As I am writing this, one of the world’s biggest events is taking place and unfortunately, the U.S. is generally oblivious to its significance. Yes, I am talking about the European Football Championship — the one where Turkey had a Cinderella run to the semi-finals, where England did not even qualify, and where the Dutch were knocked out of contention in the quarter finals after a whippin’ by the Russians. It’s Spain versus Germany in the finals. You call it soccer. We call it football.

It is impossible to convey to most Americans how big this really is (even more so when we’re talking about the World Cup, scheduled for 2010 in South Africa). I tell them to imagine a rivalry as intense as Army vs. Navy football games, or UT vs. A&M, and multiply that by a factor two or three and scale it up to an entire nation. If the Dutch team is successful in a major international soccer tournament, people take vacations, businesses shut down on game days, and pub owners will paint not only their faces bright orange, but their buildings as well. Think St. Patrick’s Day, but on a larger scale. And the Dutch are far from unique in this respect. Legendary Dutch football coach Rinus Michels is famous for one very short quote: “football is war.” Football matches are ways to settle (or perpetuate) collective grudges, either because of a past war or because of a spanking in a match decades prior.

Crowd at soccer match
Fans turn out in large numbers for soccer matches across the globe, such as this 2006 World Cup match between Serbia-Montenegro and the Netherlands.

So why don’t Americans get this?

This is the million-dollar question at the heart of most cross-cultural miscommunication. Most of these questions are variations of the following question: Why can’t “they” be more like “us“? And upon immigrating here to the U.S., I have learned that nine out of ten times, this is the wrong question to ask.

It was the summer of 1981. My parents had made friends with an American, a civil engineer like my dad. He had visited us at our home several times and we liked Mr. Matt a lot. He invited me and my older brother to stay with him and his family in the United States of America, and my parents decided that it might be good for both of us to have that experience.

Of all the impressions I got during my visit — many of which are not very profound as I was a 7th-grader — there is one that is etched in my mind. My brother and I had just cleared immigration when we were met by Matt and his wife Dawn, there to pick us up. Matt showed us a smile of recognition, but Dawn’s greeting was a different story. A complete stranger to me, she opened her arms wide and looked like she was about to cry. She greeted me with the world’s biggest (and most suffocating) bear hug, as if I was her own long-lost child. My brother was fortunate to be able to avoid this awkward situation, because at 16 years old, he was a little too manly for such a greeting. But me, I bore the brunt of this strange expression of affection.

I realize now that it was a sweet response, possibly even genuine in some odd way, but certainly sweet. I did not get that at the time. I froze with panic. I thought to myself, who is this woman? What does she want? Why is she touching me like this? Everyone else just shakes my hand. And why is she asking me how I am doing? That’s not her business! A million thoughts raced through my mind. I was too confused to utter even a sound. But in that moment, everything I had ever heard about Americans, which seemed to revolve around them being superficial, was brought home in that incredibly uncomfortable moment. Dawn, of course, never had a clue.

“In terms of cross-cultural competence, I have come to realize that one never arrives; one either accepts or declines the journey.”

Three years later, in 1984, my family and I actually moved to this country when my father was reassigned to New York. I learned to say “nice to meet you” even when the words sounded completely hollow to me. After all, how would you know if it’s nice to meet someone at the time of the introduction? Wouldn’t it take some time to come to that conclusion? Of course, I interpreted others’ “nice to meet you” as a kind but otherwise meaningless gesture. Also, I quickly realized that Americans don’t really want to know how you’re doing, and that it can be very awkward for them when you actually tell them. In fact, I learned to have quite a bit of fun with that! You see, where I grew up, yes was yes and no was no. You say what you mean and mean what you say. And you don’t ask anyone about their business unless you have an established relationship that allows those kinds of personal questions, generally reserved for friends or close acquaintances.

It was the winter of 2002. I was back in the Netherlands for a vacation, visiting high school friends of mine (“friends” in the European sense of the word, not the American). They introduced me to a friend of theirs named Rob. Shaking hands was an awkward moment for me, because it felt as though I was supposed to say something beyond “hello,” but I couldn’t think what it was. So I said, in Dutch, “nice to meet you.” While Rob remained oddly quiet, my friends realized what had just happened. Pointing their finger at me, they burst out in laughter, basically saying, “You are soooo busted!” It was one of those moments I would prefer not to remember. Unfortunately, my memory seems to have a will of its own.

All of these experiences — and plenty more — have contributed to my interest in culture. They have made me realize that even though I may consider myself bicultural, I still will screw up, both in my home culture and in my host culture (not to mention other cultures). In terms of cross-cultural competence, I have come to realize that one never arrives; one either accepts or declines the journey. Mine has been unpredictable, painful at times, but overall, very rewarding. Depending on the circumstances, I now seem to end up on different sides of the “us” versus “them” divide. It is for this reason that this divide makes so little sense anymore, which is also why that question, why can’t they be more like us?, is such a fruitless approach when trying to enhance understanding across culture.

I have not yet put my finger on the right question to ask. If and when I do, I’ll write the book. But the Dutch have some folk wisdom that might be a good place to start. The saying goes: Verbeter de wereld, begin bij jezelf. It roughly translates as follows: If you want to change [improve] the world, you must start with yourself. My experiences have taught me to stop trying to “fix” the other. I can’t get all Americans to “get” the European Football Championship. But If I can get just a few students to start asking different questions about culture, I know I will have made a difference.

I’d love to keep writing, but I have to wrap this up now — the Euro 2008 Finals are about to start. Doei!

Categories: Perspectives

When I began college at A&M in 2001 I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I wasn’t passionate about anything specific, which wasn’t too concerning as a freshman. When I was a 5th year senior, I became a bit concerned. As a finance major, I would walk around the career fairs trying to find a company that I was interested in. Not a single company remotely interested me. I wondered if I would grow out of the phase of refusing the idea of an 8-to-5 job. I still had no idea what I wanted to do, but I loved traveling, international business, challenges, and learning about new cultures.

It was my 5th year, it was Christmas break, and I still had no jobs in mind. My roommate finally convinced me to go to Beijing, China and do manual labor on the U.S. embassy. If you had told me in high school that I would live overseas or even go overseas in college, I would have laughed. My experiences at A&M led me to a study abroad trip to Italy and internships in Singapore and El Salvador. I definitely developed a passion for traveling and living overseas, so going to China seemed exciting. Plus, it would give me more time to figure out what I wanted to do with my life.

Four Aggies on a dock in China
Drew Jones (third from left) went to China with no definite plans, but by the time he left he had his own business selling custom-made suits.

I made the move to China in August 2006. My roommate, Jim Carlson, and I were out to accomplish the same thing; be adventurous, live overseas, and try to figure out what we wanted to do with our lives. I attained my goal much quicker than I anticipated. After six weeks of living in Beijing I met the woman I would eventually marry. I worked at the embassy for nine months, then started a business selling custom-made suits. I lived in Beijing for eight more months to establish this business before moving back to the states to begin marketing. Manual labor can be fun, but my brain must also be stimulated.

During breaks at the embassy I would write down ideas for my business. After the embassy job I committed to this idea full time. I trained with local tailors on how to take measurements. I started testing my business idea by taking measurements of embassy employees, having them choose from my fabric swatches, getting their suits made, then delivering it to them personally. I began doing this for almost nothing to see if the idea would work. And sure enough, after training to take measurements and some trial and error, I had some very pleased customers.

I knew I would need higher quality suits than what I was producing through a local market geared for expatriates. That’s when I began traveling around China with my Chinese business partner to visit different tailors and factories, and to do research on quality fabrics for my suits. My business partner had limited English capabilities, and no one else I was dealing with spoke any English. I had been learning Mandarin Chinese, which was extremely useful, but I would often revert to hand motions and occasionally made the mistake of talking extremely loud thinking they would suddenly understand me.

After traveling around China for 10 days, I had found the contacts and knowledge necessary to begin a business making and selling custom-made suits. I returned to Beijing and began making my new suits for the expatriate community. My goal when establishing this business was to be able to sell custom-made suits in the U.S. to college students and young professionals for an affordable price. I returned to the U.S. on Christmas Eve 2007 to begin marketing DJones Tailored Collection.

My priorities in college were always people, being involved in various organizations, and taking advantage of overseas opportunities in the summer. I always knew that I would end up doing something different, I just didn’t know what it was. I am so thankful for my experiences at Texas A&M which transformed me to become who I am now. I would have never thought that my experiences in China would lead me to where I am today.

For more information on Jones’ business, visit

Categories: Perspectives

On Valentine’s Day 2008, Lorraine Eden, professor of management at Mays, became a U.S. citizen. Here are excerpts from the speech she gave at the naturalization ceremony.

The dictionary defines “citizen” as “a person owing allegiance to a state where sovereign power is retained by the people and where the person shares in the political rights of the people.” (( A citizen is a member of a community. Citizens “belong to”, “are part of”, “are accepted as”; in other words, citizenship is all about “belonging”. Citizens are insiders.

Eden at ceremony
Mays professor Lorraine Eden became a U.S. citizen on Valentine’s Day 2008.

The Department of Homeland Security’s most recent Yearbook of Immigration Statistics states that 702,589 people became naturalized citizens of the United States in 2006 (the newest available data). Almost three-quarters of a million people chose membership in the U.S. community—to become insiders.

They came from—I counted!—192 different countries. In other words, there were new naturalized U.S. citizens in 2006 from every country that is a country in the world.

I am from Canada. As you might expect, given its small population, there weren’t a lot of Canadians in the group — about 1% of the total. The top five sending countries were: Mexico (12% of the total), India, Philippines, China and Vietnam.

Where do these new U.S. citizens live? In every state in the union. The top five receiving states were: California, New York, Florida, New Jersey, and Texas (5% of the total).

Immigrants are applying for U.S. citizenship in record numbers. Almost 1.5 million legal immigrants applied for U.S. citizenship in fiscal year 2007. More than one million applications are still pending. ((Houston Chronicle, Jan 28, 2008.

While the naturalization ceremonies in Bryan/College Station are small, this is not the case in larger cities. In Los Angeles, naturalization ceremonies are running almost monthly. On February 21st two ceremonies are scheduled—for 6,000 people each! Website instructions warn new citizens and their families to set up specific locations for meeting after the ceremony because of the huge crowds. ((“Due to the large size of the naturalization facilities and the fact that applicants and guests are separated during processing, it is a good idea to have the applicant and guest designate a specific location to meet after the ceremony. Too often, individuals cannot locate each other at the conclusion of the ceremony.” See )) In Houston, almost 4,000 immigrants were naturalized in January 2008 and over a dozen more ceremonies are scheduled through September. A Houston radio station compared the mass ceremonies to basketball games: “a full parking lot, 5,000 people in the seats, ushers, security guards and even music playing over the public address system”. ((

What is clear from these statistics is the overwhelming desire of people from all walks of life, across all countries, races and ethnicities, to migrate to the United States and become naturalized U.S. citizens. Some individuals came here fleeing from persecution in their home countries; others simply looking for a better life. Some (like me) came here through marriage to a U.S. native-born citizen.

“Physically, mentally and emotionally, we have moved to the United States and put down roots. Our allegiance is here.”

Let me tell you a bit about my own personal journey to becoming a U.S. citizen.

I am a “border child.” My father was Canadian and my mother was British. They met in London during the Blitz and married after the war. Both of my parents spent part of their childhoods in orphanages so I know little about my own roots. I am the eldest of three children. I was born and raised in St. Stephen, New Brunswick, a small town of 3,000 people on the Canadian side of the U.S.-Canada border. Many of my childhood memories involve crossing the bridge to visit Calais, Maine on the U.S. side of the border. ((

The United States was ever present when I was growing up. My earliest TV memories are of Roy Rodgers and Dale Evans, The Mickey Mouse Club, Spanky and Our Gang, The Lone Ranger, Laurel and Hardy, the Three Stooges, The Ed Sullivan Show—all American shows. I loved Walt Disney movies and Warner Brothers cartoons, and devoured Nancy Drew, The Bobbsey Twins and Zane Gray books. As a teenager, I listened to New York radio stations (WPTR, WABC, Wolfman Jack), spent my allowance on teen movie magazines, and listened to Top 40 Hits (the Beach Boys) while dreaming about what it would be like to live in California.

Many years later, I was a professor of international affairs at Carleton University in Ottawa when I met a professor of political science at Ohio State. We fell in love, commuted for a couple of years, and then went on the market together. Texas A&M hired both of us and that changed everything. My husband, Chuck Hermann, became the founding director of the George Bush School of Government and Public Service; I became a faculty member in the management department at Mays. We arrived here in July 1995 to a Texas summer—over 100 degrees outside—and a house with the air conditioning off.

Eden at ceremony
More than 700,000 people became naturalized citizens of the United States in 2006 alone.

Over the past 13 years, Bryan/College Station has become our home and Texas A&M our university. We have many friends here and have put down roots. We have a good life. Our three children are now all married, and we have our first grandson. The Bush School is a thriving institution with dozens of faculty and hundreds of graduates. My department is ranked one of the best in the country.

In June 2007, I applied for U.S. citizenship, with the help of Esther Del Toro, my immigration lawyer. My reasons for moving from a “permanent resident” (or, as my husband calls me, his “resident alien”) to a naturalized U.S. citizen were simple. There were two primary ones:

First, I had become “Americanized”, but was not an American. I have been physically inside the United States since 1995, but still internally saw myself as an outsider. I couldn’t vote. I couldn’t serve in jury duty. I couldn’t run for elective office. It was time to assume these citizenship responsibilities. It was time to show my allegiance to the community by pulling my own weight as a citizen. It was time to become an insider. It felt right.

Second, November 2007 was the 10th anniversary of the opening of the Bush School and the Bush Library/Museum. Applying for U.S. citizenship in June 2007 was my own personal way of marking this overwhelmingly important event in Chuck’s and my life. The 10th anniversary was time. It felt right.

Canada will always be the country where I was born and raised. Canada gave me a wonderful education. My side of the family all live in Canada. Canada is a beautiful country. However, I do not see myself ever returning to Canada to live. Physically, mentally and emotionally, I have moved to the United States and put down roots. My allegiance is here. It is time for me to assume my new identity as an American citizen, to become an insider.

Categories: Perspectives

What’s that racket in the gym across the schoolyard? Two hundred fourth and fifth graders are anxious to meet their new classmates and teacher. Some students naturally tease the nervous and quiet students, getting into trouble before the first bell rings. I turn on the relaxing music, write my name on the board, and tape chart paper on the wall. I am as nervous as the 18 fifth grade students that walk into my portable classroom ready to start the year off with a bang.

Fonseca with students
Fonseca’s class during the first week of school, when they still met in the portable classroom. Fonseca called her class the Buccaneers “because I wanted them to sail around the world to success, a theme for learning for the year!”

“Good morning, class. Buenos dias, clase,” I say with a strong, confident voice. Smile. No, don’t smile. Wait, should I start out with an inspiring, motivational speech? Should we do a get-to-know-you activity first? Should I have them write an essay about their expectations for the year? Or should I read them a story?

It’s the first day of school. I’ve prepared an agenda and must accomplish several mini-lessons. I must explain our class procedures, what I expect from the students, and then practice those procedures for weeks. I know I will see results. It just takes patience and time.

This first day is unique from all the other days of school that will follow because the students are not talking to each other. I give my students a tour of the room: taped homemade posters for reading, math, science, social studies, and language arts to display student work on the wall. Our year’s goal is the most important part of the day, so that students can invest in what they will work toward and know why it is imperative to attend school daily. Our class goal is to earn 90% or higher on weekly assessments and, ultimately, on the TAKS exams toward the end of the school year. (I have many issues with standardized testing I will not mention but, since that is how the state determines the achievement of students, that is a goal my class worked toward.)

Students playing outside
Students exercising on Walking Wednesday for PE. Teachers were encouraged to walk with their students and have time outside the classroom to exercise.

I share with the students my favorite classroom fixture: a map of the world. I want to share my knowledge of the world with them. I refer back to the map during more than one lesson daily, demonstrating how our reading, math and science contributions came from different countries. My goal is for them to know what other students their age experience in a different culture and inspire them to travel one day to foreign lands. How will they get there? Through hard work, determination, and an education.

During that first day of school, we got to know each other: our favorite subjects, food, music, sport, television show. To my surprise only three students had a favorite book. That was another goal of mine, for students to love books and to develop good reading habits. The students made the class rules themselves; they contributed to the foundation of the classroom. I explained the consequences and rewards systems. There were many tasks that kept the class organized, so managers were elected by their classmates. Managers would lose the leadership privilege if behavior was poor.

I tried to run my class like a company, using good grades and hard work to earn bonuses, and a democratic system to keep leaders in check. Teaching is like creative services marketing, relaying a message to fifth grade students, a market hungry for a wealth of knowledge, seeking fun-filled lessons with an energetic, supportive environment.

Students learning about the solar system on the playground
Fonseca’s students learn about the solar system by pretending to be the planets, rotating and revolving to understand season cycles and movements. Anna is holding a yellow umbrella representing the sun.

I am in Brownsville, Texas, five minutes from the Mexican border, to teach students all that I can. I decided to join Teach For America after attending an informational session at the Career Services Center at Texas A&M. Teach For America is an organization I had to join with a personal goal to serve others and share the education I had received from amazing teachers, professors, and mentors. TFA is a non-profit organization affiliated with the AmeriCorp program. TFA’s mission is to enlist the nation’s most promising future leaders in the movement to eliminate educational inequality, recruiting people of all academic majors and career interests—who commit two years to teach in urban and rural public schools in our nation’s lowest-income communities and become lifelong leaders for expanding educational opportunity.

My placement was bilingual kindergarten. To prepare, I taught in a month-long Houston summer school institute, planning lessons until 11 p.m. daily with two team members. Time was spent practicing those lessons, preparing worksheets, trying out hands-on mini-lessons, and receiving guidance, evaluations, and support from other teachers. Intense is the only way to describe that experience. The training program is very challenging since the majority of TFA teachers are not education majors. In reality, you must learn in a month what education majors study for four years.

When I arrived, my principal had other plans for my teaching position, so I accepted an offer to teach fifth grade bilingual elementary. It would not be anything like my Houston summer school experience, but I would take those lessons of classroom management, lesson planning, and keeping a young mind’s attention with me into an upper elementary classroom setting. It was a blessing to have another TFA teacher next door to my room. Ali Turro was a great support; we planned units of study together and shared resources.

Students dancing
Fonseca helped at a few practices for the ballroom dance team. The students did very well at the competition, with two couples placing fourth in the Meringue.

I also taught music history and composition, and coached a few practices of ballroom dancing for the fifth grade team. Teaching after school tutorial was rewarding as well; we were able to focus on specific skills and weaknesses in a smaller group setting, with one-on-one practice.

My principal had the challenge of opening the newest elementary school, so he warned that the beginning of the year would not be easy. What a blessing it was to move to a new building in the middle of the year, when we started out the term with little resources and space, no music, library, or technology classes, or on-site support. Our new facility had a library, Internet access, computers and projectors, and accommodations any faculty member or student in Brownsville would be elated to have. The school was very grateful to receive so many luxuries after coming from portables in the backyard of another elementary school.

Realizing the lack of exposure to books, lack of support, and lack of resources to support learning in a low socio-economic environment has made me want to dedicate a part of my life to increasing educational opportunities for children, whether I am a school teacher, global marketer, or graduate student. Whatever the future holds, I will always be working toward improving education. It is what opens doors and gets you ahead in life. I am grateful to have experienced a life of higher education, literacy, and constant learning.

Fonseca and her class
“My homeroom class. I dressed up for Charro Days, a Mexican celebration. They are all smiles because they would miss two days of school for the holiday before taking the TAKS test.”

My first year with TFA was a reciprocal exchange of knowledge. I extended my range of Spanish vocabulary and conversation skills, teaching three of my students reading, math, and science in Spanish, while teaching 14 others in English at the same time. It was the most challenging task I had ever experienced. I learned that a teacher takes on many roles in a student’s life: mentor, role model, a person that will listen and give the attention to their creative ideas. The students achieved their personal goals of going on to the sixth grade, and many accomplished the class goal of 90% or more on their reading, math, and science TAKS exams. In the last two weeks of school, we read The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho and completed research projects on the Internet. Each student chose a country to learn about and designed a passport to their country to present to the class the last week of school. From The Alchemist, the students learned that taking the road less traveled, facing challenges, persevering, and learning from mistakes makes you a stronger person and ends in a well-rounded education.

I will take many lessons from my two years with TFA into the next career I pursue. In my second year, I will have the opportunity to teach pre-kindergarten and develop these young minds with a foundation of literacy in English. I hope to enter a graduate program in global/multicultural marketing in August 2008 and work for an international organization promoting free-trade and higher education to students in developing countries.

The value of today may not be apparent. Learning is not just knowing information, it is using it and living the information learned. It’s more than an education, it’s life.

For more information:
Teach for America:

Categories: Former Students, Perspectives

Photo of overhead

*From a recorded interview

As told by
O.E. “Ed” Elmore
Senior lecturer in finance and management
Vice-president and shareholder of Hoelscher, Lipsey & Elmore, Attorneys-at-Law, College Station

The Virginia Tech shooting took place on Monday, April 16, 2007. On that day, I was self-absorbed with buying a car, so I really was almost oblivious to what happened. The same day, the students in my business law class were taking their most difficult examination of the semester, so I suspect that they were focusing more on that than they were on what was happening out in the real world.

On Tuesday the 17th, I asked some student workers in my office if their professors had talked about Virginia Tech in class, and they said no. Then Wednesday morning, the same students said that still nothing had been said about it. So I thought that it seemed to be like a white elephant in the room. Everybody knows it’s there, but nobody feels comfortable to talk about it. I certainly didn’t have any pearls of wisdom to give, but I decided to try to precipitate a little discussion about Virginia Tech in my classes.

I marched into the classroom prior to class on Wednesday, April 18, and on the white board of my business law class wrote the phrase “In loco parentis,” which means “in the place of parents” in Latin. It is a doctrine that has certainly been weakened in colleges. The question is, what parental role if any do colleges give to their students? Some students stopped chatting and looked at the phrase and thought what does that mean? And when the class started, I said, “Some of you have heard about the Virginia Tech shootings and various responsibilities of various parties, so since this is a law class, let’s see if we can approach this in a legal way.”

Many people questioned whether the Virginia Tech administration should have told students and faculty when the initial shooting took place. And I asked, is it possible that the administrators didn’t want to worry them the same way that students feel like it’s not necessary to worry their parents when they get sick during school? We discussed that for a few minutes and then I told them I would like to have a voluntary moment of silence. I bowed my head, so I don’t know what students did. Then we started class.

A&M had Muster on Saturday the 21st, and on Sunday the 22nd, there was a long article in The Bryan-College Station Eagle that listed the names of all the people who were killed in the Virginia Tech shootings. It listed all the students, faculty, and so forth, and of course the shooter. So, I was thinking about that, and how the white elephant still seemed to be in the room. Then I thought, maybe we ought to have our own little mini-Muster during class and let A&M students remember the lives of those who died at Virginia Tech.

Student watching the Mini Muster
Ladies and gentlemen, these are the names of the 32 people that were killed at Virginia Tech…
On Monday the 23rd, I made an overhead and put it up in my classroom. I basically divided it up into undergrads, grads, and faculty, and then the last person I put on there was the shooter. And the students came in, with some curiousness, thinking what is that? I said, “Ladies and gentlemen, these are the names of the 32 people that were killed at Virginia Tech.” And then it got real quiet.

When everybody was there I said, “One of the things that has always impressed me about Texas A&M is that you do a wonderful job of remembering and honoring those persons who have died. You did that last Saturday night at Muster, and now I think it’s appropriate for us to remember and honor the memories of those persons killed at Virginia Tech.” I said, “In just a moment, I’m going to read the names of all the people on the board and I would like you to pick out a name of somebody on that board and agree that you will remember them as if their name was read out at a Muster.”

I paused for a moment, and one student said, “Rather than just picking out one person, can we just speak for all of the people?” And I said, “That’s totally appropriate, if you’d like to do that; we can speak for all the people up there.”

Respecting VT in Aggie fashion
As told by
Meredith Rigney ’06, master in real estate student
Meredith Rigney I knew immediately what the list was, but seeing it really hit me hard. He… put it all into perspective for me. When we began the mini-Muster I felt a peace in the room. Everybody answered “here” for the entire list. It was impossible not to because we owed them the respect to do so.
Professor Elmore discussed the teacher that died trying to stop the killer. Elmore questioned us about the role that a teacher plays and the trust that parents put in professors when they send their children away for school. He left the question open-ended and it was something I couldn’t stop thinking about.
I was glad that a professor would go out of his way to make sure that we had a complete understanding of what happened and how important it is to cherish every day. I was also glad to respect the victims in Aggie fashion. It was an experience I will never forget.
I read the first person’s name, age, major and hometown, just as it had appeared in The Eagle, and then I paused. Then people began to speak for them. It wasn’t like the whole class hopped up and yelled “Here!” at the top of their lungs. It was more reserved and almost reverential—it was quiet.

I said that I would take the shooter, because I knew that they were wondering what would happen when we got to that point. We read all the names and the students kept responding, and when we got to the shooter I said, “The last person who died was Cho Seung-Hui. May God have mercy on his soul.” And then we paused.

At that point I said, “You guys have got your cell phones, right? I want you to pick up your cell phones and call your mom or your dad. In just a minute, call them and tell them that this crazy professor told you to call and just tell them that you love them.” So all of a sudden you had this cacophonous sound of 40 people all in different parts of conversation, and bits and pieces that I got were essentially “Hi mom or dad, I’m calling you from class. There’s nothing wrong, but my professor encouraged us to call you because we’ve just been talking about Virginia Tech and I just wanted to let you know that I love you.”

I didn’t look at anybody. I just looked down at the floor and just kinda listened like I was a fly on the wall, you know. And then after a couple minutes we started class. I did the same type thing in my commercial real estate law class, but I felt like it was more striking in the other class because there are three times as many people.

So, I think our mini-Muster facilitated discussion between the students and their parents about the event. And maybe that was one of the most valuable things about the entire event. Without trying to sound too cute, I wonder, did the Aggie tradition of Muster, our mini-Muster and the Aggie tradition of Elephant Walk not in some sense call attention to the white elephant that was in the room? There’s this white elephant in the room, and we dealt with it, just as seniors face a white elephant at Elephant Walk. Their white elephant is the realization that they are graduating, and that their college days will soon be over. Our white elephant was the fact that we could just as easily have been the victims.

I think these traditions alongside our mini-Muster may have helped us deal with our white elephant in the room. Everybody had their opinion that they wanted to talk about, but the students might have felt inhibited about how they could do that. So I’d like to think maybe they felt comfortable enough in my class to talk about it.

Categories: Perspectives

Squadron commanding officer reflects on her time in the Corps
Jessica Simmons ’07

Can I do this?

That was the first thought I had one Sunday morning in August 2003. I was standing in a room with 24 other people who were bound to become some of my best friends. My only other clear, solid recollection was of my 1st Sergeant walking into the room and telling us all to give him and the Corps of Cadets four years. Next, the yelling commenced and so began my fish year in the Corps.

Can I do this? was still the first thought I had in August of 2006, but this time it was before I introduced myself as the commanding officer of Squadron 3 to a group of my new freshmen’s parents.

People always ask me if it is a different experience being a female commander in the Corps of Cadets. In previous encounters with this question, I would become frustrated and say, “No.” Upon self-reflection, I will now say, “Yes, it is different.” I feel like I am fortunate to experience the differences. My male commander counterparts probably have not been able to meet as many interesting Aggies as I have, they probably have not been able to represent the Corps of Cadets at university functions since people want to see what I jokingly refer to as “the token female cadet,” and they probably have not been able to mentor as many cadets outside of their outfit as I have.

No matter where I go, other female cadets are watching me, just like I watched successful women in the Corps when I was an underclassman. These experiences make being the only female commander different, but my responsibilities to my outfit are the same.

The traditions of loyalty, honor, respect and camaraderie are still, in my opinion, alive and well in today’s Corps. It is evident in the amount of cadets serving the university off the Quad in other student organizations, the number of male cadets who give up their seat on a campus bus, and how often cadets find time in their busy schedules to just hang out with buddies at night to cultivate lasting friendships.

The Corps also has a tradition to continually train new leaders. This is generally done in a way that references previous experiences with training. I sometimes think that new ideas to approach this task are never explored because there is always a precedent people feel they must follow.

My advantage to being a female commander is that there is no precedent I specifically have to follow. This has opened a door to a new training philosophy in Squadron 3 that does not rely solely on what people before me have done, but it encourages us to look at what our freshmen need. Putting people first and serving others is what, I believe, enabled my outfit to differentiate ourselves from other outfits and be the recipient of the inaugural Robert M. Gates Award for Public Service.
The lesson of service to others is singularly the greatest lesson the Corps of Cadets has taught me and clearly one that I know will carry me beyond the confines of the Quad at Texas A&M.

I distinctly remember sitting in my room after my fish year, staring at what I once referred to as a “Me Wall” which displayed plaques and awards from high school and college. I thought about what I had just gone through as a fish in the Corps and how I had learned to follow and put the needs of my buddies and my outfit before my own.

It was that moment that I felt the lesson of serving others as a method of leadership more strongly than any other time in my life. I took down all my awards and placed pictures of friends in their place and said to myself, “People are what matter most.” I would not have had this revelation without my experience in the Corps. This is the statement that has driven my leadership in the outfit as a 1st Sergeant and this year as the commanding officer.

It is also the driver for my life-long vision of serving children at an orphanage in Guatemala called Casa Bernabe. I have spent four weeks for the past four summers at this orphanage, serving the children as well as the workers. Although I can’t speak Spanish, it hasn’t stopped me from loving the children as well as teaching a few of them how to say, “Gig “Em!”

Serving these children is my passion, and as I begin my life after college, my ultimate goal is to develop a financial support system for them stateside. I question myself sometimes on whether or not I can actually fulfill this dream, but my experience in the Corps of Cadets has taught me that the answer to this question is always, “Yes.”

Categories: Perspectives

Thirty-three of the state’s top high school students recently spent a week at Mays immersed in college life.

In its fourth year, the Business Careers Awareness Program (BCAP), which ran from June 13-18, exposed participants to how a business operates and to the types of jobs available in business. Sponsored by Ernst & Young, the program also seeks to peak their interest in attending Mays.

“The purpose of this program was to familiarize them with A&M, Mays Business School, Mays faculty, and to get me in touch with them, so they can start asking questions,” says Sonia Garcia, Mays’ student recruitment coordinator.

During the week, participants interacted with Mays faculty, who led classes on basic business concepts, and with Mays students serving as peer counselors. Participants were placed on teams to create a business plan, which they presented at the end of the week in a competition. Teams were awarded various prizes, such as for plan effectiveness and creativity.

“The point of the entire week was so they would know how to identify a market, sell a product, do the budget, and the analysis,” says Garcia, adding that the students, who represent the top 1 to 9 percent of their high school classes, were eager to make the most of their time at Mays.

Since the program began in 2001, 51 of the 83 participants (excluding this year’s group) applied and were accepted to attend Texas A&M. Of those, 22 enrolled at the university and 18 enrolled at Mays.

Categories: Faculty, Perspectives, Students

The college recently launched a new Web site for high school and transfer students interested in attending Texas A&M. But, don’t expect any dull academic jargon here. It’s geared with an 18-year-old in mind.

It provides college and A&M entrance information, the lowdown on financial aid and tips for how to wade through the admissions process. Check it out at:

Categories: Perspectives, Students