Walking across the campus of Texas A&M University, prospective students and other visitors are quick to notice the multitude of traditions taken part in by students and faculty alike: hats off in the Memorial Student Center, piles of pennies on the feet of the Sullivan Ross statue, and certainly a lot of “Howdys.”
A tradition—or culture—that tends to be more unspoken, but certainly noticed, is the frequent smiles and overall friendliness and respect toward everyone on campus—no matter their family background, race, gender identity, or sexual orientation.
For Rachel Boenigk, building on the general feeling of goodwill and growing support for LGBTQ students and strengthening a sense of community among alumni are now an important part of her life as a former student.
Boenigk, a 2012 Master of Public Service and Administration graduate, was recently nominated and selected for the Board of Directors of Aggie Pride, the LGBTQ and Ally Former Student Network of Texas A&M.
“I genuinely thought my time being ‘plugged-in’ as a queer Aggie was over,” Boenigk said. “[But then] I was nominated by Brad Dressler, President of the Board for Aggie Pride. I’m incredibly proud and honored, and I’m very happy to be serving the queer Aggie community again.”
Born and raised in College Station and a third generation Aggie, Boenigk took advantage of the Bush School’s 3+2 program to earn her bachelor’s and master’s degree.
Her years as a student at Texas A&M helped to shape her not only through a thorough education but also personally. As a freshman, she met her future wife at a mutual friend’s birthday party, and in her first year at the Bush School, she served as the social officer for the GLBT Aggies organization.
“I use what I learned at the Bush School daily,” Boenigk said. “From creating models for sales forecasting based on economic indicators to channeling that little Dr. Kerr voice in the back of my head during presentations, the Bush School is always with me. Now that I’m in a management position, I’ve begun implementing some learning from Dr. West’s classes as well.”
One particular class stands out—both as a surreal experience and as one that helped to cement her confidence in herself and her identity.
“During Dr. Kerr’s class, several other students and I presented on the Patriot Act on the day President and Mrs. Bush were visiting,” Boenigk explained. “They watched our presentation and had insightful questions. Ultimately, we concluded that many facets of the Patriot Act were unconstitutional. It was riveting getting to discuss a piece of legislation that their son had enacted as president.”
“I really came into my own at the Bush School,” Boenigk added, “starting with wearing suits and ties for business professional events. I even presented in a suit and tie when President and Mrs. Bush came to Dr. Kerr’s class. Once you’ve done that, everything else seems like a cakewalk. It created a sense of confidence that is unshakeable.”
After graduating, Boenigk moved to Washington, DC, to work for the Federal Reserve. She returned to Bryan/College Station a year later to work for Neutral Posture, a company founded by her mother and grandmother that designs and manufactures ergonomic office chairs. Boenigk married her wife in 2015 and moved to Ames, Iowa, where she is the national sales manager for Neutral Posture and her wife is pursuing a PhD.
She assumed living almost a thousand miles from Aggieland would mean that her time as an active former student was coming to a close, but when the opportunity arose to make such a large difference in the lives of LGBTQ Aggies, she couldn’t pass up the opportunity. Though Aggie Pride is still a relatively new organization, its important mission and lofty goals truly embody the “Aggie spirit.”
“Aggie Pride is still gaining a foothold and momentum,” Boenigk explained. “We are still in ‘startup’ mode at the moment. So far, our biggest contribution is the annual alumni tailgate, which has connected lots of current and former students to each other along with reconnecting them to the university which, until the 1980s, fought our existence as Aggies. One of our goals is to establish a fund for scholarships and an emergency safety net for LGBTQ+ students who may need some extra assistance.”
Boenigk is serving on the fundraising committee of Aggie Pride and made a point to explain that financial help is an important part of growing the organization and helping it achieve its mission.
“I’m most excited about growing the organization through corporate sponsorships,” Boenigk said. “If anyone is interested in donating or becoming a member of Aggie Pride, they can reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.”
When asked what she would tell prospective LGBTQ students who may be considering the Bush School, Boenigk returned to the friendly and welcoming culture that so many notice when they spend time in Aggieland.
“I always felt included and welcome at the Bush School. The professors were always incredibly inclusive as were my fellow students. Texas A&M is a special place.”