Each year, we spotlight our Nexpoint Tower Scholar Seniors. We enjoy hearing about their journey through the program and how their perspective on the importance of public 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.
Carter Spahn ’25 interviewed Saavni Desai ’23 about why she applied to the Tower Scholars Program, her favorite memories, post-graduation plans, and advice for other college students.
Why did you apply to the Tower Scholars Program, and how has your experience been?
When I was a first-year student, I met some of the Tower Scholars from the class above us and they were super impressive. One girl I met had an internship with the FBI, while others were working on cool research. Put simply, all the most impressive people I knew were Tower Scholars. So, I started talking to them about the program, and they would tell me about how the courses were on international affairs and public policy, all of which I was interested in. I was so amazed by everything that I had heard that I decided I wanted to be one of them, so I applied.
As for my experience in the program, I love it. It is definitely my favorite thing that I am a part of at SMU in terms of academics. I love the professors I have taken in the program, such as Professor Newton, Professor Takeuchi, and Professor Leong. I also appreciate how in-depth it goes into certain public policy issues. I feel that I have learned so much about the world and have become a better global citizen because of it.
What is the most memorable thing that the program has given you the opportunity to do?
Well, I certainly can’t pick just one! The first thing that comes to my mind is going to Washington D.C. Being able to talk to fellows at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, lawyers at Baker Botts, and politicians in Congress was such an amazing opportunity. I loved the Japanese Embassy, as they had a stunning traditional tea house and beautiful scenery. Another opportunity that I was given through the program was that I gave a speech at the Medal of Freedom ceremony. It was incredibly meaningful to be able to give back to the Tower Center and I got to meet so many astounding individuals who I stay connected with to this day.
What area of public policy or international affairs are you most interested in, and what steps have you taken outside the program to pursue that interest further?
On the international affairs side, I’m very interested in the Middle East and North Africa. In terms of public policy, I’m interested in counterterrorism and nuclear non-proliferation. I’ve been able to talk to a lot of people in those fields to try to understand the fields better, what kind of jobs are available in those fields, and what the day-to-day looks like. The Tower Center has greatly helped me meet the right people in each of those fields, so I am exceptionally appreciative of the Center for connecting me with people in those fields. Also, I am pretty interested in pursuing international law, so policy areas like cross-border negotiations and mergers and acquisitions are of great interest to me.
On that topic, what career paths are you considering upon graduation?
Well, currently I am interning for Pointe Bello, and for the Spring, I’m going to be doing investor relations for NexPoint, which sponsors the Tower Scholars Program. I know that I want to work in private for a year before law school, although I am unsure of what that will entail. After that year of working, I want to go to law school to go into international law. Once I finish law school, I hope to work in-house for either Los Alamos, which is a nuclear plant, a nonprofit, or a think tank. To be honest, I am not completely sure of exactly what I want to do, I just know that I want to be in the Foreign Service/Laws/White House realm.
What other programs or organizations are you involved in at SMU?
I am a part of Mock Trial, which is a ton of fun, I’m in the sorority Alpha Chi Omega, and I am a President’s Scholar.
Also, I’m a Hamilton Undergraduate Research Associate, which allowed me to publish a paper with Professor Takeuchi. We started writing in 2020 because of the pandemic. I was supposed to go to Japan on the study abroad program, but it was canceled due to COVID-19. Professor Takeuchi, who runs that program, ended up reaching out to me asking if I wanted to do research. I jumped at the opportunity and ended up reading five books and a ton of articles for research. The process of researching, writing, and going through the academic review process ended up taking over a year, as we started in May 2020 and were published in October 2021.
The paper is on Chinese authoritarianism and what lends to the Chinese Communist Party’s resilience. Essentially, we tried to tackle the question of why other authoritarian regimes around the world are so cyclical and unstable, yet the CCP can remain consistently strong. We concluded that there were six specific reasons for its stability, but that overarchingly it is because of the party’s institutionalization and its adaptation to globalization and technology.
What advice do you have for current and prospective Tower Scholars on how to best take advantage of the resources the program offers?
I would make strong relationships with your professors because they know so many individuals that will help you down the line in getting the positions that you want, or getting the interviews that you want, or just people for you to talk to about the field that you want to enter. The Tower Center itself is a fantastic resource for internships as well, especially internships in D.C. I would just take advantage of the faculty and staff because they will know so much about the field that you are interested in and the people that are in it.
Lastly, I saw that you recently won Homecoming Queen. Congratulations! How did that come about and what does that award mean to you?
Thanks! There is a surprising amount that goes into winning Homecoming Queen. They look at your GPA, your resume, your campus involvement, your social media video, your float, your Peruna, and the spirit of your sorority. It means a lot to me because I finally got to give back to Alpha Chi Omega. Those are my best friends, and I have had so many incredible opportunities within Alpha Chi, and the highlights of my SMU experience were made with those in Alpha Chi. Because of this, winning Homecoming Queen just means that I can represent the people that I love. It allowed me to wrap up my four years at SMU reflecting on all the people that I’ve met and the memories I’ve made. Yeah, it was awesome!