UT Tyler

UT Tyler Magazine, Fall 2012

Alumni News

Living the Dream: From UT Tyler Patriot to GMU Patriot

Brakeysha Samms, a May 2012 UT Tyler graduate in political science, parlayed an Archer Scholar internship in the U.S. Justice Department into a job at the Democratic National Committee and is now fulfilling her goal to complete her master's degree in public policy at the George Mason University.

The following is a recent conversation Derrith Bondurant, UT Tyler director of alumni relations, had with Samms, who just prior to graduation received UT Tyler's Legacy Award for parlaying the best all-around leadership attributes in academics, organizational involvement and community activity.

How does it feel to have graduated from UT Tyler? Did this campus suit you and your academic needs?

I feel very accomplished and proud of myself. This campus exceeded my academic needs. The faculty was very open and willing to help me. They were very encouraging, yet continuously challenged me. I felt like Newman Smith High School prepared me for college, but UT Tyler prepared me for the real world.

What is one of your favorite memories of your time at UT Tyler?

Gosh there are so many. I think one of my proudest moments was getting the Legacy Award. I am now and forever indebted to this university. This was a great honor and it added another layer to my drive and focus. After I received the award, I thought to myself, now you must not only do better, but live up to the name of this award.

Who is your favorite professor, and why?

I don't have a favorite professor. There was one professor who helped me develop my ambitions and open me up to the world of academia. That was Dr. Catherine Ross. She is by far one of the busiest professors on campus, but she always seemed to have time for me. I remember when we traveled to UT Austin on a research trip for her book. That adventure opened my eyes to the academic and intellectual world in which I wish to be a prominent participant.

How did you get selected for your Archer Internship?

I was selected for the Bill Archer Fellowship Program in spring 2011, after a rigorous process of filling out the application and going through the interview. I distinctly remember sitting in the Met cafeteria and screaming once I received the email that I had been selected.

How did you get selected for the DNC internship in the finance department?

I applied online and within a few weeks, I received the call for the interview. They gave me a call and said they wanted me to participate for summer 2012.

What exciting things did you do as an intern?

I was able to participate in the political fundraising efforts of President Barack Obama's official 2012 re-election campaign. I was interning at the heart of the Democratic Party. I attended events that featured President Obama and his various surrogates. I got to shake President Obama's hand and have him thank all the interns for the service and hard work this summer. I didn't wash my hand for a day!

What are you doing now?

I am currently a full-time student at George Mason University's School of Public Policy, working towards a master of public policy degree. I am expected to graduate in May 2014, but I am trying to fit in a study abroad trip.

Why did you choose George Mason?

They offered a top-25 public policy analysis program at a relatively competitive price in the D.C.-Virginia area. Also, what attracted me to the school was all the similarities it had to UT Tyler. While it is the biggest university in Virginia, it still offered me a sense of community away from a major city like D.C. GMU's mascot is the Patriots and they do not have a football team. Most importantly, it was a hidden gem. The research and the faculty here are phenomenal. Not many people knew about this school, and so to leave my footprint at such a young campus is a humbling experience.

You are successful. What drives you to succeed?
Some people carry a pocket Bible, I carry around a small (and now bruised) pocket U.S. Constitution filled with my favorite quotes, dreams that I have and goals that I am trying to reach. It keeps me grounded and humble, and stands as a constant reminder of the obligation that I have as citizen to make sure that my rights and other citizens' rights are upheld. According to this document, all of my goals and dreams can be achieved.

What is your ultimate goal for the next five years?

My personal ambitions have been two-fold: First, involvement in Texas politics and the second, researching policies that shape Texas politics. My ultimate life goal is to start a nonprofit, research policy institute that advocates for the funding of physical education programs across the world. Domestically I wish to transplant the intramural system found in college into the K-12 level to provide students an option that offers the same social benefits (i.e. leadership, resiliency, teamwork, etc.) that varsity sports offer. I was a high school varsity athlete and it was a great complement to the classroom. It gave me the little bit of self-confidence that I have today.

Lucas Henderson is Booking It

UT Tyler journalism graduate Lucas Henderson (B.S. 2001) turned his love of writing into a career in journalism.

Two years ago he began to focus fully on becoming a writer of middle-grade/young adult fiction. His debut novel, "This World or the Next,'' chronicles the adventures of Wilona Bumbridge, a homeless girl on the streets of Victorian London, who is stolen into a far-reaching adventure in space. The novel hit e-readers and shelves in March with its sequels being released this fall from Minerva House.

The Hawkins High School graduate, whose pen name is Lukas Holmes, is hard at work on the third book. Living in Brighton, Colo., he is a father of two young girls and husband to romance writer Elise Rome, formerly Ashley March, who was valedictorian of Troup High School.

Real-world influences are even more profound for Henderson, who was born two months after the death of his father. "As a child I wondered about my father,'' he said. "Where did people go when they died? Was it into space?"

He remembers the Challenger accident, which occurred while he was at school. They pulled a television into the classroom to watch history, and now others were blasted into space – to unknown. "It was a great moment spoiled because of the way it ended," he said.

Henderson admits when he started writing, he just wanted these thoughts out of his head, and he wanted a good ending. He writes about space and suspense, but he thinks of ways to make it fun fiction. "I don't write horrible things that happen. I try to keep characters as grounded as possible, but as 'fantastical' as can be imagined."

He left Hawkins High School for Tyler Junior College and later UT Tyler, contemplating life as a history teacher, but all of that changed. Former UT Tyler student newspaper adviser Vanessa Curry and Dr. Kenneth Casstevens had significant impacts on his life as a writer.

His mother was his stimulus for reading and writing. "She put everything in front of my sister and me to read. It was how she instilled in us the way to learn from the minute we were born,'' said Henderson, whose sister, Dr. Lynette Henderson, is a forensic psychology professor at the University of Denver.

Years ago, Henderson started his own legacy of works by saving a folder of ideas and writings. "I wondered what I would leave behind if I had children. I would let them know for certain what their father was about and what stories were rumbling around in his head."

He has turned his folder of expectation into duplicate boxes for his two girls and published books for the entire world to read.

Alumni Serve UT Tyler as Advisers, Ambassadors

Members of the UT Tyler Regional Alumni Council have been named for the 2012-13 academic year.

The council was appointed in 2011, after the former Alumni Association Board terminated its 501c3 nonprofit foundation status. Members serve a one-year term, meeting at least three times a year, serving as an advisory and ambassador group for the university.

Council members, and their years of graduation, are: Joel Adams, 2000; Terrence Ates, 2006, 2008; Jeff Billings, 1983; Melinda Hermanns, 1995, 1998; Francie Hodges, 1985; Whitney King, 2007, 2011; Amber Owen, 2010; Robin Riley, 1985; Carol Rizer, 1988; Carroll Roge Jr., 2000; Gay Smith, 1986; Suzi Stein, 1995; Carla Turner, 2003; Ashley Ward, 2003, 2006; Dana Woodard, 1988; Jerry Woolverton, 1982, 1987; and Bitsy Wright, 1993.

The main event and fundraiser for the new group is the annual spring Alumni Gala. Other responsibilities include marketing and event planning to increase alumni membership and engagement, Distinguished Alumni Awards selection committee, Alumni Legacy Scholarship award recommendations to the university and promoting alumni fundraising to further the cause of higher education.

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