Class of 2017 Spotlights


Bryce C. Barros

Bryce C. BarrosMajor: IA, National Security & Defense, Chinese Commodity Investment in Sub-Saharan Africa and China Studies
Year Expected to Graduate: 2017
Hometown: Norwalk, Connecticut

Why do diversity and inclusion matter to you?
Diversity and inclusion matter to me because these two intangible things have been the only constants in my life. I was born to a Cabo Verdean-American father and a mother of African-American and Jewish descent. Even though I was raised in my mother’s hometown with my African-American family, due to my light-skin I was not accepted by my African-American or Caucasian classmates. Ironically, not being included really shaped my worldview. I spent a lot of time with the various immigrant classmates I had in school. Norwalk is a very diverse place with plenty of old money WASPs, African-Americans, and immigrants from Latin America, the Caribbean and South Asia. Befriending classmates who were the children of immigrants and being included by them really showed me the importance of diversity and inclusion. I attended Norwich University in Northfield, Vermont for my undergraduate degree. Norwich was not as diverse as Norwalk, and when I arrived I realized how lucky I had it in Norwalk. To me, diversity and inclusion means embracing the “other”. I have been an “other” all my life.

Before coming to the Bush School, what were you doing?
Before coming to the Bush School I was living in Taipei City, Taiwan. I was a David L. Boren Scholar training with the Taiwan Army, and later worked as an English teacher. While in Taipei City I met several Aggies. One day in May of 2013, a Norwich University Regimental Drill Team underclassman introduced me to an Aggie buddy of his who connected me with one of his Bush School friends coming to Taiwan for his summer language immersion. I had mentioned to him that I wanted to go to the Bush School for a master’s degree. Together, they both convinced me over the next three months to attend the Bush School. I have not looked back since.

When not studying or reading for school, what do you do for fun or relaxation?
I enjoy reading, dancing, listening to music, traveling, and studying new languages and cultures. As of late I have thrown myself into Roman history. I really enjoy “world music”, especially Lusophone African music from Angola, Cabo Verde, Guinea Bissau, Mozambique, and Sao Tome and Principe. By listening to this music I feel more in touch with my ancestry from Cabo Verde. I enjoy backpacking a lot. I have traveled extensively the most Northern part of China near Russia all the way down to Singapore in East Asia.


Maribel McMillian

Maribel McMillianMajor: MIA, NS&D Track, Concentrations in American Homeland Security and Middle East
Year Expected to Graduate: 2017
Hometown: Stephenville, TX

Why do diversity and inclusion matter to you?
I believe that diversity and inclusion matters to me because it has allowed me to appreciate the world through different perspectives. I believe that everyone has a story and a unique set of life experiences. When people come together, diversity and inclusion provides increased opportunities for participation and engagement. Through open ears and an open mind, I have learned so much from our international students here at the Bush School and from peers visiting from other parts of the country. It has been truly amazing!

Before coming to the Bush School, what were you doing?
Before coming to the Bush School, I served in the Army (Texas) National Guard for a number of years, which included a tour in Iraq in 2009. During my undergraduate studies in the summer of 2013, I interned with USAID in Washington D.C. in the Office of Management Policy, Budget and Performance. That same year, I attended Insight Dubai, an International Student Leadership Conference held at the Dubai Women’s College in the UAE. The event included discussions on intercultural awareness, women’s leadership roles in government, and women’s empowerment in the Arab world. Upon completing my undergraduate studies in the Spring of 2014, I moved to the wonderful city of College Station where I worked as a bilingual associate for a literacy nonprofit.

When not studying or reading for school, what do you do for fun or relaxation?
During my spare time, I like to check out the local bookstores and grab a cup of coffee in the process. Currently, I’m also doing some research to trace my family ancestry. And let’s be honest…I also like to partake in the occasional Netflix binge-watching trend.


Shydaea Townes

Shydaea TownesMajor: IA, National Security & Diplomacy and Foreign Policy & Law
Year Expected to Graduate: 2017
Hometown: Wichita, Kansas

Why do diversity and inclusion matter to you?
I believe it is important to have a voice and feel like it is being heard. People should understand the importance of actually representing the diverse cultures and needs that exist in our society; we can only achieve this mission by starting internally and focusing on encouraging diversity and inclusion. My goal is to be able to contribute in any way that helps the Bush School grow and become better.

Before coming to the Bush School, what were you doing?
Before the Bush School, I was finishing up my degrees from Wichita State University and had recently returned from my yearlong study abroad trip in France.

When not studying or reading for school, what do you do for fun or relaxation?
I really enjoy hanging out with my three best friends in a quiet, chill venue appreciating each other’s company!


JP Perales

JP PeralesMajor: Public Policy Analysis Track and State and Local Government Concentration
Year Expected to Graduate: 2017
Hometown: Beaumont, TX

Why do diversity and inclusion matter to you?
Diversity and inclusion are important because they fosters an environment where different perspectives can be shared. I believe that the ability to comprehend someone’s background and viewpoints is an imperative skill to possess in order to be an effective public servant.

Prior to coming to the Bush School, what were you doing?
Prior to coming to the Bush School I worked for United We Dream, one of the largest immigrant rights organization in the country. There I served on the National Coordinating Committee. I primarily worked on defeating national and state anti-immigrant legislation. I also had the opportunity to work on the national campaign for executive action on immigration, which was announced by President Obama in 2012.

When not studying or reading for school, what do you do for fun or relaxation?
I enjoy craft beers, tailgating, and watching Aggie Football. #BTHOLSU


Stefany Cornejo

Stefany CornejoMajor: Public Management Track and Security Concentration
Year Expected to Graduate: 2017
Hometown: Huntsville, TX

Why do diversity and inclusion matter to you?
They matters to me because they're part of my everyday routine but also more importantly because they are the world we live in. They connects everyone, through this connection we begin to have mutual understanding that leads to a brighter and better future. Growing up as a female minority, I could see the difference clearly and it made me determined to set a better example.

Prior to coming to the Bush School, what were you doing?
Prior to the Bush School I was interning with the U.S. Mission to International Organizations in Vienna, Austria, under the United Nation Affairs Section. Upon my return to my beloved Texas, I resumed my job responsibilities with State Farm Insurance with whom I had worked for four years before resigning to move to College Station to begin my journey at the Bush School.

When not studying or reading for school, what do you do for fun or relaxation?
I have the most fun and relaxing time when I go on a road trip either by myself or with friends. Exploring and discovering new locations, food stops, friends, etc. are simply the best. In addition, I love to read Greek mythology and have movie nights with friends.


Usama Zafar

Usama ZafarMajor: MPSA, Public Policy Analysis
Year Expected to Graduate: 2017
Hometown: Islamabad, Pakistan

Why do diversity and inclusion matter to you?
I spent most of my childhood in Japan before moving to my home country (Pakistan) with my parents. Hence, from the very beginning, I have personally experienced what it is like to be different from others. For me, diversity and inclusion is all about a sense of belonging. There have been times when I have felt like a foreigner in my own country due to my different childhood experiences, which later fed into fundamental difference of opinion and ideology from the overall population. At the same time, having attended school in three different countries, I have spent a lot of time with people from all over the world and felt accepted and included. Being able to relate with people who, on the surface, appear completely different, is one of the greatest feelings as it brings people closer to one another. I firmly believe human beings are all essentially the same, and diversity and inclusion allow people to connect with each other and embrace one another.

Prior to coming to the Bush School, what were you doing?
Before coming to the Bush School I was involved with a nonprofit organization to improve electoral transparency, legislative accountability, and governance in Pakistan. Prior to that, I worked as a journalist for an English newspaper, covering local news and stories of social change at the grassroots level. It was during that time that I realized my desire to work as a policymaker to improve the lives of people in my country, where the potential for development is immense despite the numerous challenges.

When not studying or reading for school, what do you do for fun or relaxation?
Before coming to the Bush School I used to spend nearly my entire free time reading books or news articles. However, since moving here I have been involved in all kinds of activities. In the past year I have taken salsa lessons, two-stepping lessons and even yoga lessons (I still can’t do any of these things though!) I have also traveled extensively around the United States and enjoyed diverse sceneries that this country has to offer. Apart from that, I really enjoy socializing with people in small groups and listen to their stories. I’m also a huge music enthusiast and you’ll find me listening to all kinds of music, ranging from slow jazz to EDM.


Sarayu Sankar

Sarayu SankarMajor: MPSA, Public Management, Human Resource Development
Year Expected to Graduate: 2017
Hometown: Chennai, India

Why do diversity and inclusion matter to you?
It matters to me because diversity and inclusion, at its simplest form, represents respect. We are often so caught up on identifying what make a person “different” on the basis of skin color, clothes, food, language, religious beliefs etc. If these differences are cast aside, all human beings are the same and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. I also associate myself closely with the idea of a global citizen, someone whose identity transcends geographical borders. With this idea, comes the understanding that differences don’t have to divide us, they can enrich us instead.

Prior to coming to the Bush School, what were you doing?
I took a year off to figure out what I wanted to do with my life! It isn’t as stressful as it sounds. During that process, I did a little bit of traveling, spent a lot of quality time with family, prepared for GRE and TOEFL and interned at a think tank.

When not studying or reading for school, what do you do for fun or relaxation?
Studying for school is what I do, most of the time. If I am not studying, I like to listen to some Indian classical, Sufi and Indie folk music and sing along. If I catch a break from school, I enjoy sketching and painting as well. I love taking walks on main campus and around the Bush School pond – it is so peaceful!


Chris Shirley

Chris Shirley Major: International Affairs, Conflict & Development
Year Expected to Graduate: 2017
Hometown: San Antonio, TX

Why do diversity and inclusion matter to you?
For me, diversity means that no two people share the same experiences. It is these combined experiences that lead to a diversity of ideas and peoples that creates holistic solutions to issues. Since coming to Texas A&M I have had the opportunity to meet people from other states, countries, and cultures. I have met people that have challenged my beliefs, as well as shared with me their culture. As a result, I have developed a fascination and appreciation of culture, while gaining an awareness of the world that isn’t constrained by own experiences growing up in South Texas.

Prior to coming to the Bush School, what were you doing?
I came to the Bush School straight out of undergrad at Texas A&M. My undergrad degree in economics was conveniently located just two floors up from where we are now. While I was in undergrad I worked part-time jobs in the MSC bookstore, as well as the Policy Sciences & Economics Library. I was also heavily involved in new student orientation at Texas A&M, being in the Aggie Orientation Leader Program and a counselor for Grad Camp.

When not studying or reading for school, what do you do for fun or relaxation?
I am actually an avid reader; my favorite authors are Jaqueline Carey, Kameron Hurley, and Terry Brooks. A couple years ago I got into Tai Chi after taking a kinesiology class at Texas A&M. I try to play Tai Chi as often as I am able to get away from the stress of the Bush School. (Although I am not very good.) If my breaks are longer, I really love to travel; my brother just got his passport so we are currently busy planning all the places we want to visit.


Greg Klein

Greg KleinMajor: International Affairs, International Development & Economic Policy (IDEP), Transfer Pricing
Year Expected to Graduate: 2017
Hometown: Minneapolis, MN

Why do diversity and inclusion matter to you?
I think our idiosyncrasies make us beautiful as human beings. Connecting with people from other cultures and backgrounds has positively shaped me as a person and enriches my life. Embracing diversity helps me see things with a perspective unique from my own. Plus, I believe diversity and inclusion are integral in America’s dynamism and success.

Prior to coming to the Bush School, what were you doing?
Immediately before coming to the Bush School, I served alongside my wife as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Dominican Republic. We worked in education and lived in a small rural community in the highlands of the Dominican-Haitian border. Prior to the Peace Corps, I worked in the retirement plan industry for a benefits consulting firm as a bilingual financial educator.

When not studying or reading for school, what do you do for fun or relaxation?
My favorite pastime is to leisurely drink coffee and play cribbage with my lovely wife. I work off stress and stay fit by swimming, biking, and running. I also listen to a lot of Latin alternative music and occasionally enjoy a cocktail with friends.


Maria Florencia Tinnirello

Maria Florencia TinnirelloMajor: International Affairs, International Development & Economic Policy (IDEP), Conflict & Development, Middle East
Year Expected to Graduate: May 2017
Hometown: Rosario, Republica Argentina

Why do diversity and inclusion matter to you?
Life has taught me the valuable lesson that the sincerest form of success is achieved solely when working together with others, regardless their religion, race, country of origin, or sexual orientation. Thus, diversity and inclusion are indeed two of the most important values that guide my conduct as a professional and as an individual. And I hope one day I will have a job that allows me to bring people together while empowering communities that were torn apart by unjustified wars and conflicts.

Prior to coming to the Bush School, what were you doing?
Before coming to the Bush School, I was finishing my undergraduate thesis, working as an assistant intern at the Office of Students Affairs in the School of Architecture, and conducting research for various publications/conferences. I attended Rosario National University, Argentina, and my thesis and the research were related to the Middle East and parts of Africa.

When not studying or reading for school, what do you do for fun or relaxation?
One of the many perks of growing older (and maybe wiser?) is that one realizes how important is to allow yourself to have fun, have an alone reflective time, and just enjoy life at its fullest. I love doing yoga and meditate and I love singing out loud – concert style – in my car even more. Music and movies are indeed one of my two most sacred passions. And of course, spending time with my friends is my number one activity, especially when we go dancing like there is no tomorrow.


Jamarcus J. Steadham

Jamarcus J. SteadhamMajor: International Affairs; National Security & Diplomacy; American Diplomacy & Foreign Policy; Intelligence; Middle East
Year Expected to Graduate: 2017
Hometown: Houston, TX

Why do diversity and inclusion matter to you?
I think of what Henry David Thoreau said: “It is never too late to give up our prejudices.” As imperfect human beings, we all have prejudices. By “prejudices,” I mean preconceived opinions not based on fact or actual experience. To me, diversity is about learning from others and turning one’s ignorance into knowledge. Diversity provides opportunities to broaden horizons and see the world from other people’s perspectives. I consider myself lucky to be able to discuss Europe’s future with a German friend, or discuss the Arab Spring with an Egyptian-American friend. As a result, I begin to understand the world, and my own country, a little better.

Prior to coming to the Bush School, what were you doing?
Before attending the Bush School, I attended the University of Houston, where I received my Bachelor's degree in political science with a minor in national security studies. Through my studies, I found a passion for international affairs and policymaking.

When not studying or reading for school, what do you do for fun or relaxation?
Like most millennials, I spend too much time watching Netflix. I also enjoy reading Foreign Policy magazine and listening to FP’s the Editor’s Roundtable podcast. I also like to relax by socializing with my incredibly interesting classmates.


Ashley Ruiz

Ashley RuizMajor: International Affairs, National Security and Diplomacy, Conflict and Development and American Foreign Policy
Year Expected to Graduate: 2017
Hometown: Houston, TX

Why do diversity and inclusion matter to you?
Diversity is critical for developing creative and innovative solutions to the problems we face every day. Through my experiences abroad, I have had the opportunity to work with people whose socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds were very different from my own. These experiences have taught me to look for alternative perspectives and have enabled me to view the world in a way that cannot be taught in the classroom.

Prior to coming to the Bush School, what were you doing?
Prior to coming to the Bush School, I spent the summer living abroad and studying at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso in Valparaiso, Chile. So different from my experiences working in a rural community in Matagalpa, Nicaragua, my time in Chile opened my eyes to the rich variety of culture and wealth across Latin America.

When not studying or reading for school, what do you do for fun or relaxation?
When I am not studying or reading about current events in Latin America, I enjoy playing soccer and working with the Relay for Life team to raise money for the American Cancer Society.