BRINGING OUR PAST INTO THE PRESENT
“Doc Talks,” a series of live webinars and companion podcasts, invites audiences to listen in on conversations about Rice’s history that are reshaping how we think about our past, connect to the present and plan for the university’s future.
n astonishing variety of documents — handwritten mortgage deeds and business records from the 19th century, formal correspondence and scribbled notes, Rice Thresher articles and photographs from the “Campanile,” and campus blueprints and maps — fueled the conversations hosted weekly by Rice historians Alexander X. Byrd ’90 and Caleb McDaniel during the 2020–2021 academic year. Each of these documents, which also included clips from homemade videos, musical recordings and professional documentaries, reveals new information about Rice’s history, and more often than not, they raised new questions for Byrd and McDaniel to ponder. As part of their work as co-chairs of the Task Force on Slavery, Segregation and Racial Injustice, the historians met each Friday at noon via Zoom for the talks, bringing the real-time detective work of primary research into view, as well as answering the audience’s questions. In addition to bringing their own decades of distinguished scholarship to bear on this research — Byrd, an associate
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COVER PHOTO BY JEFF FITLOW
Paging Through History
professor of history whose expertise is in Black life in the Atlantic world and the Jim Crow South, and McDaniel, a professor of history who studies slavery, antislavery, emancipation and the Civil War era — the two are engaging hosts. The punny name of the series refers both to the professors and the objects at hand. Each webinar typically opens with a friendly greeting: “Good afternoon, Dr. Byrd,” says McDaniel, with a smile, broadcasting from his office in the Humanities Building. “Hello, Dr. McDaniel,” responds Byrd, “It’s Friday” — a statement that often leads into some empathetic reflection on the previous week during an academic year defined by crisis and tragedy. Zooming in from home, Byrd appears framed by a wall of book-lined shelves. Soon, one of the two asks, “Do you have a document to share today?” The documents, shown on screen, typically span centuries, reflecting the expertise of the hosts or that week’s special guests, which include students, alumni or Rice faculty who are part of the multilayered task force research project. What follows is a virtual tutorial into an unfolding search for answers. For the audience, following along is a lot like being in a small seminar with the coolest college professors. Yet despite the congenial banter of the hosts, the content under discussion could not be more serious nor more consequential. “The research that the task force has been charged with doing is to investigate the ways that Rice University’s history is entangled with and implicated in the history of slavery, segregation and racial injustice,” says McDaniel. Rice students and recent graduates are integral to the “Doc Talks” investigations — their research is featured in three different webinars. The project also highlights the Racial Geography Project, a research collective of students and faculty that maps histories of racism on campus. Faculty guests share their expertise, and in one episode, the staff of the award-winning Woodson Research Center give an informative tour of the archives. This fall, the “Doc Talks” live webinars are back every Friday at noon via Zoom. The “Doc Talks” podcasts, produced by Kate Coley ’11 and student media fellows, are also returning. Here are a few examples of the documents fueling these vital conversations. — LYNN GOSNELL
Photos by Tommy LaVergne, Jeff Fitlow and Brandon Martin
1. Business Ledger, 1858–1859 On Sept. 18, 2020, McDaniel and Byrd welcomed four current and former student researchers — Edna Otuomagie ’17, Andrew Maust ’18, Indya Porter ’22 and George Huang ’22 — to “Doc Talks.” The document pictured here — one page of a 787-page leather-bound business ledger belonging to William Marsh Rice — was shared by Maust. Inspired by a class with
McDaniel, Maust started digging into the Woodson archives to learn more about William Marsh Rice’s connections to slavery before, during and after the Civil War. On Page 88, in meticulously recorded debits and credits with one business associate, Maust saw an entry for “Negro property” in the amount of $1,450. “To actually see this transaction listed, that’s what drew me to this document,” he says. To further contextualize the entry, Maust shared some additional research he had published
in the Rice Historical Review. At this time, Texas lacked a cohesive banking system, and wealthy merchants like Rice often functioned as bankers who supplied cash and collected debt — in this economy, enslaved people were property, eligible for debt collection. The document raises more questions than it answers, the historians note. Little is known about the nature of this particular debt or the identities and fates of the person or persons listed here.
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The first episode of “Doc Talks,” held Sept. 11, 2020, established the project’s scope and expertise by highlighting documents from both the lifetime of William Marsh Rice and the life of the university with respect to the history of Black life on campus. To begin, Byrd turns a critical eye toward an “iconic photo” of Jacqueline
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McCauley ’70 (1947–2020), the first Black National Merit Scholar in Texas and one of the first two Black undergraduates admitted to Rice. The photo, illustrating a 1965 Houston Chronicle feature, shows McCauley outside Fondren Library, alone, with an expansive view of the Academic Quad in a blue-sky distance. “This photograph sets her at a key point in her life and alludes to the place of the
university, the opening up … of that life straight out through the Academic Quad, through the Sallyport and into Houston,” says Byrd. Other photos in the story depict family and social life — a “Black world that helps produce McCauley and sends her to Rice,” notes Byrd. The fact that McCauley went to Kashmere High School in Houston raises questions for the historians. “If I’m at a school and know
that six or seven students are going to be at Rice, what does that mean for the relationship between Rice and my school?” Byrd wonders aloud. About Kashmere and other Black high schools in Texas whose students were so long denied the kinds of opportunities available at Rice, he asks, “Is the constant drawing of students from a school a kind of investment and development that matters?”
PHOTO © HOUSTON CHRONICLE, USED WITH PERMISSION
2. An Iconic Photo, 1965
3. Financing a Sugar House, 1849 Also in the inaugural “Doc Talks” webinar, McDaniel highlights a legal document from the 1840s that sheds light on some of the entanglements of William Marsh Rice with enslavement from his earliest days in Houston. The neatly handwritten deed from the Brazoria County deed records details a loan from Rice and business partner Charles W. Adams to James Love for the purpose of building a sugar house. Starting a sugar plantation in 1840s Brazoria County required a lot of upfront capital, McDaniel notes, and Rice, as a wealthy merchant, was in a position to make such loans. What this document reveals is that enslaved people were used as collateral that secured the
loan for the sugar house. “The collateral makes all of this possible,” Byrd says. In the document, all the enslaved people living on Love’s Brazoria plantation — men, women and children — were named in the deed. What happened to Harry, Bancola, Bob, Ada, Ellick, George and all the oth-
ers? “We know that in the 1850s, James Love failed to pay his debt,” McDaniel says, triggering lawsuits, but more research is needed to know how or if William Marsh Rice ultimately got paid and whether enslaved people became a part of this settlement.
Would You Like To Be a Citizen Historian?
Readers who are interested in transcribing digitized historical documents like the ones cited here are needed. Go to FromThePage (fromthepage. com/woodson-research-center) at the Woodson Research Center to learn more.
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4. Dear President Pitzer, 1965 Rice University’s long and convoluted legal road to desegregation is addressed in a panel discussion produced by the task force; a special conversation recorded with Raymond L. Johnson ’69, the first Black graduate student to enroll at Rice; and via “Doc Talks.” On Sept. 25, 2020, Byrd shared a type-written letter addressed to President Kenneth Pitzer from Johnson, whose graduate studies had been interrupted for a year by a lawsuit from
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alumni challenging Rice’s desegregation. In this remarkable letter, which was jointly authored by Johnson’s late wife, Claudette Willa Smith, Johnson raises questions about the conflicting messaging he received from administrators concerning policies and publicity surrounding “all matters concerning integration.” After listing many activities that Rice students were asked not to engage in while the alumni lawsuit was litigated, he asks, “Is caution still required in the interest of the suit?” In the same letter, Johnson advocates for the coming
enrollment of Black students. “There is a need for information about the tuition scholarships that will be available.” For Byrd and McDaniel, this letter raises questions about the difference between removing barriers and creating a welcoming climate, of the difference between “desegregation and integration,” for example. “Does Dr. Johnson’s letter represent a community sentiment?” asks Byrd. McDaniel wonders what extra responsibilities Johnson, as a graduate student, carries with him — a concern that resonates 55 years later.
5. A Thwarted Escape, 1863 The document shared Feb. 12, 2021, is a handwritten note dated June 15, 1863, addressed to “Mr. William and Frederick Rice” from a jailer in Hempstead, Texas. (Frederick A. Rice was the brother and business partner of William Marsh Rice.) The note details in brief the capture of a 17- or 18-year-old “Negro boy” named Captain, “who says he belongs to both of you.” The note requests the brothers to “come forward, prove property” and take possession or he “would be dealt with as the law directs in such cases.” Some of the questions
the historians had about Captain was how he came to be on the Brazos River and how he understands the ways in which he is possessed by two people. This record is particularly poignant and notable because it occurred two years after Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. What did Captain know about the war? How did he escape? There is no record — yet — of whether or not the Rice brothers traveled to the jail to “claim” Captain. This document is from a rare collection housed in the Harris County Heritage Society at Sam Houston Park and is currently being digitized by the Woodson staff.
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6. An Oath of Amnesty, 1865 A topic that comes up in several episodes of “Doc Talks” concerns the loyalties of William Marsh Rice in the run-up to and during the Civil War years. After all, historian Andrew Forest Muir ’38 wrote in the “Handbook of Texas History” that Rice was a Unionist. On Sept. 25, 2020, McDaniel and Byrd considered this question from the perspective of a remarkable and previously unknown document — the signed Amnesty Oath of William Marsh Rice, stating Rice’s intention to “faithfully defend the Constitution of the United States.” Attached is a handwritten letter from Rice to President Andrew Johnson. The president had extended a general amnesty to many people associated with the rebellion — with exceptions, McDaniel notes. One of those exceptions was for men in the Secessionist states who owned taxable property in excess of $20,000. In the letter, Rice explains that, before the war, he had acquired “considerable property consisting of real estate, merchandise, bills received, lands, slaves, in an amount far exceeding $20,000.” This document is significant, McDaniel states, because of Rice’s commenting on his views of slavery. Byrd wonders if Rice’s letter follows a kind of template for pardon application, especially among the wealthy. The historians draw out more complexities — layering more economic, political and moral contexts into the conversation.
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Citations 1. Rice, William Marsh, 1816–1900. “William Marsh Rice Ledger — Old Business.” (1859) Rice University: https://hdl.handle. net/1911/109105. 2. Houston Chronicle Sunday Magazine, Sept. 12, 1965, Pages 4–7. 3. Rice, William Marsh, 1816–1900. Mortgage Deed, 1849, Brazoria County Deed Records. 4. Rice University President’s Office Records: Kenneth Pitzer, UA 083, Box 9, Folder 6, Woodson Research Center, Fondren Library, Rice University.
7. From Desegregation to Full Integration, 1990 Sometimes the documents explored by Byrd and McDaniel are more recent in origin — they may even be produced on a computer. Such documents carry familiar names and show with clarity the decadeslong persistence of efforts to improve the Black experience at Rice University. “The State of Black Rice” is a collection of essays by faculty, staff and students published by the Office of
Minority Affairs in 1990. Byrd focuses on one essay in particular by Edward Cox, now an associate professor emeritus of history. “Professor Cox raises larger questions about what a task force like ours should be about,” Byrd notes. In the essay, Cox asks a series of simple, direct questions: “What are the numbers of African American students at Rice? What percentage of African American students are athletes? How many African Americans are in the tenure-eligible ranks of faculty? Where are the African American administrators? How does the percentage of African American support staff compare with the percentage in the profes-
sional staff category?” Both Byrd and McDaniel note that some of these questions fall under the current purview of the task force. And indeed, Cox lights the way: “There needs to be an examination of what has been done since 1965 to promote desegregation and integration at Rice. … A useful mechanism for conducting this self-analysis might be the appointment of a broadbased presidential commission whose task it will be to conduct this study and make recommendations for action.” Thirty years later, Cox serves on the Task Force Steering Committee. Read an expanded version of this story at magazine.rice.edu. ◆
5. State of Texas document to Mr. William and Frederick Rice regarding “a Negro boy who says he belongs to both of you.” June 3, 1863. Rice family papers, Box 1, Folder 4, Heritage Society, Houston, Texas. 6. William Marsh Rice Application for Special Pardon, Aug. 29, 1865, Case Files of Applications from Former Confederates for Presidential Pardons, RG 94: Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1762–1984, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C., https://catalog. archives.gov/ id/57452487, also available on fold3.com. 7. Byrd, Alexander X. “The State of Black Rice.” (1990) Chandler Davidson Academic Papers, UA 189, Rice University: https://hdl. handle.net/1911/110252.
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R I C E M A G A Z I N E FA L L 2 0 2 1
Documents from Rice’s history are reshaping how we think about our past — and present.
Jeffrey Kripal discusses UFOs and the cultural and academic significance of unexplained topics.
Kory Evans researches the evolution of fish and the relationship between behavior, environment and genetics.
Paging Through History
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The Truth Is Right Here
A Fish Tale
IMAGE COURTESY OF KORY EVANS
A scan of a longnose butterflyfish
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: PHOTO BY BRANDON MARTIN, PHOTO BY JEFF FITLOW, PHOTOS BY TOMMY LAVERGNE (2)
FA L L 2 0 2 1 R I C E M A G A Z I N E
Matriculation, Microworlds, food rhetoric, Animal Crossing, art and design magazine, Paralympian Ahalya Lettenberger ’23
Insulin implant, new deans, vaccine myths, workplace resiliency, “smart” shirt, Maxfield Hall, undercounted COVID-19 deaths
Beekeeper Dan Weaver ’81, Classnotes highlights, alumnae in the Tokyo Olympics, Rice Gallery and Rainey Knudson ’93
Baker College outlines an exciting O-Week schedule for new students.
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FEEDBACK Our Summer 2021 issue launched online in early July and in print soon thereafter. Here is a sampling of reader responses.
RICE MAGAZINE Fall 2021
“Pandemic’s Paradox” This story featured faculty, staff and alumni interviews, testimonies and profiles responding to questions about the changes wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Grads at Last” In May, a joyful community of students, parents, faculty and honored guests gathered in person to celebrate the Classes of 2020 and 2021. “This story captured the joy of young people graduating after an exceptional educational experience. Loved seeing so many happy faces.”
“This is the story that caused my wife, an Emory grad, to remark, ‘I love Rice Magazine — you were lucky to have gone there.’” Sallyport (Student and Campus News) “I loved how Rice students create a space for themselves rather than trying to fit the current world. And I was pleased that so much effort was put into making Beer Bike happen.”
How do you prefer to read Rice Magazine?
of survey respondents prefer to read the magazine in print.
prefer to read the magazine online only.
21% prefer both options.
Errata: How many faculty does it take to educate a Rice student? Several alumni wrote — quite gleefully, we might add — to point out an error in our story about Rice’s plans to enlarge the undergraduate population to 4,800 by fall 2025. We meant to write that “Rice’s undergraduate student-faculty ratio would remain roughly the same — about six undergraduates for every faculty member.” Instead, we printed the opposite. We’re here all week, y’all.
Missed a story? Go to magazine.rice.edu to catch up.
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Office of Public Affairs Linda Thrane, vice president EDITOR
Lynn Gosnell ART DIRECTOR
Alese Pickering CREATIVE SERVICES
Jeff Cox, senior director EDITORIAL DIRECTOR
Tracey Rhoades ASSISTANT EDITOR
Kyndall Krist PHOTOGRAPHERS
Tommy LaVergne Jeff Fitlow PROOFREADER
Jenny West Rozelle ’00 CONTRIBUTORS
Jade Boyd, William Edmond, Glenn Harvey, Kendall Hebert, Allison Johnston, Patrick Kurp, Jennifer Latson, Delphine Lee, Brandon Martin, Laura Furr Mericas, Alex Eben Meyer, Mark Allen Miller, Katharine Shilcutt, Hallie Trial ’22, Mike Williams, Matt Wilson, Katherine Wu ’23 INTERNS
Emma Korsmo ’24 Mabel Tang ’23 Rice Magazine is published four times a year and is sent to university alumni, faculty, staff, parents of undergraduates and friends of the university. © October 2021, Rice University
FROM THE EDITOR an energetic campus life, to welcoming new leadership in our academic colleges and to keeping up with the exploding (sometimes literally) campus construction projects. And while we never put off sharing the stories of some amazing students and alumni, in this issue, we get to highlight three whose Olympic aspirations were finally realized in Tokyo. Rice Magazine has some new energy, too. This fall, we welcomed two interns — Mabel Tang, a Hanszen College
THE RICE UNIVERSITY BOARD OF TRUSTEES
Robert T. Ladd, chair; Elle Anderson; Donald Bowers; Bart Broadman; Nancy Packer Carlson; D. Mark Durcan; Michol L. Ecklund; Wanda Gass; Terrence Gee; George Y. Gonzalez; James T. Hackett; Patti Lipoma Kraft; Holli Ladhani; L. Charles Landgraf; Lynn A. Lednicky; Elle Moody; Brandy Hays Morrison; Brian Patterson; Byron Pope; David Rhodes; Gloria Meckel Tarpley; James Whitehurst; Randa Duncan Williams; Michael Yuen; Huda Y. Zoghbi. ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICERS
David W. Leebron, president; Reginald DesRoches, provost; Kathy Collins, vice president for Finance; Kathi Dantley Warren, vice president for Development and Alumni Relations; Kevin Kirby, vice president for Administration; Caroline Levander, vice president for Global and Digital Strategy; Paul Padley, interim vice president for IT and chief information officer; Yvonne Romero Da Silva, vice president for Enrollment; Allison Kendrick Thacker, vice president for Investments and treasurer; Linda Thrane, vice president for Public Affairs; Richard A. Zansitis, vice president and general counsel. POSTMASTER
Send address changes to: Rice University Development Services–MS 80 P.O. Box 1892 Houston, TX 77251-1892 EDITORIAL OFFICES
Creative Services–MS 95 P.O. Box 1892 Houston, TX 77251-1892 Phone: 713-348-6768 email@example.com
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AND … WE’RE BACK IN LATE SEPTEMBER, most Rice classes returned to an in-person format after beginning the semester online due to surging rates of the COVID-19 delta variant within the community and region. The change in teaching formats has been gradual, with classes whose enrollment is 50 or less returning to in-person instruction after Labor Day. Rice continues to run a robust testing program and to publish the results at coronavirus.rice.edu. While campus vaccination rates are above 90%, an indoor masking policy remains in effect. COVID-19 numbers in Houston are showing signs of improvement. The situation remains fluid, but that has not kept Rice’s campus from bubbling over with energy and liveliness at the beginning of a new academic year. In this issue’s features, we’re back to meeting up with faculty scholars whose research expands knowledge about evolution in the most fascinating ways (“A Fish Tale”); to engaging questions about consciousness and the cultural meaning of inexplicable phenomena (“The Truth Is Right Here”); and to supporting the work to create a richer, more complete record of Rice’s history via an unfolding archive of historical discovery (“Paging Through History”). We’re back to sharing stories about
We’re back to sharing stories about an energetic campus life, to welcoming new leadership in our academic colleges and to keeping up with the exploding (sometimes, literally) campus construction projects. junior, who is majoring in biochemistry and cell biology with a minor in medical humanities, and Emma Korsmo, a Lovett College sophomore, who is majoring in English and visual and dramatic arts. After serving as O-Week advisers, they jumped right into magazine assignments — see their bylines throughout Sallyport. As a campus community, we haven’t returned to whatever normal was before the pandemic, but in small, quotidian ways — long lines at Coffeehouse, an uptick in (always the wrong way) skateboard traffic, lights shining from the architecture studios at night, sidewalk crowds, in-person meetings — definitely, we’re back.
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OUR GLOBAL CONNECTIONS ONE OF THE effects of the pandemic has been to keep us closer to home, and even now most people have not resumed international travel. For three semesters and two summers, our international programs were largely canceled. Many destinations still present insuperable barriers such as travel bans or long quarantine periods, and there are very few countries one can visit without significant complications and risks. For a year and a half, my international travel consisted of the places I visited through my virtual Zoom backgrounds — Sydney, Prague, the Great Wall of China, the Acropolis of Athens and Borobudur Temple in Indonesia. Our students have had to delay or forgo their dreams of study and travel abroad. For our faculty, it has hampered their interactions with colleagues around the world seeking to better understand and address common challenges. Internationalization permeates every aspect of what we do, from our campus community in Houston to faculty and students engaged in programs around the globe. I have previously written that our faculty is conservatively estimated as consisting of about one-third immigrants — counting only those who received their first higher education degree outside the United States. This is the result of seeking out the best talent in their respective fields, but it brings the benefit of different cultural perspectives into every facet of the university, from the magisters and associates in the residential colleges to the representation in the Faculty Senate. Universities have long played a role in fostering international connections,
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even when political relationships were hostile. And no country has played a greater role in bringing students together from around the world than the United States. At Rice, typically between 10% and 12% of our undergraduates and about 40% of our graduate students are international. Even in the midst of doubts about international study during the pandemic, our international undergraduate applications surged 30% this past academic year, and Rice’s yield — the number who chose to enroll — of those students jumped from 44% to 54%. The number of international students from Africa and Latin America doubled and tripled, respectively. With about a quarter of our total student body being international, Rice is essentially an international campus located in one of the country’s most international cities. The daily interactions with these students enrich conversations and learning from the classroom to the dinner table and foster a global sense of connectedness and compassion. And international aspects are deeply infused into our curriculum at both the undergraduate and graduate level, including the 6-year-old Master of Global Affairs sponsored by the School of Social Sciences and the Baker Institute. But it remains equally essential that our students and faculty have the opportunity to engage abroad. Our efforts at such internationalization through study and research abroad are also suffused throughout every part of the university and every aspect of our mission — education, research and service. Here I can relate just a few examples. On the faculty collaboration side, almost two years ago, we formally established a relationship with IIT Kanpur to focus on a group of issues on sustainability and the environment, and in particular developing materials and processes for photovoltaics, energy storage, alternative fuels, water treatment and more. The Rice School of Architecture
has been the only part of Rice to have a permanent presence abroad. Since 2002, Rice architecture students have benefited from the extraordinary learning opportunity that is a semester in Paris — a city with two millennia of architecture and urban structure, from the Roman ruins of the ancient city of Lutetia to modern icons such as the Pompidou Center and the I.M. Pei pyramid at the Louvre. We’re now exploring how we might build on the Rice architecture base in Paris to expand opportunities to other students as well, and to create a model for other cities. In the School of Social Sciences, the Urban Politics and Policy Lab combines theory and methods with case studies, enabling students to better understand the difficulties posed by large metropolises and the commonalities and differences between cities across continents and cultures. The course typically includes an urban lab in Istanbul led by Professor Melissa Marschall, who herself holds a degree from Bogazici University in Istanbul. Across the campus, part of the Jones School’s core curriculum is an immersive short global course focusing on emerging markets, whether in Latin America, Africa or Asia. And, of course, the Center for Languages and Intercultural Communication (CLIC) offers Rice in Country programs to help deepen our students’ familiarity with language and culture. This is just the tip of the iceberg. During the pandemic, we have sought to maintain our international engagement and education through Zoom connections to students and professors around the world. We must continue the process of expanding our global opportunities and engagement and make sure every student can access them. Only by doing that can we educate our students to navigate the world they will confront and solve the problems that span our planet.
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CAMPUS NEWS AND STUDENT LIFE
Cycling for a Cure In just one month, Sudha Yellapantula went from being a reluctant cyclist to a champion cycling fundraiser for pediatric cancer research. BY KATHARINE SHILCUTT STUDENT LIFE
Hello, Class of 2025!
Rice welcomes its biggest class ever with hope, care and optimism. BY TRACEY RHOADES
PHOTO BY BR A NDON M A R T IN
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A BIG WELCOME
Rice welcomed its largest class ever in August. The stats are impressive, and so are the freshmen and transfer students who now call Rice home.
applications (26% more than 2020)
HEY WEREN’T the first class to matriculate during a pandemic, but they are the largest. With over 1,200 students, the Class of 2025 is already breaking records. Selected from nearly 30,000 applicants, this year’s freshmen, consisting of 250 more students than last year, are a diverse group. Thirty-seven percent of the incoming class are from Texas; 50% hail from other states; and 13% are international students, with a larger representation from countries in Latin America, Africa and Europe. To accommodate COVID-19 restrictions, Rice had to come up with ways to communicate with interested students as well as give them some normalcy once they reached campus Aug. 15. Known for its personal, intimate and welcoming entrance to Rice, Orientation Week — more commonly known as O-Week — gave its newest Owls a glimpse of the Rice life. Beginning at 6:30 a.m., move-in commenced, heralding O-Week’s kickoff. Students and parents were greeted with cheers, signs and helping hands, hands that unloaded vehicles and toted boxes to make the move as seamless as possible. Orchestrated by a cache of O-Week advisers — highly selected upperclassmen — university administrators, magisters, and President David
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Leebron and Y. Ping Sun, this year’s welcome was as magical as in years past. In keeping with pandemic protocols, President Leebron addressed the new students via video in their college commons, a tradition usually held in Tudor Fieldhouse. Leebron, who gave his final greeting as president before stepping down in 2022, challenged Rice’s incoming class: “Will you be the best class ever?” Bridget Gorman, dean of undergraduates, and Kendall Vining ’22, Student Association president, also addressed the class before students proceeded across campus by college to Lovett Hall and the rite of passage through the Sallyport, officially beginning their journey at Rice. The week’s events weren’t all pomp and circumstance, however. Freshmen were able to experience more traditional elements of O-Week with inflatable bounce houses, water balloon fights, paint wars, dance-offs and shaving cream battles, bringing O-Week’s uniqueness to the forefront. “It’s an experience that’s much more intimate than you find at other universities,” said freshman Arielle Hayon, who knew Rice was where she wanted to be after her first visit. “And honestly, now that I’m here, it’s only been validated for all the reasons that I chose it. This is a home away from home for me already.”
countries represented and all 50 states
Top Countries China (66) India (9) Mexico (8)
Texas (464) California (85) Florida (51) New York (50) Illinois (39)
PHOTO BY TOMM Y L AV ERGNE
SALLYPORT UNDERGRADUATE LIFE
Residential Colleges, but Make Them Tiny
Katherine Wu creates campus Microworlds.
WHEN KATHERINE WU ’23 moved away from her hometown of San Francisco, she found a new home in McMurtry College. “I’ve always loved the residential college system, the way that it welcomes and builds a community for you,” says Wu. To mark the halfway point of her college experience, Wu wanted to find a way to capture Rice and carry those memories with her. Inspired by Benny Productions’ Microworlds, which the company describes as little chunks of landscapes, based on biomes, themes, movie scenes or famous places, Wu created tiny images of the residential colleges. “As new students come in and old students leave, I hope that they can take a bit of Rice with them wherever they go, to remind them they’ll always have a home here.” — EMMA KORSMO ’24
1 | BAKER COLLEGE
2 | WILL RICE COLLEGE
3 | HANSZEN COLLEGE
4 | WIESS COLLEGE
5 | JONES COLLEGE
6 | BROWN COLLEGE
7 | LOVETT COLLEGE
8 | SID RICHARDSON COLLEGE
9 | MARTEL COLLEGE
10 | McMURTRY COLLEGE
11 | DUNCAN COLLEGE
P H O T O IL LU S T R AT IO N S B Y K AT HER INE W U
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IN THE RHETORIC OF FOOD, Matthew Wells, lecturer of the Program in Writing and Communication, introduces students to food as not just necessary for survival but crucial to human history and connection. This first-year writing intensive seminar encourages students to analyze their own relationships with food and how food shapes society, culture and current events such as gentrification and climate change.
A Seat at the Table FWIS 138 The Rhetoric of Food DEPARTMENT First-Year Writing Intensive Seminar DESCRIPTION This course will examine the way food and food rhetoric shape our perceptions of the self and our connections to larger civic issues. Core topics include food as an identity marker, the appropriation and sanitization of global cuisines, the rise of foodie culture, and food tourism.
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“I wanted to choose something where we could talk about big-ticket issues, like the environment, racism and gentrification,” Wells said. “But I also wanted a course where there could be some levity involved. One day we could handle something that’s very heavy, and the next day we could talk about our favorite food scenes from a movie.” For each class, students are assigned readings about topics including cultural appropriation in fast-casual restaurants and the preparation of food in prisons and school cafeterias. Wells also shows documentaries such as “Chef’s Table” and “Jiro Dreams
of Sushi.” These materials present students with the process, often long and arduous, of how food arrives on our tables. Murtaza Kazmi ’25 is excited about learning more about food outside of nutrition. “We don’t just eat to survive. We also eat to thrive, to celebrate, in moments of sadness or frustration. And really, food is, even though it’s a bit of a cliche answer, something that connects us all.” Wells hopes that through this course, students can begin watching and reading content with curiosity. “Food seems like it’s way over here, and political science is way over there. But there are probably a lot of connective tissues between the two. That’s what I hope students take away from it — that ability, beyond being able to craft a really beautiful sentence, to connect all of these things that we interact with.”
— MABEL TANG ’23
PHOTOS BY 123RF.COM
I’M A NERD ABOUT ...
During the pandemic, Marykathryn Charles found comfort and connection in her favorite game. MARYKATHRYN Charles ’22 is a mayor. Not of her hometown, but of an island called Waldton with the cutest residents you’ll ever see. Charles has been playing the Nintendo game Animal Crossing since 2008 and has owned every release since
PHOTOS BY TOMM Y L AV ERGNE
then. You could definitely call her an avid fan. But what is Animal Crossing? “It’s a simulation game where you can just vibe,” says Charles. “It’s got something for everyone.” Originally released on the Nintendo 64 and subsequently released on the GameCube, Nintendo DS, Wii and most recently Nintendo Switch, Animal Crossing is a life simulation game where the player can interact with animalinspired residents and design their own town or island, while enjoying side tasks such as fishing, catching bugs, digging up fossils, designing clothes and much more. By completing activities, talking to
residents often and decorating the island top to bottom, the player can increase the rating of their island from one star to five. The launch of the most recent version, Animal Crossing: New Horizons, during the COVID-19 pandemic helped Charles and 32 million other gamers find comfort in building their island. “It helped me connect with other people. … It was a good way to do something that almost seemed like it was in person, but still be separate,” explains Charles. With the help of Nintendo Online, players from around the world can visit each other’s islands — the perfect activity for 2020. Not only can you play with friends, says Charles, but the game provides daily tasks for players to complete. “It’s kind of like a schedule. I would get on Animal Crossing every day in the morning to check in and then play for a couple hours in the afternoon.” We have all felt the pandemic blues, but to Charles, Animal Crossing is more than just a way to pass the time. “It’s very close to my heart. It is nice to have this thing that makes me feel at home. I know what to expect, and it is relaxing to escape into this world for a little bit.” Players build relationships with their residents and a pride for the island, encouraging them to continue to log on once the guided play is complete. Charles still plays every day — not because she needs an escape, but for her love of the game. — EMMA KORSMO ’24
Outfit SCARF AND OVERALLS
Tool FISHING POLE
Bug LEAF BUG
Non-Player Character (NPC) K.K. SLIDER
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A magazine provides an artful creative outlet for students of any discipline. IN 2018, THEN-FRESHMEN Gabriella Feuillet ’21, an architecture major, and Pilar Canavosio ’21, a civil and environmental engineering major, along with four other Rice classmates, discussed a mutual longing for a new kind of creative outlet. The majority of the editorial team were students of STEM and the social sciences while only two were formally studying art. By the end of the year, ASTR* art and design magazine was born. The annual publication, which touts itself as having no rules, includes a diverse array of artworks in both digital and print formats — poetry, prose, painting, photography, knitting, original music, playlists and more — all created by
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Rice students. ASTR* shape-shifts from issue to issue, making changes in theme, trim size, binding and even page orientation. Issue 2, resembling a photocopied
fanzine, was entirely produced in 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic changed every aspect of our lives. As the world suddenly relied more on digital communication, the magazine did
too. “What were supposed to be hours spent creating together in the Digital Media Center became hours spent creating alone in our bedrooms,” wrote the editors in a note to readers. “Faces became pixelated, and great ideas were sometimes interrupted by bad WiFi.” Issue 3 was published in spring 2021. Its larger format and colorful pages reflect the hope and optimism we all felt coming out of 2020. So what’s on the horizon for ASTR*? The team plans to produce two publications this academic year — Issue 3.5 in early spring 2022, a mini-zine with a theme of “space,” and Issue 4, a fulllength magazine slated to be published at the end of the spring 2022 semester with a dual theme of “sonder/self.” Only a lucky few hundred people will receive a printed version, but all issues are available to view online at astrmag.com. More information on the club can be found via OwlNest, Rice’s student engagement platform. — ALESE PICKERING
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“Beat All My Expectations” Silver medalist Ahalya Lettenberger shines at the Paralympics.
IN THE MIDDLE of her freshman year, Ahalya Lettenberger ’23 had designs on competing in the Paralympic Games that summer. A veteran of international competition — she had represented the United States at the 2019 World Para Swimming Championships, where she swam in five events, reached the finals in four and claimed a silver medal — Lettenberger’s plans were suddenly in flux after students were sent home for the semester.
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“That was super hard because the one thing that had given me a sense of normalcy — swimming — was gone,” she said, adding that “not knowing when or if the games were going to happen took a big toll on me.” Unable to train in the usual ways, she had to get creative. “During the summer, I was just trying to find any way possible to stay in shape, including biking, using my racing wheelchair and doing workouts in my house,” said Lettenberger, who was born with arthrogryposis multiplex congenita (AMC), a muscular/ skeletal disorder that affects her hips and legs. “One of my friends even let me use his backyard pool, so I tied a bungee cord and swam in place.” That determination paid off almost a year later, when she got to live out her Paralympics dream after earning a spot in Tokyo, thanks to her performances at the U.S. trials in June and the Para Swimming World Series in April. “I was able to be surrounded by my
family when the team was announced, so it was extra special to be able to celebrate with them because I definitely wouldn’t have made it without their help,” Lettenberger said. “I was also just overcome with gratitude for all the support I’ve had from my family, teammates and coaches.” In the 200-meter individual medley SM7 final Aug. 27 in Tokyo, Lettenberger made a late charge to win the silver medal. Her time of 3 minutes, 2.82 seconds, trailed only fellow American Mallory Weggemann (2:55.48) and was her best ever in an international competition. “I really wanted to medal, that was my big goal, but being my first Paralympics I really just wanted to take everything I could from it and have a good experience,” said Lettenberger, who finished fourth in the 400-meter freestyle S7 two days after her secondplace swim. “Bringing home silver, it beat all my expectations.” — MATT WILSON
PHOTO BY BR ANDON MARTIN
INNOVATION IN THE LAB, THE FIELD AND THE CLASSROOM
Under the Skin Engineering an implantable device that delivers insulin to Type 1 diabetics. BY JADE BOYD
IL LU S T R AT IO N B Y M A R K A L L EN MIL L ER
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HE DISCOVERY OF insulin 100 years ago at the University of Toronto transformed Type 1 diabetes from a merciless executioner into a manageable disease. Insulin shots allow millions of Type 1 diabetics to live normal lives. But Type 1 diabetics still suffer from long-term effects like kidney disease, high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. That could change if a pair of Rice bioengineers succeed in creating a living implant that can restore the body’s ability to precisely regulate blood sugar levels. Research partners Omid Veiseh and Jordan Miller ’08 are creating the implant with engineered cells that can sense blood glucose levels and respond with the correct amount of insulin. The insulin-producing beta cells are made from human stem cells that will be housed in a device made with 3D bioprinting and smart biomaterials. Veiseh, an assistant professor of bioengineering, has spent more than
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Graduate student Madison Royse demonstrates a laboratory setup for testing blood flow through 3D-printed hydrogels that can be turned into living tissue.
The duo’s goal is to show that their implants can properly regulate blood glucose levels of diabetic mice for at least six months. a decade developing materials that protect implanted cell therapies from the immune system. For more than 15 years, Miller, an associate professor of bioengineering, has researched techniques to 3D-print tissues with vasculature or networks of blood vessels. The three-year research project is supported by a grant from JDRF, the leading global funder of diabetes research. “If we really want to recapitulate what the pancreas normally does, we need vasculature,” Veiseh said. “And that’s the purpose of this grant with JDRF. The pancreas naturally has all these blood vessels, and cells are organized in particular ways in the pancreas. Jordan
and I want to print in the same orientation that exists in nature.” Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that causes the pancreas to stop producing insulin, the hormone that controls blood sugar levels. About 1.6 million Americans live with Type 1 diabetes, and more than 100 cases are diagnosed each day. Managing Type 1 diabetes isn’t easy. Insulin intake must be balanced with eating, exercise and other activities, and studies estimate more than two-thirds of Type 1 diabetics in the U.S. have increased long-term health risks because they do not consistently achieve target blood glucose levels. The duo’s goal is to show that their implants can properly regulate blood glucose levels of diabetic mice for at least six months. To do that, they’ll need to give their engineered beta cells the ability to respond to rapid changes in blood sugar levels. “We’re using a combination of prevascularization through advanced 3D bioprinting and host-mediated vascular remodeling to give each implant several shots at host integration,” Miller said. The insulin-producing cells will be protected with a hydrogel formulation developed by Veiseh, who is also a Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas Scholar. The hydrogel material, which has proven effective for encapsulating cell treatments in bead-sized spheres, has pores small enough to keep the cells inside from being attacked by the immune system but large enough to allow passage of nutrients and life-giving insulin. “Blood vessels can go inside of them,” Veiseh said of the hydrogel compartments. “At the same time, we have our coating, our small molecules that prevent the body from rejecting the gel, so it should harmonize really well with the body.” By incorporating blood vessels in their implant, he and Miller hope to allow their beta-cell tissues to behave in a way that more closely mimics the natural behavior of the pancreas.
PHOTO BY JEFF FITLOW
DEAN, WIESS SCHOOL OF NATURAL SCIENCES
Meet the Deans
A delightfully profound Q&A with Rice’s newest leaders. BY KENDALL HEBERT
his fall, five of our eight academic schools have new leadership — some who have moved across the country and others who have moved into more spacious offices in their respective buildings. While we wish we could get to know these talented, accomplished and — as it turns out, humorous — deans over dinner and conversation, we settled for an unconventional icebreaker: a Proust questionnaire that ponders some of life’s most intriguing questions. From their treasured possessions to who would play them in the film of their life to revealing their superpowers and admitting the phrases they most overuse, they share the kind of biographical details not found in a CV.
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Thomas Killian was appointed dean Jan. 1, 2021. He brings almost two decades of teaching and research experience at Rice to his new role. Killian’s research background is in ultracold atomic and plasma physics — under exotic conditions, matter behaves in fundamentally different ways, providing insight into the basic laws of nature and laying the foundation for emerging technological advances in timekeeping, navigation and quantum computing.
Which word would you use to describe your first impression of Rice? Welcoming. Of all the places you’ve traveled to, which do you reminisce about the most? The next new place I am going to visit is always the most exciting. Where is your favorite place to spend time with family and/or friends? After my house flooded in 2015, my wife and I chose to knock down and rebuild. I remember the incredible support from the Rice community during this time. We designed our new house for comfortable living and entertaining friends. Every time I come home, I still have a little bit of the feeling I had when it was just finished, and we could say we were finally home. Who would you like to play you in the film of your life? Benedict Cumberbatch (“Doctor Strange”). What is your superpower? Listening to people’s ideas and concerns has always been an effective tool for me when trying to solve problems or move projects forward.
What advice do you have for students that is always applicable? Use your time in college to explore broadly and find interests that will sustain you for a lifetime.
What food or recipe are you most likely to cook for a special occasion? I don’t need a special occasion to cook the food I love. When I was in college, I was given the book “What Your Mother Never Taught You the Pizza Gourmet Will!” Ever since then, making homemade pizza for family and friends has been a signature thing for me. It’s a staple when the family gathers to watch a movie and for make-your-own-pizza nights with O-Week groups. My favorite recipe is for potato pizza — dough, Havarti, thinly sliced red potatoes, topped with mozzarella, and no sauce.
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WILLIAM WARD WATKIN DEAN, SCHOOL OF ARCHITECTURE
Igor Marjanović joined Rice July 1 from Washington University in St. Louis. Trained at the University of Belgrade in his native Serbia, he completed his Ph.D. at University College London and practiced architecture in Belgrade, Brazil and Chicago. Marjanović’s research integrates the teaching of studio and theory with historical scholarship on architectural pedagogy, practice and identity formation.
Which word would you use to describe your first impression of Rice? Shadows. I am in awe of the meandering shadows of Houston’s live oak trees, and I try to have as many meetings as possible under their magnificent canopies. Do you have a motto or favorite phrase? “A great city may be seen as the construction of words as well as stone.” — Yi-Fu Tuan
Of all the places you’ve traveled to, which do you reminisce about the most? Elba Island in the Mediterranean, a place where cultures and seas overlap. What is your superpower? Optimism. It has given me so much in life. What is your most treasured possession? Books. They are both artifacts and a record of civilization, just like buildings.
What do you consider to be your greatest achievement? Family. My spouse Jasna, a pharmacologist, our son Milan, a student at Poe Elementary, and our life together. That is an endless source of love and joy every day. What food or recipe are you most likely to cook for a special occasion? Pasta. Red ragu sauce. Period.
DEAN, SCHOOL OF SOCIAL SCIENCES
Rachel Kimbro ’01 assumed her role July 1. She earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology and policy studies at Rice and M.A. and Ph.D. degrees at Princeton before returning to her alma mater as a faculty member in 2007. Her work is at the intersection of sociology, public health and public policy, and her research agenda focuses on the health and well-being of children, specifically how neighborhood and family environments influence healthy development.
Which word would you use to describe your first impression of Rice? Warm (both meanings of the word). What do you consider to be your greatest achievement? My two wonderful teenagers, Eleanor (18, a Sid Rich freshman) and Thomas (15).
Which words or phrases do you most overuse? “Delicate.” I use it constantly to refer to food, drawings, buildings and more.
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Of all the places you’ve traveled to, which do you reminisce about the most? Guanajuato, Mexico, a city I was introduced to by my colleague Sergio Chávez [associate professor of sociology] and have now visited several times. It’s simply magical.
What movie have you watched many times and/ or always recommend? I love any Jane Austen adaptation — my favorite is the 1995 BBC miniseries of “Pride and Prejudice.” Which words or phrases do you most overuse? “It’ll all work out.”
What advice do you have for students that is always applicable? Be yourself, be proud of who you are and where you came from.
Probably Rachel Weisz or Claire Foy.
What is your superpower? Coaxing flowers to grow in Houston’s heat. Which living person would you most like to have dinner with? George R.R. Martin. I have questions for him. Who would you like to play you in the film of your life?
What is your most treasured possession? My great-grandmother Rachel’s Underwood typewriter — it reminds me of all the women who came before me but didn’t have the same opportunities I have had. And, yes, I am named after her. What advice do you have for students that is always applicable? It’s never too late to try something new.
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WILLIAM AND STEPHANIE SICK DEAN, GEORGE R. BROWN SCHOOL OF ENGINEERING
Luay Nakhleh, a member of the computer science faculty at Rice, was appointed dean at the beginning of 2021. A former department chair, Nakhleh launched Rice’s first online degree in the School of Engineering, the Online Master of Computer Science program, and was instrumental in growing the Professional Master of Computer Science, Rice’s largest nonbusiness professional program. His research interests are in combinatorial optimization, statistical inference and their applications to biological problems.
Do you have a motto or favorite phrase? If you’re in a leadership position and everyone is happy with you, then you’re not doing your job. What is your most treasured possession? A photo album of my grandparents. My grandfather led a very exciting life that included, among other things, serving in the British army and serving as a member of the Israeli parliament. The photo album documents his and my grandmother’s life together, with photos from the 1940s onward. What is your go-to special occasion food? A good, thick, juicy steak. If I’m making it, then rib-eye; if someone else is making it, then filet mignon (since I don’t know how to grill a filet mignon without either burning it or basically serving it raw).
What do you consider to be your greatest achievement? With my wife, raising two kids (15 and 12) who, at a very young age, care about social justice and about the underprivileged. My daughter keeps telling me that college students are paying way too much in tuition and fees and that I’m overpaid; about the latter, I’m glad she doesn’t advise the provost. What movie have you watched many times and/ or always recommend? “Despicable Me,” as I relate very much to Gru, not only in terms of looks but also attitude. Which living person would you most like to have dinner with? Noam Chomsky and Richard Dawkins. What advice do you have for students that is always applicable? I always tell the students to care about learning, not about grades, and to follow their passion, not money.
Matthew Loden DEAN, SHEPHERD SCHOOL OF MUSIC
An award-winning musician and symphony leader, Matthew Loden returned to Rice for his new post Oct. 1. He most recently served as CEO of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and also served as director of admissions for the Shepherd School from 2002 to 2007. Loden has performed around the world, judged competitions, served as a speaker for national conferences, and been a music panelist and university lecturer.
Which word would you use to describe your first impression of Rice? Vibrant. What is your most treasured possession? My “modern” 1911 Ambrogio Sironi violin; it fits like an old friend and makes me sound better than I really am.
in my backyard. Bringing various sketches to life and creating a balanced space with my nascent carpentry skills felt amazing. What movie have you watched many times and/ or always recommend? “Roma.” Which words or phrases do you most overuse? In interviews, I always manage to say “absolutely” in response to just about any question; from “Letterkenny,” I can riff on “to be fair” for days; and, of course, “Bears, Beets, Battlestar Galactica.”
Where is your favorite place to spend time with family and/or friends? Our family and friends are spread out all over the world, but we’ve been able to spend a few holidays in Bavaria, which has a warmth and aesthetic that really speaks to us. We’re mountain people! What do you consider to be your greatest achievement? Researching, designing and building a Japanese teahouse
Who would you like to play you in the film of your life? Kyle Chandler (Coach Taylor, “Friday Night Lights”). What is your superpower? Sweating the details. What advice do you have for students that is always applicable? “The greatest teacher, failure is.” — Yoda
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Why are so many people hesitant to get vaccinated for COVID-19? KIRSTIN R.W. MATTHEWS studies regulation and ethical issues associated with emerging biotechnology, including vaccines, stem cells and genomic medicine. We asked her to explain what factors lie behind vaccine hesitancy and anti-vaccine rhetoric. How long have vaccines been used to prevent contagious (or once-common) diseases? Scholars believe vaccines date back as far as 1000 B.C. in China. The most notable example of early vaccine use was by Edward Jenner in 1796, when he used material from cowpox blisters to prevent the deadlier smallpox. At the time, smallpox was a devastating disease, but now it is only found in historical references as it was eradicated through vaccination in the 1970s. Is mistrust in vaccines a new phenomenon, or has it been around since the days of Edward Jenner?
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Vaccine hesitancy likely started soon after vaccines were first used. Some believed it was against God’s will. Others just found it unnatural. It can also be an odd concept to give someone medicine when they are not sick. Therefore, it isn’t surprising that some people might fear that the vaccine itself makes you sick instead of protecting you. You’ve been researching public testimony against vaccine bills in the Texas Legislature. What have you learned? Our research found five top myths perpetuated by anti-vaccine advocates in Texas: Myth 1: Vaccines are ineffective. Fifty years of data demonstrates that vaccines prevent disease, and the World Health Organization estimates that approximately 4 million deaths each year are saved due to vaccines.
Myth 2: Herd immunity is not real. This is also false. By making sure the overwhelming majority of individuals are vaccinated, we are able to protect the few who cannot be.
Myth 3: Vaccines shed disease. Only live vaccines shed disease, like the oral vaccine for polio, and these are no longer being used. The COVID-19 vaccines by Moderna and Pfizer, for example, use mRNA and not the virus, so your body is never exposed to the actual COVID-19 virus. Myth 4: Vaccines are more harmful than the disease it prevents. This is a common misconception. Looking at current events, before COVID-19 vaccines were widespread in the U.S., more than 600,000 people died of COVID-19. Now, the overwhelming majority of COVID-19 cases (more than 95%) are from unvaccinated individuals.
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Myth 5: Unvaccinated kids do not spread disease. While vaccinated kids can still get vaccine-preventable diseases, almost all cases of outbreaks originate in unvaccinated individuals. An example is the 2015 measles outbreak at Disneyland, which was traced to an unvaccinated person. What does your research reveal about changing hearts and minds around this issue? Our goal is less to argue and debate with anti-vaccine advocates, but to inform legislators, policymakers and concerned parents and help dispel myths and misinformation about vaccines. We want to impact the people who are being bombarded with misinformation and help them make more informed evidence-based decisions, which is probably not reaching them with the same intensity. Providing clear, reliable and updated information is fundamental. Are there any trends that lead you to be more optimistic about raising vaccine rates? I always try to stay optimistic. We have high COVID-19 vaccine rates in the highest-risk groups, including the elderly and health care workers. The vaccine is now available for anyone in the U.S. 12 years and older to obtain it, and soon for kids under 12. We’ve increased access and availability — you can get it at the grocery store or pharmacy now. Now that Pfizer has received full approval — versus just emergency use — from the FDA, I’m optimistic that Moderna will receive the same very soon, leading more people to get the vaccine now. — INTERVIEW BY LYNN GOSNELL
Kirstin R.W. Matthews is a fellow in science and technology policy at Rice’s Baker Institute for Public Policy and a lecturer in the Department of BioSciences. Her research focuses on ethical and policy issues at the intersection between traditional biomedical research and public policy.
WISDOM FACULTY BOOKS
Chasing the Molecules of Nature K.C. Nicolaou Self published
LIKE A HIGHLY reactive molecule, K.C. Nicolaou is strongly attracted to the discipline of chemistry. And people. And places. And pastry. The Rice scientist most famous for his total synthesis of the widely used cancer drug paclitaxel discusses all in detail in his autobiography. The book is a richly illustrated history of not only a remarkable life, but also of synthetic chemistry itself. Nicolaou, Rice’s Harry C. and Olga K. Wiess Professor of Chemistry and a winner of the prestigious Wolf Prize in Chemistry, has pioneered the building blocks necessary to synthesize therapeutic molecules either from scratch or found in nature but available in quantities too small to be useful. The influence of his Harvard mentor, Nobel laureate E.J. Corey, figures heavily in Nicolaou’s story. Corey dubbed him K.C. upon his arrival — it stuck — and then introduced him to the intricacies of synthesis over three years
as a postdoctoral researcher. His career has led him through faculty and research positions at the University of Pennsylvania, the University of California San Diego and the Scripps Research Institute before his arrival at Rice in 2013. Nicolaou’s narrative includes an account of his upbringing in the picturesque island nation of Cyprus, as well as the Turkish invasion of his home in 1974. He had by then decamped to Harvard with his new bride, Georgette, but offers both devastating and heroic personal stories from the war provided by family and childhood friends. Nicolaou puts his ongoing career into perspective, up to and including the age of COVID-19 and how history may judge our handling of the crisis. In that light, he makes a strong case for the advancement of synthetic chemistry and the “mother of all good things,” education and training. — MIKE WILLIAMS
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WISDOM We all make stress-inducing workplace blunders from time to time — and the way a manager reacts can solidify the mistake as a cringe-worthy experience or transform it into a teachable moment. A superior’s response to an employee who makes a mistake is also critical to building more resilient teams. Instead of berating an error, verbally acknowledging and rewarding a learning mindset creates a constructive impact. “Knowing that you have a leader who is focused on learning and not just on performance outcomes is critical,” King said. King’s work reveals
Leading Resilient Employees
How to overcome setbacks in the workplace. THANKS TO 2020, employees across every industry are all too familiar with unexpected situations — but can their capacity for workplace resiliency be enhanced? Turns out it can. Rice’s Danielle King, an assistant professor of psychological sciences, recently uncovered the leadership skills that
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build employee wellness, morale and resilience and determined how these qualities contribute to teams functioning at work. She partnered with Kyle Brykman at the University of Windsor to study 48 teams from five Canadian technology startups and identify the skills leaders need to build a team’s capacity to take risks and bounce back from setbacks. What’s the key to building team resilience and effectiveness? Leaders who encourage employees to learn on the job and listen when ideas for change are voiced. “Creating a work environment centered around learning and open communication is helpful as teams grow and take on new tasks,” King said. “Leaders must reinforce this workplace culture with positive language that signals openness and a focus on their development.”
that a team’s capacity for resilience also positively relates to its learning behaviors. Resilient teams are more likely to invest their resources into learning activities and share information through resource exchange. While many teams have recently faced professional challenges, which are a defining element of the resilience process, they do not need to experience adversity to develop a capacity to engage in proactive learning behaviors. Teams that are seasoned to bounce back from adversity through verbal reinforcement are better equipped to advance an organization’s bottom line, overcome inevitable setbacks, improve professional development and resource allocation, and navigate an increasingly complex business environment that relies on teamwork and collaboration.
— KENDALL HEBERT
PHOTO BY TEERAVUT ATTHASAK / 123RF.COM
We all make stressinducing workplace blunders from time to time — and the way a manager reacts can solidify the mistake as a cringe-worthy experience or transform it into a teachable moment.
I ♥ This Shirt
PHOTOS BY JEFF FITLOW AND BRANDON MARTIN
A nanotube-enabled “smart” shirt keeps tabs on the heart. THERE’S NO NEED TO DON uncomfortable smartwatches or chest straps to monitor your heart if your comfy shirt can do a better job. That’s the idea behind “smart clothing” developed by the lab members of chemical and biomolecular engineer Matteo Pasquali, who wove its conductive nanotube thread into apparel, starting with athletic wear that monitors the heart rate and takes a continual electrocardiogram (EKG) of the wearer. The fibers, introduced by Pasquali in 2013, are just as conductive as metal wires but far less likely to break when a body is in motion. The shirt they enhanced was better at gathering data than a standard chest-strap monitor taking live measurements during experiments. When matched with commercial medical electrode monitors, the carbon nanotube shirt gave slightly better EKGs. “The shirt has to be snug against the chest,” said Rice graduate student Lauren Taylor, lead author of the study. “In future studies, we will focus on using denser patches of carbon nanotube threads so there’s more surface area to contact the skin.” The fibers are soft and flexible, and clothing that incorporates them is machine washable. They can be machine-sewn into fabric just like thread. A zigzag stitching pattern allows the fabric to stretch without breaking the threads. The fibers provided not only steady electrical contact with the wearer’s skin, but also served as electrodes to connect electronics like Bluetooth transmitters to relay data to a smartphone or connect to a monitor that can be stowed in a user’s pocket, Taylor
The fibers provided not only steady electrical contact with the wearer’s skin, but also served as electrodes to connect electronics like Bluetooth transmitters to relay data to a smartphone or connect to a monitor that can be stowed in a user’s pocket. said. The original nanotube filaments, at about 22 microns wide, were too thin for a sewing machine to handle. Taylor said a rope-maker was used to create a sewable thread, essentially three bundles of seven filaments each woven into a size roughly equivalent to regular thread. “We worked with somebody who sells little machines designed to make ropes for model ships,” said Taylor, who at first tried to weave the thread by hand with limited success. “He was able to make us a medium-scale device that does the same.”
Fibers woven into fabric can also be used to embed antennas or LEDs, according to the researchers. Minor modifications to the fibers’ geometry and associated electronics could eventually allow clothing to monitor vital signs, force exertion or respiratory rate. Other applications could include human-machine interfaces for automobiles or soft robotics, or as antennas, health monitors and ballistic protection in military uniforms. “We see that, after two decades of development in labs worldwide, this material works in more and more applications,” said Pasquali, director of Rice’s Carbon Hub. “Because of the combination of conductivity, good contact with the skin, biocompatibility and softness, carbon nanotube threads are a natural component for wearables.”
— MIKE WILLIAMS
Above: Conductive nanotube thread is sewn into apparel. Right: Graduate students Steve Williams (wearing a prototype) and Lauren Taylor test the “smart” shirt on campus. Williams is a co-author of the paper.
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Mech Lab to Maxfield Hall
The renovated 1912 building is the new home of the Department of Statistics. THE TRANSFORMATION of the Mechanical Laboratory, one of the first buildings constructed on the Rice campus, into Maxfield Hall is complete. The interior has been reconfigured to include two new classrooms, faculty and staff offices, a medium-sized conference room and huddle rooms. Two elevators with access to the basement and first and second floors have been added. The building’s exterior remains largely unchanged except for the addition of two stair enclosures on the north side and a wheelchair-accessible
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entrance on the south side. All windows have been refurbished and the building’s HVAC and electrical systems have been modernized. In the large classroom on the second floor, the dropped ceiling has been removed and the original vaulted ceiling restored. The basement is fully renovated. Robert and Katherine Maxfield and the Maxfield Foundation committed $5 million to the renovation. Robert Maxfield earned his B.A. and B.S. in electrical engineering from Rice in 1963 and 1964, respectively. He and three other Rice graduates — Gene Richeson ’62, Ken Oshman ’62 and Walter Loewenstern ’58 — co-founded ROLM Corp. “By designating a primary building in the Engineering Quad as home to our Department of Statistics, we are sending a strong message to the community that not only does statistics belong in the School of Engineering, but it is central to the mission of our school,” said Luay Nakhleh, the William and Stephanie Sick Dean of Engineering. — PATRICK KURP
Rice ranks No. 17 in U.S. News & World Report’s annual survey of more than 300 colleges and universities, tying with Cornell University and marking yet another year in which Rice has rated in the top 20 since first appearing on the list in 1988. Rice also landed at No. 5 on the U.S. News list of the nation’s best values for higher education, up from No. 8 last year. The university’s undergraduate teachers are also rated among the nation’s best, ranking No. 6. Rice remains the No. 1 university in Texas. For its latest edition, U.S. News says it assessed 1,466 bachelor’s degree-granting institutions on 17 measures of academic quality. — DOUG MILLER
PHOTO BY JEFF FITLOW
The Hidden Impact of COVID-19
ILLUSTRATION BY ALESE PICKERING
New data visualization reveals undercounted deaths associated with the pandemic.
SINCE THE ONSET of the COVID-19 pandemic, deaths attributed to many other health conditions — Alzheimer’s, heart disease, cancer and diabetes, for example — have killed far more Americans than would be expected in a prepandemic year. The Journal of the American Medical Association and others are warning that official counts are underestimating the number of deaths associated with the pandemic, with studies indicating the number of people who would not have died in any other year has been undercounted by 20% to 36%. “This is not a normal year,” says John Mulligan, a computing researcher in the School of Humanities. “You get rid of COVID deaths, and we are still well above the average.” The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) defines “excess mortality” as “the difference between the observed numbers of deaths in specific time periods and expected numbers of deaths in the same time periods.” Mulligan, in partnership between Rice’s Center for Research Computing and the Medical Futures Lab, used CDC data to create a new dashboard that sheds light on this
“As outbreaks continue to cripple hospitals, the excess mortality data exposes ‘a slow-burning background crisis’ that’s absolutely the effect of underinvesting in public health.” troubling trend, making it easier for researchers to spot state and regional patterns in 12 different categories. For example, a surge in Alzheimer’s deaths in the early months of the pandemic showed how COVID-19 has taken a larger toll than official numbers have shown. A nursing home patient with Alzheimer’s might recover from COVID-19 but lose the sense of taste or smell. Soon, that patient might stop eating. A couple of weeks later, that patient might die. “Was that COVID?” Mulligan asks. “Do you want to add that to the number of COVID deaths your nursing home has on the books? “The undercount reflects rampant
problems within the American health care system and public health programs,” Mulligan says. “As outbreaks continue to cripple hospitals, the excess mortality data exposes ‘a slow-burning background crisis’ that’s absolutely the effect of underinvesting in public health.” “We are going to be working to understand the full impact of COVID for a long time, because it has touched so many parts of our lives in ways that are not visible based on just the narrow counts of infections and deaths that are directly attributed to COVID,” says Kirsten Ostherr, the Gladys Louise Fox Professor of English, chair of the Department of English and director of Rice’s Medical Futures Lab. “Where interactive data visualizations tend to give the user a sense of certainty and control over unruly datasets, I wanted, with this dashboard, to allow people to drill down into some of the unanswered and underexplored dimensions of the pandemic,” Mulligan says. The COVID-19 Excess Mortality Data Visualization is updated weekly at covid-excess-mortality.net.
— KATHARINE SHILCUTT
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PHOTO CREDIT TK
THE THIS YEAR, THE U.S. GOVERNMENT RELEASED A PRELIMINARY REPORT ON
TRUTH IS RIGHT HERE
UNIDENTIFIED AERIAL PHENOMENA, MORE COMMONLY KNOWN AS UFOS. WE SAT DOWN
WITH JEFFREY KRIPAL, A HISTORIAN OF RELIGIONS, TO DISCUSS THE REPORT AS WELL
AS THE CULTURAL AND ACADEMIC SIGNIFICANCE OF THESE UNEXPLAINED TOPICS.
BY KYNDALL KRIST ILLUSTRATION BY GLENN HARVEY
oes your fa mily have a UFO story? Mine does. My grandfather was a pilot in the U.S. Air Force from 1955 to 1958. One day while flying, he saw a light that seemed to be tracking the plane; no matter how he maneuvered the aircraft, the object quick ly mimicked his movements for miles. Then, without warning, the UFO zoomed off with an incredible speed and trajectory that was inconceivable to him. My grandfather asked his co-pilot if he saw it as well, and he said yes. I was in awe when he told me this story many years ago. I naively asked, “Well, did you report it?” He laughed, “Are you kidding? No. Do you know how much paperwork that would have involved?” UFO, the abbreviation for unidentified flying object, was coined by the U.S. Air Force in the early 1950s, just a few years before my grandfather’s strange encounter. What followed was decades of disinformation and denial from the government regarding the existence and investigation of these unexplained experiences. Fast forward to June 2021, when the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) released a nine-page document titled “Preliminary Assessment: Unidentified Aerial Phenomena.” It cites 144 U.S. government and military reports involving unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP) between 2004 and 2021. “Most of the UAP reported probably do represent physical objects given that a majority of UAP were registered across multiple sensors,” the document states. “If and when individual UAP incidents are resolved they will fall into one of five potential explanatory categories: airborne clutter, natural atmospheric phenomena, U.S. government or U.S. industry developmental programs, foreign adversary systems and a catchall ‘other’ bin.” Only one UAP was identified: the object was a “large, deflating balloon,” which falls under the airborne clutter category. The remaining 143 reports are still unexplained.
ON THE SURFACE IT MIGHT SEEM AS IF UFOS ARE LIMITED TO SCIENCE FICTION, BUT WHEN YOU REALLY START TO UNPACK THESE PHENOMENA, IT’S EASY TO SEE THAT THEY PLAY A SIGNIFICANT ROLE IN THE STORY OF HUMANITY.
FRIEND OR FOE? Jeffrey Kripal, the J. Newton Rayzor Professor of Religion and associate dean of humanities, is trained as a historian of religions, and this is the lens through which he studies the paranormal. He has given over 100 lectures and authored several books on the intersection of these topics. Kripal does not claim to know exactly what supernatural phenomena are, but he is convinced they really happen. “They’re part of our world, and they have what humanists call ‘historical agency,’ which means they change things — they matter,” he said. “People react to them differently. People build religions and become political around them. People deny them, people affirm them, people create mythologies, people write movies and books. These things have agency and they’re very much a part of history. That’s really what I’ve been trying to say for about 11 years now.” When asked about his thoughts on the ODNI’s preliminary report, Kripal said the positive payout is the government finally being a little more honest about UFO phenomena — and, yes, he prefers the term UFO over UAP. The negative part is these unexplained events being treated only as a possible military threat, an issue of national security; he thinks it’s much more profound and complicated than that. “Strange beings have been coming from the sky and doing weird things to people for as long as we can see back,” Kripal explained. “We can learn a great deal by looking at the history of religions, at anthropology, at contact
interactions with other species we know about, like animals. And we can draw inferences from that to these kinds of encounters and experiences. To just frame it in these materialist and physicalist terms is just too small. It’s not incorrect — it’s just too small.” Another issue Kripal cites is that the ODNI report does not offer details about the 144 incidents. “The No. 1 rule of research in the humanities is, you have to back your claims up by citing your sources,” Kripal said. “And other people have to be able to go to those same sources to confirm, disconfirm or challenge your readings. That’s what the nature of scholarship is all about — total access to a body of documents or material, and then free conversation around it. We have nothing like that here. We have a set of data that’s entirely shut off from public access.” The shift in conversation we’re witnessing around extraterrestrial phenomena is partly due to a 2017 New York Times article titled “Glowing Auras and ‘Black Money’: The Pentagon’s Mysterious U.F.O. Program” by Helene Cooper, Ralph Blumenthal and Leslie Kean. The story unveiled the government’s secret $22 million Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP), through which the Department of Defense had been investigating UFO reports since 2007. Two videos showing encounters between Navy pilots and unknown objects were also released by AATIP. “I think it was the video evidence — the radar evidence — that really made that piece so powerful,” Kripal said.
PHOTO BY MICHAEL SPADAFINA FOR MAX VIDEO PRODUCTIONS, INC.
PRESERVING THE PARANORMAL As a historian, Kripal is interested in collecting documents on and evidence of paranormal phenomena — so much so that he is collaborating with Fondren Library’s Woodson Research Center on what he calls the Archives of the Impossible. Jacques Vallee, a prolific UFO investigator and astronomer who was the inspiration for Claude Lacombe in Steven Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” was the first contributor; he donated all of his papers and case studies to the archive. Another is Whitley Strieber, a science fiction, horror and nonfiction author who is also an important figure in ufology; he offered the archive
thousands of letters that were sent to him from people who had experienced abductions or encounters. It’s not all flying saucers and aliens, though. The Archives of the Impossible houses anything “related to the anomalous in general,” Kripal said, including collections on mediumship, out-of-body experiences and telepathy. In fact, Kripal has teamed up with Rice Ph.D. students Timothy Grieve-Carlson and Learned Foote and librarian Anna Shparberg to host Opening the Archives of the Impossible, a conference that will take place in Fondren Library March 3–6, 2022. The conference will feature exhibition spaces and bring together about 30 scholars to think and talk about how to mainstream this material and look at it seriously. “The whole point of this project is to make the argument that this [subject matter] is intellectually important,” Kripal said. And it shouldn’t be limited to any one department of academia. “I happen to be in religion, but this should be interesting to people across the board — engineers, sociologists, political scientists, physicists, astronomers. The topics themselves require all of these fields so we can make sense of them.” On the surface it might seem as if UFOs are limited to science fiction, but when you really start to unpack these phenomena, it’s easy to see that they play a significant role in the story of humanity. “They’re some of the most powerful experiences people ever have in their whole lives. Your grandfather remembered that one UFO encounter and never forgot,” Kripal told me. “That was not a tangential experience to him. That was a core experience. … If you dig into family histories, you’re going to find a story like that.” To quote a tagline from “The X-Files” TV series, “The Truth Is Out There” — or, in the Archives of the Impossible, it’s right here. Let’s explore it. ◆
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A scan of a rare louvar fish reveals an intricate skeletal structure. 38 RICE M AG A ZINE FA LL 202 1
PHOTO CREDIT TK
A F I S H T A L E
Bioscientist Kory Evans is immersed in the fantastic, fascinating (and a little bit freaky) evolution of fish. His aim is to learn more about the relationship between behavior, environment and genetics in creating the development of an astonishing diversity of species. BY H A LLIE TRIA L ’22
rom a distance, the jaws of a parrotfish look much like the beak of its namesake bird. Kory Evans, an assistant professor of biosciences at Rice, invites a closer look at the parrotfish specimen he keeps in his lab’s freezer. The “beak” is actually composed of about 1,000 tiny, pale green teeth toughened with embedded metal and fused together with a turquoise cement. Parrotfish like this one use their beaks to scrape algae from rocky surfaces and even to bite through tough coral, which they then crush and grind with a second set of jaws in their throat called pharyngeal jaws.
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PHOTO BY 123RF.COM
The “beak” of the parrotfish is composed of about 1,000 tiny teeth.
While pharyngeal jaws may seem strange, they are quite typical in the fish world: Such an arrangement has evolved nine separate times across the phylogeny of fishes. In addition to the family that includes parrotfish, “damselfishes have them — a fictional example would be Nemo the clown fish — as well as cichlids, which are common aquarium fish,” Evans says. “Fish are weird,” Evans summarizes, and he loves them for it. “Ray-finned fishes, which is what we usually think of when we think of a fish, are arguably more morphologically diverse than all the other vertebrates put together,” he says. In fact, there are more than 30,000 species of fish on the planet — more than all other vertebrate species [reptiles, amphibians, mammals, birds] combined.” This makes them a perfect group of organisms for a scientist interested in morphology, or body structure, to study. “I like to see how the environment shapes the appearance of fishes,” Evans says. “I focus on how animals are using their bodies to interact with their environment and with each other and how that influences skull shape.” His research teases apart the complex interplay between environment and genetics as they shape evolution. Any time he investigates a new aspect of skull shape, he must consider the fact that “these traits can emerge during development, but once an animal is done developing, even though it’s not still growing at the same rate, things are still happening to its bones. Bone shapes itself based on the direction of the force that’s applied to it,” he explains. This means that an observed difference in bone structure could result from evolution of genes related to the bones themselves, genes related to the muscles, behavioral traits influencing how the muscles and bones are used, differences in the environment that influence behavior or all of the above.
L A B WOR K Because of the intricate interactions between environment and genetics, members of the Evans lab — postdocs Olivier Larouche and Thaddaeus Buser as well as graduate students Sean Trainor and JoJo West — collect both bone morphology data and extensive environmental data. The group gathers information on fish body structure using micro-CT scans to create virtual models of fish skeletons. “I’ll have a bunch of preserved fish, and I’ll go and put the fish in the scanner in my lab, and it takes a series of X-ray images. I get this really nice 3D picture of the internal skeleton of the animal,” explains Evans. They can also deduce the diets of fish by examining their stomach contents and muscle tissue. Such techniques are applicable not only to freshly collected fish samples, but also to specimens collected in such natural history museums as the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia or the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. Different food sources incorporate isotopes — atoms with the same chemical properties but different masses — of common elements at different rates, allowing scientists like Evans to glean dietary informaPHOTO BY JEF F F I T LOW
tion from isotope ratios in tissue. “I use stable isotope analyses, where you can take a muscle plug out of an animal and combust it. You can figure out what it’s been eating for the last six months and where it’s been getting its food,” he says. Leveraging the modern capacity to integrate a broad array of information across disciplines such as ecology, morphology and molecular biology enables Evans and his students to understand the evolution of fishes in new ways, and in doing so, to shed light on the eroding dichotomy between nature and nurture. As part of this ongoing goal, he and other members of his lab have discovered that bones in the skulls of parrotfish like the one in their freezer can be broken down into two groups: structures involved in breathing and those involved in feeding. One hypothesis the group had was that these two groups of skull elements might evolve together as a result of linked gene signaling and expression. However, “that didn’t end up being the hypothesis that won out,” says Evans. In this case, “we think that some of these functional interactions might overwrite genetic ones.”
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On the other hand, gene interaction networks likely did play a strong role in the evolution of another group of bizarre and beautiful fish: flatfish. “They’re the most asymmetrical vertebrate on the planet,” Evans says. “During development, they start out as a normal symmetrical fish, and then as they grow, one eye will migrate to the other side of its head so that they can lay on one side.” Flatfish started evolving asymmetry around 65 million years ago. In an article published last May in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Evans and co-authors Larouche and Sara-Jane Watson of the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology wrote that flatfish restructured their anatomy almost completely within 3 million years and have retained much the same configuration for the remaining 62 million. In scientific terms, this is an amazingly rapid evolutionary innovation. “A lot of studies before had really just focused on the eye, but the evolution of A 3D scan of asymmetry was integrated, a surgeonfish with which means that it involved different movement of several differbones highent bones in the skull at once,” lighted. says Evans. Traits can become more integrated if their development is controlled or influenced by shared gene interaction networks. He and his collaborators found that flatfish show far more integration than symmetrical fish and that, as evolution of asymmetry proceeded, traits became even more integrated. “As the flatfish skull got more and more integrated, more things began to change, per unit time, than a generation before,” he explains, which is the hallmark of an evolutionary cascade. “If the signaling networks expand to encompass more and more traits, then you can theoretically smear changes all across an entire organism using the same signaling network, and you can change really fast,” Evans elaborates. “It’s like pressing one button and flipping the whole animal all at once.”
S TA RT E R F I SH Evans does not consider his growth as a scientist to have been an evolutionary cascade, but rather a more gradual journey. “I grew up in North Philadelphia, and there wasn’t too much to do around the neighborhood, but there was a pet store. I used to just go there and stare at fish.” Evans got his own fish tank for the first time when he was grounded at age 14 for failing classes. “While I was grounded, I wasn’t able to go outside, so I started keeping fish tanks in my room to keep myself sane,” he explained during an interview with Klara Nordén, host of the “Specimen Stories” podcast. “I started taking notes on the fish behavior, 42 RICE M AG A ZINE FA LL 202 1
“As the flatfish skull got more and more integrated, more things began to change, per unit time, than a generation before” ... which is the hallmark of an evolutionary cascade. and I started mixing and matching fish in the tanks, and it went from one tank in my bedroom to about seven.” By age 15, he was contemplating a career in marine biology, but he did not know what form that would take. Evans’ passion inspired him to study ecology as an undergraduate, and during graduate school, he began taking an evolutionary approach to many of his ecological questions. “So it was a stepwise process,” he says. “I didn’t wake up one day in high school and say, ‘I want to learn about the evolution and ecology of fishes.’ It was more like, ‘Yo, fish are cool.’” Evans hopes to share this sentiment with both scientists and nonscientists alike. To achieve this goal, Evans has appeared on several blogs and podcasts, and he maintains an active Twitter presence to make his science accessible. “We don’t do science to lock ourselves in a basement and show it to our scientist buddies, all eight of us who care about parrotfish morphology,” he says. More seriously, he adds, “Scientists have a responsibility to communicate our work to the public because if we don’t, the results are catastrophic and because, ultimately, our science belongs to the public.” Evans loves studying fish for their own sake, but his investigations of the relationship between the environment and evolution deepen our understanding of biology as a whole and belong to all of us. All vertebrates descend from fish, and the terrestrial vertebrates are more closely related to their fish ancestors than some modern groups of fish are to one another. In that sense, Evans says, “You and I are fish, so learning the evolutionary story of fishes can inform our own evolutionary stories.” ◆
FISH SCANS COURTESY OF KORY EVANS
ROV I NG E Y E S
PROFILES, HISTORY AND CLASSNOTES
Building a Better Bee Dan Weaver is the James Bond of chemicalfree bee breeding. BY LAURA FURR MERICAS
PHOTOS BY TOMM Y L AV ERGNE
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F NATURAL SELECTION had run its course, Dan Weaver ’81 would not have joined his family’s beekeeping business, let alone become the first apiarist to rear a new breed of disease-tolerant bees. Weaver — like the children of many beekeepers — was born allergic to the buzzing, stinging insects. But a few rounds of shots and a decade later, a young Weaver was “catching queens” with his father, the fourth-generation owner of Weaver Apiaries founded in the small town of Lynn Grove, Texas, in 1888. “I was a reasonably accomplished beekeeper by the time I left to attend Rice,” Weaver says. A post-graduation job practicing civil litigation didn’t exactly lead him down the road to genetic discovery, either. But after a few years at an Austin-based firm, Weaver returned to his hive to join the family business. And the timing couldn’t have been more opportune. In the ’80s and ’90s, beekeepers
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Weaver and his father founded BeeWeaver Apiaries with the goal of breeding a bee that could tolerate diseases spread by varroa mites without the help of chemicals. were hit by a simultaneous increase in varroa mites and an infiltration of New World African bees. The mites were killing off colonies in droves by transmitting viral pathogens. And the Africanized bees were turning surviving colonies more aggressive by glomming onto hives and ingratiating their defensive behaviors into the colony via takeover by a new, more violent “killer bee queen.” In turn, apiarists faced more stings, more work, and a greater dependency on pesticides and other harsh
chemicals used to treat diseases and viruses. “Straightaway, I decided that I was not going to remain a beekeeper if I was going to have to continue introducing toxins into our colonies,” Weaver says. So, in 1995, Weaver and his father split from the family business and founded BeeWeaver Apiaries with the goal of breeding a bee that could tolerate diseases spread by varroa mites without the help of chemicals. To do this, the Weavers simply let nature run its course and left their colonies untreated. “We employed the James Bond method of queen rearing,” Weaver says. “Live or let die.” The initial results were bleak. Several thousand colonies and millions of bees did not survive the infestation that ensued. But some stronger, heartier bees — perhaps strengthened by genetic traits passed on by the Africanized bees — made it. And those bees became the foundation stock for subsequent generations. These days, BeeWeaver — now run by Dan and his wife, Laura — is buzzing with business. Respected beekeepers and even viral TikTokkers have bought and built colonies around BeeWeaver queens, which sell for about $42 a bug. A national appreciation for locally sourced foods has fostered support for their hive-to-table honey. And as the pandemic forced more people to discover outdoor hobbies, their agritourism arm has grown along with the community of novice beekeepers who call on the Weavers for guidance. Still, the Weavers are working to perfect their bees and the bees’ future generations. They’ve continued to look for ways to make their breed gentler and more workable — teaching their three children the ropes along the way, too. The goal is for a sixth generation to take over down the road. But with their children in medical school and another studying for the bar, “it remains to be seen whether someone might take interest in the family business,” Weaver says. But, of course, beekeeping is in their genes.
Tunnels, a Python and a Pergola
Excerpts from Owlmanac 1950s
“We pre-med students needed good grades to get into med school, and we had to compete with older WWII veterans and each other. Rice buildings were connected by utility tunnels, which we used to steal cardboard boxes of ice cream from the dining room freezer. The tunnels also accessed faculty offices in which students found discarded exam question papers. … A scheme to raise athletes’ and pre-meds’ grades was devised. [Professor] Joseph Davies ’28 (BA; MA, 1929; PhD, 1937) wrote exam questions on the blackboard, and students answered on blank answer booklets. Improved answer booklets replaced originals via tunnels. Davies marked originals with needle holes so he recognized replacements. Athletes lost credit for biology, and one pre-med was thrown out. Went to UT, started over, became a physician.” — Contributed by Dan Allensworth ’51 (BA)
IL LU S T R AT IO N S B Y DEL P HINE L EE
“Sue McElfresh and I have been RVing now for 21 years and about 130,000 miles in the U.S. and Canada. Having the RV was handy for the last year as we could go to state parks and to my daughter’s house in Delaware and park in the street for gathering outside. We have quit competitive golf and are walking the trails in state parks and the 2-mile trail around the lake behind our house. Recently, we were at two Pennsylvania state parks on the Appalachian Trail. … Our next RV excursion in the fall is to our new national park, the New River Gorge in West Virginia.” — Contributed by Judy Poinsett ’62 (Jones: BA)
“David and I celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary May 22 by visiting my nephew’s regenerative farm in Carthage, Mo. We learned about new techniques for raising chickens, pigs and cows in ways that are nonpolluting and that help replenish soil nutrients. David is retired, but I still work full time as a dog and cat veterinarian in Fort Worth. We have two grown wonderful daughters, one incredible daughter-in-love and two amazing grandsons. Four dogs, two cats and a ball python named Violet. Life is good!” — Contributed by Rosemary Cooper Lindsey ’73 (Brown: BA)
“I’m working in rural emergency rooms, living the life, living the dream. Got an MBA in finance at the Union Louisiana at Lafayette because rural facilities are dropping like flies when they’re most needed. Most of the issues are operational and financial. Probably should have taken a business class or two before starting my business back in the day. The girl is about to be a sophomore at U. of Houston. Econ and pre-med, so she’s been paying attention. The boy is about to be a high school junior. They both have their first summer jobs. I told them I’d use their names when they had a job, but they haven’t finished the 90-day probationary period. My wife, Christina Garcia ’07 (Will Rice), ordered a pergola. I thought we were getting a Venetian boat, but now there’s a wooden structure in the backyard that does not float. I turn 50 next year and I’m always kind of in pain. Wear a mask indoors and get a vaccine. I don’t need additional clients.” — Contributed by Kenneth Stanley ’94 (Lovett: BA) To submit a Classnote to Owlmanac, contact your class recorder or log on to the Rice Portal at riceconnect.rice. edu and click “Submit a Classnote.”
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An Ergonomist and an Athlete Having notched her first Olympic competition, javelin powerhouse Ariana Ince is stretching her Olympic dreams to include Paris in 2024.
IT’S NO SURPRISE TO ANYONE who knows Ariana “Ari” Ince ’11 that she is now an Olympian. “I always knew that I was capable of making it to the Olympics. I’ve been consistently plugging away at it and getting a little bit better every year, and I’ve been motivated to see what my physical capabilities are. And maybe I’m a little bit stubborn,” she said with a laugh. The Gonzales, Texas, native competed in the qualification round of the women’s javelin throw Aug. 3, 2021, during the postponed 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Although her distance of 54.98 meters did not qualify for a place in the finals, she maintains high hopes for the future. Her goal is to compete
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in the World Athletics Championships in 2022 and 2023 then go to her second Olympics in 2024 — this time in Paris. “I’ve already got the joke in my head that I’m going to put the ‘Ari’ in ‘Paris,’” she said. Ince’s primary sport while at Rice was the pole vault — she won the indoor and outdoor Conference USA (C-USA) titles in 2009, 2010 and 2011. Her coaches also began entering her into javelin competitions during her sophomore year, but because she had no javelin training, her initial competition results were frustrating to her. Ince knew she could do better. During fall of her senior year, her coaches started training her in both javelin and pole vault, and it made all the difference. That spring, Ince placed second in the javelin throw in the C-USA 2011 Outdoor Championships. Her new passion was cemented. Since then, she has competed in numerous international championships and is ranked one of the top 25 women’s javelin throwers in the world. In addition to a six-day-per-week training schedule at the Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center in Southern California, Ince works full time as an ergonomist with California’s State Compensation Insurance Fund and is owner and president of m-erg,
an ergonomic consulting firm based in Houston. Training and competing during a pandemic has carried its own challenges. In the months leading up to the Olympic Games, Ince rarely left the immediate area of the training center. Similarly, she wasn’t able to see much of Tokyo during the Olympics, and “there was a lot less interaction with people from other countries because of COVID-19.” Still, Ince was excited to get to compete in her sport while surrounded by friends. “The strangest part was how normal it felt, like a regular track meet,” she said. “Obviously everyone is really incredible. You’ve got every country there at the same time. One of our physical therapists said it’s the only place where world peace actually exists.” Even through her Olympic training, Rice has remained an influence in her life. “At other schools, you’re a studentathlete. At Rice, you’re a student, period. Athlete, period. You’re two separate things at the same time. I think that’s a very important distinction. That helped me realize that I’m not ‘an athlete who works.’ I am an ergonomist. I am an athlete. Not a mishmash of two different things, because that implies that you’re not doing either of them well. I’m giving 100% to both.” — JENNY WEST ROZELLE ’00
LEFT: PHOTO COURTESY OF ARIANA INCE, RIGHT: PHOTO BY GETTY IMAGES
PHOTO BY GETTY IMAGES
Erica Ogwumike juggles basketball, medical school and the significance of an Olympic berth. ON MARCH 12, 2020, the Owls’ star point guard Erica Ogwumike ’20 was set to play in the first game of her final Conference USA (C-USA) tournament before heading off to medical school. But COVID-19 changed those plans. A mere seven minutes before tipoff, C-USA officials canceled top seed Rice’s match against No. 8 Marshall University, along with the rest of the tournament. And Ogwumike’s collegiate basketball career was over. “College ended so abruptly; my basketball career ended so abruptly. I really sat down and was like, ‘Is there a way I can still fulfill this one last basketball dream of mine [while still attending] med school?’” Ogwumike says. “And I found a way.” After being drafted as the 26th overall pick in the WNBA — though she ultimately forwent the league — Ogwumike, a first-generation American who holds dual citizenship, said in an interview with BBC News that she dreamed of one day playing for the Nigerian national team. “It blew up,” she recalls. “Everyone was like, ‘She wants to play!’” In a matter of weeks, her viral dream became reality. Ogwumike was drafted to the team, attended monthly training camps stateside and worked with a Texas-based basketball trainer, all while completing her first year of medical school at UT Southwestern in Dallas. “I always knew I wanted to go to medical school. It was never a ‘which one is it’ [decision]. It was, how am I
going to make it work?” she says. And though the pandemic is what originally disrupted her basketball career, in many ways it’s what has allowed Ogwumike to pursue both of her life’s passions. Since most of Ogwumike’s coursework was moved to a virtual setting, the 23-year-old was able to juggle training camps in Las Vegas and Atlanta and tune in for lectures remotely, studying in her downtime. “It’s really possible to excel at multiple things if you find a way to organize it. If you try 100% to be the best you can at two things, you can,” she says. A few months after Ogwumike’s first year of medical school wrapped in
May, she was awarded for her athletic efforts on an international stage by being named one of the 12 players to represent Nigerian women’s basketball at the Tokyo Olympics. Nigeria didn’t go on to medal. They were knocked out in the qualifying games, but the experience left a lasting impact. “Before every game they play the national anthem for each country, and you realize, ‘Wow, I am representing an entire nation. Us 12 women are representing an entire nation,’” Ogwumike says. “It’s a lot that you’re carrying on your shoulders, but something that you will proudly do.” — LAURA FURR MERICAS
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Rainey Knudson’s latest production is a gorgeous compendium and homage to Rice Gallery’s unconventional installation art.
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Yasuaki Onishi, “Reverse of Volume,” April 13– July 27, 2012
Yayoi Kusama, “Dots Obsession,” Sept. 18– Nov. 2, 1997
PHOTOS (FROM TOP) BY PAUL HESTER, NASH BAKER, RICK GARDNER
RAINEY KNUDSON ’93 remembers walking past the space that would become Rice Gallery as an undergraduate. “It was in its previous incarnation — I don’t remember it registering as a serious space,” she said. It would be another couple of years before Kimberly Davenport signed on as the gallery’s founding director and chief curator, transforming it into an acclaimed art destination. “You cannot overemphasize how sharp Kim’s eye was and how visionary she was in her pursuits,” Knudson said. From 1995 to 2017, Rice Gallery was the only university gallery in the nation devoted to commissioning site-specific installation art. In “One Thing Well: 22 Years of Installation Art” (Rice Gallery, 2021), Davenport and curator Joshua Fischer chronicle all 72 Rice Gallery installations with strikingly bold imagery and intimate commentary. Editorial contributors include Nonya Grenader ’94, Dave Hickey, Carlos Jiménez, Kelly Klaasmeyer, Julie Reiss and Sandra Zalman. The book is lovingly edited by Knudson, who recently stepped down from Glasstire, the acclaimed online art journal she founded two decades ago. The book’s title is an ode to Davenport’s flash of insight to use the gallery’s space — a 40-by-44-foot white box featuring a front glass wall — solely for installation art. “The glass wall is an unusual architectural feature that almost served as a diorama,” Knudson said. “It allowed you to watch the installations being created and the
PHOTOS (FROM TOP) BY NASH BAKER, PAUL HESTER
mess behind it. Once the installation was finished, it allowed viewers to walk in and experience it — an essential element of installation art.” While working on the book, she and Davenport steeped themselves in stories about artists and installations. “We walked through her memories of each show, and I would weave the interviews into the original source material.” Those conversations cumulated into 336 vivid pages chronicling wildly imaginative installations by artists as diverse as Sol LeWitt, Yayoi Kusama, Michael Petry ’81, Eve Sussman, Soo Sunny Park and Joel Shapiro, to name just a few. “Writing about art is my first passion, and working on this book reminded me of that,” Knudson said. Find “One Thing Well” at select bookstores or online through the Moody Center for the Arts. — KENDALL HEBERT
Anila Quayyum Agha, “Intersections,” Sept. 24– Dec. 6, 2015
Jesse Bercowetz and Matt Bua, “The Re-Creation of Fort Discomfort,” Sept. 18– Oct. 26, 2003
M AG A ZINE . RICE . EDU 49
08.16.2021 // O-Week Activities // Baker College Com mons
LAST LOOK 50 RICE M AG A ZINE FA LL 202 1
PHOTO BY TOMM Y L AV ERGNE
Be INNOVATIVE From a zero-emissions future to impenetrable computer security to clean water for everyone, everywhere — Rice scientists are working to make the impossible, possible. “We’re experiencing a convergence of talent at Rice that is very exciting,” explains Reginald DesRoches, the Howard R. Hughes Provost. “Now we have to leverage this moment of opportunity. That means continuing to attract exceptional faculty and accelerating the kind of interdisciplinary research that Rice is known for, and that ultimately leads to life-changing discoveries.”
Photo by Tommy LaVergne
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ON THE WEB
A Common Humanity
Bold New Works NEW LARGE-SCALE, TEMPORARY PUBLIC WORKS by Houston artists Karin Broker, Delita Martin and Charisse Pearlina Weston enliven the surfaces of Rice’s Provisional Campus Facilities — giant semipermanent structures built in 2020 to provide new classrooms and spaces for student gatherings. Each artist was invited to respond to the current moment and the campus environment and to create works that foster conversation and community in the academic year ahead. Karin Broker, a Rice professor emerita of visual arts and a master printmaker and sculptor, created a layered image that represents a personal conversation between the artist and Melancholia, a personification of one of the four historic temperaments. The piece evokes themes important to Broker’s practice, including separation from family and our relationship to nature and to domestic space. All works in this series are on display through May 3, 2022. Pictured: Karin Broker, “Domestic Melancholia,” 2021 Original drawing on Formica with Conte, 7x 9 Commissioned by the Moody Center for the Arts, Rice University Photo by Jeff Fitlow
On June 19, 2020, Joe Karlgaard, director of athletics, recreation and lifetime fitness, began a yearlong project to educate himself “on the lingering effects of racism, discrimination and bias in America.” Throughout the year, he posted about his readings and reflections on a blog. Karlgaard sat down with William Edmond, former assistant director of multicultural affairs at Rice and an RA at Sid Richardson College, to reflect on the authors, advocates and artists whose prominent and powerful voices are driving change.
Sisters Maddie Forbes ’22, Grace Forbes ’23 and Maggie Forbes ’25, from Wallingford, Pennsylvania, all run for Rice’s cross-country and track teams. When she was looking at colleges, Grace leaned on her older sister Maddie’s experience. “She just loved Rice, and I found that Rice was going to be the best for me to challenge myself academically and athletically.” For Maggie, in addition to being with her sisters, “the atmosphere [at Rice] was so caring and kind.”