the College of Engineering. Through all of these meetings, particularly the one with Craig Brown, I felt a strong sense of community and of caring deeply about others. These values really stood out to me as a key part of Texas A&M’s culture that I wanted to be a part of and I did not feel this same emphasis on people and relationships at other large state universities (ahem…). Additionally, I felt that A&M and the Honors Program would provide me with many tremendous and unique opportunities as a student—which certainly turned out to be true! Although I had grown up in a very UT-Austin-centric family and always thought I wanted to attend there, after discovering these things about A&M I had no doubt that it was where I wanted to attend and the best place for me to spend those four years.
Q: What were you involved in while at A&M?
The group I was most involved with throughout my time at A&M was the student chapter of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), in which I served as Vice President and Events Chair and made several close friends. I also played music throughout my time at Texas A&M with brief stints in a local rock group called The Jeremiahs (TAMU Battle of the Bands winner in 2012!) and in the TAMU Jazz Ensemble. I practiced and competed several times with the Triathlon Club team and held a few leadership roles in the Memorial Student Center. I was very busy and active on campus during those four years! I definitely recommend for students to try many things out and find ways to get involved while at Texas A&M because I think it is both an important and very fun part of the college experience.
Q: What are your favorite memories of the Honors Program?
My favorite memory is without a doubt the Champe Fitzhugh trip to Italy. It was my first time traveling abroad so the entire experience was really memorable and special. I formed some really great friendships and I think the program helped me to go into my time at A&M with the right mentality to get the most out of it. In high school I had been a bit of a nerd about the Renaissance so getting to learn about and see Renaissance art and architecture in person was also amazing. And the food…così buono!
More generally though, my experience in the University Scholars program was very memorable. It was an incredible community to be a part of and I really valued the relationships and experiences I formed through this. The University Scholar seminars were academically and creatively stimulating and it was great to have these close interactions with other students and the faculty. I certainly have fond memories from some of these seminars—podcasting for Invisible Jungle, learning to paint, and diving deep into the cultural complexities of iconoclasm. These classes, and the other Honors classes I took as well, made my curriculum much more varied and interesting than if I had just taken the standard set of classes in Mechanical Engineering. It was important for me to have this breadth in my studies and the Honors Program allowed me to shape my time at A&M in this way. Another example of this was the undergraduate research I did through the honors program combining engineering design with my minor in philosophy which made for a really interesting, challenging, and creative experience during my last few semesters.
Q: How did your Honors experience help prepare you for graduate school?
In so many ways. The honors undergraduate research that I did was really what led me to the decision to go to graduate school actually. Although I got a fantastic education in mechanical engineering, it was the interdisciplinary experiences I had in the honors program that really led me to the work I am doing today which I am very passionate about—using data science and machine learning to understand unconventional oil and gas resources and the technology of extraction. The honors classes I took were very academically challenging and I think more representative of graduate school coursework which I appreciate now. Finally, the honors program puts significant responsibility on you as a student to plan your academic career and consider what you want out of your academic career. This is one of the most important aspects of being a graduate student in my opinion.
Q: What advice can you offer Honors students as they prepare for an uncertain future?
Look at your education as an opportunity to invest in yourself and expose yourself to new ideas rather than as a set of requirements to satisfy for the next stage in life. Learn to code—regardless of the field you’re in, take a philosophy class or two, read books outside of your coursework, and read The Economist. Also, take every opportunity you get to travel somewhere new and when you do, try to learn as much as you can and immerse yourself in the culture and experience.
Q: Other thoughts/advice?
Your time at Texas A&M will go by very fast so stay busy, enjoy the ride, and don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone!
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