We got the chance to speak to Highland Capital Management Tower Scholar Priya Young ’20 about her work at Highland Capital and the Public Policy and International Affairs Junior seminar. Priya is majoring in Economics, Corporate Communications and Public Affairs, with the Tower Scholars minor in Public Policy and International Affairs.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
You’re a Highland Capital Management Tower Scholar of course, but you took it a step further and have actually worked for Highland Capital for some time now – tell us more about it. What have you learned during your time there?
I have learned the importance of adaptability. I work in public relations and communications, which really has a little bit to do with every department at Highland. I find it interesting because I get to dabble in so many areas that I did not think I would. I have also learned the importance of their charitable giving system, and that is probably my favorite thing – seeing the impact of their charitable contributions and being able to report that. Also, the people that I work with are amazing. They are the best part of the job. Shout out to the amazing colleagues that I have at Highland.
Is there any particular instances of the charitable giving where you thought, “This right here makes it all worthwhile?”
The baby Hippo at the Dallas zoo was a cool highlight for me, but I really think seeing the thank you notes and the impact of programs on veterans is heartwarming. A lot of the giving is community and people focused, which is something I value.
Through the Tower Scholars Public Policy and International Affairs Minor (PPIA), you recently worked on a project for the North American Development Bank (NADB) and their managing director, Alex Hinojosa. How was that experience? Was it what you expected going into the course?
It wasn’t what I expected going into the course, but I think that project really allowed me to see where the interdisciplinary aspect of the minor came into play. I was working on visibility as a focus area, and I study economics and communications. For me, enhancing visibility, I really got to tap into my majors and see how what I study as a major is applicable to a real life policy situation.
I did government relations and impact reporting. It wasn’t too much of a stretch from my academic interests based on subject area alone, but it was very, very different given the context of our project. The adaptability factor that the minor prepares us for allows us to dip our toes into a bunch of different areas and bring them together. That was really helpful. It was completely different than anything that I’d ever really worked on before, in a good way.
What were some of the challenges with this project?
We had some communication troubles with our client. We received some of our information late and information changed several times, which taught us an important life skill to work efficiently under a time crunch. Ultimately, we ended up presenting relevant information and policy suggestions that seemed well received. Our client was very kind and helpful with feedback at the final presentation.
Did you get any feedback from NADB or the representative they sent?
We got really good feedback. He really liked the idea of the online impact report. He also liked the idea of having multiple people to reach out to government officials and to stay connected with state governments.
One of the quintessential experiences of the Public Policy & International Affairs minor is the trip to Washington D.C. during their junior year where they meet with policymakers and issue advocates related to the field in which they are doing their Junior project. This year, much of the trip was guided by the Graduate School for Political Management out of George Washington University (GSPM). How did this help your project? Could you elaborate on your experience?
We definitely felt welcomed by GSPM, and found it helpful.
I really enjoyed the meetings! We met with the public affairs department of the US Department of State. That was really interesting, because I felt like it was applicable to our project, but more so to what we may potentially want to do after graduation. Meeting with the policymakers, and them being interested in what we wanted to do and where we wanted to go, getting to know people and build connections as opposed to just being there solely for the project, all of that was helpful. The immersion was really helpful, because we heard from experts, which we don’t usually have access to.
We met Colin Allred (Representative of Texas’ 32nd Congressional District) and Dan Maffei (Commissioner of the Federal Maritime Commission), who had access to the House building. We introduced ourselves to each other on the House floor, which was a definite highlight of the trip.
They were so accommodating towards us. Everything was kind-of planned out to the minute. I enjoyed the experience.
This also happened to be your first time in the nation’s capital. What was your first experience like?
I was very excited about being in Washington, D.C. It was cold, it was really cold. But despite the wind chill, I went to the Lincoln Memorial and walked all the way from there to the World War II Memorial.
We also went to the Museum of Natural History, when we went to the Smithsonian. We saw the Hope Diamond. I wanted to go to the Air and Space Museum but we didn’t have time—next trip!
Has there been any aspect of the Tower Scholars Program that we haven’t already discussed that you particularly enjoyed?
The people. The people are the best part of this program. I feel like the Tower Center has become kind of this second home on campus for me. I didn’t used to go there very much. Actually, when I was interviewing for the Tower Scholars Program, I got lost on my way to the building. And now I go there all the time. I study in Lawyer’s Inn and their breakfast tacos are awesome. But the people are just the best part of this program. Everybody there is so kind and helpful and welcoming — they really want you to succeed and that’s evident in the program. The professors want you to succeed and they treat you like the leaders that they see in you. I always feel respected and I always feel valued in this program, which is awesome. Among many others, particular shoutouts to Harold Stanley (SMU Vice President of Executive Affairs) and Diana Newton (Tower Center Senior Fellow) for teaching the PPIA 2380 course, and of course, Olisa Dellas (Tower Scholars Program’s Manager of Student and Faculty Engagement) for all she does for us! Ultimately the whole staff and all of my professors in this program have been incredibly wonderful!