Campus & Community

Countdown to Commencement: Beijing the next step for Colorado’s only Schwarzman Scholar

As a Schwarzman Scholar, Hickert — who grew up in Colorado Springs, Colo., — will receive a fully funded scholarship to study at the new Schwarzman College at the prestigious Tsinghua University in Beijing. Photo courtesy of Cameron Hickert

As a Schwarzman Scholar, Hickert will receive a fully funded scholarship to study at the new Schwarzman College at the prestigious Tsinghua University in Beijing. Photo courtesy of Cameron Hickert

In January, senior Cameron Hickert, a double major in physics and international studies, was named to the inaugural class of Schwarzman Scholars. Hickert, who also served as president of DU’s Undergraduate Student Government, was one of 111 recipients selected from a pool of 3,000 applicants worldwide and the only student selected from a Colorado institution.

As a Schwarzman Scholar, Hickert — who grew up in Colorado Springs, Colo., — will receive a fully funded scholarship to study at the new Schwarzman College at the prestigious Tsinghua University in Beijing. The program is designed to prepare its graduates to build stronger relationships between China and a rapidly changing world, and to address the most pressing challenges of the 21st century.

In his junior year, Hickert was one of 58 students selected from nearly 700 nominees across the nation — and the only student from a Colorado university — to be named a Truman Scholar. The Truman Scholarship Foundation awards scholarships for students planning to attend graduate school for a career in government or public service. Each Truman Scholar receives a $30,000 scholarship toward graduate school, as well as special internship opportunities with the federal government.


Q: Why did you choose to come to DU?

A: Actually, it’s a bit of an odd story — my mom made me apply to DU late in the process, even though I had not really looked into it. I thought it was an urban campus indistinguishable from Denver, and I wanted a place with a greater sense of campus and community. But when I ended up visiting, it just seemed to all come together. The quarter system was a significant draw, since I knew I wanted to major in two very different subjects (although I had yet to figure out what they would be), and I had heard the quarter system made it much easier to do that. That, combined with the study abroad opportunities at DU, the size of the school, the Pioneer Leadership Program and Honors Program, and the positive personal interactions I had when I visited — it all just felt right.


Q: Why did you choose majors in physics and international relations? Do you plan to work in these fields after graduation?

A: I usually describe physics as the best major for people driven by curiosity, so I think that’s why it attracted me. But at the same time, I really like how studying international relations forces us to think through the human element of so much, and how really great theories or ideas might go terribly awry. I really enjoy that deeply human, relationship-oriented aspect. I think both fields attempt to tackle complexity on a global — or even a universal — level, and that’s exciting because there is always more to be discovered and argued. After graduation, I will be pursuing a master’s degree in global affairs from Tsinghua University, so it seems to be generally consistent with my international relations background. But I really hope to focus on topics of science and technology within this degree track, so I am determined to keep my physics background relevant to my future.


Q: Did you study or work abroad during your time at DU? If so, where? How did the experience change you?

A: I was fortunate enough to both study and work abroad during my time at DU. The Cherrington Global Scholars program allowed me to study in Beijing during the fall of my third year, in a language-immersion homestay program. Then, because of grants from the DU Career Center, Pioneer Leadership Program and Honors Program — and an absolutely monumental amount of support and direction from DU alumna Michelle Dover — I was lucky enough to end up in an unpaid internship with the U.S. State Department in Vienna, Austria. It was at the U.S. office that interfaces with the International Atomic Energy Agency. Both of these experiences had a huge impact on my interests and skill sets; I’m not sure I can think of a more fortunate combination of experiences for someone studying physics, international relations and Mandarin. I really am excited to continue cobbling together these different interests next year with the Schwarzman Scholars Program in Beijing, and I will hopefully find my way forward from there.


Q: Did you do any volunteer work during your time on campus? How did those experiences help prepare you for life after college?

A: DU has a huge range of volunteer opportunities. One I have particularly enjoyed as I have volunteered more — and one I regret I wasn’t more engaged with earlier in my college experience — is the [DU chapter of the] Society of Physics Students. SPS does plenty of outreach events with children of a wide variety of ages, and any time I have helped out, it has served as a huge reminder of how surprising and non-intuitive physics can be. It’s really a unique feeling to be able to introduce someone to some of these wonky phenomena, and I wish I would have jumped in deeper from the start. I also think the best teachers are those who can explain things in language that 5-year-olds understand, and I’m humbled any time I try during these outreach events. I always walk away feeling more appreciative of my professors and friends who can explain things to me when I’m struggling.


Q: Is there a class and/or faculty member that stands out as particularly influential? Why?

A: At DU I have interacted with far too many incredible faculty and staff to list here. It’s exciting to be at a place where so many bright people come to share their passion for their field. One class I enjoyed because of its uniqueness was a communications course I took to satisfy a core requirement. The class, taught by Darrin Hicks, would meet once a week for four hours. We would spend most of a given class debating a single topic, which I had never before experienced. Even though I’m a member of the DU Debate Team, I usually dislike in-class debates, since they all too often gravitate to the extremes: crickets or shouting matches. But Darrin did an awesome job directing the debate so it would stay fresh after three hours, and I found myself reaching concepts in a way that was far more memorable and creative than simply reading them. The class was cross-listed, so it had both grad students and undergrads. This added to the quality and breadth of discussions.


Q: What is the biggest lesson you are taking away from your time at DU?

A: Honestly, I don’t think I’ve sorted it out yet. At the moment, I’m inclined to say that it’s an appreciation for the power of stories. They are just so pervasive. At their grandest, I think maybe we can describe physics theories and models as “stories” of some sort, and the same goes for international relations. And if we are just being strategic, stories are at the core of every application, cover letter and résumé. But at the same time, I think I’ve come to better appreciate the importance of seeking out and listening to the stories of the people around me (although I am far, far from being good at it), as well as thinking a bit about my own story. At the very least, hopefully it will help me navigate the so-called “real world,” if I ever end up there.


DU’s spring undergraduate Commencement ceremony is at 9:30 a.m. June 4; visit the Commencement page for more information.


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