Merge Bill Nye the Science Guy with Jon Stewart, a political pundit on Comedy Central, and that's Alan Lyons' career goal. The senior from McDaniel College aims to use humor to help engage and educate the public about the political world.
The Carroll County native has used his time at McDaniel to delve into the world of his two majors: political science and international studies. He's lobbied delegates in Annapolis, served as a political science teaching assistant, presented at a conference on the Muslim World in Morocco and received several honors during his college career.
Most recently, he garnered the John and Edythe Portz Award for Outstanding Honors Student at a four-year college. Started in 2004, it's an annual award from the Maryland Collegiate Honors Council, and Lyons is the third McDaniel student to receive it.
Lyons chatted with the
about his college career at McDaniel - from awards and activities to the more simple collegiate pleasures.
Q: What clubs and activities were you involved in at McDaniel College?
My longest tenure's been in music: I've played with the Concert Band and Jazz Ensembles since freshman year, and with the smaller Jazz Combo group the last three semesters. I'm in the honors program, [and I'm]a writing tutor. [I] helped lead lobbying delegations to Annapolis and was a political science teaching assistant, giving my own lectures and helping design exams. A lot of my other involvement's been informal: I try to be a helper-on-call for people who need me, whatever group they're from.
Q: What were some of your accomplishments at McDaniel?
I'm a member of Phi Beta Kappa, Pi Gamma Alpha (political science honors) and Pi Gamma Mu (social science honors). I received the Millard-Millburn-Rice Prize for best undergraduate paper; and helped organize, present and moderate at the 2014 Maryland Collegiate Honors Council Conference as well. I'm also on the Maryland Governor's Commission on Service and Volunteerism - a commissioner since freshman year and elected to the executive committee for two years now.
Q: What is a favorite memory from your time at McDaniel?
I'm lucky enough to have plenty to choose from. A recent one that resonates: At the end of last semester, completely at random, I sat on a wall on campus, for about three hours, with a freshman Honors student and talked about everything from college scheduling worries to international economics, as equals, just because we could. Having that sort of discussion feels to me like participating in what college really is supposed to bring out of people - the ability to just think productively with each other. Helping allay someone else's fears in the process only made it better.
Q: I understand you went to Morocco to present at a conference on the Muslim world. Do you mind expanding on the experience and what your presentation was about?
Not at all! The conference was the second annual Conference on the Muslim World, at Al-Akhawayn University, in Ifrane, Morocco. We had formal conferencing, paneling, discussion groups, even lectures, for two and a half days, with attendees from places as far afield as Scotland, Turkey and Indonesia. We also toured Fez, a 1,200 year-old city and one of Morocco's most iconic locations. We also enjoyed an authentic formal dinner there, which was fairly incredible. (I'm still trying to replicate some of the desserts.) My presentation was analyzing the way we try to label the Arab Spring - people tend to see the changes involved as doomed to be over pretty quickly and not for the better. My paper analyzed the history of revolutions to show that they really take decades at a time, and that trying to tag the Arab revolutions as failures (or even successes) at this point just isn't reasonable - figuring out a government is tough.
Q: What are your career goals after graduation?
Short term, I'm looking at nonprofit work, international relations fellowships and possibly (hopefully) online political writing. Longer term, I'd like to do something like mass public education - helping an audience understand what's going on in the political world and be more willing to engage with it. The model is Jon Stewart plus Bill Nye the Science Guy: Using humor to help make the field more approachable and then taking that opportunity to teach.
Q: What does it mean to you to be the recipient of the Maryland Collegiate Honors Council's John and Edythe Portz Award?
Most immediately, it's recognition of the work that's gone into my getting to this point-not so much mine, but that of the teachers, parents, and friends who've supported me along the path. I've also grown to realize that a lot of promoting knowledge to those who might otherwise be reluctant or unsure of their ability to learn, or think, comes down to simply having a person willing to just sit down and introduce them to the idea. This award feels like a license to officially practice that sort of knowledge promotion. It's humbling to receive-if I'm the one chosen, I've got to work even harder to make those who chose me proud of their decision.
Q: What made you choose McDaniel College?
Well, I'll be upfront about it; the college gave generous scholarships, and that was definitely a factor. Besides that, though, much of it was feeling-based: I visited other schools (smaller and larger), but McDaniel's campus felt ... I suppose the word is "understanding." I felt welcome, but still that there was potential there to be just as great as some of the other colleges, given time and dedication - a comfortable place to learn, as well as a place I could put effort into pushing beyond its limits. I'd like to think I've contributed something to that goal over my tenure.