Tower Scholar Starts His Own Political Consulting Firm

Last year Highland Capital Management Tower Scholar Zach Miller started his own political consulting firm, Atlas Consulting LLC. He’s now using the SMU network to launch himself deep into Dallas politics, already working as a finance director for an aspiring Texas senator.

Zach’s story was featured in SMU News. Read it here.

Scholar Spotlight | Jump-starting political organizations on campus

scholar spotlight Drew Wicker
HCM Tower Scholar Drew Wicker speaks to his congressional district at the 2016 Texas Republican Convention.

For this month’s Scholar Spotlight we interviewed SMU Senior and HCM Tower Scholar Drew Wicker about his political activism on campus. Wicker is majoring in finance and plans to attend graduate school after graduating from SMU in May.

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Speaker Q&A | The Life and Ideas of Liu Xiaobo

perry link discusses liu xiaobo
China expert Perry Link speaks at the SMU
Tower Center-Asian Studies program Feb. 8.

The SMU Tower Center and Asian Studies hosted Perry Link, author and translator of many influential works on Chinese language, literature, human rights and cultural history, at SMU Feb. 8 for the program “The Life and Ideas of Liu Xiaobo.” Liu Xiaobo was China’s Nobel Peace Prize laureate before he died in July while still serving a prison sentence for inciting subversion of the state. He was an outspoken critic of both the West and China, a poet, and a scholar. HCM Tower Scholar Destiny Rose Murphy interviewed Link about his research into Xiaobo’s life before the program.

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Student Blog | Gente-fication: The Changing Face of Urban Development

genteficationThe SMU Tower Center and Latino Center for Leadership and Development co-hosted a policy forum discussing “gente-fication” and various policy solutions that could reduce the impact of the rising costs of housing and amenities for low-income locals. HCM Tower Scholar Destiny Rose Murphy wrote about what she learned.


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Student Experience | Japan-U.S. Relations in the Changing World

The SMU Tower Center Sun & Star Japan-East Asia Program hosted the discussion “Japan-U.S. Relations in the Changing World” featuring Naoyuki Agawa, Distinguished Visiting Professor of Law at Doshisha University in Kyoto, Japan, Jan. 30. SMU Junior and HCM Tower Scholar Destiny Rose Murphy wrote about her experience at the event.

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Scholar Spotlight | Why I go on Mission Trips

HCM Tower Scholar 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. The Tower Center sat down with Brian to hear about his experiences.

Tell us about working with Hope for the Poor.

Scholar Spotlight Brian ODonnell
HCM Tower Scholar Brian O’Donnell in Peru.

Hope for the Poor, founded by Craig Johring, works with three main communities in Mexico City.

One is a community living in the city dump —
it’s a place of last resort for families if the father doesn’t want to turn to criminal activity to make money. The people living there scavenge for things they can sell. Craig goes there and brings food and sets up soccer for the kids.

Another of the communities is homeless people living within a 10-block radius of the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which is the main tourist attraction in the city. Craig also has a food cart for the people there and we helped distribute food to them. He keeps a list of all of the homeless people around to make sure that if someone disappears he can find out what happened to them.

The third group lives at a women’s shelter that’s hardly even a shelter. It’s a state-run operation, and it’s basically a place where they round up anyone who is homeless so that they’re not on the street. Craig is the only person who visits the shelter from outside of the government and he brings basic things that the women normally wouldn’t have access to like shampoo bottles. He also talks to them since they don’t ever have people visit them.

We spent a day at each of these communities and tried to understand these people’s lives. It was really eye-opening.

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

The Tower Center interviewed HCM Tower Scholar Isabelle Gwozdz about her senior year practicum as an intern with the Embrey Human Rights Program and her involvement in establishing the SMU Chapter of the Student Alliance Against Human Trafficking. Gwozdz is majoring in political science with minors in history, French and English, and will graduate in May.

Tell us about your experience with the Embrey Human Rights Program.

It’s been pretty awesome. I’m not a human rights major or minor, but it’s something I’ve been interested in and so I thought it would be cool to have that experience for my practicum placement. I’ve been focusing on human trafficking because the Human Rights Symposium in September featured people from the Dallas area who had been trafficked. Because that was my first big event with the Program, I continued to focus on that issue for my practicum.

What are some of your responsibilities?

My efforts are focused on how to connect with the student body. Usually the only involvement the Human Rights Program sees is from students majoring or minoring in human rights, so it’s been hard for them to break into different groups.

We also founded the SMU Chapter of the McCain Institute’s initiative to end domestic human trafficking. They have chapters on college campuses nationwide. It’s been really exciting and also a lot of work to get off the ground.

What about that first event drew you into the issue of human trafficking?

I attended the survivors panel. They had four local women come speak about their experience with human trafficking and it was really interesting to hear them. One of the women, which is what really hit the issue home from me, was trafficked to college campuses. She was trafficked for fraternities, which is so terrible. That’s when I realized that this happens on campuses so it needs to be my focus: How to get the campus involved in anti-human trafficking. That was the “aha moment” for me.

What do you hope to accomplish with the SMU Student Alliance?

The goal is to create a lasting presence on campus. This semester we are trying to secure our status on campus and expand our membership.  Next semester we are going to start having events. We will have a Human Trafficking Week and we’re going to invite survivors to come back and talk specifically to the student body. We want to do an action like visit a women’s shelter or make blankets or something, and we also might screen a documentary. I’m excited because even though my placement is almost over, I’ll get to be a part of that next semester.

What was your favorite part of the Tower Scholars Program?

Scholar Spotlight Isabelle Gwozdz
HCM Tower Scholar Isabelle Gwozdz with Texas Rep. Kevin Brady.

I really enjoyed our trip to D.C. That’s when I feel like my cohort really bonded. Before I felt like we were class friends, but after that trip and this semester, even without a class, I see them more because we go out of our way to see each other. That trip was an incredible experience — and it was my first exposure to that world. We sat down with Congressmen Pete Sessions and John Ratcliffe, and then I ended up going back and interning on the Hill that summer. It inspired me to apply for internships.

We met with so many people and they were on all different sides of the policy. It was so cool to see how many people are involved in the policy-making world  and we didn’t just have one perspective, we got to have all of their perspectives, and we were actually there with them.

What do you hope to take with you from the program?

Already it’s taught me so much. It’s a general life skill to take what you learn in a classroom and actually apply it. The Tower Scholars Program has really taught me how to use everything we learn in the classroom and apply it in real life situations. Even if I don’t go into policy, that set of skills I can use in whatever field I go into.

Scholar Spotlight | Connecting communities in Texas

bringing Japan's high speed rail to Texas
Fairooz Adams asks a question at an SMU Tower Center lecture.

Highland Capital Management Tower Scholar Fairooz Adams believes in using local politics to shape a community. 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. The SMU Tower Center sat down with him to discuss his experiences and his goals.

You ran for local office in Lewisville, Texas, as a sophomore at SMU. Tell us about your experience.

I’ve been involved in local politics around Lewisville, where I’m from, since I was 15 years old. I launched a petition to stop my high school class from being split into two different classes, and we were successful — since then I’ve worked on four campaigns. When I was 20 years old, I thought that if I wanted to do something meaningful then I could go back to the community and run, so that’s exactly what I did. I was worried people wouldn’t take me seriously, but I was pleasantly surprised that wasn’t the case. Many people were enthused about my campaign and were supportive; we out-fundraised our opponent and that was a big success. In the end we came up short, but it was a good learning experience.

What did you take away from your campaign?

It’s very important to involve people in the local community in your campaign because it gives them a stake in your success, and it’s also very important to connect with people on a gut level. At the end of the day people vote with their guts, and you need to know whether people believe in you or not. You also have to genuinely care about your community. Our campaign wouldn’t have been as successful if I hadn’t been consistently involved since I was 15.

Let’s switch gears to what you’re doing now. Your research project for the Tower Scholars Program is focused on bringing high-speed rail to Texas. What have you found so far?

I’m looking at whether high-speed rail would be able to connect different communities so that places with high economic activity can be connected to places with a surplus of labor. The idea came to me when I read J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy. He makes the argument that opportunity has left these communities behind and now they’re impoverished. The people there can’t afford to move and don’t want to. So what if you could connect these places to economic centers?

Dr. Hiroki Takeuchi and I interviewed people from several industries while we were in Japan (through the SMU-in-Japan study abroad program) — Central Japan Railway Company, Japan Airlines, J-Air, Toyota — to look at how those companies compete against each other and how they function. I learned there is a substantial degree of competition between the industries and not a lot of cooperation.

What was it like to ride the shinkansen in Japan?

I rode the train from Osaka to Tokyo. It was the smoothest train I’ve ever been on. I’ve taken DART, and it just does not compare in any way. It’s like being in an airplane, but without the noise – it’s so smooth. I couldn’t tell we were going 220 miles per hour. It accelerates and decelerates so smoothly, it’s amazing.

How has being an HCM Tower Scholar affected your college experience?

I’m very happy with the Tower Scholars Program. I don’t think I would be interning at Texas Central Partners if it weren’t for the Program and Texas Central Partners is an amazing place because it has a Silicon Valley feel to it, like a startup, but at the same time it’s a big project with a lot of funding behind it. It’s the best of both worlds because you’re doing something real that’s already big and important, but at the same time it’s still kind of a startup.

I’ve also met incredible people through this program, people who really care about America and our politics and making our country better.

Student blog | Jerome Powell as Fed Chair Means More of the Same

All eyes have been on the Federal Reserve this year; investors and economists have been awaiting decisions on the direction the bank is going to take as the U.S. economy continues to recover. Wednesday, the Fed took center stage again when the White House announced that President Trump will indeed be nominating a new chairman, opting to replace Janet Yellen when her first term expires in February. White House officials reportedly notified Federal Reserve Governor Jerome Powell that he would be Trump’s choice. This is unprecedented, seeing as every chair has been reappointed to a second term since World War II.

So, who is Jerome Powell?

The 64-year old was appointed to the board of governors by President Obama in 2012. He spent time as a lawyer and investment banker before joining President George H.W. Bush’s administration to serve as Assistant Secretary and Undersecretary of the Treasury. He later became a partner at a New York-based private equity firm, The Carlyle Group, and a visiting scholar at the Bipartisan Policy Center, all before joining the board of governors. Powell is expected to continue Yellen’s slow and cautious approach to monetary policy and financial regulations, though some on Wall Street are confident he can be an ally in the push to deregulate.

The announcement comes at an important time for the Fed, which just concluded its monthly meeting and elected not to raise interest rates yet. The bank began raising rates in December 2015, having kept them low since the recession to stimulate economic growth. Since then, there have been four rate increases and another is likely on the way in December. Powell is expected to stay the course, keeping an eye on inflation, which has been growing more slowly than anticipated, in addition to other indicators that may suggest the economy is ready for changes in policy.

He is also expected to continue with the plans to normalize the Fed’s balance sheet, which were announced earlier this year. These plans will take over at a consequential time, for they will test the central bank’s true power over the economy. Many institutions around the world, including the European Central Bank and Bank of Japan, will be watching closely to see if the U.S. succeeds in its attempt to be the first major economy to unwind the drastic measures taken during the recession.


Brian O’Donnell is a senior from Fairfield, Connecticut. He is triple major in Finance, Economics, and Public Policy with a minor in Public Policy and International Affairs. Along with being an HCM Tower Scholar, Brian is a Hilltop New Century Scholar and Francis Ouimet Scholar. Brian’s areas of interest include fiscal and monetary policy as well as globalization and international trade.

New scholarship for SMU students studying in Japan honors Dr. H Neill McFarland

Former SMU student Matthew Reitz during his SMU-in-Japan term in the summer of 2016.

The ORIX Americas Miyauchi Charitable Foundation has agreed to fund a scholarship for SMU students who participate in the SMU-in-Japan study abroad program at Kwansei Gakuin University (KGU). The grant will be $20,000 per year, beginning in 2018, for five years. The scholarship, founded in the SMU Tower Center Sun & Star Program on Japan and East Asia, intends to commemorate Dr. H Neill McFarland’s contribution to U.S.-Japan relations by building ties between SMU and KGU.

Continue reading New scholarship for SMU students studying in Japan honors Dr. H Neill McFarland