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.

Hayden Ovanes, ’24 interviewed Nia Kamau, ’22 her policy interests, the program’s impact on her time at SMU, her post graduation plans and her Pickering Fellowship.

What made you decide to apply to the Tower Scholars Program?

After her acceptance to SMU, Nia heard about the Tower Scholars Program through a summer event hosted at the university. After meeting a scholar who encouraged her to look into the program, Nia decided to investigate the perks of being a Tower Scholar. Her double major in Human Rights and International Studies allowed for her to come in contact with a community of students and professors that emphasized the unique opportunities that would be provided to her through the program. Nia saw the Tower Scholars Program as a way to elevate her leadership abilities and get specialized experience in public policy that would stand out on graduate school applications. During her time researching the program, Nia found that she had many mentors in other programs that overlapped with the Tower Center and enjoyed her time with these faculty members who spent energy helping Nia continue to grow in and out of the classroom. Nia wanted to focus on the political side of international affairs and believed that the Tower Scholar Program would give insight into possible careers.

What policy areas are of interest to you?

Nia came into the Tower Scholars Program with an interest in creating a system of policies and aid to help combat against human trafficking. After taking more classes and gaining internship opportunities, Nia’s policy interests grew to encompass issues with gender, race, and children.

Besides the Tower Scholars Program, what else are you involved with?

Nia is heavily involved with residential life on campus. She has served many years on Commons Council for her dorm and has served as a Residential Advisor. Throughout this experience, her interest in mental health as a human right began to grow and she used it to fuel interest in her internships and research. Recently, Nia has been able to serve as a student trustee–she sits on the Board of Trustees and can vote on issues relevant to SMU’s culture and get a first-hand experience in watching a large body of people be governed.

In addition, Nia became a member of the Alliance Against Human Trafficking organization on SMU’s campus, which allowed her to bring the Tower Scholars Program into other aspects of her school life.

How has the program impacted your overall time at SMU?

The Tower Scholars Program gave Nia a set of connections that allowed her to access leaders on campus and make her college experience exactly how she wanted it. Serving as both a Human Rights Fellow and a Caswell Fellow, Nia was able to examine issues of race on SMU’s campus and the overall Dallas community through story telling. Nia was able to recount the experiences of students and alumni of color through oral history, which offered current SMU students to gain a broader knowledge on the issue. Nia was afforded the opportunity to co-instruct a class at SMU, which taught about the policies and practices that create a more supportive environment to over 100 students. The Tower Scholars Program proved to Nia that she had the ability to make a change in the world and motivated her in making an impact through learning the processes of change making.

What resources of the Tower Scholars Program have you utilized?

According to Nia, one of the most influential parts of the program is the personalized mentorship and support that she received. The instructors involved with the Tower Center were completely invested in her success and were always willing to go the extra mile for her. The other aspect of the Tower Scholars Program that Nia was grateful for were the connections that she made. These opportunities gave her the ability to partake in trips abroad that were funded through SMU or the Tower Center; she got her scholarship costs covered to go to Washington D.C., and Nia had the ability to try many fellowships, including one involving the study of child marriages and its relationship to trafficking victims.

Which internship or job relating to public policy was the most interesting to you?

Nia traveled to D.C. over the summer to work for Market Project, a small nonprofit that works with victims of trafficking and exploitation, as well as victims of trauma. This program focused on providing healing resources to the victims, such as counseling and shelter, while also giving leadership training and financial support. To Nia, this work was incredibly rewarding and allowed her to focus on her policy interests in a more intimate way. In her opinion, this smaller program invested more time and energy into building her abilities and gaining confidence than working in a larger corporation would have.

Did you study abroad?

Nia was able to study abroad twice. Her first trip was for 10 days during the winter session. She went to Poland on a Human Rights trip to study the Holocaust in her freshman year. The following year, Nia spent three weeks in learning North African politics and their relationship to other nations, traveling to Morocco, Tunisia, and France. It gave her a perspective on how large the world really was and the variety of cultures and people to experience.

What are your post-graduation plans?

Recently, Nia was awarded entrance into the R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship Program, a program funded by the U.S. Department of State that prepared students for foreign service careers. The fellowship requires a minimum of five-year service commitment. After her time in the State Department, Nia says she wants to focus on a multitude of areas involving the political side of international affairs–and maybe one day become a professor.

What has been the most important takeaway from the Tower Scholars Program?

The impact that one person can make in someone’s life is the most important lesson Nia has taken away from the program. According to her, without the professors in the Tower Center, she would not have accomplished all that she has. The time they invested in her and the intentional care given to her needs changed her path and she is forever grateful. The Tower Scholars Program is the reason that she wants to be a professor one day–so that she can make the same kind of impact on another student and share her career and insight with them.