A Framework for the Future: The Tower Scholars Program
Fourth year Economics major Zach Miller describes how the Tower Scholars Program has shaped his understanding of the world.
A few years ago I walked into a store to buy a frame. As a chronic procrastinator (and a good one at that), I had planned to buy one for months. But despite having already spent heavily to secure its eventual contents, I just hadn’t gotten around to it. Those contents would be delivered soon enough, but in the meantime, I couldn’t help but get distracted by all the other shiny products on the shelves.
When the time came to choose a frame, it was among the most emotionally and intellectually taxing decisions I’ve ever made. ‘Do I choose the black and elegantly hand-crafted wooden frame?’ I asked myself, ‘Or the glistening, gold-painted aluminum one?’ Both were priced to fit a college student’s budget. Both were durable enough to get the job done. And while the frames could not have been more different, both were luring me.
Eventually, I made my way to the checkout counter with one of those two frames. While I tried desperately to hide the gloomy look on my face, I was upset—even frustrated—by the trade-off I was having to make. Reaching timidly toward my back pocket to retrieve my wallet, I sighed. Then, as I moved to swipe my credit card, the cashier scanned the lone frame before she held it up, and said, “You know we’re having a buy-one-get-one-free deal on picture frames? Today only! Would you like—” I didn’t hear the rest of her question; I was already back on aisle nine.
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The store I walked into that day was the bursar’s office. I wasn’t kidding when I said I spent heavily to secure the contents of that frame: that piece of paper I’ll be receiving when I graduate in December 2018 cost me a pretty penny. Which means—you guessed it!—this is a metaphor.
As most freshmen do, I spent my first semester developing an idea of what I could expect during my time at SMU. As someone who enjoys going above and beyond, my expectations may have been a bit lofty. My professors would lecture about the theoretical underpinnings of their subject. As a Political Science major, my courses would focus on government institutions, political actors, and their motivations. My tuition dollars would provide me the knowledge I needed to think critically and take my intellect to new heights.
Quite frankly, I would be satisfied if I graduate with half of that. But because of the John Goodwin Tower Center for Political Studies, I didn’t just get the half that I was looking for; I got double. The Tower Center and Tower Scholars Program is what has made my SMU truly a buy-one-get-one-free shopping experience.
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When I arrived at SMU, I planned to study political science. Having been a competitor throughout my youth, there was something exhilarating about politics, a power struggle between self-interested actors playing itself out within our institutions. While I enjoyed learning the drivers of political behavior, I realized that I was hungry for something more practical. The Tower Scholars Program is an invitation-only, experiential minor in Public Policy and International Affairs—just what I was looking for. Once I was accepted into the program, I realized it was much more than I had imagined.
Each of the courses is co-taught by a professor and a practitioner. Instead of being lectured at by professors alone, the textbook concepts they teach clash with the realities and experiences that can only be provided by a practitioner. Classes become discussions, debates, a borderline intellectual circus among students and experts. Theoretical underpinnings complemented by real-world applications: buy-one, get-one.
The program is one of “public policy,” but unlike purely theoretical concepts, the program is grounded in reality. And the reality is that the political process and policy process are interdependent, yet they are also increasingly divergent. I came to SMU wanting to study the political process, but when I chose to study the policy process, the Tower Scholars Program didn’t force me to sacrifice politics: buy-one, get-one.
There is more to learning than going to class and reading overpriced textbooks. When I came to SMU, however, I thought I’d be on my own when it came to gaining practical experience and seeing the policy process in action. Of course, I learn a lot in class and have a lot of reading to do some nights. But in those same classes we meet with CEOs, research and make recommendations for corporate and nonprofit clients, and even take a four-day trip to the heart of Washington to meet with members of Congress, lobbyists, think tanks, and so much more. In-class material enhanced by experiential learning: buy-one, get-one.
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You may be wondering how all this has helped me empower or impact the world? After all, that is the theme of this newsletter. I mentioned above that the political process and the policy process are increasingly divergent. When you woke up on Wednesday, November 8, 2018, the elections were over. Campaign consultants got their win bonuses. Some members of Congress lost their jobs. But throughout that entire election cycle, policy still had to be made.
Bold promises and nasty attack ads, controversial issues and sound bites. With campaign cycles that don’t end until after the next one starts, this is all we hear. Baby-step policy changes, obstructionism, and public dissatisfaction: with policymakers who are always trying to get re-elected, this is all we get. So to have an impact in politics or policy, you have to understand how their differences define their intersections.
Being a part of the Tower Scholars Program has given me the knowledge and experience to understand those dynamics and to see them in action. With this unique perspective, I decided to put that double-sided approach to work through my own consulting firm, which I started just over a year ago. My firm is the vehicle; the Tower Scholars Program is my “frame”-work.