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.

EJ Rorem, ’24 interviewed Izzy LeBey, ’22 to learn more about her time as a Highland Capital Management Tower Scholar and how the program supported and cultivated her interest in China.

What attracted you to the Tower Scholars Program?
I’m an English and Political Science double major minoring in Chinese, but my interest in foreign policy really developed in the spring of my freshman year. I had always been interested in the Chinese language and culture, but when I took Intro to International Relations with Dr. Takeuchi, the global significance and impact of the U.S.-China relationship fascinated me. He recommended I apply, and since I was considering a career in diplomacy, the program sounded like a perfect fit.

How did you first become interested in Chinese language and culture?
I took Chinese classes in the fifth grade because I was a very visual person and the way the characters looked appealed to me. My teacher was Chinese herself, and she would weave information about Chinese education, government, history, and medicine into all of our lessons. I haven’t had the opportunity to travel to China yet, but SMU has a sizable population of Chinese students, and I’ve enjoyed making friends with them and discussing the cultural differences between America and China. But yes, my interest in Chinese culture started pretty early on.

In what ways has the Tower Scholars Program supported your studies in U.S.-China relations?
Apart from the standard theoretical policy classes, there was a higher-level course taught by Professor Newton and Dr. Stanley which granted us a lot of freedom to choose our presentation topic. I chose to present on a project I had worked on when I was interning with Senator Ben Sasse that was related to China, and the course allowed me to hone in on that topic that I was passionate about. Everyone in the class was able to do that for something they were interested in, which was really nice to see.
The Tower Program also coordinates internship placements based on your policy interests, and I was placed with Pointe Bello (a private intelligence firm that specializes in Chinese affairs and U.S.-China policy). That was a great fit for me and an excellent experience. The Tower Program has gone out of its way to accommodate my interest in Chinese affairs.

You’ve interned at the State Department, Congress, Hunt Oil Company, and Pointe Bello to name just a few. Could you elaborate on one of your favorite internships you’ve completed during your time at SMU?
It’s definitely the Pointe Bello internship. It allows me to make use of my Chinese language skills and focus on exactly the kind of issues that I’m interested in. The fact that it’s a private company also adds value, since private firms have different methods, practices, and priorities than government bodies do. The kind of memos and reports I’m expected to write are completely different from government policy memos, so that’s been great from a learning and professional development standpoint. The opportunity to conduct research in Chinese is a huge plus as well.

What do you plan to do after graduation?
I intend to go to law school, but I’m looking for an opportunity that would allow me to marry that training with my Chinese language skills and interest in U.S.-China relations.
Legal training will be a helpful asset to me as I continue in the realm of research and analysis in national security. Hopefully, I’ll get the opportunity to travel to Beijing or Taipei sometime, although I would also love to explore the more rural areas of China if possible. The difference in perspectives between the big cities and the more secluded Northwest of China is very interesting.

What advice would you give a student interested in or just starting out in the Tower Scholars Program?
If you have a broad interest in public policy but don’t know what your specific policy focus is, stay open in the short term and try to find something that speaks to you. Once you find that thing, pour all your energy into it. You can’t be an expert in everything; you have to specialize. You’ll be exposed to so much throughout the program, and you’ll get the most out of it if you can focus all those experiences through your policy interest. Remain open if you don’t know what that is right now, but figure out what that is and then focus on that.