Tag Archives: University Scholars

Jamaica Pouncy: On Travel, Personal & Professional Development, Part 1

Jamaica Pouncy was the National Fellowships Coordinator in LAUNCH and advisor for University Scholars from 2012-2016, and continued to work with our office on a part time basis through 2017. In the post below (part 1 of 2), she reflects on how travel and reflection on her professional goals led her to pursue a career abroad.

By Jamaica Pouncy –

My intention in writing this piece is twofold: first, I want to tell my story because I hope that it can inspire and help others and because it is immensely gratifying to work with those who believe my experiences are worth hearing about (thank you, Dr. Kotinek!).

My first international trip was technically as a baby. My parents were leaving a military base in Germany and they brought me on the plane where my mother tells me I slept…. well, like a baby, for the entire journey. Hardly worth mentioning except that I really like the story my parents tell about my birth and trip to the U.S.  And since it fit with my theme of international travel I thought, ‘why not?’ However, I’ll be the first to acknowledge that this trip doesn’t really count, at least in my opinion, as international travel. I wasn’t required to navigate the complicated bureaucracy and paperwork related to visas and passports; repack my suitcase three or four times; or figure out how to ask for the bathroom when the person I’m talking to doesn’t speak English and I don’t know the word for bathroom in any other language. So I think my story of international travel and what it has taught me should really begin with my time at A&M.

Jamaica Pouncy (right) with students on the MSC Champe Fitzhugh Honors International Leadership trip.

I had been in the LAUNCH office (Honors and Undergraduate Research at the time) for about 6 months when Dr. Datta and Dr. Kotinek approached me about co-leading the Champe Fitzhugh trip in Italy. I jumped at the opportunity to have my first “real” international trip. I learned a lot in that initial experience; much of it before I even left Texas. I had never been through the passport process or attempted to convert currency or had to decide what to pack when you couldn’t be guaranteed a quick trip to the corner store to pick up anything you forgot.  In some weird way I didn’t really believe I was going to go. And that feeling persisted until the plane actually left the runway. Honestly, even while I was in the air it didn’t feel real. But several hours later we touched down in Germany for our layover and I was walking through customs (where I had a fascinating conversation about my inability to speak German despite having Germany listed as my place of birth on my passport).

The Champe Fitzhugh trip was everything you could want for your first international trip; Italy was beautiful, my traveling companions were delightful, and we had few mishaps. I think, for many people and certainly for me, international travel holds equal parts fascination and fear. There is the desire to see other parts of the world combined with the idea that, somehow, something might go wrong and you will simply be out of your element and incapable of functioning. That trip taught me not to be fearful of the international landscape and I left Italy hooked on international travel and thinking about where I might go next. As it turns out, my next international trip was also related to my work in the LAUNCH office.

It was during my first year as fellowships coordinator that I was able to recognize a large gap in my professional understanding. I was working with students as they applied to awards that would fund graduate study in the UK and Ireland. Naturally we would talk about the British and Irish educational systems; the best programs; and the appropriate fit for each student. Except I really had no experience with either educational system. The information I was providing could really have been found online and I felt superfluous. I spoke to Dr. Datta and she suggested that I submit a proposal detailing my ideas for changing that situation.

The proposal, which asked the university to fund a trip to the UK and Ireland, was my first experience with grant writing. And that experience was transformative. I didn’t really expect the proposal to be successful. I was there to do a job for the university, why would any of the upper administration be interested in my inability to do that job except as it relates to my employability? But, they were interested. Not only were they interested in what was best for the students but they were interested in helping me cultivate and refine my skillset. They agreed, Dr. Datta said, because they saw something worthwhile in me; something that was worth investing in. So I packed my bags and headed off to the UK and Ireland.

My mother was much more worried about my trip to the UK and Ireland than I was. It was after all my first international trip completely alone. I would be responsible for myself and there would be no one to lean on if something went wrong. But it was Great Britain. An English-speaking, first world country. I assured her I’d be fine and the worst thing that would happen would be spending Thanksgiving in a hotel instead of at home with family. I boarded my flight with no problems and relaxed into my seat where I slept for the majority of the 6 hours. I landed in Heathrow and sailed through customs. I strolled through the airport to pick up my luggage and approached the carousel to grab my bag. Only to discover that my luggage had been damaged on the trip. And not just a few bumps and scrapes, it was absolutely, completely, destroyed and clearly couldn’t fly anymore. Heck it couldn’t even roll anymore. I couldn’t lug that thing around a foreign country for 4 weeks!

Oh well. It was getting late and dark and I decided to tackle the problem in the morning. I figured there was nothing to be done about it then so I went to the information desk to ask about a shuttle to my hotel. I walked up, asked about the shuttle, and the desk attendant smiled and started to speak…. And I couldn’t understand a word he was saying. Was that really English? It was so fast and…. different. Cue my first (of many) international freak-outs. I’m proud to say that, after several opportunities to practice and hone the ability over the years, I’ve now mastered the art of the internal freak-out. No need to disturb (and terrify) everyone around you when the entire episode can happen in your head! I asked him to repeat the information (twice!) and finally figured out that I needed to buy a shuttle ticket. I went to the ATM to pull out money and discovered that all of my cards were frozen for international use. A word to the wise: always remember to tell your banks when you plan to travel out of the country, my friends. So, there I was, in the airport as night descended with a busted suitcase and no money.

Luckily the shuttle agent took pity on me and let me ride to my hotel for free where, after a night of sleep, I was able to straighten things out. I like to think that by frontloading all of my issues into the first day at the airport I managed to avoid having constant mishaps throughout my journey. Apart from getting lost and wandering the oddly deserted streets of Edinburgh for a few hours, the rest of my trip went off without a hitch. I think I will always feel that my time in the UK and Ireland struck a perfect balance between the acquisition of professional knowledge and personal confidence. I learned a lot about the UK and Irish education systems (which, of course, was the goal after all). But I also learned that when things do go wrong (as they often do) I am capable of finding solutions and pushing forward. It’s a lesson I have been able to take and apply to all parts of my life.

Watch for part 2, coming soon!

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Ezell and Versaw to Receive Astronaut Scholarship Foundation Awards Thursday

Kendal Ezell ‘18 and Brooke Versaw ‘18 have been selected to receive 2017 Astronaut Scholarship Foundation Astronaut Scholarship awards. Both students previously received Honorable Mention recognition in the 2017 Goldwater scholarship competition.

In 1984, the six surviving members of the Mercury 7 mission created the scholarship to encourage students to pursue scientific endeavors. Today the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation (ASF) program members include astronauts from the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Skylab, and Space Shuttle programs. Over the last 33 years the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation has awarded over $4 million in scholarships to more than 400 of the nation’s top scholars over the last 32 years. This year only 45 students nationwide are being honored with this prestigious scholarship.

2017 Astronaut Scholar, Kendal Ezell ’18

Kendal Ezell is a senior biomedical engineering student minoring in neuroscience. She was honored in 2017 as the Phi Kappa Phi Outstanding Junior for Texas A&M after being selected as the Outstanding Junior from the College of Engineering. As noted above, Ezell was selected for Honorable Mention in the 2017 Goldwater Scholarship competition, and is a member of both the University Honors Program and the Engineering Honors program. Ezell was an Undergraduate Research Scholar, completing her undergraduate thesis on shape-memory polymer foam devices for the treatment of brain aneurysms with Dr. Duncan Maitland in the Biomedical Device Lab. She has also conducted research on the relationship between emotions and learning memory with Dr. Mark Packard in the Institute of Neuroscience, and on biotech device design with Dr. Jeremy Wasser in the Germany Biosciences Study Abroad Program. Ezell’s research has resulted in three publications, including one in the American Society of Mechanical Engineers Journal for Design of Medical Devices Conference for which she is first author. She also was awarded a Gilman scholarship for international study and has gained inventorship on provisional patent applications.

Ezell plans to pursue an M.D./Ph.D. dual degree and work in medical device development and treatment and prevention of tissue degradation in diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Ezell’s grandmother’s struggle with Alzheimer’s sparked her passion in this direction. “Before my grandmother’s passing,” she says, “medicine was my chosen field, but her illness gave me further direction into a research career. I realized that I want to do more than just treat patients; I want to conduct research so that I can develop new ways to help and treat patients like my grandmother. The fields of neurology and tissue engineering interest me. It is at the intersections of these fields where I hope to apply interdisciplinary strategies to solve problems in unique ways.”

2017 Astronaut Scholar, Brooke Versaw ’18

Brooke Versaw is a senior chemistry student with a minor in business administration. Versaw was selected as a Beckman Scholar and University Scholar in 2015, and has served in multiple leadership capacities within the University Honors Program Honors Housing Community and Honors Student Council. Versaw also has extensive research experience. The summer before her senior year in high school, she worked with Dr. Junha Jeon at the University of Texas at Arlington as a Welch Foundation Summer Scholar. The summer before her freshman year at Texas A&M, she worked with Dr. Steve Lockless in the Department of Biology to study intracellular signaling. Most recently, Versaw has worked with her Beckman Scholar mentor, Dr. Karen Wooley, as an Undergraduate Research Scholar. Her thesis examined the development of a novel class of degradable polycarbonate materials to create environmentally-responsible plastics. In addition to conducting original research, Versaw is also invested in extolling the virtues of scientific research.

“While my research experience has undoubtedly informed and inspired my desire for a career in scientific research,” Versaw says, “it has also made me an enthusiastic advocate for science outreach. As an Undergraduate Research Ambassador for Texas A&M University, a volunteer for the annual Chemistry Open House, and a workshop leader for Expanding Your Horizons, a STEM initiative for 6th grade girls, I discovered that I enjoy both conducting research and communicating its findings. Moreover, I enjoy serving as a role model and a source of encouragement for younger students.”

Following graduation, Versaw plans to pursue a doctoral degree in chemistry and a career as a polymer chemist on the faculty of a Tier-1 research institution, where she can impact both her field of polymer and materials synthesis, and help cultivate future generations of scientists.

Ezell and Versaw will be presented their ASF awards at a special ceremony on Thursday, October 26, by former astronaut Fred Gregory.

2017 ASF Award Presentation, Reach for the Stars, with astronaut Fred Gregory. Gregory will present awards to Ezell and Versaw before making public comments.

To read more about how LAUNCH: National Fellowships helps prepare outstanding students to compete for nationally-competitive awards such as the Astronaut Scholarship with the generous support of the Association of Former Students, please visit http://natlfellows.tamu.edu.

INTRODUCING THE CLASS OF 2020 UNIVERSITY SCHOLARS

Today’s Honors Welcome recognized twelve new students joining the University Scholars program. University Scholars is a personal and professional development program for high-achieving students who serve as ambassadors for the University Honors program. Each spring, ten to twelve freshmen are selected for the Scholars program through an intensive application and interview process. The program seeks students who are intellectually curious and who demonstrate critical thinking, self-awareness, poise, and maturity. Scholars are able to engage in rigorous conversation and to defend their ideas. They’re also highly accomplished and motivated students who love learning for the sake of learning.

University Scholars Class of 2020: (left to right) Immanuel Ponminissery, Hannah Lehman, Loan Do, Seth Reine, Sydney Tejml, Caleb Allison, Tessa Williams, Alex Sharma, Sarah Swift, Jon Williamson, Katherine Miller

These new Scholars will join their twenty upperclassman peers in the Exploration Series, seminar courses offered to Scholars each semester. Previous Exploration Series have delved into transportation, education, television, comedy, and animal conservation; this coming fall will feature seminars on Aggie History and Food and the Sacred. Sophomores new to the program participate in a personal statement writing seminar, “Futuring Yourself,” together.

Throughout the program, University Scholars seek intellectual challenge and share their unique perspectives from an array of academic and cultural backgrounds. We are excited for twelve new University Scholars to grow in this program during the next three years and look forward to seeing their future accomplishments both at Texas A&M and in the world!

Caleb Allison ’20, University Scholar

Caleb Allison

Caleb Allison is a sophomore business major from Argyle, TX. Allison is an outdoorsman and adventurer, and he loves anything to do with mountains, snow, and conservation. He was a member of MSC ALOT as a freshman and will be on staff as a Group Leader for his sophomore year. He is also a member of the University Disciplinary Appeals Panel and Discovery Church. Allison went abroad to Italy the summer before his freshman year as part of the Champe Fitzhugh Honors Freshman International Leadership seminar.

Loan Do ’20, University Scholar

Loan Do

Loan Do is an allied health major from Houston, TX, who plans to go to Nursing School. Do is interested in studying either neonatal medicine or oncology for her specialization someday. She is a member of the Regents’ Scholars Orientation Planning Board and Texas A&M University’s Texas Emergency Care Team (TAMECT).

Hannah Lehman ’20, University Scholar

Hannah Lehman

Hannah Lehman is an aerospace engineering major and mathematics minor from Austin, Texas. Lehman is interested in one day combining air and spacecraft with more advanced artificial intelligence. She loves sculpture and martial arts and is a certified Black Belt in Tae Kwon Do. She is involved in Vietnamese Student Association (VSA), Virtual Reality Club, and the Honors community.

Larry Liu ’20, University Scholar

Larry Liu

Larry Liu is an economics major from Alpharetta, Georgia. Liu has always been interested in history and human expression through the arts. He enjoys literature and films, and he is particularly interested in the story and the human struggle in these. Liu is an avid runner, and is often seen running with the Corps early in the morning. He has made Dean’s List, is a recipient of the Sul Ross Corps Scholarship, and serves as the Scholastics Sergeant for his outfit in the Corps.

Katherine Miller ’20, University Scholar

Katherine Miller

Katherine Miller is a biology major and Latin minor from Denver, Colorado. She is a recipient of the President’s Endowed Scholarship and National Merit Semi-Finalist. In her free time Miller enjoys reading fiction, studying languages, and communing with the great outdoors. When she is not studying, Miller is involved in Venture Crew, a co-ed organization of the Boy Scouts of America.

Immanuel Ponminissery ’20, University Scholar

Immanuel Ponminissery

Immanuel Ponminissery is a mechanical engineering major and economics minor from Thrissur, India. Technology and its benefits never fail to excite him, especially developments in his major. Ponminissery also enjoys reading the news, monitoring stock prices, and occasionally getting deeply philosophical. Another passion of his is immersing himself in different cultures. Ponminissery was briefly involved with Model United Nations at Texas A&M and currently serve as Treasurer of the Lambda Sigma Sophomore Honor Society.

Seth Reine ’20, University Scholar

Seth Reine

Seth Reine is a biomedical engineering major from Arlington, TX. Reine is interested in the applications of shape memory polymer biomaterials, increasing medical care across different cultures, and service as a disciple of God. Besides the University Honors program, he is involved with Engineering Honors, Class Councils, Residence Life, and research in the Biomedical Device Laboratory under Dr. Duncan Maitland. Reine is also a Plum Family Endowed Scholar and a President’s Endowed Scholar. He enjoys amateur weightlifting and learning to cook. While away from A&M, Seth works at Camp Thurman as a Christian youth outreach counselor.

Alex Sharma ’20, University Scholar

Eikagra “Alex” Sharma

Alex Sharma is a computer science major and mathematics minor from Bareilly, India. Sharma is currently working at the Energy Systems Laboratory, TEES to improve the software platform for engineering efficiency in buildings. He wants to work in the field of Sustainable Energy Production. Sharma is a member of the Christian Engineering Leaders organization, and is active in volunteering and community service. He is motivated to learn new cultures and skills, and is also passionate about mathematics. Sharma contributes Calculus problems for an e-book as part of the MYMathApps project and is also conducting research under Dr. Philip Yasskin on improving a parser that converts math input to Sage code.

Sarah Swift ’20, University Scholar

Sarah Swift

Sarah Swift is a biomedical engineering major and philosophy minor from Magnolia, TX, where she graduated from Magnolia High School as Valedictorian. She is a National Merit Scholar and Brown Foundation Scholar. Swift’s academic interests lie in medical technology innovation, medical care in underdeveloped countries, and the ethical implications of engineering research. Her personal interests include dance, writing, travel, and spending time outdoors. In the summer of 2016, Swift attended the MSC Champe Fitzhugh International Honors Leadership Seminar in Italy. She is a volunteer for the Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership seminar and is passionate about empowering the youth. During her freshman year at Texas A&M, Swift served as a staff member for The Big Event, as a member of the TEDxTAMU committee of MSC Aggie Leaders of Tomorrow, and a delegate for the Gilbert Leadership Conference. She is also an active member of Kappa Alpha Theta.

Sydeny Tejml ’20, University Scholar

Sydney Tejml

Sydney Tejml is a biomedical sciences and animal sciences double-major with a minor in psychology from Hutto, Texas. Academically, Tejml is interested in veterinary medicine and disease pathology and epidemiology. Her personal interests include travel, camping, and hunting. She loves backpacking, canoeing, snorkeling, and scuba diving! She is involved in ASPIRE, the Terry Foundation, and Pre-Vet Society on campus. Her achievements at Texas A&M include becoming a member of Phi Eta Sigma and the National Society of Collegiate Scholars, and making the Dean’s List for both semesters of her freshman year.

Tessa Williams ’20, University Scholar

Tessa Williams

Tessa Williams is a business major and psychology minor from Friendswood, TX. She is interested in psychology, especially neuroscience and abnormal and forensic psychology, as well as literature and political science. Outside of school, Williams enjoys reading, hiking, and exploring new places, whether foreign or local. This past year, she was a member of Memorial Student Center Freshman Leadership International, in which she was able to develop leadership and communication skills while putting on educational programs and developing relationships with an amazing group of peers.

Jon Williamson ’20, University Scholar

Jon Williamson

Jon Williamson is a mechanical engineering major from Centennial, CO, he also plans on adding a computer science major and mathematics minor. Throughout his childhood, he was fascinated with math, science, and space exploration. Williamson is a President’s Endowed Scholaras well as a Craig and Galen Brown Foundation Scholar. Outside of academics, he is extremely involved in MSC Aggie Leaders of Tomorrow and is the TEDxTAMU Executive for the 2018 conference. Williamson is an avid sports fan, especially for the Denver Broncos. In his free time, he enjoys reading, working out, and playing basketball.

Freshmen interested in applying for the University Scholars program can learn more by attending information sessions in November or the recruitment mixer in December. The application will open in January 2018. See our website at http://launch.tamu.edu/Honors/University-Scholars.

Former Student Spotlight – Nahua Kang

Nahua Kang ’14 graduated in December 2013 with a degree in history. While at A&M, Nahua was a University Scholar and a member of the Corps of Cadets. In the post linked below, he shares lessons learned working with entrepreneurs and start-ups in Germany. Here’s an excerpt:

Spending a summer in the startup scene in the beautiful Frankfurt am Main has taught me a lot. I met interesting people and have luckily been inspired by some true entrepreneurs. I’ve also made mistakes, “contributed” to misunderstandings and miscommunication, and observed different leadership styles. Here are some thoughts for others who are exploring startups and entrepreneurship.

On Personal Development

  1. Most people you have met are replaceable. Be irreplaceable.

  2. An easy way to be irreplaceable is to be a generalist-specialist in seemingly unrelated fields: Be a top strategy consultant who knows how to hack AI; be a great artist who knows the intricacies of blockchain.

  3. Generalist-specialist doesn’t mean “generalist”. It means interdisciplinary specialist (my personal interpretation of Peter Thiel’s sharp opinion against generalists in Zero to One).

  4. Curiosity and open-mindedness drive learning. Be a life-long learner and reader. The moment you stop learning is the moment you become replaceable.

  5. So learn, learn, and learn. Yes you can do math. Yes you can paint. All you need is passion, practice, and perseverance.

  6. Communication matters. Writing matters. (I got 2 new internship opportunities, both of which require generalist-specialist skill sets and solid writing skills in English).

To read the full post including Nahua’s additional advice on Career and Leadership, visit his post on Medium.com (please be aware that there is some strong language used).

We love to share news and success stories from our Honors Former Students! If you have something to share with our current, former, and prospective students and their families, please contact honors@tamu.edu.

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.

Introducing the Class of 2019 University Scholars

The Honors Welcome on Friday, August 26, recognized twelve new students joining the University Scholars program. University Scholars is a personal and professional development program for high-achieving students who serve as ambassadors for the University Honors program. Each spring, ten to twelve freshmen are selected for the Scholars program through an intensive application and interview process. The program seeks students who are intellectually curious and who demonstrate critical thinking, self-awareness, poise, and maturity. Scholars are able to engage in rigorous conversation and to defend their ideas. They’re also highly accomplished and motivated students who love learning for the sake of learning.

Class of 2019 University Scholars
Class of 2019 University Scholars

These new Scholars will join their twenty-one peers in the Exploration Series, seminar courses offered to Scholars each semester. Previous Exploration Series have delved into transportation, education, television, comedy, and animal conservation, among many other topics. Sophomores new to the program participate in a personal statement writing seminar, “Futuring Yourself,” together.

Throughout the program, University Scholars seek intellectual challenge and share their unique perspectives from an array of academic and cultural backgrounds. We are excited for twelve new University Scholars to grow in this program during the next three years and look forward to seeing their future accomplishments both at Texas A&M and in the world!

Mustafa Al Nomani
University Scholar Mustafa Al-Nomani ’19

Mustafa Al-Nomani is a philosophy major from Houston, Texas. He is a member of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars and Phi Eta Sigma. Mustafa is pursuing the Liberal Arts Honors program and has been a bus driver for the Aggie Spirit campus buses. He is also a Regents’ Scholar.

Matthew Curtis '19
University Scholar Matthew Curtis ’19

Matthew Curtis is a mechanical engineering major from Spokane, Washington. Matthew completed one deployment with Dog Company, First Battalion, Seventh Marine Regiment to Helmand Province, Afghanistan, and two training deployments with Animal Company, First Battalion, Seventh Marine Regiment to the Kingdom of Jordan. In summer 2013, he was recognized as second in class at the Advanced Assault Course in Camp Pendleton, California. He is a recipient of the Lou and CC Burton ’42 scholarship and the Joseph and Patty P. Mueller scholarship. Matthew volunteers as a Peer Advisor for Veteran Education through the Veteran Resource & Support Center.

Ashley Hayden '19
University Scholar Ashley Hayden ’19

Ashley Hayden is a biology major from Friendswood, Texas. She is the vice president of Health Occupational Students of America, a new, national organization for premedical students. Ashley will serve as a supplemental instructor for chemistry or biology this year and is involved in the American Medical Student Association and the Texas A&M chapter of the American Red Cross. This past summer, Ashley shadowed a pediatric ICU pediatrician for over fifty hours. She has also volunteered for more than a hundred hours. Ashley is pursuing a minor in art, as well as the honors programs in the College of Science and the Department of Biology.

Victoria Hicks '19
University Scholar Victoria Hicks ’19

Victoria Hicks is a chemical engineering major from Plainfield, Illinois. She is a President’s Endowed Scholar and a member of the Engineering Honors program. Victoria conducts research on dispersed nanomaterials in Dr. Micah Green’s lab, the “Green Group”. This past summer, she interned at Essentium Materials, a company of materials scientists and engineers. During a previous internship at Environmental Solutions in 2015, Victoria was responsible for sales calls and placing purchase orders. She has been a member of Students in Physics, Women in Engineering, and DEEP (Discover, Enjoy, and Explore Physics and Engineering).

Ashley Holt '19
University Scholar Ashley Holt ’19

Ashley Holt is a biomedical engineering major from Kingwood, Texas. As a Beckman Scholar, she joined Dr. Young’s lab in the Department of Biochemistry, where she studies phage lysis proteins and nature’s antibiotic agents. Ashley is a President’s Endowed Scholar and a member of the Biomedical Engineering Society. As a freshman, she was awarded second place in Texas A&M’s Freshman Sophomore Math Contest and presented a demo at the annual Physics & Engineering Festival as part of the Discover, Enjoy, and Explore Physics and Engineering program. She also participated in John 15, the freshman organization at St. Mary’s Student Center.

Ecaroh Jackson '19
University Scholar Ecaroh Jackson ’19

Ecaroh Jackson, from Caldwell, Texas, is an interdisciplinary studies major specializing in math and science. She volunteers at Camp Dreamcatcher, which serves children with cancer, and is an AP Scholar and a member of Phi Eta Sigma. As a freshman, Ecaroh participated in the Lohman Learning Community and was a member of a panel for the Department of Teaching, Learning, and Culture’s open classroom.

Joy Koonin '19
University Scholar Joy Koonin ’19

Joy Koonin, from Concord, California, is an international studies major specializing in international politics and diplomacy. She is a President’s Endowed Scholar and a member of the Association of Cornerstone Students. Joy has attended the Hasbara Fellowship in Israel and the MSC Champe Fitzhugh International Honors Leadership Seminar in Italy. She is an active member of Aggie Students Supporting Israel, the Texas A&M chapter of the Lone Survivor Foundation, and Aggies Support United Service Organizations. In her spare time, Joy runs a costuming and alterations business called Joy’s Dresserie, which specializes in historical clothing. She is pursuing a minor in Chinese.

Luke Oaks '19
University Scholar Luke Oaks ’19

Luke Oaks is a biomedical engineering major from Troy, Ohio, who serves as a Texas A&M National Scholar Ambassador, a resident advisor for the Startup Living Learning Community, and an editorial board member for Explorations: The Texas A&M Undergraduate Journal. As a Beckman Scholar, Luke is developing technology for lung cancer detection in Dr. Gerard Coté’s bioinstrumentation lab. Luke received the Class Star Award for Leadership and was selected as one of fifteen scholars in the nation to serve on the Pearson Student Advisory Board, through which he will improve educational technologies. Luke is the vice president of A&M’s club tennis team and a mentor to the Posse Scholar community. He is pursuing a minor in sociology.

Keith Phillips '19
University Scholar Keith Phillips ’19

Keith Phillips is an electrical engineering major from Flint, Texas. As a member of Engineers Serving the Community, he contributed to an interactive exhibit about water tables and runoff for the Brazos Valley Fair Water Demo. For the past several summers, he has interned as a programmer and IT technician at KP Evolutions, a company that designs automated systems. Keith is a President’s Endowed Scholar and will serve as a Sophomore Advisor this year. He also participates in Student Bonfire. Keith is licensed as an apprentice electrician in the state of Texas and is pursuing a minor in Business Administration.

Alex Skwarczynski '19
University Scholar Alex Skwarczynski ’19

Alex Skwarczynski is a computer science major from Knoxville, Tennessee. He conducts aerospace research with Dr. Raktim Bhattacharya to predict possible orbital collisions. This summer, Alex interned with a tech startup. During a previous internship at Oak Ridge National Lab in 2015, Alex helped develop the concept for an improved neutron imaging instrument. He has participated in the Society of Flight Test Engineers, the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and the Engineering Honors Program. Alex is a Brown Foundation Scholar, a President’s Endowed Scholar, and a National Merit Scholar and is pursuing a minor in business administration.

Ashley Taylor '19
University Scholar Ashley Taylor ’19

Ashley Taylor is an aerospace engineering major from Austin, Texas, and has recently returned from a summer of study abroad in Doha, Qatar. Ashley is a member of the Engineering Honors Program and the Society of Flight Test Engineers. She is also a general engineering representative of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. This year, Ashley will serve as a Sophomore Advisor; she was previously a Resident Advisor in Lechner Hall. As a NASA High School Aerospace Scholar in 2014, Ashley researched bioregenerative life support systems. She is a recipient of the Peter Hunter Dunham ’74 Scholarship.

Taylor Welch '19
University Scholar Taylor Welch ’19

Taylor Welch is a business honors major from Houston, Texas, and a member of MSC Business Associates, the Mays Business Honors Program, and Texas A&M National Scholar Ambassadors. Last summer, she attended the MSC Champe Fitzhugh International Honors Leadership Seminar in Italy. As a freshman, Taylor served as a member of MSC Freshmen in Service and Hosting and the MSC Wiley Lecture Series, receiving the MSC First Year Involvement Award and the MSC Diversity of Involvement Award. She continues as a member of the MSC LT Jordan Institute for International Awareness, where she will serve as the Internship and Living Abroad Programs Director this year. Additionally, Taylor sits on the University Disciplinary Appeals Panel. She is a National Merit Scholar, a President’s Endowed Scholar, and a Craig and Galen Brown Foundation Scholar.

Freshmen interested in applying for the University Scholars program can learn more by attending information sessions in November or the recruitment mixer in December. The application will open in January 2017. See our website at http://honors.tamu.edu/Honors/University-Scholars.

Former student connects University Honors to graduate school plans

Adelia Humme ’15 is a graduate of the University Honors program and served LAUNCH as an Honors advisor in the 2015-2016 year. She is now pursuing a master’s in Publishing & Writing at Emerson College. She hopes to demonstrate to new Honors students how their involvement in University Honors can help them achieve their post-graduation goals.

One of the frequent questions that I hear from prospective students who are considering University Honors is What’s the benefit of joining Honors? Students facing the options of various academic programs, as well as more than 800 student organizations at Texas A&M, are right to wonder how their time commitments contribute to their end goals of pursuing further schooling or a career. One way I respond to this question is by emphasizing that any Honors program is what you make of it. LAUNCH provides opportunities and encourages students to reflect on them, but how much you engage is up to you. The second half of my response is more concrete because hearing examples of how I drew connections between my Honors experience and my graduate school plans may help students better visualize how they can benefit from University Honors too.

Firstly, Honors courses gave me the opportunity to focus on the subjects that interest me most and to tailor my coursework to my career plans. Projects in my Honors classes often allowed me to choose a topic to research throughout the semester. One such course was introductory marketing for business minors, which I course contracted for Honors credit. My professor and I designed an independent study project in which I assessed the impacts of digitalization on the book publishing industry, the field I planned to enter after graduation. When I applied for a master’s in Publishing and Writing at Emerson College a year later, I referenced the report and annotated bibliography I created in that marketing class in my application essay.

I was also able to link my mentorship involvement in Honors to my graduate school plans. In the application essay, I described how serving as a Sophomore Advisor (SA) taught me how to exercise judgement, to be patient, and to be open to new perspectives, all skills that will serve me well in my next degree. Since being an SA was so impactful to my college experience, I also learned that finding success in graduate school will greatly depend on how I invest my time outside of the classroom. I will have to intentionally seek opportunities for professional development and not rely only on my coursework.

My capstone, too, was instrumental in shaping my college learning. As an Undergraduate Teacher Scholar, I was surprised to discover how much behind-the-scenes effort goes into planning a class. My faculty mentor and I were responsible for creating a course webpage, selecting specific editions of texts for our class, arranging classroom space, and calculating grade averages, all work that I never saw as a student. I realized that every career involves much more than meets the eye and that I need firsthand experience in the publishing industry to understand the challenges of that field.

Another influential aspect of my Honors involvement was University Scholars, a personal development program with a rigorous selection process. The program developed my skills in interviewing, respectful debate, and public speaking to both small groups and large audiences. I anticipate using all of these qualities during my master’s degree and especially in my dream job as a book editor. The flexibility and creativity of University Scholars built my confidence in my career plans and in my ability to share those plans with professors, classmates, and potential employers.

As incoming freshmen, you may not yet be able to see how all the puzzle pieces of your college activities fit together – and that’s okay! One purpose of the first-year seminar for University Honors freshmen is to help you begin connecting those dots. Four years from now, when you prepare to graduate, you may be as surprised as I was to see how much each of your experiences contributed to “the big picture.”