Each year, we spotlight our Highland Capital Management Tower Scholar Seniors. We enjoy hearing about their journey through the program and how their perspective on the importance of sound policy evolved when combined with their own academic interests. This year, we asked our incoming and current scholars to interview the seniors and were delighted by the conversations captured.
Lamisa Ali ’23 interviewed Visakh Madathil ’21 to learn more about his experience as a Highland Capital Management Tower Scholar and how the program furthered his desire to pursue a career that intersected technology and public policy.
Lamisa: I had the opportunity to talk to Highland Capital Management Tower Scholar Visakh Madathil ‘21 about his experiences during his time in the SMU Tower Scholars Program and goals for the future. Visakh is majoring in Economics and Math with minors in Physics, Computer Science, and Management Science, in addition to the TSP Public Policy and International Affairs minor. Here are the highlights of our conversation.
Visakh: I am particularly interested in how we use data and build technology to help measure, understand, and solve different economic and social problems. This is in conjunction with my passion for labor economics, affordable healthcare, and education. In my mind, these are the opportunity areas—the development areas that are necessary for people to prosper and make a better life for themselves. Utilizing data and technology to augment our understanding of these issues is important to me. Currently, I am taking my senior placement through the Tower Scholars Program. My placement, Texas 2036, is a data-driven think tank whose goal is to learn how to make Texas a better place to live. It is exactly like the UN Sustainable Development Goals, but for Texas. They are focused on areas like education, workplace development, healthcare, and energy. Personally, I think it is really important for people in technology to understand social science, policies, human behavior, how what they build affects people, and vice versa. It is conversely important for people in social sciences and policy to know how technology works, especially since it is such a big driver of social, economic, and political change.
Lamisa: How has the Tower Scholars Program impacted your time here at SMU? Explain your experiences at this school and in the program.
Visakh: One of the best professional experiences I received was a fellowship at the Department of Health and Human Services in D.C. the summer after my sophomore year. The Tower Scholars Program definitely enabled me to secure this role. The Tower Scholars Program taught me practical knowledge about how government works, such as the idea of incremental policy-making. During my time as a fellow, I translated the often one-dimensional roles of math and code to real policies that affect people through the practicality I learned in the program. I was really involved with the Tower Center my first two years on campus. I ran the student forum, which had publications, dialogues, and open forum, among other things. In both 2016 and 2018, I worked on a couple of Democratic campaigns. I was also a data scientist for the congressional races in the SMU area. I actually took a year and a half off from SMU. During my time off, I worked at a data science consulting company and looked at a lot of fraud, cryptocurrency specifically.
Lamisa: What are your post-graduation plans? What do you hope to accomplish?
Visakh: My plan is to work for two years and then apply to a PhD program. I think what really appeals to me in the long run is corporate research or working at a private lab, where I can have the resources to implement my research. I think that is the big thing for me; I want to be able to build things that help people—to do more than just write a paper.
Lamisa: What is the most important takeaway you have gotten from the Tower Scholars Program?
Visakh: I think this can be answered on two levels. One is, other than career-wise, the Tower Center has been a supportive place for me. They are all fantastic people. For me, the Tower Center became a home. Having a sense of community is extremely beneficial, especially in college when you are figuring out what you want to do with your life. Having that support is invaluable. On an equally invaluable note, the Tower Scholars Program gave some kind of sobering, yet accurate depiction of the world’s complexity. Moreover, it taught me that you can find ease in the complexity if you can focus on what you want to contribute your life to. Then you are able to identify where you want to start something.
To learn more about our Tower Scholars, go here.