In this special article, we set out to find current and former students who are leading by example in every aspect of their lives. The 12 Aggies featured here are embodying the core values intrinsic to Texas A&M University, and they understand that leading by example means leading with compassion, dedication and selfless service. From rescuing refugees and tackling veteran suicide awareness to encouraging children to read, these Aggies are making an impact wherever they go.

Read on to see how each answered the question, “How are you leading by example?”
 

. . . by teaching kids to read.

Read By 3rd, founded by Daniel Hernandez '73, helps foster improved literacy skills in children and provides parents with the skill sets and resources necessary to teach and encourage their children.

Daniel Hernandez '73 founded his nonprofit, Read By 3rd, after finding a study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation that included an alarming statistic about childhood literacy: If a child is unable to read on grade level by the third grade, they have an 80 percent chance of failure in future schooling. Hernandez grew up in a supportive family and knows that the most influential people in a child’s life are their parents. Read By 3rd was not only created to help foster improved literacy skills in children, but also to provide parents with the skill sets and resources necessary to teach and encourage their children.

“The education of our children is the greatest opportunity our republic has to ensure that our nation’s economic, social and political future is secure and thriving,” said Hernandez. “As our society becomes more diverse, our children’s education is essential to our national identity of what it means to be an American.”

Read By 3rd also works with Aggie student volunteers who partner with children and meet to read and learn together. Children take field trips to visit members of the Texas A&M Corps of Cadets and learn about college from an early age. “Read By 3rd aims to embody the Spirit of Aggieland,” said Hernandez. “We are a facilitator that brings people, relationships and resources together to transform lives."

Shelby Klett ’14 teaches at a tuition free charter school where each class is themed according to the teacher’s alma mater. Klett’s classroom is adorned with all things Aggie.

. . . by instilling the value of education.

When Shelby Klett ’14 graduated from Texas A&M with a degree in international studies, a career in teaching wasn’t on her radar. But a world of opportunities opened when Teach for America contacted her. The recruiter turned out to be the older sister of a high school friend from her hometown, and she took it as a sign that she was on the right path. “Even though my first year was incredibly challenging, I knew I was doing exactly what I was meant to do,” said Klett.

Klett teaches at a tuition free charter school, Aurora Collegiate Academy, where the ideology is that the road to college starts in kindergarten. Each class is themed according to the teacher’s alma mater, and Klett’s classroom is adorned with an Aggie flag, a wall devoted to the traditions of Texas A&M and photos of her family at football games. She teaches her students the Aggie War Hymn, and on Wear Your College Color Day, she gathers every Aggie shirt, hat and sweatshirt that she owns and lets each student pick out something to wear.

“I share my love of Texas A&M with my students because to me, Texas A&M is family, just like my students are my family,” explained Klett. “Through its values and traditions, Texas A&M creates a home like no other college does. I hope to create that same feeling of belonging in my own classroom every day."

Jake Shatzer ’21 (maroon shirt, center) discovered Liberty in North Korea, or LiNK, a refugee organization with advocate groups across the globe. He founded a Texas A&M chapter dedicated to fundraising refugee rescues for people in North Korea and spreading awareness across the Aggie community.

. . . by demonstrating selfless service.

Jake Shatzer ’21 spent the summer of 2016 living in South Korea with his family after his dad, who’s in the U.S. Army, was relocated there on assignment. Immediately, he fell in love with the cities and culture. But, he also quickly learned about the 25 million people seeking freedom from a brutal regime in neighboring North Korea.

“Living in South Korea, it was hard not to hear about North Korea,” reflected Shatzer. “I visited the Demilitarized Zone between the countries and everything became very real. The 25 million people were no longer a statistic; they were human beings just like you and me who were simply born into a bad government.”

Shatzer was searching for a way to help the people of North Korea when he discovered Liberty in North Korea, or LiNK, a refugee organization with advocate groups across the globe. Thanks to Shatzer, LiNK now has a chapter of 23 members at Texas A&M dedicated to fundraising for refugee rescues and spreading awareness across the Aggie community.

LiNK: Texas A&M hopes to meet its goal of raising $3,000—the full cost of transportation, food and shelter for a single refugee—by the end of 2019. So far, the organization has raised $2,500. “As Aggies, we’re dedicated to selfless service,” said Shatzer. “We will likely never meet the refugees we help, but we persist because we understand that this is a cause far greater than ourselves."

After spending several weeks in South Sudan, Madeline Chilton ’18 ’19 has immersed herself headfirst into tackling refugee crises around the world.

. . . by living with compassion.

Madeline Chilton ’18 ’19, a graduate student at the Bush School of Government and Public Service, hopes to dedicate her life to serving others in need. In 2015, she spent several weeks in South Sudan and was exposed to the country’s refugee crisis—the world’s fastest growing refugee crisis—where people are escaping to Uganda as they flee violence, sexual assault and deteriorating conditions. As she traveled back to the United States, she kept in contact with friends from South Sudan who confided in her harrowing stories of displacement, hunger and violence. “Being exposed to this changed my worldview,” said Chilton. “I knew that I had to do something.”

Since then, Chilton has immersed herself headfirst into tackling the refugee crisis. She interned with the refugee resettlement organization World Relief in Dallas-Fort Worth, where she personally helped resettled refugees comfortably assimilate to life in America. Chilton also helped host the Salaam Conference at Declaration Church and Grace Bible Church in College Station, where she educated others about the refugee plight and encouraged her neighbors to get involved.

“To me, leading by example means having compassion and empathy for strangers and acting on that,” said Chilton. “I am humbled by the opportunity to share my passion for the marginalized and displaced, and I hope that my story will inspire others to volunteer at their local nonprofit or even reach out to someone from a different country."

Hayden Smith ’19  pitched an award-winning idea that would reduce the use of petroleum-based plastics in consumers’ grocery shopping, making Pepsi drinks a more sustainable product.

. . . by being a sustainable entrepreneur.

When Hayden Smith ’19 attended this year’s Super Bowl, he wasn’t there just for the football game. He was there as one of five winners of PepsiCo’s 2019 Game-Changers Competition, a contest for students and young working professionals designed to address real-world issues. The focus of this year’s challenge was sustainability. The economics and environmental science double major pitched an award-winning idea that would reduce the use of petroleum-based plastics in consumers’ grocery shopping, making Pepsi drinks a more sustainable product.

“It intermixes a lot of what I’ve learned in environmental geosciences—sustainability and the reduction of plastic—with the economics of cost savings by reducing inputs,” he said.

Smith has been passionate about entrepreneurship since he made his first dollar at 8 years old, and since then, he’s always found himself imagining new ideas and creations. As an undergraduate, Smith and two friends formed a startup company to develop a holistic student services software application. The team participated in YCombinator’s Startup School in Silicon Valley as well as the McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship’s Startup Aggieland business incubator program.

“The most important thing for me is to have the right perspective and the belief that any problem can be solved by diverse ideas and the creative process—you have to be relentless in that,” said Smith. “I want to make an impact for our planet in any way that I can. The grand-scale opportunities, like this competition by PepsiCo, only come around so often; in the meantime, I’m finding that some of the most rewarding projects stem from trying to improve my local environment. Whether it’s through changing the marketing and production of companies or advocating sustainable policy, I’m all about it."

A YouTube video of Christine Figgener ’19 and her research team working to remove a plastic straw from a sea turtle's nose went viral and helped catalyze a movement to ban single-use plastics.   

. . . by saving the oceans.

In 2015, a video of a sea turtle with a plastic straw stuck in its nose went viral. The clip was filmed by Texas A&M doctoral student and marine conservation biologist Christine Figgener ’19 as her research team worked to remove the straw. The video has garnered more than 35 million views on YouTube and helped catalyze a movement to ban single-use plastics. Within the past four years, companies like Starbucks Corps. and American Airlines Inc. have begun to eliminate plastic straws from their brand. 

“I came to Texas A&M to increase my influence and impact on marine conservation issues by earning my doctorate,” said Figgener. “My wish for a bigger platform has been granted, albeit in a totally different way than I had imagined.”

While Figgener is grateful for the awareness her video has attracted, she said there are steps that everyone can take to help reduce the amount of plastic in the oceans. “Some examples are using your own water bottle or thermos, carrying your own shopping bags or buying food not wrapped in plastic,” expressed Figgener. “My biggest dream for Aggies is that we internalize sustainable living as one of our core values. Then, hopefully more people follow our example."

Bryce Watson '16 (pictured on the computer screen) created the startup application, Vize, to provide a space for factory workers to anonymously rate and review factories without fear of repercussion, creating an incentive for factories to improve their conditions. Vize has launched in Tijuana, Mexico.                                                                             

. . . by revolutionizing technology.

The idea for Bryce Watson’s startup application, Vize, came to him while he was living with factory workers in Beijing. The Class of 2016 Aggie discovered that the factory workers often faced hazardous operating conditions and lacked the information, resources and ability to avoid these situations. “Some workers had to work 80 hours per week without pay,” said Watson. “Some were living in unsanitary dorms with 15 other people, and some were sustaining life-altering injuries.”

In an emerging, fast-growing age of technology, a mobile application seemed to be the best way to approach this problem. “Smart phone usage was exploding,” said Watson. “Every worker had a smart phone and used social media, so we wanted to give them a platform where they could anonymously discuss these issues with their entire community.”

Vize provides a space for workers to anonymously rate and review factories without fear of repercussion, creating an incentive for factories to improve—the higher ratings they have on the app, the more workers they will recruit and retain. Vize then helps factories increase their retention rates by analyzing the data from users’ reviews. Vize has launched in Tijuana, Mexico, and hopes to expand to cities such as Ciudad Juarez, Aguascalientes and Guadalajara before launching in Asia.

After the Fuego volcano in Guatemala erupted in 2018, Taya Brown ’19 (blue shirt) helped establish The Del Fuego Project, a nonprofit dedicated to merging science with local knowledge to build an approach to help the region’s farmers recover from the tragedy.

. . . by collaborating with coffee farmers.

On June 3, 2018, the Fuego volcano in Guatemala erupted, spreading ash, sand and lava across surrounding regions, killing 110 people and leaving nearly 200 still missing. Graduate student Taya Brown ’19 had been working in the region of San Pedro Yepocapa, less than four miles from the crater of the volcano, for three years.

As a student affiliated with the Texas A&M Center for Coffee Research and Education, her research focuses on identifying obstacles faced by smallholder coffee famers. After the eruption, Brown and a colleague founded The Del Fuego Project, a nonprofit dedicated to merging science with local knowledge to build an approach to help the region’s farmers recover from the tragedy.

“We wanted to bring much needed education and resources to the region and grow something positive out of the devastation,” explained Brown. They hosted the Yepocapa Coffee Quality Summit this past spring, an educational event attended by nearly 300 locals, that was the first of its kind for Yepocapa farmers.

Brown entered graduate school to pursue work on global food security issues, and along the way, she’s learned what it means to be a true leader. “In many cases, leadership is simply about taking initiative and persisting in a goal no matter what is required,” said Brown. “If I’ve done anything right in Guatemala, it’s been to stay motivated and hope that by listening to the farmers and telling their story, I can increase their opportunities for reaching an improved quality of life."

Dr. Wade Barker ’09 ’13 is a graduate student in the oral and maxillofacial surgery department at the Texas A&M College of Dentistry, where he volunteers and dedicates his time to patients who need it.                                                                                                                                                      

. . . by displaying remarkable dexterity and determination.

When Dr. Wade Barker ’09 ’13 was an undergraduate at Texas A&M, he spent his free time volunteering at a high school gym in Houston, Texas. Inside the gym were 40 dental chairs and patients seeking much-needed, donated care from dentists and students. Barker, an eager volunteer, became hooked on helping others.   

Barker is now a graduate student in the oral and maxillofacial surgery department at the Texas A&M College of Dentistry, where he continues to volunteer and dedicate his time to patients who need it. In 2018, Barker was awarded the Humanitarian Award from the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons for his compassion and dedication to volunteer work. “This is something I’m very proud of,” said Barker. “It’s humbling to be recognized, especially because the award is from an organization that oversees our specialty.”

Barker’s tenacity can be summed up in a single anecdote: While working in Belize, a young patient arrived with a complicated bleeding disorder and tooth infection. Although Barker was advised against removing the man’s molar, he secured the necessary clotting medication from a local hospital and removed the infected tooth in a successful maneuver that required intelligence, skill and perseverance. 

Medical student Ahad Azimuddin ’23 and his team created the LCLIP, short for laryngoscope clip, to help prevent unwanted dental damage when doctors intubate patients for assisted breathing.

. . . by creating transformational solutions to medical obstacles.

When doctors intubate patients for assisted breathing, they use a tool called a laryngoscope to wedge open the mouth and make room for the breathing tube. Unfortunately, this can result in unwanted dental damage, which is the most common adverse event during intubation.

Medical student Ahad Azimuddin ’23 and his team created the LCLIP, short for laryngoscope clip, to help solve this problem. LCLIP is a disposable sensor that attaches to the laryngoscope and alerts the user when too much pressure is being applied to the teeth. Their design won first place in the Aggie PITCH Competition hosted by the McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship in the Mays Business School for its ingenuity and inventiveness.

“As a medical student, innovator and Aggie, I try to lead with my curiosity,” said Azimuddin. “It’s important to always stay curious and explore anything that interests you. That’s what led me to apply to medical school, pursue an MBA and join various startups. With curiosity comes innovation, which is crucial for the future of health care and physicians.”

Azimuddin is currently completing his Master of Business Administration through the MD Plus Program, which allows students to enhance their medical education by earning an additional master’s degree in five years.

Stephen O’Shea ’13 and his friend Taylor Grieger embarked on a perilous journey on a 36-foot boat to sail around the tip of South America. They documented the entire process to increase veteran suicide awareness in a film called “Hell or High Seas.”

. . . by increasing veteran suicide awareness.

Stephen O’Shea ’13 was completing graduate school around the same time his longtime friend Taylor Grieger was getting out of the Navy. As a Navy rescue swimmer, Grieger had faced some haunting experiences and was searching for a way to overcome his post-traumatic stress disorder. O’Shea, a creative writer and storyteller at heart, was hoping to help Grieger tell his story and shed light on the struggles that veterans face when they’re deployed. 

In their quest for healing and adventure, the two embarked on a perilous journey. They bought a 36-foot boat and decided to sail around the tip of South America. They documented the entire process to increase veteran suicide awareness in a film called “Hell or High Seas.”

“It was a wild ride,” said O’Shea. “We experienced some of the highest highs—and lowest lows—of our entire lives. We had to fight most of the way against hurricanes, pirates, bureaucracies, starvation and even each other, but in the end, we did something that few living people have accomplished.”

O’Shea and Grieger hope that “Hell or High Seas” inspires people to pursue their dreams. More importantly, they hope that the film acts as a wake-up call. A recent study showed that veterans who deployed to combat zones were 41 percent more likely to commit suicide, while veterans who didn’t deploy to combat zones (like Grieger) were 61 percent more likely to commit suicide. “All of our veterans need help when they’re received back into civilian society,” said O’Shea. “Not just the trauma-stricken combat ones. All of them."

As a doctoral student, Dr. Leigh Ellyn Preston ’06 ’16 ’19 participated in two research trips to Ecuador to collect data related to diarrheal disease, the second-leading cause of death in children under five and the main cause of malnutrition in children across the globe.

. . . by researching infectious diseases to help children.

Dr. Leigh Ellyn Preston ’06 ’16 ’19 was a math teacher for eight years before she pursued a doctoral degree in public health. Her husband was an active duty service member, and she saw a need for public health specialists on base; at the same time, she knew her career as a teacher would be difficult to retain if she was constantly moving. “I knew I wanted to conduct research that involved health outcomes in children,” said Preston. “I was a teacher; I know kids can’t advocate for themselves.”

As a doctoral student, Preston participated in two research trips to Ecuador to collect data related to diarrheal disease, the second-leading cause of death in children under five and the main cause of malnutrition in children across the globe. Diarrheal diseases also contribute to a cycle of poverty, as unsafe food and water are typically found in developing countries and illnesses from contamination can hold people back from reaching their full potential. She has also studied other infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis and water-borne illnesses, in the Philippines and the Galapagos Islands.

Out of all of her travels, Preston was most impacted by the people she met. “Even in the poorest neighborhood in the Philippines, they insisted on serving us lunch,” said Preston. “I knew that these communities did not have a lot of food to give us. The chance that our research would help people like that made every trip worth the effort.”

Preston has since accepted a position with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to continue her passion for researching infectious diseases.

Contact:

Dunae Reader '15

Marketing Communications Manager/Spirit Editor
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