Senior Spotlight: Emory McDowell ’23

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.

Emory Woodruff ’25 interviewed Emory McDowell ’23 to learn more about his time as a NexPoint Scholar.

What made you apply for the Tower Scholars Program?

I’m not sure how typical this is of SMU students, but I pretty much got an email from the Tower Scholars Program saying that the Tower Scholars Program existed and felt that the program aligned with some of my long-held interest in politics. I was also interested in the Tower Program because at the end of high school, I got involved with a nonprofit called Seven Loaves in Plano, Texas. At the time, I didn’t realize the organization served the undocumented migrant community. Prior to that, I had some false notions of immigrants, and working with Seven Loaves really opened my eyes to the nuances of immigration policy, particularly regarding the individual experiences of undocumented migrants. By the time the Tower email landed in my inbox, I had been having that internal dialogue and that internal crisis regarding my beliefs about American politics and American policymaking. I knew, at bare minimum, I was open to learning anything a program like the Tower Center could teach me. So, I decided to apply for the program, uncertain of where it would take me but absolutely enthralled at the possibilities that a Tower Center training could unlock.

How has being in the Tower Scholars Program for the past three years changed your career path and how has it changed your world outlook?

Throughout high school and my freshman year of college, I dreamed of becoming a humanities professor. I identified so strongly with this career path that I didn’t believe I  could live a meaningful life – or at least not a life as meaningful as the world of Great Books and roundtable conversations that I found so compelling – sans a literature Ph.D. and tenure-track professorship. The Tower Scholars Program has taught me that, on the contrary, you do not have to trap yourself in the ivory tower, in a padded room where thinking is the order of the day, to be a thinking, engaged, and constructively influential person. The engines of world events are fueled by thinking, and they’re fueled by smart people applying themselves in the private sector, in law, in bureaucracy. Tower has empowered me with the confidence that just as I can take my Tower-informed knowledge of world affairs into a successful policy career, I can also take a range of skill sets into a range of fields (business, nonprofit work, etc.) without necessarily trapping myself into a single industry or field to find professional satisfaction.

It’s great that the Tower Center has given you so many opportunities in terms of your career. What are you planning to do after you graduate?

I’ve taken a job with Hope Cottage, a Dallas-based non-profit that specializes in holistic family wellness with emphasis on the foster care system and social services entailed therein. I’m not sure where this job will take me – whether I’ll stay in the nonprofit sector for the next few years, or transition into something else – but for the moment, I really look forward to working with such an important organization. I’m really grateful to the Tower Scholar Program as I transition into this new role because much of my up-and-coming job will involve public sector literacy and bureaucratic wherewithal, what little of which I possess I attribute to the Tower Center.

If you could look into the future, 10 years down the line, what would be your dream job? What do you hope to do with what you’re learning now and what you’ll be learning next year?

That’s a tough question to answer. My ten-years-from-now dream jobs range from work with the foreign service to professorships (in anything, though probably something related to the humanities, social sciences, or policy) to nonprofit management.

What’s been your favorite memory from the Tower Scholars Program?

The last night of our Washington, D.C. trip, my cohort mates and I had the privilege of socializing with D.C.-based SMU alumni and connections at a local Tex-Mex restaurant. I fell deep into a conversation about Bill Clinton’s crisis-point decision making, and about Abe Lincoln’s holistic presidential charisma, with a wry and fascinating man whom I soon recognized as Jim Steinberg, Clinton’s deputy NSC about whom I had written in a Tower Scholar paper the semester before. I reflect so fondly on this conversation not only because of Steinberg’s miniature celebrity, but also because I felt myself integrating my humanities background (knowledge about American literature, culture, history, and politics) with my Tower Center training in executive-level decision making, public speaking, and constructive debate in my conversation with him. In fact, that conversation forecasts a range of important, high-level professional dialogues in which I’ve engaged in the semesters since, all of which were made easier by the confidence, charisma, quick critical thinking, and global awareness that Towers helped me develop.

That’s an awesome experience. I just have one last question. If you had to give a piece of advice to me or to someone applying to Tower right now, not just about the Tower Scholars Program but about college in general, what would that advice be?

That’s an enormous question. Tower Scholar folks tend to be overachieving workaholics, so I’ll jump out of the gate advising that it’s really easy to forget that we are human beings and not human doings. I’ve realized over the span of four years at SMU that happiness and success are intertwined, and that you as an SMU student have a responsibility to yourself to take advantage of every asset that SMU offers you – to apply to every program of even moderate interest, to build as robust a network as a lucrative place like the Hilltop can offer, to intern with as many industries and organizations as will help you better calibrate your preferred career path, and to take every class that will challenge you and force you to develop skills that may prove useful later on. On the other hand, you are equally obligated to take field trips into Dallas, to stretch out on Dallas Hall lawn, to attend complimentary counseling, to take walks on the Katy Trail, to hang out with your professors during office hours (to get to know them, not just for academic help), to go out to dinner with your friends just for the hell of it, to stop and smell a tulip or pet a dog by the flagpole… We are as entrenched in a generally kind and loving community that almost unilaterally wants to see us happy and successful, to say nothing of the physical beauty of our campus or the vibrancy of Dallas, as we are by the treasure trove of professional opportunities from which SMU derives its reputation. These are all implicated in the phrase “My SMU” because the university works so hard to provide us with a full menu of academic, professional, and experiential resources from which we may carve out our own precious four years. We can utilize these resources to construct a balance between meaningful, stimulating, and profitable work and the healthy human life that work contextualizes. So, start asking yourself the ‘difficult’ questions: ‘How can I make the most of today – professionally and personally – from the second that I wake up? What more could I do to take advantage of my time at university across the span of four years?’ ‘What changes – if any – do I need to make to maximize my own happiness now and in the future? How can I more intentionally relish that which already makes me happy?’ You don’t have to have perfect answers (nobody does) but give yourself permission to stare these hard questions in the face while your stakes are relatively low. Learn to own happiness and success in equal measure.