SMU’s Austin Hickle sees the road to change through public policy



Receiving a prestigious Truman scholarship will help the president of SMU move the trip forward

Dallas, Texas (SMU) ?? Austin Hickle had something of a revelation last summer: If college campuses like SMU were to successfully return to on-campus learning in the fall of 2020, student engagement would be key to adhering to COVID-19 safety protocols. Within three months, he was organizing the College Health Alliance of Texas, which conducted student polls and served Congress for pandemic concerns among students.

Now, Austin’s leadership and proven ability to make change have earned the senior economist a Truman Fellowship, the premier graduate fellowship for future civil servants.

For many people, the pandemic has resulted in an important and renewed focus on self-care and mental health. says Paige Ware, SMU associate provost for the faculty’s success and one of Austin’s mentors. “Austin directed his energy to action.”

In April 2020, shortly after the SMU and other universities switched to virtual classes due to the pandemic, Austin was asked to act as student representative for a team of 25 SMU administrators and faculty members to advise the university during the pandemic.

“The culmination of that time was that Austin came up with a key solution to a problem that embarrassed the larger group,” Goods said. ?? He offered a rotation plan that made in-person tuition easier, which became a crucial part of our back to school plan. ??

Austin’s work on the committee inspired him to found the College Health Alliance of Texas and recruit 54 student leaders from 27 Texas universities to represent the voice of students in the fight against the pandemic.

Austin worked with these student guides to design, manage, and interpret a student opinion poll. Fear, isolation, and decreased availability of mental health resources emerged as key issues facing students during the pandemic. In response, the alliance partnered with the Okay to Say of the Meadows Public Policy Institute and the Grant Halliburton Foundation to set up a mental health hotline for college students. Austin led briefings with US Congress elected officials after organizing two round table meetings with nine members of the Texas delegation. Austin received Congressional recognition from the US House of Representatives for his work on the safety of COVID-19.

This systematic approach to a problem is typical of Austin, said Stephanie Amsel, Austin’s writing professor and mentor for the first year.

?? He lays the foundations, sets realistic goals and goes to work methodically, ?? She says. ?? It’s wonderful to watch him in action and see how he thinks while we discuss a problem. ??

Austin’s COVID-19 work on behalf of fellow students fits in with his most ambitious goal.

to become a political leader focused on improving education in Texas and the United States. With the help of the $ 30,000 annual Truman Scholarship (which will only be given to 62 students this year), he plans to earn both a law degree and a master’s degree in education after completing his bachelor’s degree in May 2022.

At SMU, Austin Hunt is a Leadership Scholar, a member of the University Honors Program and one of eight students in his class selected for membership in the Tower Center Scholars Program, a selective minor in public policy and international affairs.


As a first grader in Lubbock, Texas, Austin benefited from a wide variety of educational resources. He was held back because he could not read, but thanks to a? Full effort ?? The SMU honorary student caught up with his parents, teachers and specialists.

But his sister Emma? Adopted from a Chinese orphanage at the age of eight? had a bigger fight, says Austin.

?? She had never gone to school when she came to our family ?? he says. ?? Seeing what she went through opened my eyes to the importance of education. ??

Emma’s struggles also opened Austin’s eyes to the educational needs in the underdeveloped countries. In the summer after his second year at SMU, he taught math and reading to talented high school students in Kenya as part of the KenSAP program. All 25 of his students are now in college in the United States.

Austin next turned his attention to war-torn Cameroon, inspired by A Father’s Gift, a book written by Sixtus Atabong, a Cameroon native and roommate of Lubbock. He used a Richter Independent Research Fellowship and a SMU Engaged Learning Fellowship to conduct a Cameroonian Education Needs Assessment with two Cameroonian PhD students after reading Atabong’s book about the 695,000 students who couldn’t go to school due to the country’s 10 countries – years of civil war. In response, he set up a foundation, the Global Education Mission, to work with Cameroonian teachers to develop a plan to provide children in Cameroon with a fair education.

Your first step was the implementation of a pilot teaching project that was to be presented in Cameroon in summer 2020. Despite COVID-19 setting Austin’s travel plans, the foundation’s staff found classrooms in Cameroon and hired two teachers. Austin joined them to virtually teach five students from his Lubbock home.

Austin next worked with Norah Asung and Ngo Angeline to draft a policy proposal entitled? Cameroon Education: Conflict Recovery Plan? Cameroon officials present. Previous internships with the US Department of Energy and with US Congressmen Jodey Arrington (R-TX) and Jenniffer González Colón (R-Puerto Rico) supported his ability to draft the proposal.

Effective policies pave a safer path to systematic change than any single nonprofit can offer Austin says. ?? In the long term, I would like to serve as a chosen leader to shape evidence-based policies that provide equitable education for all. ??

Meanwhile, Austin is leading SMU students as the elected leader, student body president 2021-2022. He is interested in increasing on-demand student assistance to create a more diverse student body and advocates for more resources for student mental health.

Austin is a force we want to join Ware says. ?? If this is an early sign of leadership? as a source of energy and hope ?? then Austin will inspire others to look into change.