CELEBRATING THE LEGACY OF PRESIDENT DAVID LEEBRON
RICE MAGA ZINE
SPRING 202 2
PHOTO CREDIT TK
Rice is a warm, inclusive and ambitious place because of President Leebron. — Justin Onwenu ’18 AS DAVID LEEBRON BEGINS HIS FINAL
months as Rice’s seventh president, we take a look back through photos, candid conversations and chats with a handful of colleagues about the enduring legacy he leaves on this great university. And as much as Leebron’s bold visions for change, inclusiveness and growth have shaped his eventful tenure, Rice, in turn, has truly shaped its president. During the past 18 years, Leebron, along with his wife, Ping Sun, and children, Daniel and Mei, became integral parts of campus life, fully engaged with students — traditions, debates, pranks and all things Rice. The family’s presence in every aspect of the university experience will be missed, both within and beyond the hedges, but the legacy Leebron leaves will be recognized for years to come.
Turn to Page 24 for the full story. PICTURED:
1. Posing for a family holiday card at the Barbara and David Gibbs Recreation and Wellness Center with wife Ping Sun, daughter Mei Leebron and son Daniel Leebron, 2009. PHOTO BY TOMMY LAVERGNE 2. Greeting staff members at the annual holiday open house, 2019. PHOTO BY JEFF FITLOW
3. Lounging with Charles Renfro ’89 on the SI and Susie Morris Lounge outside of Anderson Hall, 2016. PHOTO BY SARAH WHITING 4. Modeling a sweatshirt designed by student Elena Margolin ’23, 2021. PHOTO BY NEWTON HUYNH ’23 5. Chatting with students during the President’s O-Week Barbecue — a Rice tradition started by Leebron, 2018. PHOTO BY JEFF FITLOW 6. On campus with Sun, 2020. PHOTO BY JEFF FITLOW 7. Leading staff on an inner loop exercise walk with Joe Karlgaard, director of athletics, recreation and lifetime fitness (left); Sun; and Kevin Kirby, vice president for administration (right), 2015. PHOTO BY JEFF FITLOW
C OV ER IL LU S T R AT IO N B Y MIC H A EL B Y ER S
RICE MAGAZINE SPRING 2022
After nearly two decades leading Rice, David Leebron leaves behind a school transformed.
When her livelihood was upended by the pandemic, Chang poured herself a new career.
The mindsets that fuel Rice archis provide inspiration for creating everyday spaces.
End of an Era
RICE MAGA ZINE
Think Like an Architect
PHOTO BY LUCY HEWETT
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: PHOTOS BY TOMMY LAVERGNE, MILES ZHANG, BRANDON MARTIN, TOMMY LAVERGNE
RICE MAGAZINE SPRING 2022
Arborist Dawn Roth-Ehlinger, critical diversity dialogues, campus composers
Brockman Hall for Opera, Valhalla wasp, perfect cookies, Sandra Parsons, stolen antiquities, faculty books
Talking to athletes, Classnote highlights, true crime, a pandemic album, alumni books.
Sunny-day selfies on the Brochstein Pavilion’s lawn
FEEDBACK Letter to the Editor More to the story I read with great delight your article “Paging Through History” in the Fall 2021 issue of Rice Magazine. I applaud Rice’s very significant effort to seek context and truth rather than simply jump onto a narrative. I was not so delighted that the editors chose to cover up the handwritten letter attached to the Amnesty Oath of William Marsh Rice. The author of the article states, “the document is significant,” but then chose to interpret it rather than let the reader do so. … Perhaps listening to the podcasts will change my opinion. — MIKE MOCK ’80 (WILL RICE)
RICE MAGAZINE Spring 2022 PUBLISHER
Office of Public Affairs Linda Thrane, vice president EDITOR
Lynn Gosnell ART DIRECTOR
Alese Pickering CREATIVE SERVICES
Jeff Cox, senior director EDITORIAL DIRECTOR
Editor’s Note: Our Fall 2021 cover feature shares a sample of documentary materials discovered during the ongoing webinar/podcast,“Doc Talks,” led by Rice historians Alexander X. Byrd ’90 and Caleb McDaniel. The Amnesty Oath signed by William Marsh Rice in August 1865 was sourced from a trove of Civil War-era amnesty and pardon requests found in an online military record archive. The oath and accompanying letter to President Andrew Johnson is viewable at taskforce.rice.edu/doctalks/podcasts by scrolling to Episode 3: Letters to Presidents. Thank you for your keen interest!
Kyndall Krist PHOTOGRAPHERS
Tommy LaVergne Jeff Fitlow CONTRIBUTING EDITOR
Jenny West Rozelle ’00 CONTRIBUTORS
Top Eight In honor of the announcement of Provost Reginald DesRoches’ appointment as Rice’s eighth president (our No. 1 online read story), here are the top eight most viewed stories for the Winter 2022 issue. 1. Our Next President 2. In Case of Emergency 3. A Found History 4. Studies in Mass and Volume 5. Unconventional Wisdom: Richard Baraniuk 6. Momentum for Change 7. Peter Clarke Is a Robo-Puppet Wizard 8. Justice and Healing
Errata “In Case of Emergency” In our story commemorating the 25th anniversary of Rice’s student-run Emergency Medical Service, we made an error in describing the EMS service of one of our alums, Abigail Tucker ’19. Abigail served the Rice community as an advanced EMT and REMS captain during her senior year.
Wisdom, wisecracks, superb Owl puns: Send your feedback, criticisms or appreciations via email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or surprise us with a letter or postcard! If you missed any of these stories, go to magazine.rice.edu to catch up.
RICE MAGA ZINE
Deborah Lynn Blumberg, Jade Boyd, Sydney Boyd ’18, Michael Byers, Errata Carmona, Schaefer Edwards ’13, Lucy Hewett, Heather Lalley, Jennifer Latson, Delphine Lee, Brandon Martin, Amy McCaig, Laura Furr Mericas, Alex Eben Meyer, Doug Miller, Michael Nagin, Agata Nowicka, Zé Otavio, Erin Peterson, Katharine Shilcutt, Israel G. Vargas INTERNS
Emma Korsmo ’24, Mabel Tang ’23 Rice Magazine is published quarterly and is sent to university alumni, faculty, staff, parents of undergraduates and friends of the university. © March 2022, Rice University
FROM THE EDITOR 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. 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
IL LU S T R AT IO N B Y PA DDY MIL L S
BEHIND THE STORIES EACH ISSUE OF RICE MAGAZINE is the sum of collaborative talents, serendipitous moments and attention to what’s happening now in our campus community. Starting with the blockbuster cover illustration, our spring issue is a great example of this equation. Chock-full of Rice-y references to places, people and traditions — the cover kicks off our feature package honoring the legacy of president David W. Leebron, who steps down June 30, 2022. For this milestone assignment, art director Alese Pickering turned to award-winning illustrator Michael Byers because, “he’s a master of packing lots of details into one cohesive and colorful picture that comes alive on the page.” First, she curated a list of dozens of touchstones for Byers to include in his work. “He got everything in there that we asked for,” Pickering added, “and I hope that our readers will enjoy finding little Easter eggs like the Valhalla wasp, an owl and squirrels.” The feature story on Leebron’s legacy was written by Schaefer Edwards ’13, our newest writer in the Office of Public Affairs, and one who brings plenty of “only at Rice” knowledge to his assignments, including this (“hey, no pressure”) feature. Photographers Tommy LaVergne and Jeff Fitlow shine brightly in the accompanying photos and portraiture.
Some stories have their genesis in a previous issue. Such is the case with our feature on star sommelier Belinda Chang ’95, whose pre-COVID small business livelihood depended upon lavish in-person events. Chang’s pivot to hosting online food and wine-tasting parties is beautifully captured by Chicago-based writer Heather Lalley. We first learned about Chang while producing our beverage issue in summer 2018. Back then, she graciously agreed to create a popular pairing of, well, wines and their residential colleges. If you’re
Each issue of Rice Magazine is the sum of collaborative talents, serendipitous moments and attention to what’s happening now in our campus community. wondering which wine pairs well with your residential college, we’ve added that link online. Our third feature connects readers back to campus with a focus on Rice Architecture. Freelance writer Erin Peterson asked a group of faculty and alumni to share the mindsets that underlie how they think about a variety of projects, from classrooms to homes, museums to animal habitats — and even makeup boxes. In turn, we hope readers take note of the ideas influencing the spaces where we live, learn, collaborate and celebrate. What’s the benefit? As Professor Carlos Jimenez put it, “[Good] architecture makes one feel alive, immersed in the amazing experience of the world.” We hope you enjoy these and many more stories throughout Rice Magazine.
A NOTE OF GRATITUDE IT’S A DAUNTING PROSPECT to write my last column for Rice Magazine, and evokes emotions of both joy and sadness. There are so many things I would like to say, but I have space here for just two broad ones. The first is thank you. While there are innumerable individuals to thank, today I’m going to limit myself to the various Rice constituencies, in no particular order. Thank you to our students, graduate and undergraduate, who every day give us a sense of purpose and possibility. Our students challenge us constantly to “do better,” and even when we don’t always agree, the result in some ways is to make us all do better collectively. Having taught four semesters during my time as president, I have been able to see firsthand just how extraordinary our students are. Thank you to our faculty, who both define and constitute the quality and impact of both our teaching and research. Our faculty has given all of us so much pride over the last 18 years — pride in the quality of our instruction and pride in what we contribute to our understanding of the world, to our cultural enrichment and to human progress. Rice has, more than ever, been at the forefront of a wide range of endeavors, from musical composition to neuroengineering and from quantum mechanics to art history. Thank you to our alumni, parents and friends, who are our ambassadors around the globe and make so many of our endeavors possible. It has been an invigorating experience for Ping
RICE MAGA ZINE
SPRING 202 2
and me to visit with you, whether in Houston, across the nation or around the world. Thank you to our extraordinary staff, who bring not only talent and competence to their work, but ambition and caring as well. Whether it is our facilities engineers, our groundskeepers, our custodians, our faculty assistants and departmental and center administrators, our IT support staff, our admissions and library staffs, our student support services, athletic personnel, research and teaching support staff and
I am proud of what we have changed together, but equally proud of what we have chosen not to change. so many others, they are driven to make Rice the community and university we aspire to be. They are led by an amazing administrative team, who have sought in every respect possible to make Rice better, safer, more ambitious and more responsive. Thanks to the leaders, residents and great institutions of the Houston metropolis, who also have supported us, engaged with us and collaborated to provide opportunities for faculty and students. And finally, a shout out to the architects and artists who have had such an impact on our campus, enhancing beauty and functionality and creating surroundings that truly serve our ambitions and inspire our creative best. I also wanted to share some thoughts on what I see as the key challenge that has confronted Rice during my time, and I think will continue to do so. Rice was founded with extraordinary aspiration and ambition. Rereading Edgar Odell Lovett’s speeches should convince anyone of that, and we often use his phrase, “no upper limit.” At the same time, we were founded with some
distinctive attributes and others have evolved over time. The challenge is constantly to make the changes that we need in order to achieve our aspirations and continue to rise in an increasingly competitive, dynamic and complex higher education environment and yet remain true to the most positive aspects of our culture and our values. For example, we have returned to our roots in some ways by adopting the Rice Investment, making our university tuition free for all those from families earning less than $140,000 and reducing our tuition by 50% for those earning less than $200,000. And we have emphatically rejected a part of our history, namely our racially exclusionary origins, and now have one of the most diverse undergraduate student bodies in higher education. The implementation of the Rice Investment drew incredible support from our graduates in part because of its firm anchor in Rice history and values. Our growth and increasing breadth of our mission in many respects understandably causes concerns about whether we will be the Rice our alumni remember. The answer is undoubtedly no in the literal sense of the question. But if we mean instead to ask, as we constantly must, whether we are the Rice of the values and contributions we were proud of, and if we adapted to a changing and competitive world in pursuit of both new aims and those values, then that and not stasis is the embodiment of “To Rice Be True.” When I made the decision to come to Rice over 18 years ago, I was inspired by the aspirations and achievements of a small university that was less than a century old. These 18 years have been exciting as we have changed our great institution in important ways. I am proud of what we have changed together, but equally proud of what we have chosen not to change. With the utmost gratitude,
IL LU S T R AT IO N B Y PA DDY MIL L S
CAMPUS NEWS AND STUDENT LIFE
Rice’s campus provides arborist Dawn Roth-Ehlinger with plenty of ways to branch out and educate the community. BY TRACEY RHOADES
PHOTOS BY TOMM Y L AV ERGNE
ALKING TREES is what Dawn Roth-Ehlinger does — a lot. With roughly 4,500 trees covering Rice’s 300 acres, certified arborist Roth-Ehlinger, along with an additional 30 groundskeepers and tree specialists, helps to maintain the tree specimens across campus. As a designated arboretum and a Tree Campus Higher Education honoree, Rice and its leaders are committed to promoting the tree population and engaging students and staff in the process. Does she have a favorite? “Live oaks — big, gorgeous, tolerant, sturdy, long-lived. They’re the whole package.” What is the tree population like on campus? We don’t really have a diverse tree population, and that’s a concern — 50% are live oak (Quercus virginiana). Some places on campus have to have live oaks for aesthetics; in others, the tree canopy is very full and doesn’t allow enough light for other species to
“Our focus now is to add diversity whenever the opportunity presents itself, like after new construction at the new Sid Rich College, where bald cypresses (Taxodium distichum) were planted.” flourish. Our focus now is to add diversity whenever the opportunity presents itself, like after new construction at the new Sid Rich College, where bald cypresses (Taxodium distichum) were planted. Do trees have knees? When people think of a tree with knees, they are usually thinking of a kind of root structure on bald cypresses. It looks like a rounded knob on the tree root that is above the soil surface. In
a typical urban landscape they are regularly hit with lawn mowers, so they never come to a point. I encourage people not to cut the knees or try to dig them out. The roots they form are the ones supporting the tree. How does construction impact trees on campus? Construction is probably the top cause of tree injury. Trees need to be removed to make way for new buildings, and sometimes heavy equipment runs over sensitive root zones or breaks limbs. Soil compaction is also a big killer. When vehicles drive over that soil under a tree canopy, it smashes those spaces, and that can lead to decline and death. I’d save and protect every one of them, but we are an academic institution and need the facilities to educate and house our students. My goal is to make our tree protection protocols as robust as possible and make project managers and contractors aware. Besides construction, what other problems can trees incur? There are a few diseases that are dangerous, so that’s what we keep an eye out for. There were two big water oaks (Quercus nigra) between Herzstein and Anderson halls that were removed in the last couple of years. They still had leaves, but their supporting structural roots and interior of the lower trunks had been significantly decayed by Ganoderma lucidum and other fungi. The risk of them falling had become too great. Those trees were at the end of their typical life expectancy, so what happened isn’t a surprise. Even trees don’t live forever. How often do you conduct tree tours on campus? We always do one for Texas Arbor Day (first Friday in November) and do several activities that we call Arbor Week. If you have a question about trees at Rice or would like to take a tour, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
RICE MAGA ZINE
“This new vision for the Academic Quadrangle will reflect our growth and progress as a university and a community.”
Bold Change Ahead
Historical research, stakeholder opinions and debate inform trustees’ decision to relocate the Rice Founder’s Memorial statue. THE ACADEMIC QUADRANGLE will undergo a redesign that will include moving the Founder’s Memorial statue of William Marsh Rice to a new location within the quadrangle. That’s the decision announced by Rice’s Board of Trustees Jan. 25, 2022. “We intend for the Academic Quadrangle to both fully acknowledge the history of our founding and founder and to mark and celebrate the important evolution and growth of our university
IL LU S T R AT IO N B Y I SR A EL G . VA R G A S
over time,” said Rob Ladd ’78, chairman of the board of trustees. The relocated statue will be presented with historical context and information about the university’s founder, including his ownership of enslaved people and his broad connections to the slave economy in 19th-century Texas. The trustees’ decision embraces recommendations from Rice’s Task Force on Slavery, Segregation and Racial Injustice. In a June 2021 progress report focused on the Founder’s Memorial, the task force was unanimous in its call for “bold change” in the Academic Quadrangle, which “can and must be significantly redesigned to reflect more accurately Rice’s values, the history of the university, and the current diversity of the campus, and in a way that clearly and visibly rebukes the institution’s segregationist founding and decades of racial exclusion.” And last December, the Rice Student Association passed a resolution calling for the statue’s relocation and said that it should no longer serve as the area’s “singular point of attraction.”
The university has launched a process to reimagine the quadrangle with the goal of presenting a proposal to the trustees in May. The physical work on the redesign will begin as soon as practical after that. Once the plans are finalized, the university will hold a competition for the new monument commemorating the university’s integration. “This new vision for the Academic Quadrangle will reflect our growth and progress as a university and a community,” said President David Leebron. “The campus discussions that informed the board’s decision were guided by a spirit of creating a stronger and more inclusive Rice, as we recognize both flaws and progress in our history.” The board of trustees solicited ideas and opinions from students, faculty, staff and alumni, who submitted more than 1,200 responses through an online portal. They also consulted with Alexander X. Byrd ’90 and Caleb McDaniel, chairs of the task force; the executive committee of the Association of Rice University Black Alumni (ARUBA); and other leaders in the Rice community. In a message to alumni, the Association of Rice Alumni Board Executive Committee wrote, “The diversity of input from the Rice community, including many Rice alumni, was extremely helpful to understanding the perspectives on our university’s history, present and future.” The ARUBA Executive Board also issued a statement expressing gratitude for the leadership and work of both the task force and the board of trustees. “We understand that opinions about this decision will vary, and we remain mindful that there is always more work to do.” — JEFF FALK
SALLYPORT SHEPHERD SCHOOL OF MUSIC
Some people start playing Mozart from the age of 5. Some prefer to see others bringing their music to life. We spoke with three student composers about starting composition, their composition processes and releasing music to the public.
MUSIC THEORY AND COMPOSITION
Tiffany Cuaresma ’23
Tomás Jonsson ’22
IN HIGH SCHOOL, after seeing his friend’s mom caring for others despite fighting breast cancer, Jaylin Vinson wrote “Everything Beautiful,” which his school’s band premiered. “After the concert, she embraced me, and I realized I didn’t want to do anything else with my life.” Vinson’s piece, “Shimmer!” premiered at the Moody Center for the Arts’ New Art/New Music concert, a “surreal experience,” according to Vinson. “Seeing something intangible become materialized … I never get desensitized to that.” In the future, Vinson wants to focus on African diasporic music. His upcoming project, “Exhale,” is built upon the last words of victims of police brutality. “It [also] represents how we never allow ourselves to exhale and acknowledge the traumas we have experienced.”
TIFFANY CUARESMA started composing as a result of figure skating. “Initially, I wanted to create music that people could skate to. I really loved it and wanted to keep pursuing it.” Recently, Cuaresma scored “Kingdom of Your Own,” a short film exploring the relationship between a transgender person and their father that premiered at the Burbank International Film Festival. “When I received the final mix, I cried. There’s this human aspect you can’t get from a computer.” However, film score composition isn’t always glamorous. “There aren’t many women of color in this field. People have said, ‘You write well for a female composer.’ But with this project, I worked with an amazing crew. There are still pockets of good in this industry.”
TOMÁS JONSSON takes inspiration from Afro-Cuban music and playing piano with a Black gospel church. His debut album, “First Impressions,” contains many genres, and the album art — a woman looking at 16 individually painted squares — reflects these diverse influences. “Each square and track has its own story. The woman forms a first impression of the art, and the audience forms a first impression of my music.” For Jonsson, performing a piece isn’t that different from composing it. “I improvise a lot, composing in real time when I perform.” While Jonsson is proud of finishing this album, he confesses that the satisfaction isn’t that fulfilling. “I have other things down the line.”
FAVORITE GENRES AND ARTISTS “I’m giving country [music] a second chance. I say this shamelessly — old Taylor Swift. I’m not sure if I have a favorite artist, but I am a Lizzo stan.”
RICE MAGA ZINE
FAVORITE GENRES AND ARTISTS “I love film scores, EDM and Ella Fitzgerald. It ranges from Illenium and Bring Me the Horizon to Tchaikovsky and John Williams.”
FAVORITE GENRES AND ARTISTS “Classically, Rachmaninoff and Chopin. Oscar Peterson is a brilliant jazz pianist. Another genre that’s a big influence, of course, is salsa.”
— MABEL TANG ’23
PHOTOS FROM LEFT: BY BRANDON MARTIN, COURTESY OF TIFFANY CUARESMA, COURTESY OF TOMÁS JONSSON
Jaylin Vinson ’25
A POWERFUL VOICE
Loan-Free College Expands
Changes in need-based financial aid packages mean a Rice education is more accessible than ever. NO MORE BURDENSOME student loans. That’s the heartening message from Rice, which announced this past December that need-based financial aid packages for both domestic and international undergraduate students will no longer include loans. The new policy, which takes effect in fall 2022, expands on an existing commitment to make financial aid packages for students with family annual incomes of less than $200,000 loan free. Also announced in December was an expansion of the annual income brackets that determine how much aid students can receive via the Rice Investment, crucially affecting
IL LU S T R AT IO N B Y ER R ATA C A R M O N A
students from low-income families. Students with family incomes below $75,000 will be given grant aid covering full tuition, mandatory fees, and room and board. Scholarships covering full tuition will be awarded to students with family incomes between $75,000 and $140,000. The last bracket, between $140,000 and $200,000, can receive scholarships that will cover at least half of tuition costs. “Access and affordability are limited if you have a program that can’t be easily explained,” President David Leebron told the Houston Chronicle. “If you think you need assistance … now we will say, ‘No, you don’t need to borrow money. We will provide financial aid.’” Current students will also see the shift in their financial aid awards beginning this fall. “The original goal of the Rice Investment is to invest in the promise of students, regardless of their financial background,” said Anne Walker, assistant vice president and executive director of university financial aid services. “By offering financial aid packages without loans, we are continuing to invest in our students and their ability to create a bright future free from student debt.” — DOUG MILLER
Journalist and social justice advocate Sonia Nazario will give the 2022 commencement address. Lauded for her investigative journalism and deeply reported stories on immigration, Nazario has received numerous honors and awards, including two Pulitzer Prizes. While working for the Los Angeles Times, Nazario published a Pulitzer Prizewinning series titled “Enrique’s Journey” about a Honduran boy’s experience when migrating to the U.S. The series was published as a book in 2006. Nazario continues to advocate for the rights of unaccompanied migrant children and the general well-being of immigrants and refugees. The 109th Commencement ceremony is scheduled for Saturday, May 7, 2022. — EMMA KORSMO ’24
SEXUAL ORIENTATION SYLLABUS
A Space to Discuss Diversity RICE IS MORE diverse than ever before — people on campus identify with many different nationalities, races, colors, sexual orientations and religions. “Diversity informs the solving of difficult problems, the kinds of problems that universities exist to address through research,” said Alexander X. Byrd ’90, Rice’s vice provost for diversity, equity and inclusion and an associate professor of history. “The way to solving those problems is made easier through intellectual diversity. Intellectual diversity is informed by identity diversity. Diversity also creates some problems because difference can create some friction, but we can learn ways to reduce that friction.” The Critical Dialogues on Diversity (CDOD) workshops aim to begin a conversation about the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion across the university and the ways students interact with others throughout their years on campus. A recently added required course for new students, CDOD offered 44 sections during the fall 2021
RICE MAGA ZINE
RACE PERSONAL BIAS
UNIV 195 Critical Dialogues on Diversity
semester and an additional six this spring. The course opens up space for discussing the problem-solving capacity that diversity brings in addition to bringing issues to light like the problem of microaggressions — instances of personal bias and discrimination, often subtle or unintentional, that happen between people in day-to-day interactions. Students break into small groups to discuss hypothetical scenarios involving acts of discrimination and ways to respond personally to those acts, as well as what responses might be expected from leaders at the administrative level. The workshops do not require readings or written assignments. Instead, they
offer a chance for students to have these discussions honestly and freely and to ask questions that might be difficult or uncomfortable to broach under other circumstances. Jorge Arnez Gonzales ’25, a Bolivian international student at Brown College, said, “At the end of the day, we all have growing to do. … I disagreed with some others’ comments, but that’s part of dialogue: to try to understand the other person’s position.” — JENNY WEST ROZELLE ’00
Read more at magazine.rice.edu.
DEPARTMENT University Courses DESCRIPTION The university’s remarkable diversity enlivens and enriches all of its core missions. Such gains, though, are not all to be gotten passively. This five-week, discussionbased orientation course explores critical approaches to culture, identity and dialogue fundamental to living and working at the university and essential for taking full advantage of a Rice education.
INNOVATION IN THE LAB, THE FIELD AND THE CLASSROOM
PHOTO BY MARIELLA AND LUIS AYALA
A New Home for Grand Performances
Brockman Hall for Opera comes to life as a premier home for student and professional musicians. BY AMY MCCAIG
follows an incorrigible young playboy who charts the course of his own demise in a single day. Many will recall the movie “Amadeus,” where Mozart’s nemesis, Salieri, uses elements of “Don Giovanni” to drive Mozart mad. On April 22, the Shepherd School will host A Celebration for Brockman Hall for Opera chaired by former Rice Board of Trustees Chairman Bobby Tudor ’82 and his wife, Phoebe. The ticketed event, limited to under 600 guests, will feature a cocktail reception, gourmet bites and musical highlights. “We’re thrilled to be coming together to celebrate the opening of
this beautiful new space,” Loden said. “So many remarkable people brought the building to life, and this will be a perfect night to celebrate their achievement. The hall will have an extraordinary impact on the education of our students while providing audiences the chance to enjoy the school’s most brilliant performers.” The 84,000-square-foot building, along with Alice Pratt Brown Hall and its adjoining plaza, is known as Brockman Music and Performing Arts Center. The Brockman Hall for Opera is home to the Lucian and Nancy Morrison Theater, a three-tiered,
600-seat, European-style theater with an orchestra pit for 70 musicians. The hall allows performers to project their voices over a large orchestra with ease, and it is the first theater with this particular configuration among U.S. universities and conservatories. The building was designed by Allan Greenberg Architect LLC, and the Linbeck Group served as construction manager. Theater planning and design consultants Fisher Dachs Associates and acoustic consultants Threshold Acoustics collaborated with Greenberg on the design of the building’s theater and orchestra pit. Read more at magazine.rice.edu.
RICE MAGA ZINE
PHOTOS BY MARIELLA AND LUIS AYALA
S CONCERT HALLS around the world come to life again after the COVID-19 pandemic, Rice’s Shepherd School of Music is looking forward to officially opening to the public and celebrating its stunning new venue, the Brockman Hall for Opera. The first of the celebratory events planned is an open house community day Saturday, April 9. “We really want our Rice family and home city of Houston to experience the magic of this working opera house and everything it has to offer,” said Shepherd School Dean Matthew Loden. Those in attendance will be able to explore backstage, watch behindthe-scenes demonstrations and miniperformances, try out opera props and more. Food trucks will be on hand for lunch and even more entertainment will be available for families and music lovers alike during the daylong Chamber Music Festival in Alice Pratt Brown Hall. Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” will be the first opera performed for the public in the new building April 14 and 16. The comedic opera is widely considered to be one of the legendary composer’s most entertaining and compelling musical achievements. The storyline
It’s barely a millimeter long and spends 11 months of the year locked in a crypt. But it was discovered in a tree outside the graduate student pub. So when it came time to choose a name, the answer was obvious.
Cheers to the Valhalla Wasp
PHOTO BY MILES ZHANG/SMITHSONIAN NMNH
A new species is named after Rice’s beloved pub.
ITS NAME REFERENCES heroes and gods of Norse mythology, but the newly discovered insect Neuroterus valhalla doesn’t look or act the part. It’s barely a millimeter long and spends 11 months of the year locked in a crypt. But it was discovered in a tree outside the graduate student pub. So when it came time to choose a name, the answer was obvious. “It would have been a missed opportunity to not call it something related to Rice or Valhalla,” said gradu-
ate student Pedro Brandão-Dias, lead author of a January study describing the new species, a gall wasp from the family Cynipidae. The nonstinging wasps are a favorite of Brandão’s Ph.D. adviser, Scott Egan, because his students can find them in live oak trees across campus. N. valhalla is the first gall wasp species Egan’s lab has discovered, but in his eight years at Rice, his group has identified at least as many new species of galler parasites and predators. “In my lab, undergraduate and graduate students share in the experiential learning process by studying biologically diverse ecosystems on the live oaks right outside our front door,” Egan said. N. valhalla is one of more than 1,000 species of cynipid wasps that trick host trees into feeding and sheltering their young. When the wasps lay eggs, they include a biochemical cocktail that coaxes the tree to form a crypt, or gall, around the egg. The gall shelters the
egg and feeds larvae that hatch from it. Galls can form on leaves, inside branches and on oak flowers, which is where Brandão first collected N. valhalla in 2018. “Once they emerge, they only live three or four days,” Brandão said of the tiny insects. “Their only purpose is to mate and lay eggs.” One reason it took almost four years to describe the new species is that N. valhalla — like many other gallers — lays eggs two times a year. The wasps Brandão discovered were the first generation. Their eggs would produce the alternate generation of wasps that lay eggs in the flowers the following year, but where did those eggs spend the intervening 11 months? Thanks to a bit of serendipity, Kelly Weinersmithan, an adjunct assistant professor in biosciences at Rice, found the answer in a Florida oak tree. When she found gallers she couldn’t identify, she sent them to Egan’s lab. Genomic tests confirmed they were N. valhalla, and experiments by Brandão and Brown College junior Camila Vinson confirmed the alternate generation overwintered in galls at the base of newly formed branches on the tree. Egan said alternate generations of gallers have often been mistaken for new species. Genomic sequencing proved the two generations were one species and allowed N. valhalla to live up to its legendary name: It’s the first new insect species described alongside its fully sequenced genome. — JADE BOYD
The Chemistry of Cookies What makes this chocolate chip cookie recipe perfect? Let’s break it down. What’s the perfect drink to accompany a hot-out-of-theoven chocolate chip cookie? A cold glass of milk, of course.
A silicone mat is best for even and nonstick baking.
CHEMISTRY, COOKING, COOKIES — all are a part of the recipe for Lesa Tran Lu ’07, assistant teaching professor, lecturer and associate director for educational programs at the Institute of Biosciences and Bioengineering at Rice. Tran, who earned a B.S., an M.A. and a Ph.D., all in chemistry at Rice, has employed an inquiry-based learning model since joining the faculty in 2012. Her popular Chemistry of Cooking class is hands-on and interactive. Lu educates by experimentation, teaching students the science behind recipes and how and why various ingredients mixed together work and other methods fail. Growing up in a family who owned a fortune cookie factory in Houston, Lu learned to cook at a very young age. She became intrigued by how chemistry and the science behind ingredients make or break a recipe. “Cookies are something that everyone relates to regardless of their cooking experience,” Lu said. “Experimenting with ratios and ingredients is fun, and a chocolate chip cookie recipe is low risk if it doesn’t work out.” Go to magazine.rice.edu for the recipe. — TRACEY RHOADES
Pro tip: Chill the dough before baking. It flattens out less and gives the dough more time to develop the flavors of the ingredients.
Lu’s perfect chocolate chip cookie is crispy on the outside and thicker with a chewy, gooey, cakelike middle.
RICE MAGA ZINE
SPRING 202 2
This recipe uses both bread flour and allpurpose flour and three types of sugar. How many recipes did it take to make the perfect chocolate chip cookie? “Five or six,” said Lu. “It’s all about the fine-tuning and different ratios.”
Lu recommends Ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate chips because the chips are larger and flat and spread out in the cookie when they bake.
PHOTO BY ALESE PICKERING
It’s All About Flourishing I teach Introduction to Social Psychology, which is as large as it sounds — about 80 students; research methods for declared psychology majors; and, currently, Positive Psychology. That’s a relatively new branch of psychology that focuses on how to improve our subjective well-being and quality of life. It is all about practicing evidence-based interventions to enhance everyday life.
Positively, Professor Parsons Sandra Parsons in her own words INTERVIEW BY JENNY WEST ROZELLE ’00
IL LU S T R AT IO N S B Y Z É O TAV IO
ANDRA PARSONS, AN ASSOCIATE teaching professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences, has received many honors for her classroom teaching and is widely engaged across campus with improving faculty teaching and student learning experiences. Since 2015, she’s thrice been recognized with one of Rice’s top teaching awards, the George R. Brown Award for Superior Teaching. One key to her effectiveness is a deep love and respect for students — many of whom she knows quite well. Since 2019, Parsons and husband Will, a pediatric oncologist, have lived on campus as resident associates at Will Rice College. Her teaching philosophy sounds simple — “Great classes are classes that students want to attend” — but there’s so much more to the story.
Making an Academic Career Flexible I started off as a traditional research graduate student heading toward a tenuretrack job. My research focused on group decision-making and identity formation — what happens in groups of people when different identities are made salient. I realized that I really didn’t want to be a part of that traditional track and made a purposeful turn in the name of being flexible and being home with my family. My research evolved into pedagogical research — how can I improve the teaching that I do at Rice? How does approaching the learning environment as more of a collaborative space increase connectedness and inclusivity? How can I facilitate other Rice faculty’s improvements in teaching? The Social Psychology of Teaching Online I think there was an assumption that instructors would just move seamlessly from their face-to-face teaching practices into a virtual space.
Are We Having Fun Yet? I think that students know how much fun I’m having in the classroom. I think I convey to them how absolutely fascinating it is to study the ways subtle changes in situations — and the people in them — can lead to different outcomes. I think that I’m really lucky that the subject matter that I teach is accessible. Every topic we discuss has a story that I can tell from my own experiences.
The learning curve was expected to only be about the technology. Even those of us who have been teaching for years had to redesign what we do and how we do it to fit the online tools — the ways those tools changed our relationships with each other and with the material. It’s fundamentally a question of how situations and changes in situations affect behavior — which is a social psychological question. A Shift in Thinking In summer 2020, my teaching colleagues noticed the questions students were asking were different. Students were thinking about things differently — approaching their learning with more agency than they had previously. One way to look at this change is the students’ questions became much bolder. It felt like students wanted to go deeper than the normal questions I would typically get in class. A postdoc in our department, Angie LaRoy, noticed that students were actively thinking about anti-racism in our readings. She developed this fantastic way of talking to students about recognizing racism in the assigned readings and how to take an anti-racist stance on those readings — an approach I’ve adopted subsequently in all of my classes. An RA and a Teacher I was involved in the college before I became a resident associate. But seeing what it’s like to be in the dorms with them and hear their
RICE MAGA ZINE
Last semester, we had a petting zoo and a fall festival — and the glee that those students had petting those animals was just priceless. I loved watching them hold the bunny rabbit and pet the llama. day-to-day concerns — I am sure that it has improved my teaching — and my teaching has been a huge asset for being an RA. Previous to the pandemic, the job description was to model good adulting and be a trusted, wiser soul whom you could talk to without worrying about impressing your professor. And to be there to catch people if they’re falling. The challenges used to be, “How do I throw a study break?” With the pandemic, the challenges became, “How can I support you all as everything crumbles?” and “How can I help you find the resources you need?” It’s been challenging, heartbreaking and beautiful and an ongoing evolution of what is needed of me.
Best Thing About Being an RA My favorite thing is watching students do the thing that they love the most. For example, we have a talent show and some students are beautiful musicians, comedians, magicians and just a wild variety of talents. We go to Powderpuff games and cheer on the sidelines. Last semester, we had a petting zoo and a fall festival — and the glee that those students had petting those animals was just priceless. I loved watching them hold the bunny rabbit and pet the llama. And it was just a day of being outside and enjoying each other. It felt like “before times” in a really positive way.
A Lesson Featuring Tiny Nutellas For example, I love tiny containers of Nutella and tiny Vaseline containers — anything that is sold large and also tiny. What an odd thing to share with people — except it points to marketing strategies and why putting these tiny things at eye level at the grocery store checkout is so effective. My style is about recognizing that I’m quirky and weird in ways that are similar to the ways that they’re quirky and weird, but that research can help us understand those quirks. So I tell a story about myself. I introduce an idea. I ask for their stories. We laugh together, and I try to make it really relevant. A Beer Bike Prediction I have the letters WRWS in my window to remind everybody that “Will Rice Will Sweep.” I have no interest in riding or chugging or doing any of that, but I will absolutely be first in line to cheer them on. For more of the interview, visit magazine.rice.edu.
Mali’s Treasures Go Home
SUSAN MCINTOSH PHOTO BY TOMMY LAVERGNE; DOUBLE CUP AND POT PHOTOS COURTESY OF HOMELAND SECURITY INVESTIGATIONS HOUSTON CULTURAL PROPERTY INVESTIGATIONS
More than a decade ago, a Rice archaeologist helped identify illegally imported African antiquities at the Port of Houston; in 2021, they were repatriated at last. IN MARCH 2009, RICE archaeologist and Herbert S. Autrey Professor of Anthropology Susan McIntosh stood inside a massive warehouse at the Port of Houston surrounded by hundreds of confiscated axe heads, funerary urns and other ancient artifacts from Africa. The recent shipment from the West African country of Mali was tagged as modern replicas of cultural items. But as U.S. Customs officials examined the items, they grew suspicious. Agents who had just taken specialized training to recognize protected African antiquities cracked open the 8-by-8-foot crates destined for an art gallery in the Southwestern U.S. As they unwrapped hundreds of items, they found many that looked genuinely old — not like recent reproductions. They called in McIntosh, an expert in ancient West African societies living along the Niger and Senegal rivers. McIntosh has done archaeological fieldwork in Ghana, Senegal and Mali, and she’s currently a member of the Center for African and African American Studies at Rice. In 1996, a time of rampant looting of artifacts from Malian archaeological sites, President Bill Clinton appointed her to the Presidential Advisory Committee on Cultural Property. The committee was charged with reviewing countries’ requests under the 1970 UNESCO Convention to have the U.S. protect their archaeological heritage by intercepting
Items that have been returned to Mali include a red-slipped double cup vessel (top) and a high-necked polychrome pot (bottom).
illegal items arriving here. In ancient Mali, histories often were passed down orally instead of in writing. “But the deep past isn’t always preserved in oral history,” McIntosh says, “so archaeology becomes a prime way for African nations to reconstruct a past that’s been interrupted and disrupted by colonialism.” Any loss of the archaeology, therefore, is a major concern. When McIntosh arrived at the warehouse with her Malian graduate student, she spent hours handling and photographing pottery, including a birdheaded terra cotta statuette and funerary urns. She dug into burlap sacks stuffed with Neolithic and Paleolithic artifacts — arrow points dating from 8,000 to 1,000 B.C. and stone axes created tens to hundreds of thousands of years ago. “The scale of it was amazing,” she says. “I was blown away.” McIntosh scooped residue from a 2-foot-tall funerary urn with a spoon and found bone flakes. It was a blatant sign the items were not, in fact,
reproductions. McIntosh bagged the evidence and wrote a report for the government, which ended up seizing the illegally imported goods. In 2011 and 2012, the U.S. government returned a handful of the artifacts to Mali. But then, civil war broke out in the country followed by ongoing instability, most recently with a military coup that ousted Mali’s civilian leaders, delaying the return of the remaining artifacts. McIntosh moved on with her research. Then, late last year, she heard the news: The U.S. finally sent the remaining artifacts home. The shipment included six large funerary urns and 913 stone points and axes. The artifacts will eventually go on display in Mali’s museums. “People have to be aware and responsible when they buy or collect antiquities,” McIntosh says. “It was very exciting to hear that these items eventually all went back to Mali.”
— DEBORAH LYNN BLUMBERG
Varieties of Atheism in Science
Elaine Howard Ecklund and David R. Johnson Oxford University Press, 2021
In the Event of Women Tani Barlow
Duke University Press, 2021
IN 1967, Wang Guangmei, a highranking Chinese Communist Party member and the wife of Chinese Premier Liu Shaoqi, was tried for crimes she had allegedly committed on a trip to Indonesia, including offering the Indonesian president a light for his cigarette and wearing a dress that had been deemed provocative by Mao Zedong’s wife, Jiang Qing. Wang was sentenced to 12 years in prison. “At stake in the conflict … was whether Wang’s performance of Chinese state femininity had been adequate,” writes Tani Barlow in her new book, “In the Event of Women.” “Once her antagonists successfully criminalized this behavior, they set off what became a far-reaching crisis over the political truth of Chinese women.” Barlow, the George and Nancy Rupp Professor of Humanities at Rice, presents this struggle as an “event,” which she defines as “a politically inspired action to install a newly discovered truth.” In this case, she’s referring to the scientific truth that women are the reproductive equivalent of men, which would come to transform a nation steeped in feudal notions of gender and marriage. Although Barlow focuses on “the event of women” from the late 19th century through the mid20th century’s Cultural Revolution in China, the effects of this event transcend time and place. “Wang Guangmei and Jiang Qing’s 1967 conflict over women’s feminine performance is only one episode in a longer, unresolved political and historical event of women,” Barlow writes. “Establishing how women are the reproductive equivalent of men transformed truth. All over the educated world, women abruptly appeared at the center of national history.” — JENNIFER LATSON
RICE MAGA ZINE
EARLY IN HER research about how religious people view scientists, Elaine Howard Ecklund attended a Bible study at a rural church in upstate New York. At the time, she was studying for her Ph.D. at Cornell University, and when she told that to one of the Bible study participants, the woman responded, “Yuck.” The woman told Ecklund she wouldn’t want her own children to attend Cornell, which she saw as a breeding ground for atheism where her kids would be forced to turn away from their faith. The woman was far from alone in this belief, as Ecklund, the Herbert S. Autrey Chair in Social Sciences at Rice, has demonstrated in numerous books. In her new book, “Varieties of Atheism in Science,” co-written with Georgia State University professor David R. Johnson, Ecklund tackles the persistent myth that all scientists are atheists who are rabidly against religion. The book is based on six years of research, surveys of nearly 1,300 atheist scientists and interviews with more than 80 of them. Ecklund and Johnson found that, in fact, most scientists who identify as atheists are not hostile to religious believers, and some have actively welcomed elements of religion into their own lives. That’s an important finding, the authors say, because the myth that scientists hate religion not only drives polarization in American society, it also keeps underrepresented groups — including women, Christians of color and religious people in general — out of science, for fear that they will never be welcome. — J.L.
Poems Tomás Q. Morín Knopf, 2021
TOMÁS Q. MORÍN’S newest book of poetry, “Machete,” roared onto the scene with the same intensity as the tigers on its striking cobalt blue cover. An assistant professor of creative writing, Morín is a gifted poet and translator who joined Rice in 2020. “Machete” is Morín’s third collection of poetry, following 2012’s “A Larger Country” and “Patient Zero” in 2017. In his work as a translator, Morín translated Pablo Neruda’s visionary “The Heights of Macchu Picchu.” His memoir, “Let Me Count the Ways,” is forthcoming from University of Nebraska Press. “Machete” is “far and away the most intimate” of Morín’s three books of poetry, which he attributes to becoming a father. “That totally altered the ways in which I think about my relationship to racism, my relationship to being a man, the sort of horrid ways in which capitalism tries to chew us all up and take our humanity away,” said Morín. “I wanted to write about all these things in a way that wasn’t just from anger.” The result, as seen in such tender odes to fatherhood as “Two Dolphins” and “Vallejo,” is poetry that alludes to Morín’s thought process as he works through these things on paper: compassionate, questioning, funny, humane and ultimately joyful, down to the last poem in the book, which Morín said touches on the empowering nature of humor and the way it can clear a path just like a machete. “Anger and outrage is an appropriate response to the things that this country throws at us, but it’s also not the only response,” Morín said. “I feel like as a person of color, some people would prefer to see me go away — to be invisible, to not be here anymore — and one of the things that threatens them the most is my joy.”
— KATHARINE SHILCUTT
Machete When they stare I know it is my skin they fear, this face, this hair so unlike theirs. I meet their eyes and make them sway like fields of cane. When they stiffen, I sharpen the edge of my smile and watch them fall. I love them in my cake, how they sink in the dark coffee where they give up the sweetness they make me take one slice at a time.
“Machete” by Tomás Q. Morín from “Machete: Poems.” Published Oct. 12, 2021, by Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of The Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2021 by Tomás Q. Morín.
END of an
ERA By Schaefer Edwards ’13
After nearly two decades leading Rice, David Leebron leaves behind a school transformed.
STEERING THE SHIP
I PREVIOUS PAGE: PHOTOS BY JEFF FITLOW
n the middle of Rice’s live oaklined campus, situated near warm brick buildings with ruddy tiled roofs, sits Brochstein Pavilion, a bright white metal and glass-walled café and popular gathering spot for the campus community. On any given day, students, faculty, staff and visitors fill the tables inside and out, huddled in conversation, catching up over coffee, keyboards clattering away.
Completed just three years into President David Leebron’s 18-year tenure leading Rice, Brochstein became an early proof of concept for his hypothesis that the university could find a sweet spot between tradition and modernity. “The thing about Brochstein is it didn’t replace anything: It created something new,” Leebron said during a series of recent interviews reflecting on his time at Rice. “It was both a bold piece of architecture for the campus, but at the same time fit in beautifully with the campus. … We want to preserve the beauty and consistency of our campus in many respects, but also wanted some buildings that reflected the very highest aspirations of architecture.” Its modern design speaks to Leebron’s view that Rice could stay Rice while striking out toward an ambitious vision for the future. Nearly two decades after leaving his position as dean of Columbia University’s School of Law, Leebron announced in May 2021 that this academic year would be his last. When asked how he hopes his presidency will be remembered, Leebron demurred. “It’s hard not to be immodest in answering that question. One thing would be just to not answer it,” he quipped.
Unlike many other historic institutions and larger universities, “the great thing about Rice,” Leebron said, “is that it’s a ship that can be turned. You can have an impact on things, and people want to help you in many ways.” And turn the ship he has, by embracing a strategy of thoughtful expansion across all aspects of Rice’s teaching, research and engagement missions. “David never hesitated to explore bold opportunities, but ultimately always made decisions that were best for our university,” wrote Rice Board of Trustees Chairman Rob Ladd ’78, heralding Leebron’s many accomplishments in a message to the Rice community. Leebron spearheaded the ambitious plan that grew Rice’s student body of 4,855 by nearly 70% from 2004 to 2021 and began implementation of an expansion to 9,000 students by 2025. Under Leebron’s tenure, Rice also reaffirmed its commitment to the residential college system with two new colleges — McMurtry and Duncan — opening in 2009, and a 12th college in the works. Indeed, the campus has transformed through $1.8 billion in investments, with some projects, like the Moody Center for Student Life and Opportunity, the new science and engineering building, and Sarofim Hall for Visual and Dramatic Arts, still underway. Through strategic partnerships and investments, he helped significantly increase Rice’s visibility across the globe; now, nearly a quarter of all Rice students hail from outside the United States. He also prioritized Rice’s commitment to research — going from $73.9 million in external research awards in his first year to $181.9 million in 2021. “He’s a relentless thinker and doer,” said James Crownover ’65, former Rice Board of Trustees chairman and leader of the presidential search committee that wooed Leebron and his family — wife Ping Sun, an attorney, and their children Daniel and Mei — to head for the Lone Star State. Leebron has worked to trim Rice’s tall hedges, leading the effort to harness the Rice community’s scholarly resources and students’ passion for activism. Due to concerted efforts to increase Rice’s international ties and the groundbreaking Rice Investment financial aid plan that’s helped make a Rice education more affordable and financial aid much more transparent, the university has become a more diverse, inclusive institution over the past 18 years. None of these achievements would have been possible were it not for a strong fundraising ecosystem. Leebron launched two major fundraising campaigns that brought in over $2.5 billion to finance plans for Rice’s physical and human growth, even as
P H O T O B Y T O M M Y L AV E R G N E M A G A Z I N E . R I C E . E D U
— Annise Parker ’78, former Houston mayor
a national financial crisis threatened to cause major cutbacks and get in the way of growing the school’s endowment. “I’m a huge fan,” said Annise Parker ’78, former mayor of Houston. “I think that he’s been the most transformative and consequential president since we were founded, since [Edgar Odell] Lovett.”
GOOD ENOUGH? Before Leebron was hired, many referenced a creeping sense of complacency at the university, a feeling that it would be fine if Rice remained a top-notch, regionally lauded institution, hidden from the city behind the hedges. “Rice was, I thought, in danger of imploding,” said Terrence Doody, Rice English professor emeritus. “It was going to collapse into itself, build and build the barriers. Its attitude was, ‘Well, we’re Rice! We’re
still in the top 20, we have great students, we’re very rich. We don’t have to do a single thing.’ “He was not like that. … He just expanded its vision in extraordinary ways,” Doody said of Leebron. Leebron, too, noticed a similar air of complacency when he arrived. “One way it manifested was people were resistant to comparing us to other universities, that setting those comparisons and those standards would damage our uniqueness. And I think you can look at other universities and compare and set aspirations and still say, ‘What’s unique about us? What do we want to maintain?’” Once on campus, the new president established himself as a gifted and witty orator, both friendly and approachable with students. He embarked on a listening tour, seeking input on every side of issues of importance to Rice students, alumni, trustees, faculty and other Houston leaders. An early question arose centered around the fact that Rice was a school trying to excel in a plethora of areas that belied its size. “One of the decisions to be made at a small university with a broad agenda is should we narrow our agenda? Or should we grow the university, or should we do neither? And David’s choice there was actually to grow the university, but not narrow the agenda,” said Bobby Tudor ’82, former Rice board chairman. “I think it’s proven to be the right choice … it really did define his presidency.” Once expanding the student body was made a top priority, some worried expansion might mean shifting away from residential colleges. Leebron admitted the thought crossed his mind, if only for a moment — “I said to some folks, ‘I’m a lawyer. We’re going to ask all the questions. We’re going to explore things.’ Now, do I think it would have been unbelievably stupid to move away from the college system? Yes!” he said emphatically. Another uniquely Rice trait Leebron knew needed preserving was the warm student community that fostered collaboration over competition, something many peer institutions can’t claim. “I don’t hear that they think that other people’s successes are at their expense in some way. Those are things that are important not to break,” Leebron said. Mikki Hebl, Rice’s Martha and Henry Malcolm Lovett Chair of Psychological Sciences, described Leebron as “a great protector” of the university. “I realize these are never one-person shows,” she said, “but David has made some tough, very scrutinized decisions, and the world has watched and commended us at Rice.” Despite some pushback, Leebron was convinced that Rice had to grow to achieve the full breadth of its ambitions, and that it could while keeping its culture intact. There might be some hiccups, but it was a risk worth taking. “If you think everything’s got to go perfectly, you’ll never do anything,” Leebron said.
LET RICE SHINE When Leebron brought Linda Thrane on board to lead Rice’s Office of Public Affairs early in his presidency, he gave her one key charge: “He had decided that keeping Rice’s light under a 28
RICE MAGA ZINE
S P R I N G 2 0 2 2Leebron’s 2006
PHOTOS BY TOMMY LAVERGNE
“I’m a huge fan. I think that he’s been the most transformative and consequential president since we were founded, since [Edgar Odell] Lovett.”
Leebron talks with students, 2009.
basket was not a good strategy,” said Thrane. “So, it was my job to shine that light as far and as wide as I could.” One aspect of achieving that goal was strengthening Rice’s ties to the city of Houston. “The hedges may as well have been a wall,” explained Parker, a Greater Houston native. The Vision for the Second Century — the strategic plan devised by Leebron’s team in 2005 — explicitly called out the need for Rice to more directly engage with the city of Houston. That presaged the Passport to Houston program, which enticed students to venture into the city with free public transportation and free or reduced admission to museums, performances and more. The plan also set the stage for the creation of the BioSciences Research Collaborative, signaling a new era of collaboration between Rice and the Texas Medical Center. “David realized there was so much more we could accomplish together,” said Yousif Shamoo, Rice’s former vice provost for research and the Ralph and Dorothy Looney Professor of BioSciences. Parker recalled a unique partnership during the Leebron era involving a cadre of civic-minded applied math students. “My team assigned them, of all things, to work at BARC,” the city-run animal shelter and one of Parker’s passion projects. The students “did some amazing work” analyzing BARC’s live animal release rates compared to other major cities, among other initiatives. “To be able to benefit from the horsepower of Rice math nerds working on a real-world city problem was phenomenal,” Parker said of just one of many times over the past 18 years that Houston has been served by Rice students, who gained realworld problem-solving experience along the way. Rice’s expanded engagement with the city and region was turbocharged when the Kinder Institute for Urban Research was launched in 2010. Leebron credits the institute’s research, surveys and policy work for “perhaps being the best example” of how Rice has become “a force within the city.”
“Even as a comparatively small university, I think what we’ve shown the city is that we are going to be a positive force for Houston, and we’re committed to Houston,” Leebron said. “It’s not just a benefit for Rice to be in Houston, or an incidental fact of our history. It’s a core opportunity and commitment.” W hen devising Rice’s most recent strategic plan — the Vision for the Second Century, Second Decade — Leebron felt it was time for Rice to commit to not only engage with Houston, but to try to empower the city. Before the Ion project was developed, Leebron contacted Greater Houston Partnership President and CEO Bob Harvey about the city’s attempts to land Amazon’s latest headquarters. Once Harvey signed a nondisclosure agreement, Leebron confided that not only did Rice own the swath of Midtown land where Houston’s historic Sears store sat, but that Sears was vacating and Rice would make it available “if it helped the city in the Amazon bid.” When Amazon went another direction, Leebron kept working with local business leaders and Mayor Sylvester Turner to figure out how this land could help Houston. Those discussions ultimately led to the Ion’s creation, and to Leebron’s decision that the new innovation hub wouldn’t have a Rice flag flying from its rooftop. “We said when we started working on the Ion project that this would not be the Rice Ion, it would be the Ion for the city of Houston,” Leebron said.
EXPANDING OPPORTUNITIES Leebron also knew Rice’s light could shine brighter outside the school’s historic southern sphere of influence, and Rice’s heightened focus on research during the Leebron years absolutely aided that effort. “We dramatically expanded our research into new and exciting areas from quantum sciences and synthetic biology to global health and urban resiliency. Research in these areas have the potential to be catalytic game changers for all of our futures,” said Shamoo. Leebron’s creation of two new positions in his administration — dean of undergraduates and dean of graduate and postdoctoral studies — allowed Rice to more sharply focus on the needs of each group
“Even as a comparatively small university, I think what we’ve shown the city is that we are going to be a positive force for Houston, and we’re committed to Houston. It’s not just a benefit for Rice to be in Houston, or an incidental fact of our history. It’s a core opportunity and commitment.”
of students. Rice also boosted its visibility during Leebron’s presidency by investing in a wider breadth of opportunities for students, from launching the Doerr Institute for New Leaders and the Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship to adding more ways for students to get involved with the Center for Civic Leadership and the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy, as well as creating a minor and major in business. These expanded opportunities included a concerted focus on digital education through the Rice Online initiative, allowing the school’s virtual offerings to grow dramatically. In 2012, five massive open online courses launched the project. By 2022, Rice’s digital options had exploded; in addition to three fully online master’s programs and a robust catalog of digital class offerings for full-time Rice students, Rice now offers over 70 online courses open to the general public. Over 2.2 million individuals have enrolled in Rice’s open online courses, over half of whom are international scholars.
HELLO, WORLD Those who follow Rice’s leading couple closely know the full extent of how much Sun has contributed to the city during her time as Rice’s first lady. She’s served on countless nonprofit boards, including those of the United Way and Texas Children’s Hospital, and is now chair of the Asia Society Texas Center. She has been a beaming ambassador for Rice around the world even while serving of counsel to the Houston law firm Yetter and Coleman LLP. “I didn’t realize how welcoming Houston was — the people here are just incredible,” Sun said. “They don’t really care where you’re from or what your parents do. They care about you. If you want to get involved in the community, they welcome you with open arms.” “Ping is a great asset, except for the fact that once people meet Ping, they have little desire to interact with me,” Leebron joked. “She’s such an outgoing person, a giving person … she’s just completely committed to helping assure the success of the university.” 30
RICE MAGA ZINE
Due in no small part to Leebron and Sun’s efforts, Rice has played a key role in Houston’s growing prominence on the national and international stages. Sun has also been an invaluable resource in Rice’s efforts to expand its reach internationally, particularly in her native China. “When we hosted the convocation of Chinese universities with the vice premier of China on the Rice campus, I think that signaled in some ways a change in visibility,” Leebron said. Leebron also pointed to the successful collaborations between Rice and our Latin American neighbors as pivotal points of pride. Some of Rice’s most consequential global partnerships during Leebron’s presidency have come to life thanks to the engagement of faculty in Africa, Brazil, China, France, India and elsewhere, supported by a new position Leebron created, a vice president for international strategy. It was also important to build programs and faculty, as exemplified by the Chao Center for Asian Studies, a massive enlargement of faculty engaged with Latin America, and most recently the Center for African and African American studies. Leebron viewed strengthening Rice’s international connections and research collaborations while recruiting more international students as key ways to recommit the university to Lovett’s global ambitions for the school. “My whole life has been kind of internationally oriented,” Leebron shared, mentioning his international human rights and international law background and his many sojourns abroad over the years beginning with a Boy Scouts expedition at the age of 13. “So helping build that international presence, and visiting universities and university leaders around the world … it’s really been rewarding.”
LEFT: PHOTO BY SHANNON O’HARA; RIGHT: PHOTO BY BRANDON MARTIN
— David Leebron
A CAMPUS TRANSFORMED
In ways large and small, Rice’s campus has grown and modernized both to support an expanded student population and to accommodate growth in research and teaching. The list below, by no means exhaustive, includes some highlights in brand-new and renovated construction planned or completed under David Leebron’s leadership. All in all, more than $1.8 billion in investments helped establish these facilities.
James Turrell Skyspace
Sid Richardson College
BioScience Research Collaborative
Anderson Clarke Center (Susanne M. Glasscock School of Continuing Studies)
McMurtry and Duncan colleges Barbara and David Gibbs Recreation and Wellness Center Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen
George R. Brown Tennis Center
Hanszen College new wing
Moody Center for the Arts
Brian Patterson Sports Performance Center
Raymond and Susan Brochstein Pavilion
Space Science and Technology Building
Brockman Hall for Physics
Rice Village Apartments
Engineering and Sciences Building The Moody Center for Student Life and Opportunity
2024 Sarofim Hall for Visual and Dramatic Arts
Kraft Hall for Social Sciences Brockman Hall for Opera
GROWING A RESEARCH ECOSYSTEM During David Leebron’s tenure, Rice has dramatically expanded its research capacity in both the number and dollar amounts of research awards as well as making significant new investments in research facilities across campus. The result is greater support in new and exciting research areas from quantum sciences and synthetic biology to global health and urban resiliency.
Growth in research awards:
Growth in research dollars:
Number of research awards in FY 2004
Number of research awards in FY 2021
Amount of awards in FY 2004
Amount of awards in FY 2021
Rice’s campus has greatly expanded its research capacity in a physical sense by both renovating existing facilities and constructing new ones. Since 2004, Rice has invested $758.7 million in new and renovated spaces, creating 740,000 square feet of new research space.
Top research facilities projects in terms of expenditures: BioScience Research Collaborative Engineering and Sciences Building Brockman Hall for Physics Kraft Hall for Social Sciences Space Science and Technology Anderson Biological Laboratory Maxfield Hall Ryon Engineering Laboratory
“If you look at the legacy that he has left around the arts, it’s both deep and meaningful. [He knows] the arts are an essential part of a 21st-century education.” — Alison Weaver, executive director of the Moody Center for the Arts
In tandem, the Leebron administration’s efforts to boost Rice’s standing locally, nationally and internationally paved the way for Rice to grow its student body while making admissions even more selective than ever before, no small feat for any school. During Leebron’s presidency, the number of undergraduate applications to Rice ballooned from 8,100 for the class entering in 2004 to nearly 30,000 for the class entering in 2021. During that same time frame, Rice’s admit rate plummeted from 22% to 9%, putting Rice squarely among the most selective universities in the world.
A HEART FOR THE ARTS One of the most striking manifestations of Leebron’s vision for Rice is “Twilight Epiphany,” the monumental James Turrell Skyspace at the Suzanne Deal Booth Centennial Pavilion, made possible by Suzanne Deal Booth ’77, trustee emerita and generous arts patron. Completed in 2012, the piece that transforms Houston sunrises and sunsets into dazzling lightscapes next to the Shepherd School of Music is a personal favorite of Leebron’s. “I love it,” Leebron said, “because it is also a statement about the aspirations of the university exceeding our scale and size.” Leebron’s presidency has also been marked by the dramatic expansion of public art across campus. Beginning in 2008 with a universitywide initiative, Rice embarked on a robust public art program with thoughtful additions of sculptures, installations and more to light a spark in the minds of Rice scholars while making campus a more welcoming place for visitors. Rice now has approximately 30 major pieces of public art displayed around campus. Rice further embraced the arts in 2017 with the founding of the Moody Center for the Arts, where visitors can experience an assortment of installations, exhibits and performances. Just as crucial to the Moody Center’s mission are the opportunities it’s provided for Rice’s student body, from maker spaces where Owls can create to their hearts’
The Moody Center for the Arts
PHOTO BY BRANDON MARTIN
content to ample programming focused on engaging students with art in all its shapes. “If you look at the legacy that he has left around the arts, it’s both deep and meaningful,” said Alison Weaver, the Moody Center’s executive director, who was recruited by Leebron from New York City’s Guggenheim Museum. “[He knows] the arts are an essential part of a 21st-century education,” she said. Other signs of the university’s heightened focus on the arts, said Weaver, are Rice’s art history Ph.D. program, the recently opened Brockman Hall for Opera, the soon-to-be-built Sarofim Hall for Visual and Dramatic Arts, and plans for intimate theaters in both the new Moody Center for Student Life and Opportunity and Sarofim Hall. “It’s a statement about who we are, a statement about the scope and values of the university,” Leebron said, fulfilling the last bit of Lovett’s “LETTERS, SCIENCE, ART” motto adorning Rice’s crest.
A PUBLIC HEALTH CRISIS Leebron planned several years ago to step down from Rice’s presidency in 2022, but he obviously couldn’t have predicted that his presidency’s final chapter would be measured in significant part by Rice’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
In terms of that response, Leebron said, “I’m most proud of our students. They have overwhelmingly behaved in such a responsible way,” which he chalked up to their buy-in toward perpetuating Rice’s culture of care and their strong desire to be on campus. He also praised Rice’s Crisis Management Team and the Crisis Management Advisory Committee (CMAC) for the university’s successful navigation of the many twists and turns of the pandemic. After quickly pivoting to virtual instruction, Rice invested in massive outdoor tents to allow for socially distanced classes and outfitted Rice classrooms with the technology needed for simultaneous online and in-person instruction. Leebron and his team also oversaw Rice’s implementation of one of the most comprehensive coronavirus surveillance testing programs in the country, all work that drew national attention for the university’s proactive leadership. Rice was able to keep COVID-19 cases dramatically lower than many peer institutions throughout the 2020–21 school year and the first half of the 2021–22 school year before the omicron variant emerged. Leebron credited the crisis team’s commitment to trust the data and never hesitate to quickly shift strategies. “I tell people the key decision we made was to adopt the mantra of flexible, nimble and adaptable,” Leebron said. “And I think the second element was to say we will be guided by science, and we would keep the campus operational to the maximum extent that we could in a safe way. “That resulted in us carving out a relatively unique position
“I think that’s what he’s loved the most about being president of the university is the interaction with the students, the way in which they looked at the world. And that would constantly keep him fresh with perspectives.” — Bill McKeon, president and CEO of the Texas Medical Center
that won a lot of support internally and externally,” he continued, “really emphasizing the importance of being open and being willing to shift back and forth.”
LISTEN-FIRST LEADERSHIP From the beginning, Leebron knew he wanted to help harness and amplify Rice’s lively student spirit. Bill McKeon, president and CEO of the Texas Medical Center, recounted how Leebron was always energized by his engagement — and occasional tussles — with Rice’s student body. “I think that’s what he’s loved the most about being president of the university is the interaction with the students, the way in which they looked at the world,” McKeon said. “And that would constantly keep him fresh with perspectives … he would just have a grin on his face: ‘Guess what they’re doing now?’ or ‘This could only happen at Rice.’” Throughout his presidency, Leebron actively sought out those interactions. The sight of him and Sun walking through campus together became a near everyday occurrence, and the school’s first couple rarely turned down the chance to speak with students when their paths would cross. Leebron said he’ll certainly miss the day-to-day interactions with students, and “the comfort people feel approaching me and engaging with me, just saying, ‘Hey, Leebs!’ or ‘Hey, Leebron!’” He’ll even miss the creative “jacks” students have pulled over the years, from filling up their house’s yard with pink flamingos and servery chairs to “the spoofing of an email, which I was pretty irritated at,” he said with a chuckle, “that suggested we were going to close the Brown School of Engineering. “I think one of the really special things about being president at Rice is the expectation that you 34
RICE MAGA ZINE
SPRING 202 2
are available and approachable, but then also the joy you get from a lot of those direct interactions with students,” Leebron said. Michelle Fokam ’20, a former Rice track athlete who served as Leebron’s presidential intern, saw firsthand how much he valued those interactions, even in response to heavier issues. “He tries his hardest, all the time, to make a welcoming and opening space for all students.” Fokam and former Student Association President Justin Onwenu ’18 highlighted Leebron’s commitment to making Rice a more diverse, welcoming place, his approach to sensitive topics like social belongingness for students of color and underrepresented groups, and his work preserving Rice’s status as a place where ideas can be discussed freely and every student feels safe. “There were conversations about sexual assault policy, free speech, how do we make Rice a more inclusive place for people given how diverse Rice is racially and ethnically. … Immigration was certainly an issue that in Texas he as an institutional leader had to deal with and had to navigate,” Onwenu said. From speaking out forcefully about the unclear status of many immigrant students when former President Donald Trump tried to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to his unequivocal remarks condemning bigoted mass shootings against Muslims in New Zealand and Latinos in El Paso, Leebron earned a reputation for using his platform to lift up the concerns of students. Fokam worked with Leebron in 2020 after a group of Black students proposed a list of actions to improve the Black experience at Rice, including the removal of the Founder’s Memorial statue. When Leebron met with students to address these issues, Fokam was struck by his open-minded, thoughtful approach. “President Leebron said, ‘We’re having this meeting to listen.’ I remember that specifically. He said, ‘I’m not going to talk too much, I don’t want to say much whatsoever.’” Leebron echoed that ethos when asked about the Founder’s Memorial controversy. “Leadership is about listening, listening and listening,” he said. “People need to have a sense of being listened to, and you need to learn from people through listening and have your thinking honed and corrected in various ways. “I think the statue issue has been very difficult, often because people start with their conclusions rather than their reasons,” Leebron continued. “Having a process that requires people to articulate what their thinking is, to work through history and debate to make reasoned and calm arguments about things. And I think if we all try to listen to each other, maybe we can find solutions that address a wide range of concerns.” In June 2019, Leebron working with faculty created the Task Force on Slavery, Segregation and Racial Injustice to unflinchingly examine Rice’s connections to the slave trade and history of racial inequity. Its investigation painted a more troubling picture of William Marsh Rice’s entanglement with the slave trade than was previously known; the group would eventually recommend that Rice’s Academic Quadrangle “needs bold change,” which helped inform the Board of Trustees’ decision in January 2022 to relocate the statue away from the center of the quad.
Leebron poses with Wiess College students during O-Week, 2016.
“We have to be thoughtful,” Leebron said, “and when we deal with these very difficult issues about justice and equity and history, we have to recognize that there are a range of ways to think about these problems. We have to talk to each other and learn from each other.”
PHOTO BY JEFF FITLOW
WHAT’S NEXT? Come June, Leebron and Sun are looking forward to what he calls his “26-year-delayed sabbatical.” He is most eager “to intellectually recharge, to read, to reacquaint myself with some areas of the law and really have the freedom to try to build my intellectual capacity on the issues that I’m most passionate about. “And then, maybe I’ll come back to Rice after the sabbatical and teach in some of those areas,” he shared. “Our Rice undergraduates are terrific in law courses.” After stepping down, Leebron said he’s interested in finding ways to be more vocal than he felt would be appropriate as a university president on certain topics. “Right now, I’m looking forward to exploring opportunities where you could be a bit more opinionated about some things,” Leebron said. “I think what’s worked for me at Rice is that some things I’m really passionate about are integral to the university’s success. Those include building a diverse community, building an international community, freedom of speech and expression.” Leebron also brought up his work in human rights law and his concern about democracy’s future. “Those are deep, personal commitments,” he continued, “but
I’m also limited in the ways in which I can engage in those things, so perhaps I’ll find a way to be more engaged.” After he first self-effacingly deflected on how he hopes his time leading Rice will be remembered, Leebron ultimately settled on a response. Choosing his words carefully, he said, “I think I would like it to be remembered as a time that the university made great strides toward achieving its highest aspirations while remaining true to its core values and positive culture.” Those who have watched his presidency closely know that Rice’s Leebron era will be remembered as a time of careful planning and reflection backed by transformative action. Risks were taken, but Leebron knew if Rice didn’t swing big, it never would have achieved half of the tremendous progress made over the past 18 years. “Rice has become an incredibly important part of my life,” Leebron said. Sun concurred: “I think Rice has definitely changed him for the better and vice versa.” Unlike most captains, Leebron was the force moving the water which made that forward momentum possible. “He wasn’t swept along with the tides,” said Parker. “He generated that wave. He created that wave, and he shaped it and knew where he wanted it to go.” ◆
Belinda Chang’s livelihood was upended by the pandemic ... so she poured herself a new career.
By Heather Lalley Photos by Lucy Hewett 37
A RICE LEGACY Chang’s parents, Ardys Chang and Chin Hsiung Chang ’67, grew up in Taiwan and came to the United States in the 1960s for her father to earn his Ph.D. in chemistry at Rice. Even as her family traveled around the country for her father’s job as a research chemist, the dining table seemed to always be the gathering spot for international students and lost souls who would find community and warmth over her mother’s traditional Chinese and Taiwanese nine-course tasting menus. Young Belinda delighted in setting the table and getting to pour the kiddie cocktails with the just-right proportions of Sprite and pineapple juice. “I just really loved what it felt like to take care of people with food and drink and experience,” she said. At her father’s urging, Chang enrolled at Rice and studied biochemistry and economics. But she found her calling once she became head waiter at Cohen House, overseeing a staff of 80 fellow students. That’s where she learned about high-end service and hospitality and, importantly, about wine. Joshua Chaffin ’94, now a New York-based correspondent for the Financial Times, got to know Chang when they were at Rice. “Belinda was unusual because she would host dinner parties as an undergrad,” Chaffin said. “She would have us over to her apartment, maybe weekly, and she would throw these great dinners and it was so much fun.” He remembers inventive meals like quail stuffed with jalapenos served with garlic mashed potatoes — far above the usual undergrad fare. “More than just the food, she was also just a great host,” he recalled. “She just has a gift for that and makes everybody not just at ease but a center of fun.”
RE-INVENTING THE PARTY WHEEL t was March 2020 and award-winning sommelier Belinda Chang ’95 was in Toronto, meeting with a potential agent over tapas and discussing ways to grow her thriving experiential marketing agency. Since leaving the full-time restaurant world in 2017, Chang had been working with caviar and champagne companies to plan and execute lavish marketing events. During that dinner, her phone began ringing and would not stop. “That’s when I found out that the events and experience world was ending,” she said. One by one, her clients called and asked for their money back. “I emptied my bank account,” Chang said. “All the operating cash I had, I had to refund to clients.” She quickly returned to Chicago, sat on her red velvet couch and tried to figure out her next move. “I heaved a sigh,” she said. “And I decided I wasn’t going to cry about it.”
Back in Chicago, during the pandemic’s earliest days, Chang was scrolling through Instagram when she came upon a Zoom happy hour. The happy hour hosts taught participants how to mix drinks, but also allowed viewers to tip their virtual bartenders who were out of work due to the pandemic. Chang tracked down the organizer and called her the next day. “Nobody ever does this kind of stuff for wine people,” she said. “I think they assume sommeliers are all landed gentry.” So, she decided to host her own virtual gathering, purchasing cocktail kits from The Violet Hour, an upscale Chicago hotspot, and gave her 12 attendees a quick Zoom tutorial. “We had so much fun. That Sunday, Virtual Boozy Brunch was born,” she said. “I started producing a livestream show for the next year.” Week after week, Chang would enlist her friends and other well-known people in the food and
beverage industry, along with musicians and artists, to create an engaging quarantine community for what grew into an audience of hundreds. She coached her presenters on how to generate tips or create items to sell during the Zoom sessions. Julia Momosé, a mixologist, writer and owner of the Chicago Japanese dining bar Kumiko, appeared on one of the first brunches to discuss sake and how to make cocktails with it. That episode also featured an opera singer and a dumplingcooking demonstration, Momosé recalled. “I was in my living room,” she said. “I had a low table on a bamboo mat. It’s not just us doing a long segment. It’s multiple people doing extraordinary things. I was able to sit and enjoy listening and absorbing the energy and expertise of people together. … Feeling so isolated, just having that chance to speak up was really nice.” And it was a way to make some money during a difficult time. As businesses began to reopen, Chang would regularly visit Momosé’s outdoor garden bar and would often purchase ingredients for her virtual events from Kumiko. “I’m really grateful for her constant support through all that, that she chose to buy from little me,” Momosé said. “It really speaks to her character as someone who is thinking about the bigger picture and about community.”
“You have to be a little fearless.”
SMARTY PARTY POWER Showcasing her vibrant, inviting personality and those of her guests, Chang’s livestreams caught on, drawing a large audience and generating more than $250,000 in tips and sales for her guests. “People started paying attention,” Chang said. Before the end of that first pandemic year, she’d received corporate sponsorships from big liquor labels, and companies were hiring her to teach them how to livestream. They were having her create, produce and host virtual experiences for them. Chang started crafting fabulous boxes filled with luxe ingredients and creative surprises for her Zoom happenings. “You hear about Zoom fatigue,” she said. “I think that’s because the people organizing these experiences aren’t making them fun or doing all the things to make them as cool as they can be.” The way Chang sees it, virtual events are the way to go, even as the pandemic eventually eases. Zoom, she said, is a much more powerful medium for sales and engagement than a big convention or meeting or gala. It allows people from all over the globe to connect at the same time and enjoy the same experience. And, with the technology, participants can break off into smaller rooms for more intimate chats. “You just have to make everything a dialogue,” she said. “Monologue is the death of conversation. You have to be a little fearless. People are very scared to do things that are unscripted or feel unproduced. But you want that. The whole point of this is to make it feel as real as possible. That’s when this virtual experience feels so magical.” ◆
Host Your Own Fabulous Virtual Event For Chang, the key to an over-thetop virtual event is to make everyone feel as if they’re in the same space together. “I always think about the movies with the futuristic villains,” she said. “Where they’re all holograms sitting at the boardroom table, sipping some fabulous scotch. How do we make it feel like we’re with all these people in the same room in the same space?” And that means choreographing everything: • Provide a requested table setup, showing where to place glasses and other items. • Send guests customized Zoom backdrops (and provide them in the chat once the event starts). • Offer up dress guidelines. (It’s OK to ask people to get glitzy and glamorous just to sit in their own living rooms. “That’s part of the fun,” Chang said.) • Provide instructions about where to set up the camera for the best views. • You can even go so far as to suggest what kind of candles to light and what kind of music to play. Chang tells people, “Since we can’t be at dinner together, this is how we’re going to be together. We’re doing a very futuristic, butthe-future-is-now sort of thing.”
The mindsets that fuel the work of these Rice archis may inspire you to
THINK LIKE AN ARCHITECT
By Erin Peterson Illustrations by Agata Nowicka
We spend our days in built environments: homes and office buildings, grocery stores and post offices, malls and hospitals, and bus stations and libraries. At the heart of all of these structures is an architect who imagined them and helped shepherd them into reality. But how do architects think about their work? What sparks their imagination, drives the decisions in their floor plans and fuels the creativity that allows them to see the world in a new way — and bring that vision to life? To find out, we asked alumni and faculty architects about the foundational mindsets that propel their work. We think the ideas they share are surprising and beautiful. And they might just make you look at the places you spend your time in an entirely new way.
Above: A rendering of a makerspace where teens will learn how to be entrepreneurs and creators. “You can encourage behaviors with the right setting,” Kurani says.
PHOTO COURTESY OF DANISH KURANI
USE ENVIRONMENT TO INFLUENCE BEHAVIOR DANISH K UR ANI earned a Bachelor of Arts in 2007 and a Bachelor of Architecture in 2009. He is the founder of Kurani, a firm that designs learning spaces for schools, cultural institutions and other organizations.
urani frequently works with organizations that want to upend traditional learning. As an architect, he aims to help institutions achieve those ambitions through design that literally changes behavior. For example, to discourage traditional lecture classes, he might design a space so that there’s no obvious front of the classroom for a teacher to stand at a lectern. He might add small clusters of tables to encourage peer-to-peer collaboration, rather than rows of individual desks facing a whiteboard. “We make thousands of decisions with every project, and those decisions can either help or hinder behaviors,” he says. “You can encourage behaviors with the right setting.” In a recent project for a nonprofit that encourages kids to become makers, Kurani’s firm designed tables with distressed surfaces as opposed to pristine ones. “I didn’t want anyone to feel like, ‘I don’t want to be the first one to scratch it or get paint on it,’” he says. Even drawer pulls in the space have playful shapes, suggesting that every detail of an experience can be re-imagined in purposeful ways. For Kurani, architecture is an important tool to improve the world. “I really believe we can nudge people by using their environment as the catalyst,” he says.
TAKING A HOLISTIC APPROACH TO REALIZE YOUR RESPONSIBILITIES AND IMPACT FLORENCE TANG earned a Master of Architecture in 2009 and is a design and engineering project manager at the Houston Zoo. SCOT T COLMAN is an assistant professor of architecture at Rice.
n her work for the Houston Zoo, Tang has to think about satisfying many audiences simultaneously. That means toddlers, grandparents, families with strollers and kids who want to put everything straight into their mouths. And that’s just the people. She and her team have also helped create or renovate some of the spaces for the zoo’s thousands of animal inhabitants, including tropical wetlands for jaguars, giant anteaters, giant river otters, howler monkeys, an anaconda, frogs, fish and birds and African forests for gorillas. Below: Young visitors enjoy an immersive encounter with giant river otters at the Houston Zoo’s new exhibit, South America’s Pantanal. The exhibit highlights the interconnectivity of wildlife in the world’s largest wetland.
LEFT: PHOTO COURTESY OF FLORENCE TANG; RIGHT: PHOTO COURTESY OF THE MENIL COLLECTION
All of the work is done with a watchful eye on the animals and local landscape, too. “We ask, ‘Is this the ideal condition for our trees?’” she says. “We have beautiful oak trees here, and we’re cognizant of all the soils and the roots — and the impact that construction might have on these trees and their longevity.” Sustainable design and construction were incorporated into the South American exhibit, which Tang oversaw as project manager. Elements included solar tubes to bring natural light into animal bedrooms, natural ventilation where possible and closed-loop water filtration systems. Additionally, the team specified thermally modified ash and changed its wood procurement practices for future projects instead of using a dense Brazilian hardwood to preserve habitats for the wildlife counterparts of the zoo’s animals. Architects have the responsibility to think not just about those who use a space, but the ways that the construction materials may affect others or the world more broadly. Sometimes, says Colman, an architect may have a responsibility not to give clients what they want because of the environmental or ethical considerations that might not be apparent on the surface. For example, says Colman, a client might want teak flooring in a building because it’s durable and beautiful. “But as an architect, I might say no, because it’s going to come from a rainforest, and it might come from slave labor,” he says. “There’s often a sense that when people are building their own spaces, they have the right to make every decision, but they forget about the public consequences of those decisions.” An architect is charged not to forget those effects. Finding the right balance among all of the different obligations and desires of a space’s users and the world around it requires architects to think not just about achieving a big vision, but also carefully deciding among the many choices that lead to a finished structure. “For every one decision most people think about, there are another 99 that architects think about,” says Colman.
Above: The Menil Collection by Renzo Piano Building Workshop (1986). “I love the way the building sustains its vision. There is great dignity and power in that,” Jiménez says.
GO BEYOND THE MOMENT CARLOS JIMÉNEZ is a professor of architecture at Rice.
n an age of immediate gratification and infinite disposability, architecture offers a tantalizing opportunity to create something that endures. For Jiménez, the idea of endurance is about more than just creating a physically durable structure; it’s about creating a place that remains relevant and meaningful over time. “How does [a structure respond to] fashion changes, to economic shifts, to changing social mores?” he asks. For example, Houston’s 35-year-old Menil Collection is a building he admires for its architectural endurance: a simple design, meticulously maintained and cared for. “I love the way the building sustains its vision. There is great dignity and power in that,” he says. Creating a building that endures requires tenacity. It also often demands a focus on simplicity, which can allow for the complexity of a changing world to flourish around it. The result of enduring work — whether the structure is a humble house, a bustling public space or an awe-inspiring cathedral — is an ability to evoke a feeling of well-being. “[Good] architecture makes one feel alive, immersed in the amazing experience of the world,” he says. “It makes one feel that someone cares.”
T PURSUE GREATNESS WITH OTHERS J UAN JOSÉ CAS TELLÓN is an assistant professor of architecture at Rice and a founding partner at xmade, a firm focused on the research, design and materialization of contemporary buildings. AMNA ANSARI is a visiting critic at Rice and partner at UltraBarrio, an architecture and urban design practice.
Right: A spread from the Transit Environment Programming Catalog for METRO Harris County by UltraBarrio. The catalog supports projects to provide cultural amenities that reinforce neighborhood character and identity in Houston. Below: A rendering of new laboratory buildings from the Science de la Vie competition, Lausanne, Switzerland, by Juan José Castellón (xmade) in collaboration with Alberto Campo Baeza and Joseph Schwartz.
ake a moment to truly experience the room you’re sitting in right now. Is beautiful light filtering through a window, or do you notice a picturesque view? Do you enjoy walking across the room without shoes because the floor is smooth and warm? These are decisions architects think about — and work with many other experts to achieve. “The architect might talk to an engineer or an industrial partner to create a structural solution, the right air conditioning systems, or to use certain materials and colors for the flooring,” says Castellón. “[Engineers] might conduct some analysis and calculations, and we might collaborate to make sure a space has a certain quality,” he says. “As architects, our job is to build common ground for collaboration.”
LEFT TOP: PHOTO COURTESY OF AMNA ANSARI; LEFT BOTTOM: RENDERING COURTESY OF JUAN JOSÉ CASTELLÓN; RIGHT: RENDERING COURTESY OF COTTAGE
Castellón compares the work of architecture to that of an orchestra conductor. A conductor must know about each instrument, the music and how to make the most of everyone who has their eyes on the baton. By the same token, architects must have a broad understanding of a range of conceptual ideas and technical concepts. They must be open to the expertise and experience specialists can bring. “We must have the capacity to communicate ideas and coordinate [people and projects] harmoniously to build something,” he says. You might never consciously notice all of the details that make for a pleasing experience, but they are the result of countless collaborations. “The final goal,” Castellón says, “is you being safe and comfortable in your place.” Ansari, meanwhile, sees the value of collaborative work not just at the level of a building, but at the level of a city. Many specialists bring exceptional expertise to one area but could also benefit from a slightly wider view. “If someone is focused on the technical aspects of sidewalks and accessibility, that’s great,” she says. “But are there ways that they might integrate that idea into a larger public amenity, like a set-back zone for a community market? Could the sidewalk become part of a connection to a trail that leads people to a park?” Such visionary thinking was a big part of her firm’s recent work on a transit environment programming catalog for the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County (METRO), a project that helps an array of different departments and stakeholders see how their work might integrate with others working on related projects. Zeroing in on the opportunities of collaborative work, says Ansari, offers a way to bring attention to real problems — and to harness opportunities that might otherwise go unnoticed. Cities become much more than the sum of their parts when they integrate ideas linked to ecology, safety and equality into the places their residents use each day. “Thinking like an architect,” she says, “is about crafting a better future.”
ASK PEOPLE WHAT THEY WANT BUT GIVE THEM WHAT THEY NEED PY LINE TANGSU VANICH earned a Bachelor of Arts in 2014 and a Bachelor of Architecture in 2016. She is a design studio manager at Cottage, a startup that focuses on accessory dwelling units.
hen homeowners come to Cottage to get help building an accessory dwelling unit (ADU), sometimes known as an in-law unit, Tangsuvanich says they often start with a vague idea. “They’ll say, ‘I want an efficiently laid out ADU for my aging-in-place parents,’” she says. But getting from an intention to a real-life structure requires architects to dig deep with their clients on questions that boil down to “why” and “tell me more.” Architects ask these questions in ways that get refracted and illuminated. For example, says Tangsuvanich, architects might probe more deeply into some of the common problems they see and specific concerns of a client — not just their stated goal. “We might say, ‘Do you want it to be space efficient so your mother can reach all the appliances in the kitchen without struggling? Are the heights of the counters something we should keep in mind?’” While achieving specific aims may require quite technical solutions, they spring from a place of deep empathy for the needs of the people who will be using the space. “When you can see the world from someone else’s point of view, you can develop a solution that keeps their concerns and goals in mind,” she says. A design for a one-bedroom accessory dwelling unit (ADU) in a Bay Area backyard. At the homeowners’ request, the ADU has a deck overlooking the creek to maximize outdoor views.
SEE THE WORLD FROM A NEW PERSPECTIVE RENÉ GR AHAM, who earned a Master of Architecture in 2010, is a former design principal and CEO of LaurelHouse Studio and the founder and CEO of the startup Renzoe Box.
Above: The Renzoe Box is a minimalist cosmetics case that uses modular components to combine products from various brands into a cleanly designed palette.
PHOTO COURTESY OF RENZOE BOX
hen Graham was in architecture school, she learned the value of rethinking everything. “One of the things we did was to take a floor plan drawing and misread it as a section cut of a building,” she recalls. “When you do that, you become much more informed about the qualities of that space and how you could occupy it. As architects, we learn that the way something is currently isn’t necessarily the best solution. We assume that there are maybe 30 other approaches [to solving a problem].” Graham’s belief in the value of finding a new perspective informs much of her work at Renzoe Box. The company creates modular makeup boxes that use flexible pods to combine products from any of dozens of brands into a single, cleanly designed palette. To create the kind of highly customized product she knew people wanted, she had to disregard decades of rigid design and manufacturing sequences commonly used in the beauty industry. Instead, she re-imagined an entire supply chain process. While she recognizes that her approach isn’t the path of least resistance, she also sees her background in architecture as an asset to bring to the challenge. “As an architect, we learn to think through things, to design and then build them — to actually bring them to life and into physical reality. You don’t have to accept the status quo.”
PROFILES, HISTORY AND CLASSNOTES
ALUMNI LIFE LESSONS
Are You Game? Clay Reichenbach re-imagines sports radio. BY LAURA FURR MERICAS
PHOTOS BY TOMM Y L AV ERGNE
“One of the things that I envision is that someday this will extend into difficult and challenging spaces where honest conversation is desperately needed. I think the world needs as much of that as possible.”
URE, “THE EXAMINED Athlete,” a podcast developed and hosted by Clay Reichenbach ’06, puts an emphasis on sport. It’s in the name. But get beyond the introductions and anecdotes and listeners will soon learn that the interviews swiftly jump beyond athletics. “I am working to develop a cadence where I can have fun conversations about World Series, Super Bowls and first-round draft picks while also peppering in more consequential conversations,” Reichenbach says. “One of the things that I try to get people to understand very quickly is ‘The Examined Athlete’ is not a podcast about sports or athletes. It’s a podcast about life and human beings.” Now in its second season with more than 26 episodes and counting, the
RICE MAGA ZINE
podcast has covered courage with NFL linebackers, what it’s like raising two young girls with distinguished psychologists and everything in between. The brainchild of Reichenbach — who earned a bachelor’s degree in management from Rice and experienced his own athletic successes while playing third base for the Owls from 2004 to 2005 — the podcast was born out of his own “human” moment. After years of success in the real estate world, Reichenbach was given the opportunity to lead a logistics company in 2017. But by 2020, as the market changed, he was forced to liquidate the company. “I tell people for about 37 years I kicked life in the ass,” he jokes. “It was the first time in my life where I set plans and they didn’t work out.” As he struggled to find a new path, Reichenbach began picking the brains
of all types of individuals across industries in ways he never had before. “It was an incredibly humbling and humanizing time for me,” he says. “This idea started to take shape of, ‘can I humanize other high-level performers?’ The idea of conversations that were bigger than touchdowns, bigger than home runs, bigger than companies or IPOs started to materialize.” By June 2021, after a crash course in audio recording, Reichenbach officially launched the podcast. From connections made through Rice and his own sports career, he’s since been able to land guests like MLB star Lance Berkman ’98, celebrated Houston Ballet principal dancer Melody Mennite, gold medal high jumper Charles Austin, and NFL linebackers David Vobora and Jeff Tarpinian, whose big names have drawn in listeners. But Reichenbach says that interviews with the likes of Purple Heart recipients or scientists studying resilience often leave some of the biggest impacts with even bolder messages — requiring Reichenbach himself to look inward, too. “I’ve learned the power of sharing honestly and being less protective of my narrative,” he says. In the new season, released in February, Reichenbach hopes to build upon those lessons. “One of the things that I envision is that someday this will extend into difficult and challenging spaces where honest conversation is desperately needed,” Reichenbach says, adding, “I think the world needs as much of that as possible.”
A journalist’s popular podcast is now the hit series “The Shrink Next Door.” FOR KHRISTA RYPL ’09, an English major at Rice, a story and its medium go hand in hand. But after her first exposure to a new style of storytelling, she made a shift and launched a self-taught career in podcasting.
PHOTO BY MICH A EL N AGIN
A lifelong NPR listener, Rypl was living in Florida after she graduated when, one evening, she tuned into her local radio station to hear a program called “State of the Re:Union.” The show used interviews, spoken-word pieces, first-person narratives, music and more to tell the story of American communities. “I was like, ‘Whoa. I’ve never heard anything like this. That’s what I want to do,’” Rypl recalls. From there she began to teach herself the craft of audio production, storytelling and writing for radio through internships, classes and boots-on-theground experience. “In a lot of ways, I
had to learn how to write again when I started writing for radio,” she says. “Writing for the ear is totally different.” After a decade of work with the likes of ESPN, The Atlantic, American Public Media and WNYC Radio, Rypl was offered an opportunity to produce a new show on the “mind-boggling” story of how a famous New York psychologist, Isaac Herschkopf, exploited his millionaire patient, Martin “Marty” Markowitz, for decades. The project, dubbed “The Shrink Next Door,” produced by Bloomberg and Wondery, turned out to be her biggest byline to date. Rypl, who currently resides in Brooklyn, served as the senior producer on the project, coordinating recordings, writing scripts and even interviewing sources like Markowitz about Herschkopf’s misconduct — actions that would lead to him being forced to surrender his medical license in 2021. The podcast was met with fascination, horror and praise from listeners. “It’s a true crime show, but it’s true crime where no one has to die,” Rypl says. “I think a lot of people loved that it had all of the twists and turns and interesting storytelling, but [they] could also know by the fact that he was a voice in the story that Marty was okay.” Television producers took note too, and “The Shrink Next Door” was picked up by Apple TV in 2020, debuting last November. Stars such as Paul Rudd playing Herschkopf and Will Ferrell as Markowitz brought in watchers, curious new listeners and even new follow-up episodes of the original podcast. Now as a senior producer with Sony Podcasts, Rypl has more original projects in the works. Her next series is about the fertility industry as told through the lives of a number of donorconceived people. “It’s been cool to see that there is such a greater reverence for [podcasting] now. There are things that audio does that no other medium can do.” — LAURA FURR MERICAS
What was the original spark for this collaboration? The initial spark came from lyricist Mark Campbell’s response to the murder of George Floyd. Mark said, “I have this lyric I wrote. Can I share it with you?” I said, “Absolutely,” and we found a composer to set it to music. After that experience, I wanted to do more of exactly this — reaching out to composers and lyricists and saying, “What are you thinking about right now? What is on your heart and on your mind?” That breadth of emotional experience and style really comes across. How did you think about creating a listening journey? Yes, [that breadth] was a nice surprise. The song “(A Bad Case of) Kids” was autobiographical, because I was talking to lyricist Todd Boss, and he said, “Tell me what you’re doing.” At that point, I was losing so many jobs that every day I would pour a glass of wine, and it was sort of my little mourning of losing jobs in addition to home-schooling kids. And he said, “Oh, I want to write a lyric about that!”
A Musical Time Capsule
Mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke collaborates with gifted composers in a lyrical experiment inspired by a singular historical moment.
WHEN TWO-TIME GRAMMY Award-winning mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke ’04 first arrived at Rice as an undergraduate, she remembers being a “very shy, insecure kid” who felt destined to fail. But Cooke says
RICE MAGA ZINE
that Rice nurtured her and gave her confidence. Today, she’s a singing sensation who is preparing for two upcoming roles with the Metropolitan Opera this spring: Handel’s “Rodelinda” and Mozart’s “Le Nozze di Figaro.” In January, she released “how do I find you,” her second solo album, but the first she has produced and created herself. The album comprises original songs from 17 composers, including Lembit Beecher ’05, Hilary Purrington ’13 and Caroline Shaw ’04. The title comes from the first song on the album, with text and music by Shaw, who was inspired by Cooke’s performances over social media during the pandemic and wanted to compose a song Cooke could sing and play herself. From there the album blossoms, capturing the multilayered human experiences during the pandemic — from losing jobs and home-schooling to finding hope in darkness.
Have you thought about how future generations will experience this album? It’s essentially like a time capsule. That’s what art is so great at. … Missy Mazzoli and Royce Vavrek — who, taking inspiration from Rembrandt, together composed “Self-Portrait with Dishevelled Hair” — said, “You’re doing a self-portrait, Sasha, [of] where we are right now in time.” What’s it like being on the frontier of new music while also keeping the old guard alive? They really balance each other very well — it would be a bad idea to only do new music. Sometimes when I need to vocally reset myself, I go back to traditional [music]. … I first fell in love with [traversing vocal techniques] back at Rice when I was premiering works of fellow colleagues. I love it all. — SYDNEY BOYD ’18
PHOTO BY STEPHANIE GIRARD
ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT
Sicily, a Hike, Ska and La La Land
Excerpts from Owlmanac
“Guyle Cavin ’73 (Sid Rich: BA) and I retired from the Foreign Service 11 years ago and moved to Austin. Both of us have writing projects, which led us to Sicily nearly three years ago. In 2019, we bought a house there, expecting to spend two to three months a year writing and indulging our love of history on that amazing island. Plans were put on hold last year and in June, at long last, we’ll return to Sicily. … The local economy got a boost when our adopted little town of Sambuca di Sicilia was chosen for ‘My Big Italian Adventure,’ a threeepisode house renovation series shown on PBS and streamed on Discovery Plus. Meanwhile, with church activities, gardening and book clubs, life at 70 is full — and significantly better than I might have predicted back in 1973.” — Contributed by Debbie Cunningham Cavin ’73 (Brown: BA; MA, 1979)
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.”
IL LU S T R AT IO N S B Y DEL P HINE L EE
“Carol and I decided to explore more of the U.S. in 2021. So many, myself included, take for granted what a beautiful country in which we have the privilege to live. Neither Carol nor I are really outdoor types (unless it is sitting on a beach) nor hiking people. However, we had a bucket list goal to hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and needed to train a bit to see if it was feasible for us at our age. Our first test was to hike Guadalupe Peak. … It is the tallest point in Texas at 8,751 feet. The eight-hour round trip hike almost killed us. Worse, some young guy from Germany, who was unfortunately very nice, passed me twice. He was jogging to train for a high-altitude race. Getting lapped was almost as demoralizing as my first calculus test at Rice.” — Contributed by John Joyce ’80 (Will Rice: BA)
I spent my 50th birthday on New Year’s weekend in Los Angeles along with my lovely wife, Kathryn (highlight: Huntington Botanical Gardens), and four children: Megan (15), whose highlight was marching in the Rose Bowl Parade; Theo (13), whose highlight was watching point center LeBron James drop 43 and
14 in the Staples Center; Abigail (11), whose highlight was experiencing ‘Spider-Man’ in IMAX at the Chinese Theatre; and Oliver (8), whose highlight was seeing Austin Ekeler score another touchdown in SoFi Stadium. All caught COVID-19 thereafter from superspreader Megan, but have recovered fully. — Contributed by class recorder Tom Harris ’94 (Brown: BS)
“Tommy Economou ’15 (Hanszen: BA) and his LA-based band, ‘More Fatter,’ played a delightful set of their indie/alternative/funk/pop/ska/Lord-knows-what music in my backyard. It was fabulous, and I very much recommend the band to everyone. We were introduced to Tommy by Haley McCann Leyendecker ’14 (Baker: BA), who was helping him find a place to play a backyard concert in Denver during the band’s national tour. We were happy to host, and the proverbial good time was had by all. Other Rice folks in attendance included Kathleen Robertson ’84 (Brown: BA) and Kacey Tanner ’24 (Sid Rich). If Joe Bob Briggs were still writing, he’d say, ‘Check it out.’” — Contributed by Jack Tanner ’83 (Sid Rich: BA)
BY JENNIFER LATSON AND JENNY WEST ROZELLE ’00
Inside the Texas Revolution
The Enigmatic Memoir of Herman Ehrenberg Edited by James E. Crisp ’68
Texas State Historical Association, 2021
HERMAN EHRENBERG was many things: German immigrant, Texas soldier, memoirist, mapmaker, mineralogist, man of mystery — and ultimately murder victim. But could he also be called a historian? Ehrenberg’s chronicle of the Texas Revolution, published in Germany in 1843, is one of the most detailed and vivid extant accounts of the rebellion. But it doesn’t let the facts get in the way of a good story. In “Inside the Texas Revolution,” which won the Summerfield G. Roberts Award from the Sons of the Republic of Texas, historian James E. Crisp teases apart the truth from the fiction in Ehrenberg’s tale — and explores why Ehrenberg chose to embellish where he did. We spoke to Crisp about the memoir and its mysteries. What can you tell us about who Ehrenberg was?
RICE MAGA ZINE
SPRING 202 2
He was a teenage German immigrant in the U.S. who volunteered to fight with the rebels as the revolution in Texas was beginning. He served with the New Orleans Greys in San Antonio and Goliad, but unlike most of his comrades, he survived the execution of almost 400 Texan captives at Goliad. What drew you to his story? When I discovered in 1992 that Ehrenberg’s memoir was the actual source of a patently racist speech that had been falsely attributed to Sam Houston, I also discovered that virtually no one knew who Ehrenberg was, nor had his memoir ever had a decent translation from German. What does his memoir get right ― and wrong ― about the Texas Revolution? His recollections of warfare in South Texas in 1835 and 1836 are very sharp, as is his story of his escape from the Goliad executions. But his accounts of both the Alamo and San Jacinto battles are based on hearsay common in the Texas Republic. He also makes up stories about imaginary Texans in order to impress his readers in Germany. What does Ehrenberg’s memoir have to teach us about the reliability of historical accounts more generally? That we always need to compare any individual’s “eyewitness” account to every available scrap of information that might verify, falsify or modify the account. That’s why it took me 28 years to complete the research for this book. I was determined not to repeat hearsay. — J.L.
The Gallant Edith Bratt J.R.R. Tolkien’s Inspiration Nancy Bunting ’74 and Seamus Hamill-Keays Walking Tree Publishers, 2021
EDITH BRATT TOLKIEN has never gotten much credit for influencing her husband’s literary accomplishments — and that does a disservice both to Edith and to scholars seeking to fully understand the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien, argue Nancy Bunting and Seamus Hamill-Keays. In “The Gallant Edith Bratt,” they set out to correct that error, shining a spotlight on the woman Tolkien referred to as his Lúthien, the powerful Elvish princess who helps a mortal man on an epic quest in “The Silmarillion.” Edith’s life was an epic quest in its own right. She overcame what Tolkien called “the shadow of the past”: her illegitimate birth in classist Victorian England. “Hers is a very Victorian story of luck and pluck,” write Bunting and HamillKeays. “Edith Bratt Tolkien triumphed over her background to snatch love and happiness from the iron jaws of social strictures and rigid class consciousness. … She created the security and stability which Ronald Tolkien needed to write.” And while Tolkien, during his lifetime, discouraged any attempt to write his biography, which he considered irrelevant to understanding his writings, Bunting and Hamill-Keays make the case that his personal life and his creative work were much more closely intertwined than even he realized. — J.L.
In three new books, alumni share different perspectives on Christianity and faith. Here I Am
How God Reveals Himself in Everything from Science and Suffering to Birthdays and Baseball Keith Scott ’87 Resource Publications, 2021
KEITH SCOTT, who majored in legal studies at Rice and is now an attorney, has always been interested in the big issues. He turns his focus to the existence of God in his first book, “Here I Am,” which is written for both believers and nonbelievers. The book looks at faith analytically and states the case that faith and reason are not incompatible. “Make the existence of God your hypothesis,” Scott writes. “You don’t have to believe it; just test it. It’ll be enough to open your mind to follow the evidence wherever it leads.” Scott makes connections between the Bible and numerous examples in history, science and literature — including Shakespeare’s stories, Darwin’s and Einstein’s writings, and even baseball — to explain aspects of God and faith. Scott urges readers to look for signs of God in our everyday lives, assuring readers that we can find him in “everything … that makes up the drama and comedy of life.” — J.W.R.
365 Daily Devotions: Finding Peace in Stressful Times Jeffrey M. Thurston ’78 JT2 Books, Inc., 2021
THE PAST TWO YEARS have been difficult. Jeffrey M. Thurston, an obstetrician and gynecologist as well as a graduate of the Dallas Theological Seminary, felt compelled to write a daily devotional throughout 2020 and email it to his colleagues, patients, friends and family to help others find peace. He then decided to compile the devotionals — which include anecdotes about his work, children, grandchildren, labradoodle and sailing background — into a book. Written in the midst of the pandemic with recent natural disasters and political discord in mind, “Doing Life” ties relatable personal experiences and emotional life-changing moments to scripture in order to offer readers hope and clarity. The devotionals cover subjects like anxiety, anger, exhaustion, blessings, courage, self-worth, trust and laughter and provide a prayer for each day. They are organized by date but also cross-referenced by topic to help readers find uplifting and encouraging devotionals appropriate to their current spiritual needs. — J.W.R.
Awakening at Lourdes
How an Unanswered Prayer Healed Our Family and Restored Our Faith Christy Wilkens ’99 Ave Maria Press, 2021
WHEN CHRISTY WILKENS’ sixth child, Oscar, was only 5 months old, he experienced his first seizure. Many more baffling and terrifying seizures came afterward for Oscar, as well as many medical emergencies and appointments for his special needs. Wilkens’ faith in God and her relationship with her husband wobbled as they tried in vain to help their son. Through a program with the Order of Malta, in 2017 she and her husband took Oscar on a journey to Lourdes, France — a Catholic pilgrimage site known for its healing waters and the many miracles that have happened there — to beg for a miracle for their toddler’s physical healing. The answers she received to her prayers were not always the ones she hoped for, but the pilgrimage did help heal her faith as well as her relationship with her husband. Wilkens writes, “None of us is meant to endure the trials of this life alone.” The book follows her deeply emotional experience in France and the blessings she has found in the community of people who have devotedly loved and supported her family. — J.W.R.
03.01.2022 // Brochstein Pavilion
LAST LOOK 54
RICE MAGA ZINE
SPRING 202 2
PHOTO BY BR ANDON MARTIN
“The thing that really hit me was the match for scholarship gifts. I knew that the generous match money would allow me to make a significant impact right off the bat and help students as soon as possible.” — Anna Unterberger ’80
Anna Unterberger established the Anna M. Unterberger Scholarship with a gift now and future funding in her estate plan, helping to make an extraordinary education affordable for all talented students, regardless of their means. Now, you can amplify your impact with a 1:1 match from The Rice Investment Matching Program, available for need-based scholarship endowments through Dec. 31, 2025. giving.rice.edu/trimatch
Nonprofit Organization U.S. Postage PAID Permit #7549 Houston, Texas
Rice University, Creative Services–MS 95 P.O. Box 1892, Houston, TX 77251-1892
ON THE WEB
PHOTO BY JEOPARDY PRODUCTIONS, INC.
Owl Take Jeopardy for $500 TRIVIA LOVERS THE WORLD OVER got to know Brown College senior Jasmine Manansala when she competed in the “Jeopardy! National College Championship” in February. For the computer science major — one of 36 contestants in the award-winning game show’s university tournament — her appearance on the show was the stuff of childhood dreams. “It’s something that’s been kind of a constant throughout my life,” she said of the long-running contest, a mainstay of American pop culture. Manansala competed in one of 12 quarterfinal rounds of the tournament, placing second behind Louisiana State University’s Stephen Privat, who advanced to the semifinal round. While she didn’t advance, Manansala was still awarded $10,000 for making it to the quarterfinals. The night Manansala’s episode aired, she was joined by Brown College friends and supporters who cheered along wildly with every correct answer she gave. Due to how much fun she had, Manansala regrets that this “Jeopardy!” experience will be her last. “National College Championship” contestants are barred from competing on the original version of the show or in future college tournaments. “At least it’s a fun fact that I can tell people that I’m banned from competing on ‘Jeopardy!’” — SCHAEFER EDWARDS ’13
Soon after arriving at Rice, freshman composition student Jaylin Vinson ’25 decided to write a cello quartet to be performed by fellow students at the Shepherd School of Music. The piece, “Shimmer!,” had its debut at the Moody Center for the Arts’ “New Art/New Music” concert last fall. The performers were Claire Druffner, Evan Nicholson, Maximus Gurath and Sebastian Berofsky, all members of the Class of 2025. Listen and watch a video about the composition at magazine.rice.edu. VIDEO
Songs About Hope
During the pandemic, mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke ’04 collaborated with a wide range of composers to record the album “how do I find you” on the Pentatone label. The CD, recently released, comprises original songs from 17 composers, including Lembit Beecher ’05, Hilary Purrington ’13 and Caroline Shaw ’04, who wrote the first song on the album. Each song addresses some challenge or struggle related to the pandemic. Pianist Kirill Kuzmin accompanies Cooke on the collection. Watch a video about Cooke’s inspiration and process.