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.
Abby Herrera ’24 interviewed Cole Fontenot ’22 to learn more about his experience as a Highland Capital Management Tower Scholar and how the program furthered his desire to pursue a career or advanced degree related to economic development and education policy.
Cole Fontenot is a senior from Franklin, Tennessee majoring in History, Economics, Philosophy, and Public Policy with minors in Human Rights and Public Policy and International Affairs (PPIA). Through his time at SMU, Cole has become an academic, professional, and social leader on campus. As demonstrated by his current degree plan, Cole has an insatiable interest in various academic areas, which have even taken him to study abroad in Italy. In addition to his coursework, Cole demonstrates his dedication to academic excellence by serving as president of SMU’s Honor Council and SMU’s Historical Society. Cole also served as a research assistant in an oral history project on campus relating to the effects of the COVID -19 pandemic on the SMU community. Cole also has ample professional experience by having worked as a congressional intern, board member of a nonprofit organization, and an intern for an international consulting company and several policy advocacy groups.
Journey through the Tower Scholar Program
Cole learned about the Tower Scholar Program during his first semester on campus. In his application, he highlighted food insecurity, mental health resources, and economic development as his policy areas of interests. Cole mentioned that the junior year of the program was probably the most formative—and fun—because of the meaningful academic and personal connections he made with members of his cohort during that time.
He said the upper level PPIA classes are challenging, but very substantive, engaging, and applicable to the real world. Cole admitted to occasionally experiencing imposter syndrome within the program because of the culture of excellence among his peers, and the amazing work and recognition Tower Scholars are doing and receiving. The best piece of advice Cole could offer incoming Tower Scholars struggling with imposter syndrome would be to remind yourself of your own accomplishments, passions, and growth—all reasons why you were selected as a Tower Scholar in the first place.
Now that Cole is a senior, he shared which policy areas are of most interest to him now. He is focusing more on economic development in underserved communities and the importance of a quality education in those same areas. Cole completed his Tower Scholar practicum with the City of Dallas and said that experience had a great impact on his knowledge and interest in economic development. Through other internship opportunities, Cole was able to work directly with organizations studying the effects of school absences on academic performance, de facto segregation in the public school system, and the effects of mental illness on drug use and recidivism. He also had an internship at an international consulting firm where he was able to help develop economic reports on countries that private industries were interested in expanding to. Through this internship, he was able to learn more about systemic and social structures which contribute to economic development, and how to assess the overall economic wellbeing of a country. Cole’s final advice to all Tower Scholars is to utilize the relationships and resources you have access to within the program. Moreover, Cole advises Tower Scholars to appreciate the diversity in knowledge, problem solving strategies, and perspectives in your cohort because they could ultimately help you with your own work and policy research.
Life After SMU
Cole has a wealth of opportunities available to him after he graduates from SMU. He is currently applying to law school and other graduate programs in his field but is unsure if he wants to pursue more school immediately after graduation. Cole was also offered a teaching position by Teach For America as a middle school math teacher in Charlotte, North Carolina. Cole believes he will most likely take the offer and teach for a few years, then transition to an economic development consulting position, and finally enroll in a graduate program related to his interests. I have no doubt that Cole will excel and meaningfully contribute to whatever he decides to pursue after graduation.
Aside from his work as a Tower Scholar, Cole is also an RA in Morrison-McGinnis commons and loves reading in his (little) free time. His favorite genres include classic fiction and mysteries—citing Agatha Christie as one of his favorite authors. Cole also loves listening to all kinds of music, with a special interest in country music and Taylor Swift. When asked who his greatest role model was, Cole said he has looked up to his mother all his life, especially now that he wants to go into teaching. Cole’s mother is a teacher herself, and he says that his mother inspires him to be a kind leader and a dedicated educator. Cole’s goal for himself is to emulate his mother’s empathy in everything he does.