An overseas leadership seminar gives high-achieving incoming freshmen a comprehensive introduction to Texas A&M.
Before applying to the Champe Fitzhugh Jr. International Honors Leadership Seminar, I never envisioned studying abroad as part of my experience at Texas A&M University. It wasn’t until I heard about the trip during a scholarship interview that I rethought my plans. I love challenging my comfort zone, and spending part of my summer with 40 strangers in a place so different than my home in Austin, Texas, presented the perfect opportunity. I’d never been to Europe, and I could hardly wait as I counted down days to the trip.
In late July, we arrived in Castiglion Fiorentino, a walled 5,000-year-old town nestled in the Tuscan hillside. History was everywhere we looked, making it hard not to fall in love with the town’s quaintness and laid-back charm. Our home base, Texas A&M’s Santa Chiara Study Center, has a history of its own as a 17th century convent.
During the next two and a half weeks, we visited Arezzo, Cortona, Assisi, Florence, Rome and Venice. Walking the streets of Florence and Rome were highlights for me, not only because I studied the art and culture of those cities in my high school art history class, but because of the friends I made while exploring them. Studying Italian culture in a close-knit group of eager-to-learn students made the experience more meaningful and taught me one of the trip’s biggest takeaways: that being an Aggie equates to having a second family.
On days we didn’t travel, we attended seminars at Santa Chiara taught by Aggie student leaders. Intended to prepare us for college life, these educational sessions covered cocurricular opportunities, professionalism, and the ins and outs of how to succeed academically at Texas A&M. During one of our home-base days, we were honored to hear from two Texas A&M former students, Mr. E. Lee Walker ’63, the first president of Dell Inc., and Mr. Will Wynn ’84, the former mayor of Austin, about their combined experiences as leaders in business and in their communities.
Taken as a whole, the time I spent in Italy was a lesson in flexibility, patience and open-mindedness. Whether or not we understood Italian cultural norms, we were held accountable to those standards as tourists. As a result, I was challenged as a leader, global citizen and student. As I transition into my freshman year, I feel more prepared, with a clearer vision for my next four years as a pre-med engineering student, and I now have a better understanding of the person I want to become.
Thomas Fitzhugh III ’71 established an endowment for the Champe Fitzhugh Jr. International Honors Leadership Seminar in 1992 with a gift of $17,500 in honor of his father. A former Memorial Student Center president and National Merit Scholar—and now a maritime attorney and adjunct faculty at Texas A&M at Galveston—Fitzhugh’s career success and passion for international travel inspired him to offer students this opportunity for personal and academic growth.
Managed by the Memorial Student Center in conjunction with the Texas A&M Honors Program and Study Abroad Office, the trip caters to a select group of incoming freshmen who are either national merit, achievement or Hispanic scholars.
The Division of Student Affairs hopes to grow the endowment for the trip to $1 million. An endowment at this level would lower costs for student participants and open up the opportunity to attend to a broader socio-economic group of students. There are currently no scholarship opportunities available for students unable to pay the cost of the program; an endowment would provide this option.