Minor in Public Policy & International Affairs

About the minor

The Tower Scholar Program is a selective, multidisciplinary minor in Public Policy and International Affairs that enables students from a variety of academic backgrounds to combine their academic interests with experience in the real world of public policy.  In four exclusive classes, Highland Capital Management (HCM) Tower Scholars learn from experienced policy practitioners and full-time faculty about the policy-making process before putting their education into action in a directed research project on a policy issue of their choice.  Outside the classroom, HCM Tower Scholars experience policy in practice through on-campus events, private meetings with practitioners, and a fully funded trip to meet with professional policymakers in Washington D.C. At the conclusion of this experiential minor, HCM Tower Scholars will graduate prepared to transform ideas into actions and step into leadership roles in the public or private sector.

The application-only minor is open to all majors across the schools, with admission based on a competitive application process. The next application cycle will begin Spring 2019.



  • Engage with real-world policy experts including U.S. Department of State officials, Congressional staff, intelligence analysts and more
  • Experience Washington D.C. your junior year as part of a week-long class immersion trip
  • Simulate real-world policy crises in "Gateway to Global Policy Making" and take on the roles of the National Security Council
  • Develop your own research project in PPIA 3301 and learn social science research methodology
  • Collaborate with your fellow Tower Scholars in PPIA 3302 on a semester-long real-life policy analysis project
  • Cooperate with a local Dallas-Fort Worth organization to complete your guided research

Required Courses

If selected, HCM Tower Scholars will be invited to enroll in the 15 credit-hour minor in Public Policy and International Affairs (PPIA).

  • Gateway to Global Policymaking* (PPIA 2380)
    Study the interaction of policy problems, policy tools, and organizational structures at the local, national, and international levels
    - Meets UC Proficiencies and Experiences Writing & Information Literacy, Depth Humanities and Fine Arts, and Breadth Individuals, Institutions, and Cultures
    - Taken spring of the second year
  • Junior Year Policy Seminar I: Theoretical Public Policy* (PPIA 3301)
    Students develop critical skills in policy analysis, writing and presentation
    - Meets UC Proficiencies and Experiences Information Literacy and Oral Communication and Depth History, Social and Behavioral Sciences
    - Taken fall of the third year
  • Junior Year Policy Seminar II: Public Policy in Professional Practice* (PPIA 3302)
    Students are tasked with a real world policy problem, work on solving that problem, and finally report back to the client
    - Meets UC Proficiencies and Experiences Oral Communication and Community Engagement, and Foundation Ways of Knowing
    - Taken spring of the third year
  • Directed Research Project* (PPIA 4306)
    Students are placed with a Dallas-based client to carry out research and solidify the practical experience gained in the two-semester junior year policy seminar
    - Students may apply to have this course as an Engaged Learning credit
    - Taken fall of the fourth year
  • Principles of Public Policy (PLSC 3320)
    - Offered through political science and is open to all students
    - Subject to course offering, may be taken at any time during a student’s college career

To see the PPIA course catalog descriptions, click here.

To see the Tower Scholars Minor degree plan, click here.


A World Class Program

Admission to the Minor in Public Policy and International Affairs may be earned by SMU students who are currently enrolled at SMU via the admissions requirements below. To be eligible to be Tower Scholars, students must (1) be a first year undergraduate student at SMU (2) have a GPA of 3.3 and (3) agree to complete the pre/co-requisites set out below. The selection process for choosing the Tower Scholars will be based on merit and determined by an application and interview process.

HCM Tower Scholar applicants must:

  • Be a current first-year student at SMU
  • Have a 3.3 GPA
  • Have taken, or plan to take prior to their third year at SMU:
  • One Economics Pre-Requisite (or co-requisite)
    • ECO 1311 or ECO 1312; or,
    • an AP Macroeconomics test score of 4 or better; or,
    • an AP Microeconomics test score of 4 or better.
  • One Quantitative Pre-Requisite (or co-requisite)
    • ITOM 2305; or
    • MATH 1309 or MATH 1337; or
    • SOCI 3311 or SOCI 3312; or
    • STAT 2301, STAT 2331 or STAT 4340; or
    • an AP Statistics test score of 4 or better.

Applicants must submit the following three items:

  1. Application form, including an 800-1000 word essay as described in the application;
  2. Tower Scholars Program Recommendation Release form which must be completed, signed and provided to each recommender;
  3. Two recommendation letters. At least one of the recommenders MUST be an SMU faculty member.

You may contact Olisa Dellas with any problems or questions about the application at odellas@smu.edu. The next cycle will be spring 2019.

The applicant pool will be evaluated using a variety of relevant criteria, including but not limited to: the relevance of public policy to a student’s career goals, a strong academic record, a strong extracurricular record with demonstrated interest in community and/or public service, demonstrated leadership and sense of social responsibility, and excellent written communication skills. The selection committee will be recruiting students from a diversity of majors and schools, as well as considering diversity broadly defined. Once the applicant pool has been evaluated, a select number will move on to the final stage of the application process, which is an interview with the Tower Scholars Selection Committee. In addition to all of the criteria listed above, the selection committee will seek to evaluate the verbal communication skills of each candidate and will expect candidates to be able to express why becoming a Tower Scholar would be meaningful given their specific career goals.



Scholar Spotlight | Why I go on Mission Trips

Brian O’Donnell has gone on three mission trips to Mexico and South America. Most recently he traveled to Mexico City over fall break and worked with an organization called Hope for the Poor

Read our interview with him on the Tower Center blog.


Scholar Spotlight | Getting Students Involved in the Fight Against Human Trafficking

Isabelle Gwozdz is completing her senior year practicum as an intern with the Embrey Human Rights Program, where she is working to establish the SMU Chapter of the Student Alliance Against Human Trafficking.

Read our interview with her on the Tower Center blog.


Scholar Spotlight | Connecting Communities in Texas

Fairooz Adams ran for local office when he was 20 years old, and is now carrying out his senior practicum with Texas Central Partners to bring high-speed rail to Texas and revolutionize the way cities are connected in America.

Read our interview with him on the Tower Center blog.


Scholar Spotlight | What I Learned Visiting Prisons in the Deep South

Nine days, seven states, eight hotels. Highland Capital Management Tower Scholar Grace Caputo, class of 2017, traveled with the Embrey Human Rights Program to tour death row prisons across the Deep South in August.

Read our interview with her on the Tower Center blog.


Scholar Spotlight | My Semester in South America

Ryan Cross spent the spring of 2017 studying abroad in Argentina and Chile learning about economics, political development, and business in Latin America. 

Read our interview with him on the Tower Center blog.


Q&A | A Scholar's life in Buenos Aires

The Tower Center talked with HCM Tower Scholar Kelsey Shipman about her experience studying abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina. "I have learned to better adapt to cultural differences, as well as the different pace of life here in Argentina," Shipman said.

Read the interview on the Tower Center blog.

Q&A |Tower Scholar studies Death Penalty in Dallas County

The Tower Center sat down with Highland Capital Management Tower Scholar Kate Moody, class of 2017, to discuss her research project on the cost of the death penalty in Dallas County. "I can cite a lot of problems with the death penalty from a human rights perspective," Moody said. "However, my minor in public policy through the Tower Scholars Program and my second major in international studies have taught me there is more than one way to address a problem."

Read the interview on the Tower Center blog.



Q&A | My time as a campaign manager

Highland Capital Management Tower Scholar Kovan Barzani, class of 2017, managed Jim Burke’s 2016 campaign for the Texas House of Representatives District 114 in Dallas. Barzani started out as a Fellow at the Dallas County Democratic Party, and within a month he was running Burke’s campaign. "It reshaped my whole perspective of how politics should be," Barzani said. "It should focus heavily on the local but it doesn’t."

Read the interview on the Tower Center blog.

Tower Scholar Visits Poland | "Something I Will Never Forget"

Highland Capital Management Tower Scholar Destiny Rose Murphy, class of 2019, spent her winter break in Poland traveling to World War II-era concentration camps and memorials as part of the Embrey Human Rights Program Poland Holocaust Education Trip. "I do not regret my trip to Poland; in fact, I would recommend to every member of the student body, staff, and beyond that they make time to do something similar," Murphy wrote. "However, I will never take a trip like that again." Read her full story>>

Research into antebellum Supreme Court justice raises contemporary questions for SMU graduating senior

"Senior A.J. Jeffries brings a new meaning to the phrase, 'triple threat.' Already a dedicated student and accomplished athlete on the SMU soccer team, Jeffries managed to also add to his resume an honors project known as a directed thesis on Supreme Court Justice Roger Taney." Read Sara Ellington's full story>>


Q&A | Exploring security within the commercial sex trade

The Tower Center sat down with Tower Scholar Sara Jendrusch to discuss her research exploring the security of the commercial sex trade. Jendrusch has conducted research in Amsterdam, London and around the United States. "It’s easy to talk about the Red Light District, or women who choose to be in the industry, or any of the lighter ways of looking at it," Jendrusch said. "But in order to understand the sex trade fully, you have to acknowledge the worst, most difficult parts of it, even if it makes you uncomfortable. That full understanding is the only way we can see where the true problems lie and how we can work best with the individuals in the industry." 

Read the interview on the Tower Center blog.

Tower Scholars donate laptops to refugees to help them learn English

Highland Capital Management Tower Scholars Kovan Barzani and Thomas Schmedding donated 11 laptops to refugees in Dallas to help them learn English as part of a group project for a class. Listen to KERA's story>>

Tower Scholar Interviewed on Al Jazeera

Tower Scholar Kovan Barzani, class of 2017, was interviewed on Al Jazera about canvassing in North Dallas. Barzani is managing Jim Burke's campaign to be elected as Texas State Representative for District 114. Watch the interview>>


Q&A |  Life as a Scholar and Athlete

The Tower Center sat down with Tower Scholar A.J. Jeffries to discuss his experience with the Tower Scholars Program and the SMU men's soccer team. "For me, being a student athlete is not part of the 'college experience'... Sports are an addendum to the experience, offering knowledge and experiences that the college experience does not encompass," Jeffries said.

Read the interview on the Tower Center blog.


Q&A | Tower Scholar studies trade, U.S. leadership

The Tower Center sat down with Tower Scholar Matthew Reitz, class of 2017, to discuss his research on U.S.-Japan security, and more recently, free trade."The United States has a lot of opportunity in the Asia-Pacific to demonstrate its leadership, foster cooperation to avoid conflict, and enable economic growth for all parties, but we need to play an active role in the region," Reitz said.

Read the interview on the Tower Center blog.



Q&A | A Tower Scholar's life in Uganda

The Tower Center sat down with Tower Scholar Thomas Schmedding, class of 2017, to talk about his time studying abroad and interning in Kampala, Uganda. "An experience in Africa will change you. I can’t imagine following a career path where I don’t have the opportunity to help people achieve their full potential. For this reason, I say ‘weebale emirimu’ (loosely translated: 'thank you for your work') to each of my friends, coworkers, and host family members in Uganda," Schmedding said.

Read the interview on the Tower Center blog.