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.

Vedang Uniyal ’24 interviewed Izzah Zaheer ’22 about her experience in the program, how younger Tower Scholars can make a difference in their communities, and her advice for college students.

How would you best summarize your experience with the Tower Scholars Program?

Overall, it’s been really good. I really enjoyed my time here. I joined because I was interested in policy and I heard about the program before I came to SMU. It’s been really good in understanding the applicational side to policy as well as networking and understanding what jobs and careers are out there in policymaking.


Do you have a certain moment or event in the program that was really impactful for you?

Sure, I loved the class I took with Professor Newton and Dr. Stanley because that was a really fun class. That was the first class that we took as a cohort and we got to talk about very real and current events and issues as well as model policy memos. That was good because it felt like a real-life experience. Currently, I enjoy my placement with Professor Bill McKenzie at the Bush Center. I like working with business and local journalism, which is something I’m passionate about, and it’s cool that the Tower Center has been able to support it.


Within public policy or political science are there any issues in specific that mean a lot to you or  that you want to see in your career or future?

My project right now is looking at sustainable business models for local journalism, and so it’s been cool that the Tower Center has been able to support that through Professor Bill McKenzie specifically. I was able to apply for an engaged learning grant and I’ll be able to conduct interviews and a case study on the Chicago Tribune to see what kinds of models are sustainable and what’s happening in the local journalism space right now and what solutions can come out of that.


What can scholars do to make a difference in their communities, like you’re doing, through education and learning?

I think learning about issues and staying aware of those issues but not letting them overwhelm you is really helpful. Seeing what impact you can have and knowing that it’s a realistic impact and understanding that no one person can solve every issue. Choosing one and focusing on that, as well as keeping yourself educated is important.


As a graduating senior, what is some advice you have for students to make the most of their  college experience?

I really enjoyed my time at SMU. I think it’s a great time to try different things and not limit yourself to one career or one path. I think often it’s easy to get stuck, but at least at SMU you have   the opportunity to move around quite a bit as well as experience different majors and subjects and not just stay concentrated on one field. It’s a good time to join different organizations. It’s a good opportunity to get exposure from different organizations.


What do you find valuable in learning about different cultures and perspectives through the TSP?

I think it’s always valuable to learn about different cultures. It increases overall empathy. I think Tower has been more focused on the policy aspect of things, but I would say other things like my majors and other classes (like human rights) have been great at exposing me to different cultural issues. SMU itself exposes you to different people. Even if you don’t agree with someone, understanding the root issue and where they’re coming from is important. The Tower Center has given me a  new way of thinking. My other classes have helped expose me to new ideas as well.