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“Your success is rooted in the purpose and nothing else” With Austin Hickle & Penny Bauder

We can only achieve our mission of an effective pandemic response through the shared commitment of every community. This unprecedented public health crisis calls for an unprecedented response. Response to the pandemic is evolving every day, however, at the least, we must recognize the individual power that each of us has and also make the […]

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We can only achieve our mission of an effective pandemic response through the shared commitment of every community. This unprecedented public health crisis calls for an unprecedented response. Response to the pandemic is evolving every day, however, at the least, we must recognize the individual power that each of us has and also make the appropriate sacrifices to follow all safety measures off-campus. Continued communication and support from our community, media, and politicians are imperative.

As part of my series about young people who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Austin Hickle.

Austin Hickle was born and raised in Lubbock, Texas. He is currently a junior at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, where he serves as the student body vice president. Hickle is also a recipient of SMU’s Hunt Scholarship. Hunt Leadership Scholars are expected to become leaders and change agents. When he graduates, Hickle hopes to take his Economics and Political Science degrees to law school.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit how you grew up?

I grew up in Lubbock, Texas. It’s a small town if you exclude the Texas Tech campus, so I was grateful to be the middle child of 5 exuberant siblings. I went to All Saints Episcopal School of Lubbock and always had an interest in leadership. I had the opportunity to serve as Student Body President as the Varsity Basketball Captain. Those leadership positions helped shape and prepare me to take a role as a student leader at SMU.

You are currently leading a social impact organization. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, I created a coalition of student body representatives from 22 Texas universities and colleges to form The Collegiate Health Alliance of Texas. This coalition aims to serve as the voice of our generation to stop the spread of COVID-19. Our goal is to communicate the importance of public health guidelines effectively, to actively engage students to do our part, and to facilitate collaboration with health, administrative, and elected officials. We hope to encourage our generation to comply with public health recommendations and work with elected officials to provide the student perspective with effective communication.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

Every generation has its defining moments; the COVID-19 pandemic is one of ours. Texas is currently ranked №3 in pandemic stats, with more than 550,000 cases and over 10,000 deaths. Data show that young adults have prematurely moved away from masks, social distancing, and other safety best practices. As a result, an increasing percentage of COVID-19 cases are found in 20- to 29-year-olds. As summer days wind down and most universities have reopened their doors, each of us must recognize this trend can dramatically worsen if students, faculty, administrators, and government officials are unable to join together in support of effective protocols to protect our campuses. We hold all of the power to take control of our future, and there is too much to lose if we don’t. We defeat this virus one way: Together. Students can lead the charge, so let’s get to it.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?

Over the summer, I served on SMU’s Academic Continuity Subcommittee that helped plan how the fall semester would look like in regard to COVID-19’s “new normal.” By serving on the committee, I realized that students would be asked to carry a responsibility we’ve never had to carry before: it will come down to student engagement in safety protocol that will dictate how this semester looks. After this realization, I immediately started ideating how I can really have an impact, not only on this committee and my own school but statewide. All schools deserve to have a worthy semester for their students, especially after what we have all endured thus far this year.

Many young people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or actions you took to get your project started?

I am an excessive planner; for me, I can’t start a project unless I know the direction I’ll be taking it and how to get there. For the College Health Alliance of Texas, I first mapped out the exact purpose and mission statement and how we would fulfill our goals. Additionally, I knew that the students I would be reaching out to would-be busy, so I needed to present a clear plan they felt comfortable with.

After finalizing the plan, I started to reach out to every college student body president and vice president from Texas I could find. Fortunately, everyone I reached out to also felt passionate about this cause and recognized we needed to strategically engage our generation to work together in containing the spread of this virus.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

Through starting the College Health Alliance of Texas, I have had the opportunity to meet with several state officials. In the initial planning stages, I conducted daily outreach to state representatives to understand their perspectives on the pandemic and campus reopenings. I was also grateful to be able to hop on detailed calls with multiple officials that helped guide our plan to where it is today and broaden my perspective on the COVID-19 pandemic and safety policies. Through these conversations, I was pleasantly surprised to find that they wanted to incorporate my generation’s perspective and thoughts into their policy and decisions.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?

When I was in the initial planning stages of the coalition, my dad was working with me day and night, providing strategic guidance and brainstorms. Instead of working from our home with numerous distractions, we opted for working out of his office space that is relatively empty due to COVID-19. The days were long and tiring, and at times, it was easy to get lost in your thoughts. One day I was about to hop on a call, and I lost track of time. My dad walked into a hallway to come find me and found me riding on a hoverboard I had brought into the office earlier that day. I didn’t hear him come up behind me until he loudly said my name, and I jumped up, and the hoverboard rolled from underneath my feet, and I completely wiped out on the concrete floor…Safe to say I was a little late joining that call! After that day, I learned that allotting time throughout the day for mental recovery and a little refresh is essential to a productive workday.

None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?

I was fortunate enough to meet US Congressman Jodey Arrington to discuss my plans for this initiative. In our conversations, he highlighted the importance of elected officials and other people at the “decision table” to understand my generation’s perspective and challenges with COVID-19. As an output of these meetings, the alliance has begun to design a statewide student survey to assess our generation’s concerns and challenges. These results will allow us to brief public and health officials and help inform future policy decisions.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

The College Health Alliance of Texas comprises 39 students from 22 Texas universities and colleges such as Texas A&M University, University of Texas, Texas Tech University, Texas State University, Baylor University, Southern Methodist University, and Texas Christian University. Each student body representative has shown leadership and took responsibility to spread the message on COVID-19 best safety practices within their own college communities.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

We can only achieve our mission of an effective pandemic response through the shared commitment of every community. This unprecedented public health crisis calls for an unprecedented response. Response to the pandemic is evolving every day, however, at the least, we must recognize the individual power that each of us has and also make the appropriate sacrifices to follow all safety measures off-campus. Continued communication and support from our community, media, and politicians are imperative.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started,” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

1. Your success is rooted in the purpose and nothing else

2. It’s helpful to have everything mapped out from the beginning to serve as a guide throughout the process

3. Creating an initiative like this takes time and won’t happen as quickly as you hope

4. Not all things will go exactly how you planned, leave room for “error.”

5. Be accepting and receptive of feedback from the beginning of the process, especially with a sensitive subject like COVID-19

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

Our generation is not afraid to speak our minds and fight for what is essential. We are currently on track to be one of the most diverse, engaged, and active generations yet. Since we grew up with social media and the internet at our fingertips, we have an advantage as we know how to amplify our voices and be heard. Together, we have the power to enact real and impactful change in this nation and world. Don’t underestimate the power one voice has. One voice can have the power to reach millions in this day and age. Every major initiative starts with one idea. Start having those conversations, manifest what you hope to accomplish, and I’m telling you, you will be able to do anything you set your mind to.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I would love the opportunity to meet with Governor Gregg Abbott and understand from his perspective how we can do the best job possible engaging our generation in this fight to defeat the pandemic.

How can our readers follow you online?

My Instagram is @Austinhickle_. My LinkedIn is: https://www.linkedin.com/in/austin-hickle-902086143

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