Campus Life

Two Students Honored With Aggie Ring Handoff By US Marine Corps Commandant At The Pentagon

Susan Liu ’26 and Lee Thornton ’25 accepted their Aggie Gold in the nation’s capital from Gen. Eric Smith, a Texas A&M graduate.
By Lesley Henton, Texas A&M University Division of Marketing and Communications April 23, 2024

"All the Aggies in the room" (l-r): Lee Thornton's Aunt Diana Thornton Frederick; Texas A&M University System Assistant Vice Chancellor for Federal Relations Valerie Offutt; Gen. Eric Smith; Susan Liu; Lee Thornton, Gen. Smith's wife, Trish Smith; Texas A&M System Regent Randy Brooks; and Texas A&M System Associate Vice Chancellor for Federal Relations Dustin Bryant.
Ceremony attendees fondly dubbed this photo, “All the Aggies in the Room.” (l-r): Lee Thornton’s Aunt Diana Thornton Frederick; Texas A&M University System Assistant Vice Chancellor for Federal Relations Valerie Offutt; Gen. Eric Smith; Susan Liu; Lee Thornton; Gen. Smith’s wife, Trish Smith; Texas A&M System Regent Randy Brooks; and Texas A&M System Associate Vice Chancellor for Federal Relations Dustin Bryant.

U.S. Department of Defense


There’s really no wrong way to receive an Aggie Ring — it’s one of the most memorable and fulfilling moments in the life of a Texas A&M University student. But some ring presentations are more unique than others, such as when the head of the United States Marine Corps Gen. Eric Smith ‘87, himself an Aggie, presents the gold at the Pentagon.

That’s what happened last week for Susan Liu ’26 and Lee Thornton ’25, who are currently working as interns in Washington, D.C., through Texas A&M’s Public Policy Internship Program (PPIP) and Agricultural and Natural Resources Policy Internship Program (ANRP).

Liu, a sophomore supply chain management major, originally from Manhattan, New York, is interning with the U.S. Space Force (USSF) Public Affairs, Strategies and Assessment team.

“It was such a special moment,” she said of the ring event. “I pitched the idea earlier in the year kind of as a joke to one of the program staff like, ‘It’d be really cool if the commandant could give me my ring.’ And they said they’d talk about it. I never in a million years thought it would actually be Gen. Smith. He’s truly been someone that I’ve looked up to, so having him hand off the ring was very special.”

Gen. Eric Smith about to hand Susan Liu her Aggie ring at the Pentagon on April 17, 2024
Gen. Eric Smith prepares to hand Susan Liu her Aggie Ring at the Pentagon on April 17, 2024.

U.S. Department of Defense


Thornton agreed, saying it was “an honor” to receive his ring from Smith, and at the Pentagon no less. “I don’t know how I can put it into words,” said the agribusiness major from Winnie, Texas. “Gen. Smith is so wise and encouraging and said he was proud to be there. To hear that was amazing and to have met him in the coolest building I’ve ever seen, it was truly an experience I will cherish for a lifetime.”

The students’ friends and family members were present for the special ceremony, as was Texas A&M University System Regent Randy Brooks ’86, who was in D.C. for meetings.

Stephanie Webb, director of Policy Internship Programs, says she was overjoyed for these students to have had such an extraordinary handoff. “We are proud of Susan and Lee, not only for achieving this major milestone as Aggies, but for representing our university well as interns in Washington, D.C., this semester,” she said. “Their achievement not only symbolizes their dedication and hard work but also reflects the honor and integrity they embody as Aggies. We look forward to seeing what they accomplish in their lives and careers moving forward.”

a group photo of all the PPIP Spring 2024 interns
PPIP spring 2024 interns gathered together last fall before their internships began.

Michael Miller/Texas A&M AgriLife Marketing and Communications


25 Years Of Top-Level Internships

This year PPIP is celebrating its 25th year as one of Texas A&M’s premier leadership and development programs. It was founded in 1999 by Dr. Ray Bowen, the university’s president at the time, to “respond to society’s increasing interest and participation in public policy issues and programs.” Today, as part of the Provost’s Office, PPIP inspires students from across the university to explore careers in policy regardless of major.

Undergraduate and graduate students who are accepted into the program earn credit while actively participating in state, national and international policy processes through internships with top-level organizations. Since the program was established, nearly 1,200 Aggies have interned in Austin, Washington, D.C., and several European locations.

ANRP is PPIP’s agricultural sister program, which inspired the broader program. “We believe that public policy impacts every professional industry and every individual person,” said Webb. “Through this experience students not only explore their career interests, build their resume, and develop important skills, but they can better prepare for a life of engaged citizenship by actively participating in the process for a semester.

“Furthermore,” she continued, “these programs provide opportunities for students to learn about themselves, their strengths, and areas for growth, helping them become more confident and capable individuals. Together our intern programs have forged career paths for more than 2,200 Aggies. These days, you can find program alumni serving as staffers, lobbyists, government officials, and working in many public policy fields.”

Thornton said the experience has been life-changing in multiple ways. “I’ve learned to never be afraid to ask questions, be confident in your demeanor, and always take opportunities presented to you that push you out of your comfort zone,” he said. “My entire approach to policy has changed as a result of this experience, and I feel a lot more optimistic about the future. We have people in the government who care, and it’s amazing to see it all unfold around you in D.C.”

A group photo of the ANRP spring 2024 interns.
Spring 2024 ANRP interns.

Michael Miller/Texas A&M AgriLife Marketing and Communications


During his internship, Lee is working for the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG), a bipartisan lobbying firm that represents wheat growers and farmers on the federal level.

“Lee has been a tremendous help in setting up for hill visits and NAWG meetings this spring,” said NAWG CEO Chandler Goule in a recent press release. Notably, Goule himself is an ANRP intern alumnus. “We really appreciate his contributions to our team during the course of his internship and look forward to seeing where he goes from here.”

Thornton says he still has a year to decide, “but I think that I want to work on Capitol Hill as a staff assistant and possibly move to agricultural legislative assistant afterwards before I go to grad school,” he said. “The agricultural policy fire has been lit beneath me thanks to this internship.”

For Liu, as a supply chain management student working in Space Force communications, her job brought new perspective. “I think one of the biggest lessons that I learned through all the things that I’ve done, and my internship, is no matter what field that you’re in, you’re going to need to be able to communicate effectively and know your audience,” she said. “Those are crucial skills to have, and I think it’s going to benefit me in the future in my supply chain career.”

Col. Jennifer Lovett, chief of Space Force Public Affairs Strategies and Analysis Branch, said interns play vital roles at USSF. “The Texas A&M interns who’ve worked for Space Force are top notch,” she said. “They provide such a great service to us, working to brief Department of Defense senior leaders, provide insights into the media environment, and support analysis for defense testimony. They are all an invaluable part of our team.”

Webb says when she looks back on 25 years of policy internships for Aggies, she sees connection to the university’s land-grant mission. “It’s about taking higher education and putting it into practice for the people,” she said. “Texas A&M recognizes internships as an integral part of its curriculum, enabling students to participate in structured, supervised learning experiences outside the traditional classroom. Internships are essential experiences that employers look for from college graduates.

“The Policy Internship Programs represent a unique opportunity to directly engage in the public policy process, offering benefits that are unparalleled by other university programs across the nation,” she continued. “By incorporating practical work experience in a professional environment, students are able to build on knowledge from previous coursework and prepare for life after graduation.”

Learn more about PPIP and ANRP online.

Related Stories

Recent Stories