LBJ School of Public Affairs Graduate Student Amanda Towler
I think one of the most important things that Diana, my intern, learned through the IE Pre-Grad program is that graduate school is accessible. I think in the beginning she was intimidated by the idea of "grad school," but after seeing it up close, I think she realized that grad students are not super-geniuses, just ordinary people who are passionate about what they are studying. I think she also realized that there is no one "right" way to do grad school-some people go right after undergrad, some people take a few years off to work, some people apply to hundreds of schools, some people just apply to one or two. Sometimes grad students like to prescribe "the way I did it" to every undergraduate student, but it is a different experience for everyone. Even worse, some grad students like to convey getting in to grad school as an extremely difficult process with so many obstacles, but again this is not always the case. Graduate mentors should instead point out what makes their undergraduate mentee a strong applicant and what they can do to become an even stronger one.
I also learned a few things through the IE program. Giving advice to Diana gave me a chance to reflect on what I did as an undergrad that helped me get into grad school and also helped me survive once I got there. I realized that it wasn't my grades or networking that got me to grad school-- it was my PASSION for learning more about the things that fascinate me. As an undergrad, that passion led me to pursue independent research in addition to my course work, to spend my summers doing unpaid internships, to take up leadership opportunities wherever I could find them. And now that passion has successfully taken me through one year of grad school. I would say that the best advice for undergrad students thinking about grad school is this: find what you're passionate about and do everything you can to learn more about it; before you know it, you'll have a strong, solid graduate school application!
My IE intern and I were both awarded a $400 travel grant to attend the Denver University Foreign Policy Conference in Vail, Colorado. Because the cost of the entire trip was over $500 per person, this travel grant was quite literally the only way either of us could afford to attend. I know that my interns had a wonderful, enlightening and fun experience at the conference, and as their mentor this of course made me so happy. They were able to meet many PhD students and graduate professors, learn about graduate research, learn about the foremost issues in foreign policy and national security, and most of all learn how to network and interact with fellow intellectuals. If I could have gotten that kind of experience as an undergraduate, I would not have traded it for all the GRE prep courses in the world. However, even as a current graduate student this conference experience was priceless for me. I also met wonderful people and learned how to network, and I also learned about the current challenges in foreign policy and national security, which is my area of study.
I feel very fortunate to be a part of the IE program, because I have learned at least as much from my three interns as they have learned from me. They have all been first-generation college students and/or from an underrepresented ethnic group, and they have taught me to appreciate my graduate school experience in a new way and to not take it for granted. I will always be grateful for the opportunity I have had to inspire and encourage these girls to look at graduate school as a real possibility for them if they work hard and put their minds to it. My first semester as an IE mentor I took my intern, an amazing young women who has persevered through her academic career with a debilitating visual disability, to a Unite for Sight Conference that focused on solutions to blindness in the developing world. I cannot express with words how much this meant to both of us. This semester, I took two incredibly driven and self-motivated young women to the foreign policy conference, where everyone-especially the PhD students-was so impressed with them. I felt like a proud parent.
In both semesters, attending an academic conference has been a major part of the IE experience, and only the travel grants have made it possible.