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.

Tower Scholars PortraitsDescribe your life in Uganda. 

Life in a developing country is both fascinating and physically/mentally demanding every day. My time in Uganda was full of unexpected opportunities and some of the most memorable experiences of my life. Throughout my four months in Uganda, I saw circumstances I couldn’t have possibly imagined: extreme poverty, inequitable government healthcare and education institutions, and broken social contracts, among others. Despite these challenges though, a sense of hope and optimism always filled the air. The Ugandans I ran into every day couldn’t have been more grateful for their humble circumstances and they were always full of happiness. Waking up every morning, I was honored to be welcomed into such a warm-spirited community.

What was a typical day like for you?

I split my time between a homestay and an apartment. My homestay family was hardworking, supportive, and incredibly caring. In fact, I’ve never met a group of people that would devote so much time to making sure others felt welcomed. They helped me navigate Kampala’s unorganized “taxi” system (A “taxi” in East Africa is 15 people crammed in a conversion van with no organized route), and they taught me how to negotiate in one of Uganda’s 50 local languages at the market.

For the first two months, I took courses on development, Ugandan culture, and research methods through the School for International Training (SIT) with three other American students. I followed this with an internship at a digital health organization dedicated to alleviating Uganda’s doctor-to-patient ratio of about 1:25,000. These two opportunities were complementary in terms of providing experience navigating Uganda’s diverse culture.

What is one lesson you took away from your time there?

I learned a lot about myself when I was in Africa in terms of my life priorities and how my future might change, but as cliché as it sounds, the Anne Frank quote “No one ever becomes poor by giving,” particularly resonated with me. The Ugandan people will give their time and hearts to helping someone, even when there is little for them to gain. For this reason, I found Ugandan people more spiritually and emotionally rich than some Americans.

What is it like transitioning back into life in Dallas and at SMU?

To be honest, transitioning back into Dallas and SMU has been complex. I found a lot of value in my experience, but it has been difficult describing the unimaginable to SMU students, faculty and staff who have never experienced the magnitude of everyday life in a developing country. To articulate this further, I sometimes have small “reverse culture shocks” in Dallas. I went in a supermarket the other day, and I found myself in a daze at the sheer number of cereal varieties. We live in a country where this material gain drives a vast number of products and services, but Uganda taught me to be grateful for even the smallest of choices.

How has this experience impacted your goals for the future?

I’ve always wanted a career dedicated to giving back, but living and working in Uganda emphasized my interest in an international development career. After returning from Uganda, I interned for a large humanitarian organization and am currently interning for a USAID Public-Private Partnership dedicated to food security, with respect to supporting resilience, innovation, and adaptive capacity in developing countries.

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.


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Tower Scholars welcome new cohort, seniors begin research

Tower Scholars Beta Cohort, class of 2019: (Back row from left to right) Noelle Kendall, Evan Snyder, Zach Miller, Bradley Potts, Ben Prengler (front row) Syndey Tomlinson, Kelsey Shipman, Destiny Rose Murphy and Emily Elson. Not pictured: Tim Smith

Tower Scholars Beta Cohort, class of 2019: (Back row from left to right) Noelle Kendall, Evan Snyder, Zach Miller, Bradley Potts and Ben Prengler (Front row) Syndey Tomlinson, Kelsey Shipman, Destiny Rose Murphy and Emily Elson. Not pictured: Tim Smith

The Tower Center is pleased to welcome the third cohort of the Highland Capital Management (HCM) Tower Scholars, class of 2019. These 10 scholars have come to SMU from across the country and have equally diverse research interests ranging from science policy and human rights to international cooperation on energy and natural resource challenges.

A key feature of the Tower Scholars Program is the senior-year capstone project in which students are placed with area institutions to carry out policy-related research. This semester, members of the 2017 Legacy Cohort will be making contributions at Hunt Mexico, Parkland Memorial Hospital, the SMU Campus Police and Catholic Charities. Upon concluding the research, each student will present the host institution with a policy white paper.

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Tower Center Welcomes Luisa del Rosal as Executive Director

delRosalThe Tower Center and Mission Foods Texas-Mexico Center have named Luisa del Rosal as their new executive director.

“I am honored to return to the Tower Center for Political Studies as its executive director and to serve as the founding executive director of the newly established Mission Foods Texas-Mexico Center,” Del Rosal said in a press release. “Leading these centers enables me to contribute to the regional, national and global reach of SMU.”

Read the full press release here. Para Español oprime aquí.

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Senior Fellow Ambassador Robert Jordan interviewed by Rigzone

Tower Center Senior Fellow and former U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Robert Jordan was interviewed by Rigzone to discuss the effects of the shale revolution, which vastly stimulated U.S. production of oil, on jobs in Saudi Arabia and the Saudi-U.S. relationship.

“The traditional view of the relationship with the Saudis is that it’s based on oil, God and real estate” Jordan told Rigzone. “That was certainly the arrangement the United States has had with the Saudis beginning with Franklin Roosevelt in 1945. But it’s about much more than oil.”

Read the story here.

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Tower Center Fellow Sionaidh Douglas-Scott interviewed by Chatham House

Tower Center Fellow and constitutional law expert Sionaidh Douglas-Scott was interviewed by Agnes Frimston for Chatham House’s publication The World Today to explain the complicated course ahead for the UK as it negotiates its exit from Europe.

Read her interview here.

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Talmage Boston Interviewed on Fox 4’s Good Day

Tower Center Board Member and historian Talmage Boston was interviewed on Fox 4’s Good Day segment “What makes a great president?”

Boston’s new book Cross-Examining History comes out in September, and he will give a talk at the Tower Center Nov. 30 at noon.

Watch his interview here.

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Tower Chair Joshua Rovner discusses U.S. strategy, Middle East in new book

Tower Chair Joshua Rovner wrote a chapter discussing U.S. strategy and the Middle East called “After America: The Flow of Persian Gulf Oil in the Absence of the U.S. Military Force” for Crude Strategy, published by Georgetown University Press, and edited by Charles Glaser and Rosemary Kelanic.


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Tower Center Associate Edward Rincón’s research featured in the Dallas Morning News

Tower Center Associate Edward T. Rincón was featured in the Dallas Morning News for his research company’s recent study on the affects of Latino population growth in the Dallas-Fort Worth area on different markets.

The Pew Research Center reported that Latino internet usage increased from 64 percent in 2009 to 84 percent in 2015. Rincón & Associates found that in the Dallas area, Latino internet usage has almost doubled since 2011, according to the Morning News.

Read the full article here:

Why the digital divide between Latinos, Whites is almost closed

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Tower Center Associate Edward T. Rincón Finds Latino Growth is Leading to Market Disruption in Dallas-Fort Worth

Tower Center Associate Edward T. Rincón found Latino growth is leading to market disruption in the Dallas-Fort Worth area in a recent study completed by Rincón & Associates LLC.

“The Dallas/Fort Worth marketplace is under-going significant changes in the choices being made by Latinos. Selected retailers are responding to these changes, but many others are relying on old data or assumptions.”

Read the full press release here.

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Dr. Jim Hollifield | Evolving Migration Crisis in Europe

The Tower Center’s very own Dr. Jim Hollifield, Director of the Tower Center and Public Policy Fellow of the Wilson Center, appeared on Wilson Center NOW with John Milewski. See the full video discussion below or at at the Wilson Center’s website.

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Click Here to Watch on the Wilson Center Website

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