Denver Nicks: The Tower Center Gave me the Confidence to Overcome any Obstacles

Denver Nicks, SMU ’07, a Hunt Leadership Scholars recipient and a Tower Center alumnus, is an award-winning journalist, former staff writer for TIME, and contributor to National Geographic Travel, Rolling Stone, Uproxx, and other publications. He is also the author of the books Hot Sauce Nation: America’s Burning Obsession, PRIVATE: Bradley Manning, WikiLeaks, and the Biggest Exposure of Official Secrets in American History, and CONVICTION about Lyons v. Oklahoma, a pivotal case in the career of Supreme Court justice and civil rights icon Thurgood Marshall.

Currently pursuing a Juris Doctor degree at Tulane Law School, Denver took a few moments to speak with us about his time at the Tower Center and how the professors and programming provided a solid, well-rounded foundation that has led to a multifaceted career.

While at SMU, I received the Jack C. and Annette K. Vaughn Fellowship, which paid for an internship in Washington, DC for a summer. That was a great experience that introduced me to someone who was a mentor for years and remains a friend. The Tower Center’s relationship with American University’s Washington Semester program was also instrumental, allowing me to meet great people from around the world, some of whom remain friends today. That was my first time living in DC, a city I returned to many times and lived in for years.

I remember taking extremely engaging classes from Joe Kobylka that I’d go back and take all over again today just for fun. Dr. Dennis Cordell was my academic advisor and he was outstanding. Understanding, but demanding, he was a great help in guiding me to do more substantive research than I had done up to that point. I was sad to learn he had passed away a few years ago. Another professor, Dr. Hal Williams, absolutely lit a fire within me in terms of thinking about current events, politics, and history in exciting, urgent, and creative ways.

I also remember writing a senior thesis that was, up to that point, the heftiest piece of research and writing I’d ever done and I enjoyed it immensely. I think it’s what gave me the courage to pursue a career in magazine and book writing.

After graduating from SMU, I received a Fulbright grant to study and research in the Philippines where I wrote a report about the efficacy of that country’s system of sectoral representation for minority groups in its lower house of Congress. After, I attended the Columbia Journalism School and embarked on my career working for Time magazine.

The Tower Center provided a wide-ranging liberal arts education and a strong basis to follow my interests into so many different topics. The opportunities, education and support from professors and staff have given me the confidence to overcome any obstacles when following my interests.


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