Tag Archives: Undergraduate Leadership Scholars

Student Voices: Honors and Athletics

In the post below, molecular & cell biology and applied mathematical sciences double-major Antoine Marc ’16 describes the challenge he took on as an Honors Student and student-athlete during his time at Texas A&M, as well as the enrichment and growth that resulted from that challenge.

Howdy Y’all!

I am Antoine Marc, a current senior about to graduate next week, Whoop! As part of my final swan song to the university, I wanted to talk about my undergraduate journey both as an Honors Student and a student-athlete.

Honors Fellow Marc Antoine ’16
Photo Credit: TAMU Athlet ics


I was fortunate enough to be a part of the Texas A&M Men’s Swimming and Diving team these past five years. Five years? Yep, I’m a super-senior, taking my victory lap and enjoying A&M before I become an alum. It’s definitely being a unique experience being a student-athlete here, but it still came with its challenges. Ironically enough, I didn’t come to A&M for athletics. I enrolled at A&M as an Honors student with a goal to attend medical school. However, I couldn’t give up swimming. I dedicated my entire high school and the most of my middle school years training in hopes of competing at the NCAA level, but unfortunately, I wasn’t recruited by many Division I schools. Nevertheless, I decided to give it one more shot, and I emailed Coach Jay Holmes about a try-out. Luckily for me, he accepted. Now came the hard part, balancing life as a student and a student-athlete.

As a freshman, I lived in the Honors dorms, Lechner Hall, with my fellow Honors cohort. I decided to participate in the random roommate matching system that A&M provides. Things started off great, but as expected for young 18-year-olds living on their own for the first time the good times didn’t always last. I woke up early and had a strict schedule to adhere for athletics while he was laid back, was part of a band and worked best at night. Naturally, our schedules clashed, and that didn’t make things easy for either of us. After a couple of disagreements, we decided to make the best out of our living situation, and we managed to come up with compromises between each other’s habits and schedules. In the end, living in the dorms was a maturing process, and I learned a lot about myself as an individual.

The main challenge for a student-athlete isn’t the athletics. It’s the academics. Even though I came into college with good grades, college was a definite wake up call. Classes move fast, and once you realize you’re behind, it’s even harder to get back on track. With athletics, it compounded that effect. Balancing my time for Honors academics and athletics amidst a busy schedule was challenging. My daily routine consisted of long nights finishing homework and studying for exams knowing I had to be awake by 5:10 a.m. for practice the next morning.

During each fall, I trained non-stop to get into competitive shape, and each spring, I traveled around the country for competitions, missing days, even weeks, of school at a time. In my first two years of undergrad, I quickly got swamped and didn’t manage to get the same grades I was accustomed to in High School. However, it became easier after I decided to reach out for help.

Antoine prepares to compete in a meet versus Georgia at the TAMU Rec Center

One of the main advantages of Honors courses are the small class sizes meaning I could talk to my professors on a regular basis. Almost all of my Honors professors went out of their way to accommodate my competition and training schedule to arrange extra office hours if I needed it. The best example I can give was in my Organic Chemistry course. Our class was around 35 students, and every week instead of having assigned online homework assignments, we had weekly problem sets. Our professors encouraged a collaborative effort to solve these more complex homework assignments by scheduling an 8-11pm group session on Tuesday and Thursday nights. He would be available for questions while we work on the problem set together. Don’t be fooled, to finish these problem sets you needed to have all the students working together, attacking the problem from different approaches. Dr. Bregbreiter would have a gleeful smirk on his face when we got something wrong, but his unconventional methods of teaching made us actually learn and understand the material. Balancing swimming and Honors coursework was definitely a challenge, but looking back I’m glad went through it.

One of the unique things I’ve been able to do during my undergraduate career is holding the title as SEC Student-Athlete Representative. Because of my involvement in the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, an organization on campus with a goal to facilitate an inclusive relationship between the NCAA, Texas A&M student body, and the student-athlete population, I was chosen to represent the entire SEC conference as a student-athlete representative.

As one of three student-athlete representatives for the SEC, I was able to travel to various conferences and meetings across the nation to discuss the current state of the NCAA with regards to treatment/opportunities for student-athletes. At first, these meetings were incredibly intimidating, to say the least. Usually, I was in a room with around 20 different upper administrators from various universities.

Antoine at the SEC Spring Meeting in Destin, Florida as part of his work as SEC Student-Athlete Representative

To set the scene, I was sitting next to the President of the University of Georgia, the Athletic Director of Florida, and the Commissioner of the SEC was across the table. During the meetings, everyone looked at me for input on their proposed legislation and ideas for future legislation. It may have been ignorance, by I candidly described my experience as a student-athlete, my thoughts on what was working and my feedback on what needed improving. Fortunately, they liked what I said, and I kept getting invited back to similar meetings to discuss new NCAA legislation. This past January, at the NCAA Convention in Nashville, the entire NCAA voted on those new proposals.  All except one passed! I am extremely proud of my work with SAAC and the SEC. Advocating on behave of all student-athletes was my way of giving back to current and future student-athletes, so they might be able to have an even better student-athlete experience than I did.

Overall I am very fortunate to have been an Aggie. This University and the University Honors Program has given me so much and enabled me to pursue my passions both as a student and a student-athlete. I couldn’t have asked for a better undergraduate experience.

Thanks and Gig’em!

To see Marc’s athletics profile, visit http://www.12thman.com/roster.aspx?rp_id=3445.


Three Aggies Selected for Goldwater Honorable Mention

LAUNCH: National Fellowships is delighted to announce the recognition of three outstanding students in this year’s Goldwater Scholarship competition. Kendal Ezell ‘18, Kanika Gakhar ‘18, and Brooke Versaw ’18 were all selected for Barry Goldwater Scholarship Honorable Mention.

Kanika says of the honor that “Receiving the Goldwater Honorable Mention has been a humbling reminder of the appreciation the research community has for projects like mine. By encouraging young undergraduate researchers like me to pursue topics of interest in the field of science and technology, the Goldwater Scholarship committee is truly doing a remarkable job at helping students recognize their passions and the significance of their work in a global research community. I am very grateful to LAUNCH for introducing me to this opportunity and giving me a chance to refine and present my research proposal to the prestigious Goldwater Committee. “

The Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program seeks 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. Students selected as Goldwater Scholars receive a $7,500 scholarship for the next academic year.

Goldwater Honorable Mention, Kendall Ezell ’18

Kendal Ezell ’18 is a junior biomedical engineering major from Corpus Christi, TX. Ezell’s extensive involvement at Texas A&M has included Kappa Alpha Theta sorority, Student Engineers’ Council, American Medical Student Association, and the University Honors Program and Engineering Honors. She has been selected for numerous honors and awards including as a Benjamin A. Gilman International Fellowship, as the 2017 Phi Kappa Phi Outstanding Junior for the College of Engineering, Southerland Aggie Leader Scholar, and Peter Chaplinsky Memorial Scholar.

Ezell currently works in the Biomedical Device Laboratory with Dr. Duncan Maitland, researching biomaterials and material characterization. She plans to pursue an M.D./Ph.D. in biomedical engineering and conduct research in a clinical setting to develop new medical technologies for practice. Her primary interest is treatment and prevention of tissue degradation in diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Ezell’s extensive undergraduate research will result in two first-author publications on independent projects as well as other publications by the time she graduates.

Goldwater Honorable Mention Kanika Gakhar ’18

Kanika Gakhar ’18 is a junior aerospace engineering major from Faridabad, Haryana, India. She has extensive leadership experience from her involvement in in Lambda Sigma Honor Society, the Memorial Student Center, Maroon & White Leadership Fellows, and Undergraduate Research Ambassadors. Gakhar has been selected as a University Scholar, for the TAMU Academic Excellence Award, the Larry J. McQuien ’76 “Take Flight Award,” and was part of a design team selected to present at the SpaceX Hyperloop Design Weekend.

Gakhar is currently working in the Advanced Vertical Flight Laboratory with Dr. Moble Benedict. Her Undergraduate Research Scholar thesis is on a robotic hummingbird project that seeks to revolutionize the field micro-aerial vehicles by improving efficiency of flapping-wing mechanisms through mimicry of insects and birds. Gakhar is also working with a team of mechanical, electrical, and aerospace engineering students on an Aggie Challenge Project focused on preventing railroad accidents and train derailments. She plans to pursue a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering and conduct research in biomimicry and nature-inspired design to revolutionize atmospheric and space flight. Gakhar’s research has resulted in multiple publications, including one for which she is first author.

Goldwater Honorable Mention Brooke Versaw ’18

Brooke Versaw ’18 is a junior chemistry major from College Station, TX. Versaw has served in leadership roles with the American Chemical Society and Aggie Honor Council, and has been active as a member of the MSC Visual Arts Committee and as a National Scholar Ambassador. Versaw was selected as a University Scholar, Beckman Scholar, Undergraduate Research Ambassador, and a Robert A. Welch Foundation Scholarship, and is proficient in Spanish.

Versaw has extensive experience in undergraduate research, having worked in Dr. Junha Jeon’s synthetic organic lab, with Dr. Steve Lockless’s protein chemistry group, and in Dr. Karen Wooley’s polymers and functional macromolecules laboratory. She plans to pursue a Ph.D. in polymer chemistry and have an academic career conducting research on polymer synthesis and materials characterization. Versaw’s research has resulted in multiple first-author publications.

Texas A&M has a long history of success with the Goldwater Scholarship. Previous Goldwater Scholars include Nicholas Mondrik ’15 (physics), Erica Gacasan ’16 (biomedical engineering), Aaron Griffin ’16 (biochemistry & genetics), and Maura Cadigan ’17 (aerospace engineering). If you are a STEM student invested in research and would like to learn more about the Goldwater Scholarship, please contact National Fellowships coordinator Benjamin Simington (natlfellows@tamu.edu) or visit our website: http://tx.ag/NatlFellows.

Eleni Mijalis Nominated for Churchill Scholarship

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 natlfellows@tamu.edu. You can also learn more about the Churchill Scholarship on the LAUNCH website.

Transformational Leadership: Juli Ewell’s Capstone Project

The following is a reflection written by accounting major Juli Ewell ’15. Ewell was part of the first cohort of students in the newly-developed Undergraduate Leadership Scholars (ULS) program.

My ULS capstone project is best understood with some context. Aggie Habitat was founded at Texas A&M around the year 1992 and since then, it has established a good reputation among students and the cities of Bryan and College Station. I was acting Historian during the 2012-2013 school year and was able to see the group during its best year so far. That year’s officers were well organized, we had approximately 200 students as paying members, our key fundraisers were the most successful they had ever been, and the organization surpassed its goal of sponsoring one Habitat house each year by actually funding two houses. At the end of the 2012-2013 year, it was an honor to be an officer in such a successful group, and I chose to continue on as the new Treasurer.

However, the following year brought numerous challenges that significantly harmed the organization. Our membership count was obliterated at the very first informational meeting because of a conflict with room reservations, causing the most important and professional meeting of the year to be held outside with our frazzled officers shouting their haphazard speeches. The group tried to recover, but it severely lacked central leadership. Unfortunately, we were unable to raise the funds to sponsor even one house that year. By the final meeting of 2013-2014, less than 20 general members were in attendance. We encouraged those few to become the succeeding officers, even though nearly all had only become members in the spring semester so had little knowledge of the organization as a whole. All of the 2013-2014 officers were leaving the group, except myself, and I discovered our faculty advisor was stepping down as well. Therefore, with an army of brand-new officers and tenuous foundations from a difficult year, I assumed the role of President with the goal of helping Aggie Habitat thrive again.

My project was initially to increase Aggie Habitat’s general membership by using a Transformational Leadership approach. This leadership style helped me quickly realize the importance of first strengthening the incoming 2014-2015 officer group. Throughout the year, I experimented with different leadership aspects and initiated various activities in order to accomplish my project. I desired to train the officers in their roles and to develop them into strong leaders themselves, which would give the organization the best hopes of long-term continuity. I organized teambuilding activities such as a summer Officer Retreat and educational Habitour with the Bryan/College Station Habitat Affiliate office. I forced myself to practice effective delegation techniques. Despite wanting to micromanage everyone, that would certainly not be efficient and would not help the others grow into their positions. The method I used to attract new general members was inspired by a Simon Sinek TED Talk that preaches, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” I adopted a new approach at the first meeting of each semester; I explained to the audience that the problem of substandard housing exists, that Habitat for Humanity is shown to mitigate it, and that Aggie Habitat lets students contribute to this worthy cause. The officers then strove to retain our members during the school year by hosting exciting meetings and activities.

A female student with long brown hair pulled back, wearing a grey sweatshirt over a green polo speaks at a podium with several people in the background.
Undergraduate Leadership Scholar Juli Ewell ’15, speaking at a Habitat for Humanity dedication ceremony

The results of my ULS project appear successful. The 2014-2015 officers were a fantastic group, and their amazing dedication far exceeded my expectations at every turn. Each one is now extremely experienced in his or her role, and they grew into a cohesive team. I am proud to say that at our recent officer elections, nearly every position was filled by a prior officer. Thus, not only were the returnees qualified, they also wanted to stay involved. Aggie Habitat’s membership flourished, ending the spring semester with more than 175 paid members with decent continued attendance at our events. In April, we were on track to have raised the funds to fully sponsor a house, we won the Texas A&M Student Activities Organization of the Year Award, and one of our members received the Margaret Rudder Community Service Award. My four-year involvement with Aggie Habitat has been a fully rewarding experience, and the work of my ULS capstone project helped me achieve the goals I had set. I am so thankful for this organization’s amazing opportunities and the incredible people I have gotten to know through my journey.

For more information about the Undergraduate Leadership Scholars program, visit http://tx.ag/leadership or contact Antoine Jefferson at ajeffe5@tamu.edu. To find out about the capstone programs run by Honors and Undergraduate Research, please visit http://tx.ag/capstones.

Student Research Week 2015

The 18th annual Student Research Week was held March 25-27, 2015. The week-long celebration of student research is coordinated by the Graduate Student Council (GSC) and provides opportunities for students to present, either orally or in poster form, the research they have conducted as students here at Texas A&M University. Student Research Week helps foster a campus-wide culture of research and sets a high standard for student research by advertising the opportunities for inquiry at Texas A&M and inviting the university community to participate in this exciting endeavor.

Student Research Week 2015 Connecting Ideas

The theme for Student Research Week 2015 was “Connecting Ideas,” emphasizing the need for interdisciplinary collaboration, finding and exploring common issues, and connecting the results of research with public concerns.

Student Research Week 2015 marks the first time that Undergraduate Leadership Scholars participated in the event. Two of the inaugural capstone members, supply chain management major, Hana Hoshiko ’16, and business honors and management double-major, Derek Allen McKee ‘16 presented posters describing the projects they developed as part of the capstone program, which is open to all Texas A&M undergraduates.

A male student in a dark suit and a female student in a brown jacket and dark skirt give a thumbs up in front of their research posters.
Undergraduate Leadership Scholars Derek McKee ’16 and Hana Hoshiko ’16

Student Research Week 2015 involved close to 1000 participants between competitors, judges and volunteers. There were 441 competitors that received scores, including 172 graduate students and 269 undergraduate students. This 61% undergraduate participation is the first time that undergraduate presentations have outnumbered graduate presentations. 151 of the 269 undergraduate participants in Student Research Week 2015 are students in programs run by Honors and Undergraduate Research. Not only did our students constitute a significant portion of undergraduate participants, they also took prizes in every subject area and were awarded 31 out of 103 (30%) of the undergraduate prizes. See the list below for details:

Astronomy, Chemistry, Physics, Material Sciences
2nd – Colin Whisler, University Honors and Undergraduate Research Scholar

1st – Jose Roberto Dimas Valle, Undergraduate Research Scholar
2nd – Zachary Dell, Undergraduate Research Scholar

Biology, Microbiology, Molecular Biology, Biochemistry, Biophysics
1st – Annalisa Erder, University Honors, Undergraduate Research Ambassador and Undergraduate Research Scholar
2nd – Michael Li, University Honors and Undergraduate Research Scholar

2nd – Christina Allen, Undergraduate Research Scholar

Earth Sciences, Geosciences, Water Resources
1st – Amanda Walker, Undergraduate Research Scholar

1st – Coryn Collins, Undergraduate Research Scholar

Engineering, Architecture
1st – Adekunle Adepoju, Undergraduate Research Scholar
2nd – Tasnim Mohamed, Undergraduate Research Scholar

2nd (tie) – Jack Reid, University Honors, Undergraduate Research Ambassador and Undergraduate Research Scholar

Health, Nutrition, Kinesiology, Physiology
Laura Reid, Undergraduate Research Scholar

History, Literature, Fine Arts, Communication, Languages, Philosophy
1st – Maci Greene, Undergraduate Research Scholar
2nd – Harry Zhang, University Honors Program

2nd (tie) – Kimberly Johnson, Undergraduate Research Scholar
2nd (tie) – Renee Costello, Undergraduate Research Scholar

Math, Statistics, Computer Science
2nd – Zachary Varnadore, University Honors and Undergraduate Research Scholar

Medicine, Biomedical Engineering, Neuroscience
1st (tie) – Colin Dodson, Undergraduate Research Scholar
1st (tie) – Iyan Younus, Undergraduate Research Ambassador and Undergraduate Research Scholar

Plant Sciences, Animal Sciences, Wildlife & Fisheries Science, Entomology, Agriculture, Ecological Restoration
1st – Taylor Strange, Undergraduate Research Scholar
2nd – Lauren Naylor, University Honors

1st – Alexandria Payne, University Honors
2nd (tie) – Bryan Sales, Undergraduate Research Scholar

Psychology, Sociology, Anthropology, Business, Education, Political Science, Economics
1st – Rebecca Mentzer, Undergraduate Research Scholar
2nd – Cameron Halbert, University Honors and Undergraduate Research Scholar

1st – Murphy Young, Undergraduate Research Scholar
2nd – Hunter Hampton, University Honors and Undergraduate Research Scholar

Glasscock Award Winners
Taylor Laufenberg, Undergraduate Research Scholar

Hunter Hampton, University Honors and Undergraduate Research Scholar

Vice-President for Research Awards
Adekunle Adepoju, Undergraduate Research Scholar
Taylor Strange, Undergraduate Research Scholar

Male student in grey button-up shirt and black pants gestures in front of a presentation projected on a screen.
Undergraduate Research Scholar Adekunle Adepoju ’15 presents at Student Research Week 2015

Congratulations to all of the 2015 Student Research Week winners!

HUR Staff Spotlight: Antoine Jefferson

Honors and Undergraduate Research would like to welcome Antoine Jefferson, our newest program coordinator who is tasked with creating and implementing the new Leadership Capstone slated to begin Fall of 2014.

Antoine Jefferson, Program Coordinator for Undergraduate Leadership Scholars
Antoine Jefferson, Program Coordinator for Undergraduate Leadership Scholars

Antoine is from Minden, Louisiana, a small town in the Northwest corner of the state. He attended LSU as a student in the Honors College, majoring in Biological Sciences with the initial intention of going to medical school because that was what he thought he was supposed to do.

While in college, he participated in many extracurricular activities and took on leadership roles. These activities helped him see people in different ways as they celebrated accomplishments and shared experiences. As he immersed himself in groups and communities, Antoine discovered his passion for extra-curricular learning and personal growth.

In his search to find a way to help people and be a positive influence, Antoine tried a stint as a social worker in Louisiana. However being a social worker wasn’t quite the right environment. Antoine decided to become a 4-H Extension agent; a position that fosters non-traditional learning and engagement for the students that participate. This led him to the University of Georgia to work on his Masters in Agricultural Leadership. Midway through the degree — after teaching a service-learning leadership course and involvement in other projects at the university–he realized that working in post-secondary education would be most suited for him.

Completing his Master’s degree, Antoine worked diligently to find a position within Student or Academic Affairs. He sought more education to help reach his goal. While working towards an Ed.D. in Educational Leadership at the University of Central Florida, he applied and was offered the Program Coordinator position to create the Undergraduate Leadership Scholars capstone with Honors and Undergraduate Research at Texas A&M.

His philosophy is that the Leadership Capstone should take an active and reflective approach to leadership. Each student will work towards leadership development in their organization, as a team, and as an individual. The end goal for the capstone is a reflective leadership journal, tools for personal development, and completion of a project that improves the organization. This will be an academic approach to leadership in action. It will involve critical thinking and require the student to support their morals and ethics, and to take on leadership in the real world. With Antoine’s experience in leadership roles and teaching leadership, he knows that the Undergraduate Leadership Scholars capstone will be a challenging and rewarding experience.

Beyond leadership, Antoine enjoys playing various instruments, singing, and humor. He is also excited to be an advisor to honors students. His goal is to help students develop beyond coursework, and to help guide them in their path into the real world.