This Fall has been a great success for the Engaged Learning Fellows and Big iDeas Winners, but the recent warm weather reminded me of an unpublished summer story of adventure, wonder, and student success!
The Office of Engaged Learning and SMU’s Dr. Wes Waggoner invited Khushi Kumar (AKA as just “Khushi”) and Ayesha Awan (check) to SMU as part of the Sister2Sister Exchange Program. Khushi wants to work in marketing and storytelling (she can spin a tale), while Ayesha is a computer scientist who reignited her interest in game design after meeting Guildhall’s Gary Brubaker.
On one of the hottest days of the summer, I picked up Khushi and Ayesha from DFW Airport. This was the first time these two young women had been outside of Pakistan. I’ll never forget seeing them approach the car with enormous suitcases and nervous smiles. I did what anyone would do to welcome them to Dallas: I fed them tacos (a first for them), hoping that delicious food and conversation would warm them up for what I knew would be a fantastic month at SMU. It did.
It was neat to watch them change and flourish in such a short time. They took classes – like the Psychology of Evil with James Calvert and Creative Production with Sheryl Medenhall that were interesting to them but not related to their major. They went to Six Flags with other students from the SMU NSF REU Data Science for Good and made new friends. They would ride the Dart to explore Dallas and run personal errands. All experiences were new and ones that tested their abilities and sparked their imaginations. The summer, away from their home and comforts, boosted their confidence, strengthened their independence, and allowed each one of them to know themselves better. Of course, at times they felt homesick and bored — but the excitement of discovering new places, taking risks, and learning new things contributed to their growth and development. When I dropped them off at the DFW airport to return to Pakistan, they were truly different people from the students I picked up just weeks before.
I have felt a little guilty for not sharing this blog right after the summer program, but now might be best moment to do so. SMU students are applying for programs beyond the SMU main campus or consider enrolling in a class that expands their skill set or challenges what they already know. Like Khushi and Ayesha, SMU students should break through discomfort and talk with professors to clarify college plans or ask questions about their last assignments. SMU students should do research or start a company (with the Office of Engaged Learning). Or maybe they should study abroad like our guests did or take a course at SMU in Taos. The latter is a personal favorite of mine because, even if Taos is close to Dallas (and not on the other side of the world) it will transport one to another place and space; with new smells, sights, sounds, and sensations that are unforgettable.
I will never forget how exceptionally courageous, humorous, and curious these young women were. After applying for the Sister2Sister Exchange Program, they were selected from thousands of applicants, they took a risk, pushed themselves out of their comfort zones, and accomplished things they never believed possible. I urge all SMU students to do the same and promise it will change lives and build lasting friendships to cherish forever.
Jennifer Ebinger is the director of the Office of Engaged Learning. She extends her gratitude to SMU’s Kim Herman, Maeve Skidmore, and Claudia Hart Sotomayor for helping her run this one-off program this summer. Additionally, she thanks the Sister2Sister Exchange Program liaison, Mahveen Azam, and most of all Khushi and Ayesha for giving her, too, a new and enriching experience.