SMU grads’ fancy footwork created paths to scholarships, creative expression, future success

On their way to promising careers, two graduating SMU seniors credit their “sure footing” as they leave the University to two factors: being fully engaged in campus activities that value creative expression, and gaining the confidence to succeed thanks to supportive, meaningful scholarships provided by donors.

DALLAS (SMU) — On their way to promising careers, two graduating SMU seniors credit their “sure footing” as they leave the University to two factors: being fully engaged in campus activities that value creative expression, and gaining the confidence to succeed thanks to supportive, meaningful scholarships provided by donors.

Mehdi Hami: Fashionably Great

Mehdi HamiMehdi Hami was a hit as student moderator of this year’s Tate Lecture Series Student Forum. Managing that coveted position can be intimidating, since the student regularly leads the SMU community in conversations with the world’s most esteemed thinkers and doers.

Hami was a standout during the 2014-15 season not only for fast-on-his-feet thinking and wit, but also for his dapper fashion sense exemplified by sharply tailored suits and unexpectedly bold and stylish socks.

Mehdi Hami“Suits are serious and necessary, but there’s no reason to not add some fun and color by way of socks,” he says. “Actually, they’re the only GQ style recommendation (“a stylish man’s best-kept secret”) that I could afford!”

Hami earns two degrees at SMU Commencement Saturday, May 16 – a B.A. in political science and B.S. in biology. He’s also landed a job as an investment-banking analyst for Stephens Inc. in Dallas, and most likely will be able to splurge on socks aplenty.

Hami has been a high-achiever since graduating in 2011 from Garland High School in the top 1 percent of his 600-plus member senior class. His academic standing helped him join SMU as a President’s Scholar, a University merit award providing full-tuition and fees.

Continued good grades qualified Hami for the University Honors Program, which supports interdisciplinary humanities and sciences education and research projects on an SMU campus or abroad. Later, as a Mayer Interdisciplinary Research Fellow, Hami received an Engaged Learning grant to help fund research into French healthcare and nutrition while based for a time in Paris. (See an overview of his findings.)

Hami also received SMU’s John L. Freehafer Memorial Award for participating in student life-enriching activities. He was an SMU Board of Trustees student affairs representative; Undergraduate Admission Office ambassador/tour guide; SMU Conference Services assistant; and Student Senate scholarship committee chair. He also helped launch an autism charity, played intramural sports, was a personal tutor and held leadership roles in the Persian Student Society (he’s fluent in Farsi).

Hami also is now fluent in conversing with the legendary speakers of the 2014-15 Tate Lecture Series.

“When I was Garland High School student sitting in the Tate Student Forum audience, I was in awe of both the moderator and the guest,” Hami says. “Who knew that one day I’d end up on that stage — and start my senior year meeting former Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright and Gen. Colin Powell?”

Hami’s other awe-inspiring moment? “Being at the opening of the George W. Bush Presidential Center,” he says. “Having a seat near the front and seeing all five U.S. presidents walk out at the same time is a moment I’ll remember for the rest of my life.” Also memorable? The hot-pink socks George H.W. Bush sported on that festive occasion, Hami says: “What a fun surprise.”

Mehdi Hami’s Two Tips for Happiness

• “The best advice received was from a high school teacher who hoped I would find success and happiness – and not confuse the two. I think of that before making any major decision in life.”

• “The opportunities to get involved in extracurricular activities at SMU are limitless. Taking the time to do so will make your college experience truly complete and valuable.”

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Laura Spitler: The Right Moves

Laura SpitlerLaura Spitler, who’ll earn a B.A. in marketing, embodies wisdom and grace. She’s wiser through the merit-based scholarships earned at SMU as both a BBA Scholar and Provost Scholar. Her grace is attributable to the four years she spent on SMU’s ballroom dance team — something she never dreamed of doing, especially while keeping up with her high-level studies.

Spitler was inspired to try the ballroom floor after serving in her high school band’s colorguard, for which she contributed dynamic, synchronized flag and dance moves to spirited music. She also was a fan of the hit TV show “Dancing With the Stars.”

“When I heard SMU had a ballroom dance team I thought I’d give it a try, even though I had no prior experience. I ended up finding a hidden talent,” she says, noting she served two years as captain of the 40-member team. (For more on her dancing, see Spitler’s blog.)

Such a physical, creative, competitive outlet “helped give me the confidence to seek leadership opportunities, and was an amazing way to make friends,” she says.

When the Southlake native graduated from Carroll Senior High School in 2011, she thought she’d pursue higher education at a distant campus. Her father, however, encouraged her to consider SMU for its highly respected business school. A visit to the Hilltop helped her decide her father’s advice was worth heeding -- she was captivated by the University’s beauty and found it “the perfect size for me.”

Spitler accepted a BBA Scholarship from SMU’s Cox School of Business, which provides first-year students with early access to programs, advisors, career services and numerous activities designed for students to explore the business world. Included in those activities were three internships during her time at SMU.

One internship was in marketing/communications/event-planning for the George W. Bush Presidential Center. That itself was a great learning experience but one made even more special when she attended a Christmas party hosted by former President Bush and former first lady/SMU alumna Laura Bush.

Laura Spitler

“What an amazing opportunity not only to work on behalf of a former president but meet him and Mrs. Bush — right in our own backyard,” Spitler says.

Another internship involved the Cox-sponsored SMU-in-London Business Program, which she and 30 others began with a month-long class taught by professors from Oxford and Cambridge. The next month they worked with companies aligned with each student’s professional goals – in Spitler’s case, the charter boat company LateSail, helping them engage their target audience via social media and e-newsletters.

“By my sophomore year I already had global business experience on my resume, which was just amazing,” she says. Later efforts would include being president of the BBA Marketing Association, working with SMU’s Fondren Library as well as the Shops at Willow Bend, and participating in a nine-day advertising industry immersion project in New York City.

Another internship, as ambassador for SMU’s Admissions Office, was inspired by the campus tour Spitler took before deciding to attend SMU. “It made such an impact that during my sophomore year I decided to give back to the school — and perhaps be a positive influence on someone else’s college decision.”

Spitler adds, “It’s also amazing to consider that I had such generous scholarship support, which helped provide me with the real-world experience I’ll need in the future.”

After graduation Spitler plans to work with Sabre’s Travel Network and then pursue her MBA. “Oh,” she adds, “I’ll might go dancing on occasion.”

Ballroom Dance: Give It a Whirl

“Just because you ran track and were in the Spanish club in high school doesn't mean you have to limit yourself to doing the same things in college,” says SMU graduating senior Laura Spitler, noting that ballroom dance at SMU offers five advantages:

It’s a great work-out: “Faster dances like the cha-cha burn 500-plus calories an hour, but it’s so fun it doesn’t feel like a workout.”

It’s social: “You can form amazing friendships with your dance partners. The SMU team is like a family, with people from all different majors and grades — people I’d probably never met had we not shared the same interest.”

It’s a stress-reliever: “After a long day of classes, tests and homework, I always looked forward to ballroom practice. Dancing makes you happy!”

It’s competitive: “Ballroom dance sharpens discipline, drive and long-term goals.”

It’s creative: “I’ve gotten to choreograph routines performed in front of hundreds of people.”

Learn more about the dance team.

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