Aggies are learning, practicing, sharing and protecting democracy as never before. In the process, they are learning more about themselves and the world around them.
More Texas A&M students than ever before are availing themselves of the university’s expanding opportunities to learn firsthand about people in other parts of the world who embrace other cultures and other outlooks on life — and to tell them about the American democracy in which they live. In a sense, they are Aggie ambassadors for democracy.
They are, in fact, some observers note, taking their cue from the traditions and culture of their university, which continues to serve the state’s and nation’s citizenry by carrying out its land-grant mission of education, research and engagement to a degree unsurpassed in America.
The most established and best-known means for Aggies to broaden their horizons is via well-established programs facilitated by the Study Abroad Programs Office. More than 3,000 Aggies have taken advantage of university-sponsored opportunities to study and live abroad for extended periods of time − a semester, for example.
Dr. Jane Flaherty, director of Texas A&M’s Study Abroad Programs Office, says both the state and Texas A&M figure prominently in study-abroad activities.
“For the last 11 years, Texas has been the top exporting state in the nation,” she notes. “In order for Aggies to assume their place as leaders in the Texas economy, they will need to have a familiarity with how other societies function and markets in other countries work. Going abroad facilitates the development of this knowledge.”
Likewise, Aggies studying abroad have the opportunity to showcase by example their lifestyles, values and other attributes that were shaped at least in part by their being reared in a country that embraces democracy.
Earlier this year, university officials made a national pledge to Institute for International Education for a 100-percent increase in the number of students taking advantage of study-abroad opportunities over a five-year period, reaching a level that would exceed 4,000 annually. They say they believe their pledge represents the largest increase in Texas and among the largest nationally.
In 2012-13, Texas A&M had students studying or participating in programs in more than 90 locations around the world, Flaherty notes, with virtually all of its academic units represented. Texas A&M currently ranks 13th nationally among U.S. institutions that have students pursuing credit-bearing programs abroad, according to the most recent such assessment.
In a different but also vibrant study-abroad program, Texas A&M’s Corps of Cadets conducts a host of initiatives to give its members opportunities to travel abroad and gain valuable international experience. It sent 77 students on three “Corps International Excursions” to Turkey, Chile and India during the first two semesters of the current school year and presently has numerous others participating in, or having just completed, visits to Morocco, China and Russia. The cadets experienced diplomatic, informational, military, economic, religious, and cultural insights and gained a greater understanding of the global challenges facing Texas and the nation while expanding their global awareness and leadership skills.
“Next year we will continue this exciting, high-impact program with three excursions to Singapore and Indonesia, Germany and Poland, and Israel,” explained Gen. Joe Ramirez, commandant of the Corps. “These excursions are free to our cadets (the only requirement is for them to have a passport), are highly competitive, and extremely educational.”
Texas A&M graduates who served in the Corps of Cadets are in the vanguard in helping protect the country — helping protect its democracy and that of other countries. It has a long and distinguished record of commissioning more officers for the military than institutions other than the service academies. The Corps is the largest it has been in 40 years — totaling almost 2,500 men and women for the current school year, and it is expected to be even larger when classes begin in the fall.
Texas A&M also has two major programs devoted to helping active and high-achieving students secure internships in Washington and Austin — and now abroad – in fields that coincide with their academic interests and potential career aspirations. The two initiatives are carried out through a partnership between the Office of the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Studies and the Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. The Public Policy Internship Program (PPIP), which is open to all majors across campus and is overseen by the Office of the Associate Provost for Undergraduate Studies. The Agricultural and Natural Resources Policy (ANRP) Internship Program is operated by the Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences exclusively for its students.
Dozens of Aggies at any given time are serving — and benefitting from — internships in the state’s and nation’s capitals. In Washington, they are serving as congressional aides and working in various capacities in a host of governmental offices, as well as interning with several well-known not-for-profit organizations based in the nation’s capital. Texas A&M, in fact, has one of the largest contingents of interns working in the nation’s capital — approximately 35-40 at any given time, university officials note.
In addition to the interns working as congressional aides, others serve in a variety of other governmental capacities at the White House, the Departments of Commerce, Defense, Homeland Security, State and Treasury, along with the Department of the Navy (Underwater Archaeology Branch), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Peace Corps.
More than 1,200 Aggies have gained experience serving as interns in Washington and the surrounding area since the first opportunities were offered in 1990. Several members of the Texas congressional delegation have Aggie interns in their offices. Cong. Bill Flores, whose district includes Texas A&M, his alma mater, always has at least one Aggie intern on staff, notes a spokesperson for his office.
Other interns serve in such not-for-profit organizations as The Heritage Foundation and the National Conference of State Legislators. Still others serve at such entities as the Texas Office of State-Federal Relations and Hearst Newspapers.
Although the nation’s capital is a major focus for Texas A&M interns, others are busy serving in similar capacities throughout the state, from coast-to-coast and even abroad, university officials point out. Many Austin-based opportunities for such experiences occur when the Legislature is in session.
On yet another front, graduate students at the Bush School of Government and Public Service offer their services through “capstone” projects, team-based research projects in which students work for real-world clients to produce public policy research reports. Clients include governmental, non-profit and private entities both domestically and abroad, such as noted in the following linked articles: