The James C. Gaither 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.
We are pleased to announce our 2018 nominees are Kanika Gakhar ‘18, who is applying to the Energy and Climate Program, and Lucia Winkeler ‘18 who is applying to the Russia/Eurasia Program.
Kanika Gakhar makes an impact on campus as a University Scholar and University Innovation Fellow by spreading her love for learning and working on revolutionary projects. As an Undergraduate Research Assistant at the Advanced Vertical Flight Lab, she conducts research on a Robotic Hummingbird. She is also a team-lead for the Society of Automotive Engineers Aero Design Team, which is an organization that designs, builds, and flies a radio-controlled aircraft at an international competition every year. Last summer, she interned for Boeing and was able to submit a patent for one of her designs. She is also very passionate about policy and has participated in debates, discussions, and ModelUnited Nations. She enjoys dancing and is currently a performer for two dance teams: Texas A&M Belly Dance Association and Philsa Modern Hip-Hop Dance Team. She is currently Vice-President of Sigma Gama Tau and has served as President of Lambda Sigma Sophomore Honors Society and Director of Focus Groups for the MSC Fall Leadership Conference. She is also an active member of Maroon and White Leadership Association.
Lucia Winkeler is originally from Austin, Texas. She is a senior international studies and Russian language and culture double major. Within, international studies, her focus is politics and diplomacy. Lucia is currently a member of the research subcommittee for the MSC Student Conference on National Affairs (SCONA)—currently preparing its 63rd conference—and also a member of Texas A&M University’s Russian Club. During her sophomore year, she was a member of the international subcommittee for the MSC L.T. Jordan Institute for International Awareness. Russian language and culture have always been a part of her life because her mother’s side of the family is Russian, and she has many relatives still living in Russia. During the summer of 2016, Lucia was a Fulbright Hays GPA Scholar as part of the Moscow-Texas Connections Program, during which she studied Russian intensively at the Higher School of Economics for 10 weeks. She was also inducted into the National Slavic Honor Society, Dobro Slavo, at the end of the spring 2016 semester. Last spring semester, in 2017, she had the opportunity to intern at the U.S. Department of Commerce through A&M’s Public Policy Internship Program and increased her knowledge of U.S.-Russian relations in a business context. After graduation, she plans to earn her Master’s in International Relations with a focus on Eurasia, and then enter a federal career to work on improving the state of U.S.-Russian relations and affect U.S. interests in the Eurasian region overall.
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://tx.ag/NatlFellows.
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.
LAUNCH: National Fellowships is proud to announce four nominees for the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program: junior biomedical engineering major with emphasis on biomaterials Mikayla Barry ’17, junior aerospace engineering major Maura Cadigan ‘17, sophomore biomedical engineering major and neuroscience minor Kendal Ezell ’18, and sophomore biochemistry majorGabrielle Lessen ’18.
The Goldwater Scholarship recognizes sophomores and juniors who are planning careers in STEM research. Fewer than 300 Goldwater Scholars are chosen from across the nation each year, so the scholarship is both prestigious and highly competitive. Candidates must demonstrate strong research experience, clear vision for a research career, and academic excellence in STEM coursework.
Mikayla Barry is the first member of Texas A&M’s Beckman Scholars program. She conducts research in Dr. Melissa Grunlan’s Polymeric Biomaterials lab, developing coatings for silicone to prevent blood clots. This project could allow devices like catheters to remain implanted longer with a lower risk of infection and clot formation. Barry serves as an Undergraduate Research Ambassador and volunteers at events like the Chemistry Open House, the Physics & Engineering Festival, and SEE Math Camps. She also plays piccolo in A&M’s Wind Symphony, creates stained glass, and runs long-distance. Barry intends to pursue a PhD in materials science and mentor undergraduates as a faculty member at a research university.
Barry explains that her proposed research project, as articulated in a detailed application essay, “would enhance the lifetime of extended wear contact lenses while reducing swelling and infections.” On the benefits of applying for the Goldwater Scholarship, she remarks, “The application process has helped me grow in my knowledge and motivation for learning.” Maura Cadigan, a fellow nominee, feels that the Goldwater “serves to recognize the hard work of students who have gone above and beyond what is required.”
Cadigan currently serves as a technical consultant on a multinational research team as part of the Stanford U.S. Russia Forum. She is the first Aggie to be accepted into the program. Maura is also active in the Student Engineers Council, co-coordinating the Spring 2016 career fair, and is the mechanical team lead for the Women in Engineering’s first VEX robotics team. She works as a teaching assistant for ENGR 112 and hopes to pursue a graduate degree at a top technical school like Georgia Tech.
For Kendal Ezell, the Goldwater Scholarship represents an opportunity to thank and give back to “the people who helped her to get to that point by providing opportunities and guidance.” Ezell has participated in Dr. Duncan Maitland’s Biomedical Device Laboratory since her second semester at Texas A&M. Her work in the lab has focused on cold plasma surface modifications of shape memory polymer devices and materials characterization, resulting in presentations at three research symposiums across the state and a second place award at the Pathways Symposium at Texas A&M – Corpus Christi. During the fall of 2015, Ezell joined Dr. Mark Packard in the Institute for Neuroscience to study memory in rats. Currently, Ezell is working with biotechnology companies in Germany during her study abroad there. In addition to her research, Ezell is an involved member of Kappa Alpha Theta, the Student Engineers’ Council, the American Medical Student Association, and Alpha Eta Mu Beta. She plans to pursue an MD/PhD in order to perform clinical research on neurotissue degradation and medical device design.
Gabrielle Lessen is also nominated for the Goldwater Scholarship. She began research with the Michael E. DeBakey Undergraduate Research Scholars Program as a freshman, working under Dr. Christopher Quick and Dr. Thomas Stiles to model renal fluid dynamics. In spring 2015, Lessen was named a Beckman Research Scholar for Texas A&M, and through this program, she is currently conducting an independent research project on telomere biology in Dr. Dorothy Shippen’s lab. Lessen serves as an ambassador for the University Honors Program as one of the University Scholars, is involved in the Biochemistry and Genetics Society and National Aggie Scholar Ambassadors, and currently acts as the Development Director for the MSC L.T. Jordan Institute for International Awareness. She plans to pursue an MD/PhD and conduct cancer research.
Each of the nominees has greatly benefited from the support of dedicated faculty, research advisors, recommendation writers, and National Fellowships staff. Lessen, for example, extends a special thank you to Dr. Dorothy Shippen, Dr. Sumana Datta, Dr. Thomas Stiles, Dr. Ana Suescun, Adelia Humme, and Jamaica Pouncy. The National Fellowships program depends on faculty and staff to serve on nomination committees and to provide feedback on applications, and we appreciate all that they do to help us.
Since 2000, Texas A&M has produced 26 Goldwater Scholars. In the 2015 competition, genetics and biochemistry double-major Aaron Griffin ‘16 and biology major Erica Gacasan ‘16 were selected as Goldwater Scholars and Will Linz ’16 was named a Goldwater Honorable Mention. Other notable Aggie Goldwater Scholars include Rhodes Scholarship finalist Andrew Matteson ’08, Hertz Foundation Fellow Luke Hunter ’08, and National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship recipients Brian Sedio ’07 and Agustin Mohedas ‘07.
Best of luck to Mikayla, Maura, Kendal, and Gabby in the national Goldwater Scholarship competition!