Rice Magazine | Summer 2021

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CARRY ON, CLASS OF 2021

SUMMER 2021

Matthew Do ’21 — Sid Richardson College



Grads at Last

Some things were the same; some were different. In May, a joyful community of students, parents, faculty and guests gathered in person to celebrate our graduates — yet, in a new venue that adhered to public health protocols. We cheered as seniors processed with their residential colleges through the Sallyport, but with a twist in the schedule. We welcomed the Class of 2021 — and welcomed back members of the Class of 2020 to experience a graduation in full. We changed the script to focus on what mattered: the brilliant, smiling faces of our graduates. In one final flourish that channeled perfectly the contradictions of the past year, we got to see our graduates accept their diplomas as never before, via a giant screen, to the delight of fellow seniors, parents and relatives in attendance and families watching online from all over the world. This was not a traditional commencement, nor was it a broken one. It was restorative, hopeful and just about perfect. Photos by Tommy LaVergne, Jeff Fitlow and Brandon Martin


Through the Sallyport Graduates joyfully walked through Lovett Hall’s Sallyport, completing a beloved rite of passage. The Class of 2021 symbolically exited the university with their residential colleges Friday, May 14, while members of the Class of 2020 made their long overdue walk Saturday, May 15.

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A New Venue

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To accommodate social distancing and allow friends and family to attend the weekend’s events, Rice’s 107th and 108th Commencement ceremonies were held for the Classes of 2020 and 2021 in historic Rice Stadium for the first time in the university’s history. New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, who was originally scheduled for 2020, gave the commencement speech, imploring grads to “bridge the empathy gap.” President David Leebron congratulated undergraduates for achieving the highest percentage of any group to be vaccinated. To cap off the conclusion of both Friday and Saturday night’s ceremonies, fireworks lit up the sky.


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Happy Grads

Undergrad and graduate students were all smiles as graduation festivities returned to campus following a year of pandemic protocol and postponed in-person graduation ceremonies. Despite moving the ceremonies to Rice Stadium, the weekend’s events included all the pomp and circumstance to give this year’s commencement its traditional Owl feel.

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RICE MAGAZINE SUMMER 2021

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An unconventional commencement weekend honors the Classes of 2020 and 2021.

Faculty and staff answer two questions: How do you think the pandemic changed the nature of your work, profession or the things that matter to you? Which of these changes will — or should — stick around in a post-pandemic future?

Grads at Last

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Pandemic’s Paradox

ILLUSTRATION BY DAN PAGE

CONTENTS FEATURES


CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: PHOTO BY JEFF FITLOW, ILLUSTRATION BY ALEX EBEN MEYER, PHOTO BY JEFF FITLOW, PHOTO BY MICHAEL NAGIN

RICE MAGAZINE SUMMER 2021

DEPARTMENTS Sallyport

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Taylor Crain ’21 builds a legacy, expanding student population, art and chemistry, Beer Bike, space nerd

Wisdom

21

Team “Brain Drain,” diagnosing COVID-19, Vivian Ho, entertaining economics, early-warning flood system, Alternative Spring Break

Alumni

45

Creating opportunities in science, criminal justice reform, education and community activism, alumni books

Last Look

50

Elhadji Diop ’21 is head over heels to graduate.

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FEEDBACK Our Spring 2021 issue launched online in early May and in print soon thereafter. Here is a sampling of reader responses.

RICE MAGAZINE Summer 2021

A Reader Asks

PUBLISHER

“In the late 1960s, Monsanto commercialized their process for converting carbon monoxide (CO) to acetic acid. CO was converted to methanol, and methanol was reacted with CO to make acetic acid. Plants produced on the order of 500 million pounds per year, and product purity was greater than 99.9%. I’m wondering how the Wang-Senftle process [‘Catalyzing Change’] is a step up from what has been available for 50 years?” — Louis DuPree ’66 “A simple answer to this question is that traditional chemical production processes utilize fossil fuels for thermal reactions. Our process can use renewable electricity, instead of fossil fuels, to run this reaction under room temperature and ambient pressure.” — Haotian Wang, assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering

Office of Public Affairs Linda Thrane, vice president EDITOR

Lynn Gosnell ART DIRECTOR

Alese Pickering CREATIVE SERVICES

Jeff Cox, senior director EDITORIAL DIRECTOR

Tracey Rhoades ASSISTANT EDITOR

Kyndall Krist

Omissions and Errors “Two articles about new buildings on campus [‘New Sid on the Block’ and ‘Hanszen’s New, New Wing’], and you did not mention the architect of either.” — Robert Tolmach ’78

You Enjoyed “Planted in Place” The new 132-acre Houston Botanic Garden springs into the city’s expanding green spaces. “I enjoyed reading about the development of this beautiful garden on Sims Bayou. It was especially meaningful to me because the entrance to the garden is located about 5 blocks from my childhood home in the Park Place neighborhood. I hope that someday I can travel to Houston and visit the botanic garden as well as the Rice campus.” — Janis Hale Kitzis ’77

EDITOR’S NOTE The architect for both projects is Berlin-based Barkow Leibinger. We included an incorrect cover image in our book summary about the second volume in the “Buildings of Texas” series (University of Virginia Press, 2019) by Gerald Moorhead ’69. We misstated Yousif Shamoo’s current title in our Unconventional Wisdom interview [“The Experimentalist”]. He is the vice provost for research.

Missed a story? Go to magazine.rice.edu to catch up. 12 RICE M AG A ZINE SUMMER 202 1

PHOTOGRAPHERS

Tommy LaVergne Jeff Fitlow PROOFREADER

Jenny West Rozelle ’00 CONTRIBUTORS

Deborah Lynn Blumberg, Jeff Falk, Daniel Fishel, Michael Hardy ’06, Kendall Hebert, Jennifer Latson, David Levin, Brandon Martin, Alex Eben Meyer, Doug Miller, Michael Nagin, Dan Page, Thumy Phan, Katharine Shilcutt, Kimberly Vetter, Joyelle West, Mike Williams, Lily Wulfemeyer ’20, Jonathan Zizzo INTERNS

Savannah Kuchar ’22 Mariana Nájera ’21 Rice Magazine is published four times a year and is sent to university alumni, faculty, staff, parents of undergraduates and friends of the university. © July 2021, 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; 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; Klara Jelinkova, vice president for International Operations and IT; Kevin Kirby, vice president for Administration; Caroline Levander, vice president for Global and Digital Strategy; Yvonne Romero Da Silva, vice president for Enrollment; Allison Kendrick Thacker, vice president for Investments and treasurer; Linda Thrane, vice president for Public Affairs; Richard A. Zansitis, vice president and general counsel. POSTMASTER

Send address changes to: Rice University Development Services–MS 80 P.O. Box 1892 Houston, TX 77251-1892 EDITORIAL OFFICES

Creative Services–MS 95 P.O. Box 1892 Houston, TX 77251-1892 Phone: 713-348-6768 ricemagazine@rice.edu

IL LU S T R AT IO N B Y PA DDY MIL L S

LET’S HANG OUT AFTER A BRIEF DELUGE on a recent weekday evening, the skies cleared, the temperature dropped and our thoughts turned to sitting outdoors and having a beer at the newly reopened Valhalla. Shuttered completely for the past 15 months, Rice’s graduate student pub has been missed by regular patrons and campus visitors alike. The Valhalla team had maintained the space all year, cleaning draft beer lines and dealing with “the occasional keg leak,” said Joey Neale, a Ph.D. student in ecology and evolutionary biology and the pub’s personnel manager. “We wanted to make sure we had an approved plan in place so we could hit the ground running once we got the go-ahead.” After a final deep clean and restocking of supplies, the red light switched on. “Everyone who’s come by has been ecstatic and relieved to finally have their old hangout spot back,” Neale said. “It was clear people were eager to return!” In this issue, produced during a time of rapidly changing COVID-19 protocols on our campus and in our world, we changed up our summer theme routine (again!). What felt right to our team was to continue to document the ways our campus community was inching toward a post-pandemic future. The issue centers around a package of stories, interviews, brief quotes and testimonies that consider the paradoxical changes wrought by the pandemic. Faculty, staff and alumni offer a glimpse of their worlds

during the past 15 months. They answer, “What changed? Which of these changes will — or should — stick around?” In their witnessing, we heard one constant: The value of presence was brought into sharp relief. June brought the return of another beloved campus gathering place — Rice Coffeehouse. Chaus, which had been operating as an online-ordering venue since September 2020, opened for in-person ordering at 75% capacity in its Rice Memorial Center location.

Hats off to the students, staff and campus administrators who have steered us cautiously, creatively and exuberantly to gather together, face-toface, in these special campus hangouts. We look forward to seeing you. For the 60 student baristas hired during the pandemic, interacting with customers in a face-to-face manner has been an added joy. “I was super excited to reopen in person,” said general manager Miguel Luna ’22, who’s also doing research this summer and working as a tour guide. “Our very first customer was my O-Week mom!” (See the Polaroid capture online.) Hats off to the students, staff and campus administrators who have steered us cautiously, creatively and exuberantly to gather together, face-toface, in these special campus hangouts. We look forward to seeing you.

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PRESIDENT LEEBRON

AN EVOLVING COMMUNITY T H E T ER M “U N I V ER SI T Y ” is generally derived from the fuller Latin designation of “universitas magistrorum et scholarium,” meaning a “community of teachers and scholars.” Indeed, that notion of community as intimately connected to higher education and scholarship has a long pedigree around the world. There are a number of claims to being the first university, or more broadly an institution of higher learning, including the Platonic Academy founded by Plato in Athens in 387 B.C.; Nalanda University in northern India established around the fifth century; the University of Karueein founded in the ninth century as a mosque in Fez, Morocco; and the University of Bologna founded in 1088 and regarded as the oldest university in continuous existence. In each case, the university was constituted both as a community of scholars and as a place, which ultimately evolved into the university campus. In his founding address, “The Meaning of the New Institution,” President Edgar Odell Lovett spoke eloquently of the centrality of community. He referred to “a company of students and fellows, lecturers and instructors, preceptors and professors, who in a common society would seek to realize a composite conception of student-universities and the master-universities of earlier times.” He spoke further of “a society of scholars which from the first aspires to be a ‘partnership in all science, a partnership in all art, a partnership in every virtue and in all perfection,’” quoting Edmund Burke. He concluded that section of his remarks by quoting from William Wordsworth’s epic poem “The Prelude”: Nor was it least Of many benefits, in later years Derived from academic institutes And rules, that they held something up to view Of a Republic, where all stood thus far Upon equal ground; that we were brothers all In honour, as in one community, Scholars and gentlemen In this history, this sense of community has been strongly tied to place — so strongly, for example, that 800 years after its demise, Nalanda University was revived in a city near its original site. Lovett connected not only the shared sense of place to the university community, but also emphasized the importance of the beauty of the campus and its architecture. Today, we still consider the landscape and buildings of our campus integral to creating our community.

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That notion of community is now being challenged, and not necessarily in bad ways. During the pandemic, much of our community was distant from its common physical place. Our educational mission became separated from its direct connection to our campus, although, unlike many other universities, we kept our campus in operation throughout the 2020–2021 academic year for all students who wished to be here. We sought simultaneously to create new senses of community among the virtual or online participants. Suffused through Lovett’s remarks was also an emphasis on equality and what today we would call “inclusion” as aspects of our community. This is reflected in the previous quote from Wordsworth: “where all stood thus far upon equal ground; that we were brothers all.” The quote from Wordsworth continues: Distinction open lay to all that came, And wealth and titles were in less esteem Than talents, worth, and prosperous industry. Lovett failed to note that the “New Institution” explicitly excluded under its charter about 18% of the Texas population, namely nonwhites. I write this column as we seek to address two circumstances. First, as the pandemic wanes in its impact in the United States and we anticipate a relatively normal fall, we are asking how our experience has changed our experience of community, and in particular the role of our physical and campus presence. Although we anticipate ultimately making significant changes, we do not lightly want to embark on a path that may diminish our community before we refamiliarize and remind ourselves of its benefits. At the same time, however, we cannot shrink from the challenges and opportunities posed by new possibilities, whether ways of working or ways of learning, that may lead to new kinds of educational community that extend our reach. Second, the Task Force on Slavery, Segregation and Racial Injustice has just issued its first report, focusing in particular on the entanglement of William Marsh Rice with slavery. Ultimately, the work of the task force is also designed to challenge us — to challenge us to achieve more effectively the equality and inclusion that was envisioned yet deeply flawed from the outset. Community, as much as it is the foundation of a university, cannot be static. It cannot be static either in who makes up that community or in the methods by which it is constituted. We ought not fight these challenges to our comfortable sense of community, but rise to them. Rice set high aspirations at its founding, and we often quote Lovett’s words about establishing “no upper limit” on the new university’s aspirations and endeavors. The same thinking must apply to our core idea of community: How can we best extend it while still embracing even more strongly the fundamental idea of a community of teachers and scholars?

IL LU S T R AT IO N B Y PA DDY MIL L S


CAMPUS NEWS AND STUDENT LIFE

SALLYPORT

GRADUATE STUDENTS

Cycling for a Cure In just one month, Sudha Yellapantula went from being a reluctant cyclist to a champion cycling fundraiser for pediatric cancer research. BY KATHARINE SHILCUTT

CLASS OF 2021

World Builder

Taylor Crain created the Rice she wanted to see. BY KATHARINE SHILCUTT

PHOTOS BY JEF F F I T LOW

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As an English major, Crain was able to work with such talented writers and critical thinkers as Justin Cronin, Timothy Morton and Jacqueline Couti as she finished a novel for her senior creative thesis.

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AYLOR CRAIN ’21 came to Rice to tell stories and build worlds. That’s what she did as an English major — and now for a living at Electronic Arts (EA). The company created a role for her as “positive play” coordinator after she impressed the EA team during a summer internship. (EA has developed guidelines promoting gaming as positive, fun, fair and safe for all.) “People can be intimidated by go-getters, and some organizations don’t like to give you room to grow and create things within its ecosystem,” said Crain, who visited several Ivy League schools but chose Rice after visiting during Vision Weekend for prospective students. “I could tell Rice was more collaborative,” Crain said. “The teachers allowed you to be yourself and really wanted to support your research.” As a

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freshman at Lovett College, she found Rice is also the kind of place where, she said, “if you don’t see it, you can create it.” Seeking more professional development in creative fields, she founded the Rice Creative Society. Sensing a need for more empowering spaces for Black female undergrads, she co-founded the Rice Black Women’s Association. And as an English major, Crain was able to work with such talented writers and critical thinkers as Justin Cronin, Timothy Morton and Jacqueline Couti as she finished a novel for her senior creative thesis. That novel is part of a planned fantasy series Crain has been writing since she was 15 years old; it is anchored by a young Black girl and set in a future in which racism has been eradicated. “It’s a little bit surreal because I’ve been working on this fantasy trilogy for a long time now,” Crain said. When she wasn’t researching her

novel, performing at Africayé or writing for the Thresher, Crain worked on the Pro-Black Task Force and was invited to serve on the steering committee for the Center for African and African American Studies; the Dean of Humanities Advisory Committee; and the Task Force on Slavery, Segregation and Racial Injustice. “For students to be involved with how things are positioned and articulated to the board of trustees and President Leebron has been amazing,” said Crain. As she looks ahead to her future, Crain is proud of the legacy she’s leaving at Rice and excited to become the kind of active alumna who brings even more Owls into the fold. “Rice has given me so many opportunities to become myself,” she said, “and I want people to know that they can become themselves here too — and I’m just like, ‘Come to Rice!’”


SALLYPORT

CAMPUS NEWS

Big Plans

More Owls will be on campus as Rice expands its undergraduate and graduate classes. A NEW RESIDENTIAL COLLEGE is on the horizon as plans form to accommodate the coming expansion of the undergraduate student body by 20%, a decision recently approved by Rice’s Board of Trustees. By scaling up annually over five years, Rice plans to enlarge the undergraduate population from its current enrollment of 4,052 students (fall 2020) to 4,800 by fall 2025. As a result of this growth, the university will open a 12th residential college and expand the number of students living on campus by about one-third to 3,525. Although graduate student enrollment is more decentralized, Rice’s current population of roughly 3,500 degree-seeking

PHOTO BY BR ANDON MARTIN

graduate students is also expected to grow, bringing Rice’s total enrollment to approximately 9,000 by fall 2025. With this newly announced change, Rice’s student body will have grown by about 80% over two decades. “Rice’s extraordinary applicant pool has grown dramatically,” President David Leebron said. “With the previous expansion we greatly increased our national and international student applications, enrollment and visibility. We also dramatically increased diversity on our campus, and we were able to extend the benefits of a Rice education to many more students.” Higher enrollment will help Rice not only continue developing a more

diverse and dynamic environment on campus, but also add more faculty members. The full-time instructional faculty is expected to increase by nearly 50 by fall 2025. Rice’s undergraduate student-faculty ratio would remain roughly the same — about six faculty members for every undergraduate student. “Expanding the student body will also expand Rice’s future alumni base across the nation and around the world,” said Robert Ladd ’78, chair of the Rice Board of Trustees. “Welcoming more students to the Rice campus today will have an impact on the university for generations to come.”

— DOUG MILLER

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CHEM 176 The Chemistry of Art DEPARTMENT Chemistry DESCRIPTION Students learn about the chemistry of the materials and methods used to create, conserve and authenticate art objects. Topics include sculpture, painting, photography, textiles, jewelry, furniture and more. This course is taught in conjunction with the conservation department and staff of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH).

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SYLLABUS

The Science Behind the Scenes KEN WHITMIRE is an inorganic chemist and professor in the Department of Chemistry who has been at Rice for 39 years. His course, The Chemistry of Art, introduces students to the materials science behind art, covering everything from the pigments and materials involved in the creation of photography, sculpture and painting, to the chemicals and processes necessary for art’s conservation. Building on the long-standing collaboration between Rice and MFAH, Whitmire’s course has been taught almost every year since he first introduced it in 2005, providing countless students with firsthand experience with the vital scientific aspects of art.

“One of the motivations I had for teaching the class was to provide a place where students who are artists could get an introduction to the types of materials they’re using, to the materials science that underlies their field,” Whitmire explained. “The best artists know what they’re using, why they’re using it, and what it does when combined with specific processes and mediums. I want students who would otherwise not take a chemistry class to have access to this important knowledge.” Each week, Whitmire lectures to his small group about specific materials, mediums or art forms, covering topics such as organic pigments, textiles and fabrics, and predigital photography. The class also includes guest speakers from MFAH’s conservation department, who talk about the work that goes into preserving the museum’s collections. When not taught remotely, the class also visits MFAH and experiences the chemical processes behind art conservation. “Before this class, I had never considered how science is so fundamentally connected to every form of art,” Grace Stewart ’23 said. “I have always loved art and museums, and The Chemistry of Art really opened my eyes to a lot of the behind-the-scenes work that I previously didn’t know existed.” As a lover of art with a long career in materials science, Whitmire has enjoyed teaching a class about two of his favorite topics, explaining that he learns something new every time. Because The Chemistry of Art is also a distribution course, most of the students who take it are not natural science or engineering majors, making the course a unique offering. “I wanted to teach a course that would be interesting to students outside of STEM and could connect to their own interests in music, the humanities or social sciences,” Whitmire said. “This is not a quantitative course, but it is a very eye-opening experience for students who get to see the materials and objects they work with or observe in a museum in a whole new light.”

— MARIANA NÁJERA ’21

PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY ALESE PICKERING / PHOTO BY 123RF.COM

SALLYPORT


SALLYPORT TRADITIONS

Beer Bike Returns

The campus tradition was revived with a new format. BEER BIKE HAS BEEN AN iconic tradition and core part of the Rice identity since 1957. Last year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Beer Bike was canceled for the first time in its history. This year, thanks to months of coordination between dedicated students and staff, the annual cycling relay race returned with a vengeance — and a new format. To safely accommodate all the residential colleges and the Graduate Student Association (GSA), Beer Bike 2021 featured two days of competition, April 10–11. Other changes to the traditional format involved having three colleges compete at a time across four separate races with only five bikers and chuggers per team (down from the usual eight). Having three cyclists racing at a time eliminated the need for the “catcher” position on the pit crew, further reducing the number of people on the track at once. A limited number of faculty, staff and students were also allowed to spectate at the bike track, but a multicamera livestream ensured Beer Bike’s audience of thousands could watch remotely. Baker College senior Pranav Khemka said he was excited to be able to ride for his college’s team and participate in what is a seminal event for Rice students. “It’s quite possibly the biggest celebration that happens on campus every year,” Khemka said. “It doesn’t get any better than this.” The ability to host Beer Bike this year was a tribute to how seriously Rice students treated the pandemic, Dean of Undergraduates Bridget Gorman said. COVID-19 rates on campus have remained low throughout 2020 and 2021, while vaccination rates in the

PHOTOS BY BR A NDON M A R T IN

Rice community are increasing daily. “This is 100% because of the students,” Gorman said. “They’ve been very diligent, they’ve been very caring and they’ve been very community oriented, which is frankly no less than I would expect from them.” As Rice looks forward to a more normal fall semester, outlined by President David Leebron in a March 30 letter to the community, look for a return to form for Beer Bike, too. “Because of the vaccines, we’re looking forward to next year and what will hopefully be a more normal Beer Bike,” Gorman said. — KATHARINE SHILCUTT

WINNERS

This year’s unique format for Beer Bike also yielded unprecedented results — both the women’s and men’s races ended in tied scores for the first time in history.

WOMEN’S RACE

MEN’S RACE

1st McMurtry

1st Jones and Hanszen

2nd Jones and Hanszen 3rd Will Rice

2nd Duncan 3rd GSA

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SALLYPORT

SPACE JAM Udell says there are many ways for students to explore an interest in space. Here are some key resources drawn from an in-depth “Guide to the Space Life,” shared with Udell by a mentor.

Outer Space

Ryan Udell loves to share his passion with others. EVER SINCE HIS 10th BIRTHDAY, when he slept under the Saturn V rocket on a Cub Scout trip to Kennedy Space Center, Ryan Udell ’21 has been the self-described “space guy.” Udell’s interest in space is as wide as it is deep. “I want to know every aspect of the aerospace industry,” he said. “I’ve worked on human spaceflight in internships. I’ve worked on rocketry projects. I’ve worked on satellites. I’ve worked on rovers, a little bit.” At Rice, Udell has taken the initiative to help establish multiple organizations and projects. For example, in 2019, as president of Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS), Udell initiated the Owls in Space Symposium, an annual event that has drawn figures such as astronaut Peggy Whitson ’86 and former NASA

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administrator Jim Bridenstine ’98. When Udell first came to Rice, however, he found many other students who shared an interest in space, but little awareness of outlets for exploring this curiosity. “It took me over a year to find out that the Rice Space Institute was even a thing,” Udell said. From his work with SEDS and projects like OwlSat (a proposal for NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative competition to analyze the relationship between solar activity and the Earth’s lower atmosphere), Udell gained some notoriety among his peers as a “space nerd.” From this he found his other passion — sharing his own knowledge to help others explore their interests in space. Udell is one of the founding partners for the Zed Factor Fellowship, established in 2020 to empower undergraduates from underrepresented backgrounds across the country. “Because I’ve been so fortunate to make many of the connections and do a lot with the help of others, I want to be able to be that person to help others get into aerospace.” Post-graduation, Udell is working at Boeing in their Satellite Systems Engineering Rotation Program. — SAVANNAH KUCHAR ’22

FELLOWSHIPS Apply to as many aerospace fellowships as possible, including the Brooke Owens Fellowship, Patti Grace Smith Fellowship, Matthew Isakowitz Fellowship and the Zed Factor Fellowship. PROFESSIONAL OPPORTUNITIES Check out spaceinterns.org, a website that highlights every single scholarship or fellowship in the space industry — a great resource.

PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY ALESE PICKERING AND BRANDON MARTIN

I’M A NERD ABOUT ...

JOIN SEDS SEDS is the largest student organization in the world for space and where students will find all sorts of opportunities to gain skills and knowledge.


WISDOM

INNOVATION IN THE LAB, THE FIELD AND THE CLASSROOM

ENGINEERING

Under Pressure Engineering students develop an implant to help relieve excess cerebrospinal fluid on the brain. BY MIKE WILLIAMS

IL LU S T R AT IO N B Y A L E X EB EN ME Y ER

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WISDOM

P

RESSURE FROM excess cerebrospinal fluid on the brain is often relieved by surgically installing a shunt that carries the fluid to a reservoir. But when pressure in the reservoir itself is too high, the shunt needs a little help. Student engineers working in the Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen (OEDK) have prototyped a solution: an implantable shunt pump that senses elevated intracranial pressures and pulls fluid away from the brains of patients with normal pressure hydrocephalus or idiopathic intracranial hypertension, even when reservoir pressures are high. The “Brain Drain” team designed a negative-pressure pump system that gently lowers pressure when necessary, pulling fluid toward a reservoir in the peritoneal cavity, pleural cavity or the right atrium of the heart. Team members — mechanical engineering senior Samuel Brehm and bioengineering

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seniors Cooper Lueck, Patrick Bi, Haafiz Hashim, Irene Kwon and Bill Wang — are collaborating with Daniel Curry, a pediatric neurosurgeon at Texas Children’s Hospital, and faculty adviser Sabia Abidi, a lecturer in bioengineering. The system will provide data via a pair of sensors. “One will be intracranial, and it will communicate with another sensor that measures the pressure in the peritoneum,” Bi said. “We toyed with the idea of having them be separate [unwired] units for ease of transmission, but we found the power consumption of any sort of measurement device as well as Bluetooth in the head was too great to justify it,” Lueck added. “So we’re running a set of wires parallel to the cerebrospinal fluid tubing to a device that is just underneath the skin right behind the ear. That will link up to the brain catheter to measure the pressure.” The battery-operated shunt pump can be wirelessly charged

via an electromagnetic field and will communicate with external devices via Bluetooth. The pump configuration is key, Brehm said. “We were going to design something custom, but then we found a really cool micropump that was membrane-based,” he explained. “We wanted it to be super low power and be able to generate enough of a negative pressure differential, as well as to allow cerebrospinal fluid to flow through while it was powered off. “Certain pump designs have rollers that impede the path of the fluid when you turn them off, but we wanted it to act like a normal shunt even when it was off. This one flexes and pulls fluid in, and then it becomes stiff again and the fluid goes out the other valve. It works similarly to the valves and chambers of the heart.” COVID-19 restrictions slowed but never stopped the team. “It was somewhat difficult at first getting things organized, especially last [fall] semester,” Hashim said. “I don’t think we met in person all at the same time once. But this spring, we’re mostly in Houston. Splitting the work into hardware and software teams helped a lot, along with staying on top of communications so everyone was on the same page with the components.” In their final days before graduation, the students were miniaturizing the components to fit into a smaller casing more appropriate for implantation.

PHOTO BY JEFF FITLOW

The “Brain Drain” team designed a negative-pressure pump system that gently lowers pressure when necessary, pulling fluid toward a reservoir in the peritoneal cavity, pleural cavity or the right atrium of the heart.


WISDOM COMPUTER SCIENCE

Sounds Like Students explore the use of audio samples of coughs for COVID-19 diagnosis.

“While our system was able to produce a high degree of accuracy, we weren’t able to reach the same levels that PCR [polymerase chain reaction] or rapid tests indicate,” Mundy said. “We were happy to find that the results improved as we gathered more data, which is not always the case.” Goyal and Mundy believe further data augmentation will continue to improve cough accuracy. “We also believe there is tremendous opportunity to leverage WaveGAN and cough samples to distinguish between other respiratory-related diseases and illnesses,” Goyal said. “We were limited by the amount of data we had, but we’re confident that this is a promising avenue for continued research.” CoughNet has inspired them both to continue exploring deep learning for health care applications after graduation. — KENDALL HEBERT

PHOTO BY 123RF.COM

FOR COMPUTER SCIENCE students with a passion for solving health problems, the COVID-19 pandemic served as an opportunity to pursue a data research project aimed at improving a globally significant health crisis. Seniors Shryans Goyal and Will Mundy, both computer science majors, teamed up to explore a novel approach to COVID-19 diagnosis by analyzing audio samples of patients’ coughs. Their project, CoughNet, won the team award at the Rice Undergraduate Research Symposium (RURS), an event for

undergraduates across all disciplines to present their research projects and receive feedback and recognition. “As Rice students, we have been so fortunate to have a plethora of testing available on campus, and that’s also true for many across the country,” Goyal said. “But many parts of the world don’t have that degree of access to continuous testing — the most effective tool in controlling the virus. That’s why we sought a way to incorporate deep learning to detect COVID-19 through coughs.” The duo aimed to create a prescreener of sorts that could indicate whether or not a person should pursue further COVID-19 testing by analyzing a cough sample. Goyal and Mundy proposed a novel use of WaveGAN, an audio network, to generate synthetic COVID-positive and COVID-negative cough recordings as a form of data augmentation.

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WISDOM

Chip Test

A small microfluidic chip can be used to diagnose COVID-19 in less than an hour.

COVID-19 CAN BE DIAGNOSED in 55 minutes or less with the help of programmed magnetic nanobeads and a diagnostic tool that plugs into an off-the-shelf cellphone. The Rice lab of mechanical engineer Peter Lillehoj has developed a stamp-sized chip that measures the concentration of SARSCoV-2 nucleocapsid (N) protein in blood serum from a standard finger prick. The nanobeads bind to SARS-CoV-2 N protein, a biomarker for COVID-19, in the chip and transport it to an

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electrochemical sensor that detects minute amounts of the biomarker. “What’s great about this device is that it doesn’t require a laboratory,” Lillehoj said. “You can perform the entire test and generate the results at the collection site, health clinic or even a pharmacy. The entire system is easily transportable and easy to use.” Lillehoj and Jiran Li, a Rice graduate student and the study’s lead author, took advantage of existing biosensing tools and combined them with their own experience in developing simple diagnostics, like a microneedle patch introduced last year to diagnose malaria. The new tool relies on a slightly more complex detection scheme but delivers accurate, quantitative results in a short amount of time. To test the device, the lab relied on donated serum samples from people who were healthy and

“What’s great about this device is that it doesn’t require a laboratory. You can perform the entire test and generate the results at the collection site, health clinic or even a pharmacy. The entire system is easily transportable and easy to use.” others who tested positive for COVID-19. A capillary tube is used to deliver the sample to the chip, which is then placed on a magnet that pulls the beads toward an electrochemical sensor coated with capture antibodies. The beads bind to the capture antibodies and generate a current proportional to the concentration of biomarker in the sample. The potentiostat, which measures current, reads it and sends a signal to its phone app. If there are no COVID-19 biomarkers, the beads do not bind to the sensor and get washed away inside the chip. Lillehoj said it would not be difficult for industry to manufacture the microfluidic chips or to adapt them to new COVID-19 strains if and when that becomes necessary. The National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and the Rice University COVID-19 Research Fund supported the research. — MIKE WILLIAMS

PHOTO BY JEFF FITLOW

MECHANICAL ENGINEERING


WISDOM

contacts. It was, she said, “the best thing I could do to contribute.” When I First Heard About COVID-19 It astounds me that there were experts who, the minute they knew what was going on in China, knew that it was coming here but had no voice. Instead, all I remember at the start, and even remember repeating to my husband, was, “Oh, I heard on the news that it’s just like the flu.” And then realizing, “No, it’s not like the flu. It’s more like a game of Russian roulette.” For the majority of the people, it might be like the flu, but for a small but significant portion of the population, you could become severely ill or die.

UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM

The Health Economist Vivian Ho in her own words INTERVIEW BY JEFF FALK

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IVIAN HO IS AN energetic advocate for better health care. She’s the James A. Baker III Institute Chair in Health Economics, a professor of economics and director of the Baker Institute’s Center for Health and Biosciences. Just across the street from campus, she is a professor of medicine at Baylor College of Medicine. Last fall, Ho was elected to the National Academy of Medicine. Not captured in these titles is her ability to engage and educate lay audiences about the health care systems we all rely on — where they fall short and how they can be improved. During the pandemic, realizing she had “better information than most people,” Ho started publishing weekly summaries of what she was learning via clinical and trade journals, as well as social media and personal

Chasing the Data There were so many questions about how this virus is spreading. Who is it affecting first? It seemed that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was collecting lots of information via case reports and questionnaires. Some news outlets, like The New York Times, were reporting on that data. So, I thought, I really want access to this data. I emailed the Times reporter and learned they received the data via an emergency Freedom of Information Act request. I asked Baker Botts for pro bono help in submitting the same, and we heard back almost immediately. In August 2020, the CDC sent my research team all the COVID-19 case report information that they had at that time. We had everything

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WISDOM

control, and that’s therefore pushed up health insurance premiums. Those problems haven’t gone away, and they’re just as bad. Texas still has the highest rate of uninsured patients, and our state legislature is not willing to pass a Medicaid expansion. We have low-income workers who have been without jobs, and they’re trying to get jobs, but they also don’t have health insurance coverage.

through mid-July — close to 2 million case report records. Missing Information At first, we were so excited! When we opened up the datasets, it turned out most of the fields were empty. In other words, there was a great intention to collect data, but most of these case reports came back with very little information. You could know in which state the positive case was recorded and you can have a date, a gender and an age. In many cases, that was about it. You couldn’t get a good picture for the entire nation. We managed to get a picture for a few states. One characteristic we could see in states was that a good portion of the spread was happening in the workplace. The Lesson Is … The CDC should create a uniform case report, which would be adopted by all public health entities in the entire country. If we’d had better data because of uniform case reporting, we would have been able to quantify, for example, how safe it was to fly and which workplaces were the most dangerous. And we would have been much better in terms of figuring out the right times to quarantine. How Lockdowns Worked [My co-researchers and I] found that if you had a severe lockdown, it was at first correlated with high rates of death. And that’s

Before all attention was focused on the pandemic, we were dealing with rising health care costs. Health care spending is out of control and that’s therefore pushed up health insurance premiums. Those problems haven’t gone away, and they’re just as bad. believable, because when state policymakers see a lot of damage, they respond to it, and they impose severe lockdowns. But then, those lockdowns actually have a benefit in terms of reducing the number of COVID-19 cases. The earliest actions are going to have the greatest benefits many months down the road. We did find that the more severe lockdowns also led to more unemployment. On the other hand, what we could not prove is how much a severe lockdown actually forced shops to close, which therefore meant that

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businesses had to furlough their employees. It’s possible that higher unemployment was instead due to lingering fear well after states imposed strict lockdowns. Even if it might be safe to go out and about your business, some people choose to continue to stay home and never engage in any economic activity outside of the home. The Challenges Now Before all attention was focused on the pandemic, we were dealing with rising health care costs. Health care spending is out of

The Promise of Virtual Health Care On the promising side, we’ve got telemedicine. A lot of people have figured out how to use Zoom, and so I’m really hoping it reduces the need for unnecessary visits to emergency rooms. Before, we were trying to say, “Oh, maybe we could get these physicians clinics to stay open 24 hours a day,” and that just wasn’t going to happen. I think it’s much easier to conceive of 24-hours-a-day telemedicine for emergencies — when not sure what to do. And so that could reduce costs, and I’m quite hopeful about that. This Is the Way Between research, media requests and online teaching last year, there weren’t many breaks, but I tried to watch a bit of TV, and the more unrealistic the better. My son and I enjoyed watching “The Mandalorian” and “WandaVision” together. Maybe I’ll be able to have a more normal work schedule this time next year.


WISDOM

“I remember my first day teaching at Rice. We were talking about why we care about economics, and I started singing Michael Jackson’s ‘Heal the World.’ People started singing along, and I thought, ‘This is going to go OK.’”

AWARDS

Lucky Students

PHOTO BY JEFF FITLOW

James DeNicco won Rice’s highest award for teaching by turning economics into an entertaining subject. ACADEMIA WAS NEVER originally part of James DeNicco’s life plans. But as the recent winner of the George R. Brown Prize for Excellence in Teaching, the highest award from the Center for Teaching Excellence, his life experiences have helped him connect with students. “I think students feel that I’m genuine,”

DeNicco said. “I think they appreciate that I am somewhat different.” After serving in the Marine Corps and then finishing his bachelor’s degree at Drexel University, DeNicco went on to work for the Bechtel Corporation. “It was a good job, but I just got very bored sitting in a cubicle.” When he went back to school to earn a Ph.D. in economics, DeNicco said he had planned to use it to enter the world of policy. “Then I got in the classroom for the first time, and I thought, wow, this is a lot of fun,” he said. “If I can do this as a job, I think I could be one of those lucky people who really enjoy their work.” Receiving this teaching award was affirmation for DeNicco that students were having as much fun in the classroom as he was. “Economics is not always an easy

class. Sometimes we talk about things that students may be uncomfortable hearing or talking about, or maybe are different than the way they’ve viewed them before,” DeNicco said. To keep students engaged, DeNicco said he puts a great deal of effort in his presentations of the material, from using sounds and animations on lecture slides to singing in class. “I remember my first day teaching at Rice. We were talking about why we care about economics, and I started singing Michael Jackson’s ‘Heal the World.’ People started singing along, and I thought, ‘This is going to go OK.’” Junior Hannah Lei took ECON 100 with DeNicco as a freshman and said she appreciates his entertaining and approachable style. “His anecdotes from his youth and even up until now completely changed my perception of professors because of how unconventional his path to academia was,” said Lei. DeNicco said he enjoys teaching Rice students because of how much they care about their education. “When people are keeping up with the material, doing the homework, doing what you request them to do for the class, it allows you to really engage with them and the material. Besides the students, what I love about Rice is that it is a serious research institution, but more so than almost any other research institution out there, we really do care about teaching.”

— SAVANNAH KUCHAR ’22

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CIVIL ENGINEERING

High Water

Rice engineers create an early-warning system for critical facilities near Houston bayous.

CITY OFFICIALS have a new tool for planning and responding to flooding at hospitals and other critical facilities on the watersheds of Brays, Sims, Hunting and White Oak bayous. Built by Rice engineers, the city’s Flood Information and Response System (FIRST) is a radar-based flood assessment, mapping and early-warning system. Developed under a federal grant by Rice’s Severe Storm Prediction, Education and Evacuation from Disasters (SSPEED) Center, FIRST covers several flood-prone and at-risk communities, including Kashmere Gardens, Gulfton and Sunnyside. Phil Bedient, the lead engineer on the project and SSPEED director, said the idea for FIRST arose during the height of the pandemic. “The idea is to provide a tool that can

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help emergency managers better deal with situations with multiple risks,” Bedient said. Funded by the CARES Act and commissioned by the Houston Health Department, FIRST is similar to the Rice/Texas Medical Center Flood Alert System, which has performed accurately in more than 60 storms over Brays Bayou, including Tropical Storm Allison and Hurricane Harvey. Bedient created that system more than 20 years ago, and the latest version rolled out in 2020. “The virus that causes COVID-19 was detected at all wastewater treatment plants in Houston, prompting concern that overflows could potentially expose nearby communities to the virus,” said Loren Hopkins ’89, chief environmental science officer for the Houston Health Department and professor in the practice of statistics at Rice. “The FIRST model assessed what areas and facilities are at highest risk of overflows that could spread SARS-CoV-2 and other pathogens during flooding and similar events. The information gained will inform the public health response to control the spread of pathogens that could make people sick.” SSPEED hydrologists created maps

of the elevation, land use and slope on every tract of land in a watershed. Using a high-speed server, they ran hundreds of simulations to determine where and how quickly water would rise during intense rainfall events. During a storm, weather radar precisely measures rainfall at a given moment over each portion of the watershed. That data and information from stream gauges are fed to a computer that compares the input with prepopulated scenarios from the map library. The FIRST flood plain map library was created by Rice undergraduates. The funding to create the system was approved in the fall, and it had to be built before the CARES Act expired Dec. 31. “They performed herculean tasks,” Bedient said of the students. Nick Fang ’08, a civil engineer at the University of Texas at Arlington and another member of the SSPEED Center, developed FIRST’s web interface and software for incorporating radar data. The system, Bedient added, performed well during spring thunderstorms and will get better as SSPEED fine-tunes it with data from those and other storms. — JADE BOYD

PHOTO BY 123RF.COM

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WISDOM

CIVIC LEADERSHIP

Alternative Activism

Students found a way to recreate a rich calendar of spring break service trips.

OF THE 85 STUDENTS who participated in one of 11 Alternative Spring Break programs this year, all of which were virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Anvita Kandru and Christa Westheimer were the only ones who did not know each other prior to signing up or choosing their research topic together. Their topic — the impact of

IL LU S T R AT IO N B Y DA NIEL F I SHEL

forced migration on the mental health of refugees, asylees and asylum seekers —­chose them. Kandru’s interest was sparked when she joined the Partnership for the Advancement and Immersion of Refugees at Rice and started working with refugees in Houston public schools. “Refugees and asylees encounter so many challenges during all stages of their journey and even after they get to their desired destination,” Kandru, a Brown College junior, said. “I wanted to learn more about these challenges and how to help, but also to learn about their cultures, resilience and strengths.” Westheimer, a McMurtry College sophomore, was introduced to the difficulties of refugees and asylees

when she got involved with the Center for Civic Leadership as a freshman and subsequently started volunteering at a local literacy center as an English as a second language (ESL) instructor. “Being an ESL instructor to a class of mostly refugees really opened my eyes to the ongoing challenges refugees face once they arrive at their host country,” she said. “The effects of such challenges are vast and can be long term if intervention and continued support is not available.” To better understand those challenges, Kandru and Westheimer signed up to be site leaders in the 2021 Alternative Spring Break program, which is hosted by the Center for Civic Leadership. The program is typically an immersive experience where students travel to the areas they are trying to impact, but the pandemic shifted that experience online in 2020 and 2021. For months, the eight students in Kandru and Westheimer’s group researched the problem, forged relationships with community partners such as the Cabrini Center at Catholic Charities and Amaanah Refugee Services, and came up with possible ways to help. These included mental health modules that teach children about self-care and fact sheets that contain mental health resources for clients of organizations that help refugees and asylees. Kandru and Westheimer’s group also is working on putting together an art show at Rice that displays the art and craftsmanship of local refugees and asylees. “We learned so much and are developing some tools that will hopefully help empower refugees and asylees to lead the lives they want in their new homes,” said Westheimer. “We also both gained a new friend,” Kandru said. “Alternative Spring Break, even online, was a worthy pursuit in terms of contributing to the community in a sustainable and ethical way.” Both students are pursuing the Civil Leadership Capstone course in the fall.

— KIMBERLY VETTER

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PHOTO CREDIT TK


Paradox We asked a dynamic group of faculty and staff, each with different perspectives on academic and student life, to answer two questions: How do you think the pandemic changed the nature of your work, profession or the things that matter to you? Which of these changes will — or should — stick around in a post-pandemic future? In response, we received a glimpse into a year that “shocked our understanding of almost every aspect of our lives,” as Baker College magisters Luis and Angela Duno-Gottberg said. “It was a year of running elementary schools out of our homes, of missing research opportunities and of mastering new technologies that enabled essential work to go on.” It was a year of keeping up with constantly changing visa rules for international students, of attending conferences and lectures worldwide without traveling, of experiencing professional life in ways that were both closer and more distant. In this paradoxical pandemic year, there was one constant: The value of presence was brought into sharp relief.

Illustrations by Dan Page

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Speaking for Science

Peter Hotez reflects on public health advocacy and the urgent need to increase vaccine production and access. Interview by Deborah Lynn Blumberg Photo by Tommy LaVergne


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hysician and research scientist Peter Hotez has been a loud and trusted i nt e r n a t io n a l vo ic e during the COVID-19 pandemic, pulling from his decades of expertise in vaccine development and neglected tropical diseases. Currently, Hotez holds a variety of critical roles, including Baker Institute for Public Policy fellow in disease and poverty, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine, professor of pediatrics and molecular virology and microbiology at Baylor College of Medicine (BCM) and codirector of the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development. Before the pandemic, Hotez and his colleagues were working on a vaccine for SARS-1, a coronavirus closely related to the one that causes COVID-19. But, with China’s SARS-1 outbreak 10 years in the rearview mirror, federal funders chose not to support clinical trials. Now, in addition to his work creating new vaccines for rare parasitic and tropical diseases, Hotez and BCM colleague Maria Elena Bottazzi are co-directing a development effort in association with the Indian manufacturer Biological E Ltd. to bring a new COVID-19 vaccine to market.

concrete plans for that, but it has to be an area of priority.

Conservative groups are the most vaccineresistant group in the United States. We have to figure out a way to reach out to them. Whenever possible, I go on conservative news outlets to stress the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines.

In low- and middle-income countries, vaccine access has been a major problem. What can be done now to address it? Probably less than 10% of the vaccine doses have gone to low- and middle-income countries. We anticipated a vaccine equity issue, but there wasn’t enough attention given to making vaccine supply available. We need all hands on deck to scale up production of vaccines for low- and middleincome countries. One of the things I’d like to see is for the Biden administration to help scale up production of other low-cost available vaccines. For instance, Biological E is making a billion doses of our vaccine. Could they step up and make 4–5 billion doses on top of that? What types of new and better systems do we need in developing countries to avoid or mitigate future pandemics? There’s enormous room to grow in terms of building capacity for vaccine production. Right now, no vaccines are made on the African continent, and very little are produced in Latin America or the Middle East. Currently, there are no real,

What can we accomplish by convincing more people to get a COVID-19 vaccine? Conservative groups are the most vaccine-resistant group in the United States. We have to figure out a way to reach out to them. Whenever possible, I go on conservative news outlets to stress the safety and efficacy of COVID19 vaccines. High rates of vaccine hesitancy in Black and Hispanic communities have improved. How? The clergy have helped a lot, especially the pastors and leaders of the Black churches who have worked really hard on this. Now, we are seeing lower vaccine hesitancy. It’s not as good as we’d like it to be, but it’s much better.

A year into COVID-19, you published your book, “Preventing the Next Pandemic.” What are some takeaways? That COVID-19 is not so much an extraordinary event. It’s the capstone event of the rise in the anti-science movement, but also other social forces like urbanization. These forces, in addition to war and political instability, are collapsing health systems to bring back vaccine-preventable diseases such as polio and measles. In some instances, climate change works with these same elements to prompt the emergence of vectorborne diseases such as leishmaniasis and malaria. The book looks at how these social and political determinants combine in interesting ways to create various hot spot areas. How might Rice contribute to the world handling future pandemics better? One of the ways Rice could shine is to create a pandemic institute to look at some of these social and political forces in a more interesting way. There’s an opportunity to do something really substantial outside of areas like microbiology and biochemistry. The reason why over half a million Americans died of COVID-19 was only partly due to SARS-CoV-2. The other part was the defiance. The defiance of masks and social distancing and vaccines, and how we’ve allowed anti-science to morph from a fringe group into an empire. All of those things really need to be looked at in a more in-depth way.

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Urban Ideas The pandemic and the rise of remote work called into question the entire idea of cities. Remote work has made everybody rethink the need for commuting and going to the office. Home delivery has accelerated the decline of bricks-andmortar retail stores. The divisions in our society have been highlighted, as some people can safely work at home while others have had to put themselves at risk to go to work. All this has fundamentally changed the assumptions underlying our work — that city life constitutes a daily pattern of commuting, work and shopping — and exacerbated the inequity in cities that we already saw. — William Fulton, director of the Kinder Institute for Urban Research

Three Predictions

Pandemic-era changes that will last. The academic teleconference is here to stay. I see a lot of academic business meetings and small-scale academic events continuing online for the foreseeable future. Zoom meetings are convenient, inexpensive and flexible. One of

the small silver linings to the pandemic has been the acceptance of teleconferences as a new standard for international conferencing — a huge savings of time, carbon emissions, and human wear and tear. The use of campus space will change. For those of us who don’t need to be on campus to do research, many will continue working from home. Owner-occupied academic offices are dinosaurs of the predigital era. I see a rise in flexible work and gathering spaces, like the Brochstein Pavilion, where it seems like 90% of Rice’s business takes place anyway. Not all the legacies of the pandemic will be positive. The one that disturbs me the most is how many academic administrations have used the financial stress of the pandemic to discontinue programs and tenure-track lines. Short-term crisis decisions can have longterm consequences. During the 2008 economic crisis, my field — anthropology — saw its job market shrink by roughly 25% without a postcrisis recovery. I worry very much that the return to normal will bring even greater structural precarity, especially in those fields that are not deemed strategic priorities. — Dominic Boyer, professor of anthropology

The Importance of Chitchat The loss of in-person teaching changed the nature of my interactions with students, research teams and school district partners. One of the biggest changes was the loss of most of the informal hallway conversations about weekends, children, pets and other information — office conversations that turned out to be much more important than I thought. We tried to recoup these informal exchanges by creating a “water cooler” Zoom channel. Zoom chats and meetings should continue, but they shouldn’t

replace in-person meetings, classes, social events and those surprisingly important water cooler conversations. — Ruth López Turley, professor of sociology, director of the Houston Education Research Consortium


Online teaching was surprisingly humanizing. We all caught glimpses of each other’s lives, as we taught from kitchen tables with small children and pets regularly in attendance, invited or not.” — Lisa Balabanlilar, professor of history, chair of Transnational Asian Studies

Vulnerable Children at Great Risk

Admissions, Virtually Online outreach reaches new and potential students.

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ne of the most significant changes to my work and that of the Office of Admission was having to reimagine our contact with students, both in terms of recruitment and admitted student activities. To meet this challenge, our office created a suite of virtual programming. Our fall program for underrepresented students, Seeking Opportunities at Rice (SOAR), was offered online with panels on the student experience, support for diverse students and a spotlight on Houston resources, among other topics. This virtual approach enabled us to reach over 500 students versus the 175 or so that we are usually able to host on campus. The geographic representation of the students was more extensive than we have ever been able to reach through travel alone.

Thinking about what students needed from us in terms of Rice information and support in the application process coupled with creative approaches led to innovative programming throughout the year and specialized content on our website. Not traveling gave us the time for more contact with schools and students through presentations and correspondence. While these efforts were incredibly successful in bringing in an exceptional class of students who will start in August, the ability to connect in person with students, families and counseling colleagues is too important to not resume doing so as the ability to do so safely becomes more of a reality. Nothing will ever match the impact of seeing the Rice campus and the city of Houston firsthand and interacting with our community. I look forward to hitting the road again and welcoming students and families back to campus, but I also look forward to continuing to plan virtual experiences to introduce Rice opportunities to as many people as possible. — Tamara Siler ’87, deputy director of admission, access and inclusion

The pandemic worsened preexisting inequities in access to opportunities for children and their families. Yet, there is now a societal will and resources to address the systemic factors that perpetuate inequity. Our work pivoted during the pandemic to investigate the widening disparities in early childhood development and to offer evidence-based recommendations to local, state and national policymakers on solutions to improve outcomes for vulnerable children and their families. The pandemic highlighted many of the inequities in our country in a way that made it difficult to continue to ignore them, and I sense a momentum in this country to course-correct. — Quianta Moore, Huffington Fellow in Child Health Policy at the Baker Institute’s Center for Health and Biosciences

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Rallying the Public

As director of health and human services for Dallas County, Texas, Philip Huang has won praise for his steady leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic. Interview by Michael Hardy ’06


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PHOTO BY SMILE Y POOL / DALL AS MORNING NE WS

fter graduating from Rice with a degree in What were the biggest challenges you civil engineering, Philip Huang ’82 earned faced as the pandemic continued through the spring and summer? an M.D. from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School and a Master of After we issued the stay-at-home order, our numbers Public Health from Harvard University. plateaued. We convened a public health advisory council Huang worked for two years as an Epidemic with epidemiologists, infectious disease experts, the presiIntelligence Service (EIS) officer for the dent of the County Medical Society and Centers for Disease Control and Preventhe Hospital Council, and others from the UT Southwestern Medical Center. tion (CDC), followed by stints with the All the experts and recommendations Texas Department of Health and Human agreed that you needed to have an Services and as medical director and I tried to be as health authority for the city of Austin, improvement in the indicators for at least before moving to Dallas, his hometown, 14 days and see consistent declines in transparent as in 2019. new cases before you could think about possible and tell reopening. But before we could get there, what we knew, When did you first become worried Governor Greg Abbott started opening about COVID-19? things up around Memorial Day. All what we didn’t We started hearing about it in December we were able to do was issue a guidance know and 2019. I was having conversations with document that told people what our local what we were other health department directors, and experts thought was safe to do and that we were all trying to figure out what was “just because you can, doesn’t mean you doing about it. going on and what the impact was going should.” Early on, we to be. Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins held telephone is the head of emergency response, so we Let’s skip forward to the vaccine rollout. How did you manage that? were working very closely with him. We conference The first rollout was to hospitals. I think were the first county in Texas to issue calls with we got our first dose allocations Dec. 23, a stay-at-home order, March 12, 2020, nursing home 2020, at 8 a.m., and we started delivering which was shortly after our first case. vaccines 2 1/2 hours later. The initial plan administrators, was to use multiple providers, just like How did your experience working school district for the CDC’s EIS help prepare you with flu vaccines. Over 850 local providsuperintendents for the pandemic? ers signed up — pharmacies, grocery stores, community health clinics. The The CDC EIS program is the most and other key problem is that there was a limited respected training for front-line epidepartners. miology (“shoe-leather” epidemiolsupply of vaccines and huge demand. ogy). It also connected me to a premier The state made the decision to pivot network of epidemiologists, both at the to mass vaccination hubs. We had less CDC and at public health departments than a week to set up our hub. We chose Fair Park and initially set up a walk-up around the country. Tom Frieden, who went on to become the CDC director, was actually in my system, and then it evolved to a drive-through vaccination class of EIS officers. That network was invaluable during process. We created a waitlist and started making appointthe pandemic when it came to communicating and sharing ments. [In mid-May] we gave out our 470,000th vaccine, and we have administered up to about 12,000 doses per day. resources with other health departments. How did you approach communications in those early days? I tried to be as transparent as possible and tell what we knew, what we didn’t know and what we were doing about it. Early on, we held telephone conference calls with nursing home administrators, school district superintendents and other key partners. I remember telling superintendents that they needed to think about what they would do if they had to switch to remote schooling. At the time, I could tell that none of them really thought something that dramatic was actually going to happen.

We’ve read that you are also a student of magic. Does this hobby connect to your professional life? When I was growing up, I performed at birthday parties and Cub Scout banquets. I’ve actually been more involved with music as I play trumpet and piano, and I was very active in the Rice MOB. Over the past few years, I have been trying to learn jazz improvisation. I think both magic and music have helped me to keep an awareness of making sure you address the needs of the audience, how to work as a team and also how to keep things going no matter what else is happening or what else may go wrong — the show must go on!

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The pandemic radically warped the spacetime of academic life. Teaching and service went from in person to online overnight. … The only dimension that remained essentially untouched was the steady deluge of workrelated email. Email is clearly the cockroach that will survive us all.” — Dominic Boyer, professor of anthropology

City Futures We’ve seen cities function very differently in the pandemic: People working from home and spending more time outdoors, the disappearance of rush hour as well as business travel and tourism, higher unemployment rates, and the shifting of many services online. Public health is suddenly in the forefront. It’s been a time of tremendous uncertainty about the future and one that showed us underlying truths. The pandemic highlighted the essential workers who have to go to work to keep our cities running — nurses, grocery store clerks, bus operators — those we’ve often ignored in planning our cities and those who’ve highlighted our inequities. I hope we all remember those lessons. — Christof Spieler ’97, senior lecturer, Rice Architecture

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Leaps of Faith

Experimental research was hard to reproduce.

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unning research groups was challenging. We tried our best, but I worry about the experiences that undergraduate and graduate students missed. I run an experimental lab, so when undergraduates choose to work in my group, they expect to learn experimental techniques — they want to learn about lasers, vacuum systems and electronics. I had one student come on board in February 2020, and we developed plans for summer research leading to a senior thesis. Then by March 2020, we had to change everything. Undergrads went home, and instead of coming into the lab, we had to find a computational project. We did the best we could, but it was a very different experience. When labs opened up to undergraduates again this spring, the student was able to get a little experience in the lab, but it was far less than typical, and I know that wasn’t unique. Even though graduate students were

able to get back into the labs relatively early during the pandemic, students were more isolated, or at best, they worked in smaller groups. They staggered their schedules in the lab to keep occupancy down. When I stopped by, instead of seeing lots of interaction and teamwork, there would be one person at a time sitting at the computer running the experiment. The communal aspect, which is great for learning and morale, was missing. We really wanted to keep people safe, so in the beginning students just disappeared into their homes, analyzed data, did more computer simulations, and wrote papers and theses. Those are important things, but for experimentalists, it’s not normal to be so isolated. We tend to work more in groups. It is great to see lab activity back to normal now, but for the first six months, it was gloomy. The most amazing thing for me was how much of a leap of faith we all made when the pandemic started. At times it felt like were leaping into the abyss, but we made it work. One thing to learn from this is that we should never be afraid of challenges. — Thomas Killian, dean of the Wiess School of Natural Sciences, professor of physics and astronomy


A Collective Intelligence

More than anything else, this experience has taught us the value of presence. For me, the pandemic really reaffirmed a lot of what I already knew — I knew how much I loved my work and how much I cherished and valued my time in this community, engaging with people. And so, the very prospect of being able to come back to the classroom in person is incredibly joyful. I’m relieved and delighted that we’re going to get back to something much more closely resembling normal. That’s the hope for everybody. When we’re in the classroom, I think there’s a quality to the dynamic of learning and conversation that can happen — people learn to be in one another’s presence. They learn to listen to one another. And it’s beyond respectful. Something like a collective or composite intelligence emerges. We end up, as a group, being far stronger. And what comes out is far more valuable than anything any one of us

What Mattered The pandemic has been a ruthless, even brutal, learning experience. It shocked our understanding of almost every aspect of our lives: social networks, institutions, relationships, values. Very quickly, we were able to see what mattered the most for us as professors and researchers — but more importantly, as people. A classroom without bodies, faces without smiles or frowns, salutations without hugs or kisses — these revealed the fundamental importance of “being fully present.” We need to connect with others

New Normal

could have come up with on our own, myself included. And that really is almost impossible to emulate when teaching remotely. — Marcia Brennan, Carolyn and Fred McManis Professor of Humanities, professor of religion and art history

beyond the sharing of information. We need each other. We need each other “here,” fully embodied. These ideas not only impacted my own views of teaching, the production and dissemination of knowledge, but also of family and friendship. Within this global crisis, I also acknowledged the urgency of humanities. I mean that I feel the urgency of engaging critically with life, with the place of people and communities in the making of — or destruction of — our world. — Angela and Luis Duno-Gottberg, Baker College magisters

Post-pandemic, the arts are going to have a resurgence like never before, because the value of going to hear a performance, watch a performance and feel a performance can’t be duplicated online. On the other hand, bringing technology into classical music education has been invaluable for my students. One example that has been great is having professional guests talk to my students in the studio class. Every week, I had a speaker visit via Zoom, such as one of my colleagues, someone who writes about classical music or marketing experts. — Richie Hawley, professor of clarinet and chair of woodwinds, Shepherd School of Music



Pharmacy’s Front Line As a resident at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas and then a clinical staff pharmacist, I spent the last year making sure hospitalized patients received critical drug treatment for COVID-19. By Claire Klimko ’13 Photo by Jonathan Zizzo

I

was in my final few months as a pharmacy resident at UT Southwestern Medical Center when we started to hear about the coronavirus. At first, we were told not to wear masks because we needed to save them for when we started receiving COVID-19 patients. Initially, things didn’t change that much except that in-person meetings were restricted to five or fewer people. All elective procedures were canceled and the hospital census plummeted. All departments were instructed to keep a minimal number of staff on-site to keep the hospital running. Some of the pharmacists were told to work from home, but as a resident I was expected to be in the hospital. Starting in April, the hospital began handing out surgical masks to every employee every day. N95 masks were restricted to COVID-19 units and the emergency room. At the end of each day, employees would place their masks in plastic bags and write their name, employee number and department on the bag. The plan was to sterilize and reuse the masks if the hospital ran out. All employees had their temperatures checked every day and had to certify that they had no COVID-19 symptoms. I finished my residency in June and was hired on as a clinical staff pharmacist in July. In the beginning, we really didn’t know how to treat the virus, and the hospital planned to have a separate team treating COVID-19 patients in a different area of the hospital. About a month into the pandemic, that changed when they started expanding who could work on the COVID-19

unit. There was a dedicated team of nurses and doctors who had gone through special training on how to treat those patients. But if there was an emergency and they needed to do CPR because someone’s heart stopped, we were expected to respond just as we normally would. Pharmacists play a really important role in treating the virus. We review every drug order as it comes in. If the dose is wrong, or if you realize it’s the wrong drug, you talk to the provider and say, “Hey, I think this might be what you meant.” For COVID-19, we were reviewing the orders to make sure they were appropriate based on what we knew at the time. We had a “crash cart” with all the necessary medications so we could respond to an emergency code. Those emergencies can be very crazy and hectic, so we would offer assistance preparing any medications that were needed. We had to deal with a number of challenges. To limit the number of times nurses had to go in and out of the patients’ rooms, the hospital moved the IV poles outside the patients’ rooms. But that meant extending the IV tubing by about 10 feet, which increased the volume of IV drugs needed to reach the patient. Because there were shortages of those drugs, we only had a limited We had a ‘crash amount allocated to our hospicart’ with all tal. Fortunately, one of our ICU pharmacy specialists was the necessary able to find microbore tubing, medications so which is very long and thin. It we could respond was kind of like an extension cord, and it cut down on the to an emergency amount of medicine we had code. Those to use. emergencies can We were responsible for making all the IV medicabe very crazy and tions, such as remdesivir, hectic, so that were being used. We had we would offer to compound a lot of those drugs ourselves, which meant assistance making multiple batches of preparing any paralytics and vasopressors medications [which are used to increase blood pressure] every day. The that were needed. other major issue was how quickly treatment recommendations changed early in the pandemic. As pharmacists, we were expected to know all the inclusion criteria for each drug, as well as dosage adjustments for different disease states, and communicate that information to the prescribing provider. Things are slowly getting back to normal. Most of the hospital staff have now been vaccinated. We still wear masks, but no one is working remotely anymore. Patients are allowed a limited number of visitors again. Our inpatient COVID-19 numbers are the lowest they’ve been since the early fall. As long as people keep getting vaccinated and acting responsibly, I think we have things under control. — As told to Michael Hardy ’06

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Going Meta

For MBA students, what if the pandemic became both the environment and the lesson?

Finding a Way Civic engagement continued, creatively. We were all sent into our homes, told to keep away from each other, stay apart, shut down. In the process, we learned to connect in new ways, check in on each other, take care of each other. We did not shut down. My work is in experiential and civic education, community engagement and social justice. At first glance, shelter-in-place orders, masks and social distancing would seem like barriers to engagement. We found resources for students to access connections and to turn their attention to the work of collective action and mobilization in their communities. There were phone banks and email campaigns to register voters and encourage families to fill out the census, and there were mutual aid networks to get

42

vulnerable and isolated community members what they needed: groceries, medical supplies, books, puzzles and cards. We guided students through reflective activities centered on the concept of critical hope and transformational thinking. We asked students to recognize the injustices revealed in the losses and to double down on their commitments to realizing more equitable, inclusive societies — to push for that justice, to find the power of their voices and recognize how many more avenues of access arise and voices can be heard in places they haven’t been in the past. Our work always gives us hope in the dark and lifts us up. — Danika Brown, director of curriculum and fellowships, Center for Civic Leadership

I had about a 48-hour notice back in March 2020 to move my class online. That was a very intense introduction to remote teaching. When I had more time to prepare for online classes, my objective was to not just pick the content that I would teach in a classroom and put it online, but to redesign the whole experience. For our MBA students, being suddenly online was the same environment for their work. Their teams were all virtual, and they had the same type of challenges we had as teachers, like participating in and leading meetings. I wanted to take advantage of the fact that everyone was visible in front of the camera. You see what their body language looks like, for example, and record their behaviors and words for debriefing. I redesigned my leadership class [MGMT 710: Leadership Intensive Learning Experience] around a fully remote format, taking full advantage of the technologies. It’s a simulation-based class, where classes are set up in teams of five or six students who play against each other — role-playing running a medium-sized business. We created scenarios that incorporated a pandemic, where there’s uncertainty about research and development, marketing and pricing, not to mention a pandemic drop in demand for products. I tried to bring these types of scenarios that were consonant with what was happening in the real world into the classroom. I think there will still be a place in the future for new technologies and to think about how we adapt our modalities of teaching. — Scott Sonenshein, Henry Gardiner Symonds Professor of Management, Jones Graduate School of Business


testing capabilities, as well as embassy and consulate openings or closing for visa processing and more. The paradigm shifts on a regular basis, which affects individuals in different ways. Are new as well as returning students bearing the brunt of this flux? We have newly admitted graduate and undergraduate students who have been trying to get a visa to enter the U.S. since before August 2020 and have not been able to do so. Many of our continuing students returned home when Rice began teaching remotely in March 2020 and have been studying from abroad ever since, as a result of not being able to get a visa to reenter the U.S. In essence, each international student’s case is individual and unique to many changing variables. The financial and emotional strain on international students who come to the U.S., as well as their being isolated due to remote classes, further complicated their learning about cultural mores and meeting new friends. While these young students and scholars are resilient, it has taken a heavy toll.

Locked Out, Locked In Photo by Jeff Fitlow

F

or Adria Baker, executive director of the Office of International Students and Scholars, the pandemic wreaked “a year of frustration and hardship” for Rice’s international students. The impact of the global pandemic on international travel is not over. Overall, how has your work on behalf of international students been affected by the pandemic? The nature of travel, mobility, visa processing and immigration laws — the core areas of the international education profession — will be impacted for a very long time as a result of the pandemic. Guidelines affecting when, how and where one can travel are in constant flux. For example: Can you travel to or from the U.K., France, China, Brazil or Kenya today? Two weeks ago, perhaps you could not. Today, you may be able to — depending upon the travel restrictions, any recent surge in COVID-19 cases, current

We have also tried to communicate more regularly — and with a deeply empathetic lens.

How has your office responded to challenges like these? We implemented online fall orientations and trainings in a continuum over the summer months, not just upon arrival in August. Our international advising meetings are either on Zoom or in a courtyard outside of our building. We held an outdoor networking lunch series with many of our individual population groups, such as newly arrived internationals in the spring 2021 semester, postdocs, graduate students and exchange visitors. We have conducted online immigration trainings and meetings and held online cultural and educational programming, such as talent shows, competitions, an international education fair and virtual tours by Rice’s international population. We have also tried to communicate more regularly — and with a deeply empathetic lens — with the Rice international population and the academic departments in order to help them navigate the ever-changing landscape. Which of these changes will stick around in the post-pandemic environment? The continuum of online international orientations throughout the weeks before arrival should and will continue. We will try to continue some of our outside picnic lunch series, too. Visa processing and international mobility [to and from the U.S.] may be forever changed — as they are still changing. It remains to be seen where and when the ever-evolving pivots will slow. I do not anticipate a constant in these areas in the near future. — As told to Lynn Gosnell

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The Deep End

Compared to many U.S. universities, Rice faculty had not ventured too deeply into the pool of online education prior to the pandemic. We all were thrown into the deep end. I learned to appreciate some benefits of online instruction, in particular the ability for students to attend class if traveling or unable to make it to campus. For me, online classes with more than a dozen students are suboptimal, but online classes with fewer students work quite well. In the Master of Global Affairs program, we will be returning to fully inperson classes beginning in the fall but are looking into retaining the dual-delivery mode as an emergency option. — Mark Jones, Joseph D. Jamail Chair in Latin American Studies, faculty director of the Master of Global Affairs program 44

A Climate Revolution

Unexpectedly, the pandemic renewed climate activism.

T

he pandemic highlighted for every person the fact that we exist in a highly interconnected system and that denial of global problems like pandemics and the climate crisis is reckless. The rising global social movement for climate action has converged with a global technological revolution. We now have viable solutions for emissions reductions across most sectors of our economy, and we’re increasingly acting on them. For example, 90% of the how combating racism generating capacity and empowering the added to electricity disenfranchised is critical grids across the entire to solving our climate planet in 2020 was crisis. from a renewable genWhen we see At the dawn of 2020, I erating source. That’s dared not dream so much stunning, and that’s that historically change could happen what this revolution disenfranchised in such a short period looks like. The last communities suffer of time. A year later, I four months of 2020 was telling audiences in were particularly environmental virtual talks that we are breathtaking. Some of and public health now in an era of profound the largest companies impacts disprochange, and the change and economies in is getting faster and the world made portionately, it faster. The world is going dramatic climate highlights how to look very different action pledges. We’re combating racism in 2030. Students who seeing bold steps, not graduate with a high level incrementalism. The and empowering of environmental literacy questions at the leadthe disenfranwill find opportunity in ing edge have funchised is critical to shaping this new world, damentally changed from “How do we solving our climate like those with computer skills who graduated reduce our impact?” crisis. in the mid-1990s and to “How can we undo were immediately swept our historical negative into creating the digital impacts?” Further, the economy. There’s before pandemic has more tightly connected 2020, and there’s after 2020. Buckle up: environmental action with human there’s no going back. health and justice. When we see that his— Richard Johnson ’92, executive torically disenfranchised communities director for sustainability, suffer environmental and public health Administrative Center for Sustainability impacts disproportionately, it highlights and Energy Management


ALUMNI

PROFILES, HISTORY AND CLASSNOTES

LEADERSHIP

Opening Doors As an engineer, educator and leader, Gilda Barabino is driven to create opportunities in science. BY DAVID LEVIN

PHOTO BY JOY ELLE W E S T

M AG A ZINE . RICE . EDU 4 5


T

O SAY GILDA Barabino ’86 wears a lot of hats is a gross understatement — she’s more like a one-woman haberdashery. After earning her Ph.D. in chemical engineering at Rice, Barabino has held professorships at four different major universities, conducted groundbreaking research on sickle cell disease, and served in a number of vice provost positions and a deanship, all while winning dozens of professional awards and sitting on committees at several scientific organizations. “I’ve always had tons of different things going on, but there’s a common goal to all of them,” she says. “The big driver in my career has been, ‘How do you open doors for others, especially in underserved and marginalized groups?’” That desire has shaped every facet of her work. As an engineer, she’s published more than 40 papers on the biomechanics of sickle cell disease, a painful blood disorder that disproportionately affects African Americans. As an educator, she founded the National Institute for Faculty Equity, co-founded

46 RICE M AG A ZINE SUMMER 202 1

“The big driver in my career has been, ‘How do you open doors for others, especially in underserved and marginalized groups?’” the National Science Foundation Minority Faculty Development Workshop and served as Georgia Tech’s first vice provost for academic diversity. Likewise, in her professional capacity, she’s a member of the National Science Foundation’s Committee on Equal Opportunities in Science and Engineering and the National Academies’ Roundtable on Black Men and Women in Science, Engineering and Medicine. Being constantly on the go comes naturally, says Barabino. In her down time — if you can call it that — she’s taken piano, painting and ballet lessons. She’s played in a women’s soccer league and is currently learning Spanish. To some extent, those interests help

her balance out long hours at work. But the true source of her boundless energy, she says, is a deep focus on making the world a more just, equitable and humane place. “I apply that equity lens to everything I do. It’s a unifying thread that allows me to connect, integrate and leverage activities as an educator, researcher, administrator and leader in higher education,” she says. “I’m excited by a challenge, and my commitment to equity and fairness serves as a powerful inner driver.” Barabino’s latest role has continued this trend. In July 2020, she was hired as the second president of Olin College, a small and prestigious engineering school outside of Boston, where she’s also a professor of biomedical engineering. In 2021, Barabino was named president-elect of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), one of the most well-regarded scientific organizations in the country. In both of those positions, Barabino says she hopes to foster meaningful change, not only for the field of engineering, but also for underrepresented communities worldwide. “One of the biggest problems facing the world today is inequality. There are inequities that play out in education, in health, in welfare, and they can often feel intractable and unsolvable. As engineers, we’re trained to take a systems approach to any problem — so what if we use that mindset to focus on solutions to those problems?” To that end, Barabino sees her work at Olin and the AAAS as important opportunities to address systemic racism in the sciences and to guide students and professionals toward tackling realworld societal issues. “This past year, there has been a reckoning around racial justice. At the same time, the pandemic has brought new waves of misinformation and mistrust of science — so now is the time to promote new kinds of solutions. It’s essential that we come together as a community of scientists and engineers to do good in the world.”

PHOTO BY LEISE JONES, COURTESY OF OLIN COLLEGE

ALUMNI


CRIMINAL JUSTICE

ReformMinded

Through his research at the Brennan Center for Justice, Ames Grawert advocates for a fresh start for Americans with criminal records. AS A YOUNG ASSOCIATE at the international law firm Mayer Brown, Ames Grawert ’06 helped a Chicago man convicted of murder challenge his conviction on the grounds of ineffective counsel. He then switched sides by joining the district attorney’s office in Nassau County, New York, where he fought to uphold criminal convictions in appellate litigation. “As an appellate lawyer, I saw how much the deck is stacked against defendants,” Grawert said. “You have to mount a major effort to even get the court to look at the case.” In 2016, he became a senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, where he conducts research on incarceration disparities and advocates for criminal justice reform. Grawert’s first major project at the Brennan Center was to research the financial consequences of a criminal conviction. He discovered that 1 in every 5 Americans, about 70 million people, has a criminal record of some kind. Even after they’ve served their sentence, these people suffer diminished earning potential going forward — for example, people with misdemeanor convictions make 16% less in annual earnings. “People think that misdemeanors are no big deal, but even being convicted of a minor crime affects your earnings for the rest of your life,” Grawert said. People with a criminal record have trouble finding jobs, housing and basic services. Since

PHOTO BY MICH A EL N AGIN

people of color make up a disproportionate share of the 2.3 million people in American jails, the financial burden of imprisonment falls disproportionately on Black people and Latinos. “I’ve heard from people who got out of prison, earned an undergraduate degree from NYU, got a graduate degree in social work and still couldn’t get a job because of their criminal record. Stories like that are really what animate the issue for me. We don’t have space in our society for people who make a mistake.” To fix those economic and racial disparities of criminal conviction, the Brennan Center project made a number of recommendations to policymakers. “Clean slate” laws, which automatically seal the criminal records of people who have completed their sentences, can help prevent discrimination against formerly incarcerated individuals. Six states have already adopted such laws, including Pennsylvania, Utah and

Michigan. Legalizing marijuana, as 16 states have done, would cut down on the number of low-level arrests and convictions. Eliminating mandatory minimum sentences, reclassifying some felonies as misdemeanors and decriminalizing other low-level offenses would reduce America’s massive prison population. The good news is that criminal justice reform is one of the few issues on which many Democrats and Republicans see eye to eye. In 2018, President Donald Trump signed the First Step Act, which shortened federal prison sentences, gave judges more flexibility in sentencing and reduced the disparity in recommended prison sentences between crack and powder cocaine. “President Trump’s support gave permission to other wavering Republicans to back criminal justice reform,” Grawert said. “There’s still a groundswell of bipartisan support, but time is of the essence.”

— MICHAEL HARDY ’06

M AG A ZINE . RICE . EDU 47


ALUMNI

LIFE AFTER RICE

Coming Into His Own

Brandon Mack supports the dreams of current and future Owls. BRANDON MACK ’06 has worked for 11 years in Rice’s Office of Admission, where he is currently an associate director, but he has been contributing to the admission process since he was a student double majoring in political science and sociology. “I was a senior interviewer, and I absolutely loved it,” Mack reminisces. “It was fun talking to students about Rice.” These days, Mack has an overflow-

48 RICE M AG A ZINE SUMMER 202 1

ing professional plate. In addition to his job, he is the staff sponsor for Rice Pride, an activist with Black Lives Matter Houston and a Ph.D. student at the University of Houston. As an undergraduate, his love of coordinating O-Week and creating advocacy-related programming stoked his passion for activism, education and community. College was also when Mack began fully exploring the intersections of his identities as a “same-gender-loving” Black man. “There were a few, but not a lot of us. Becoming more and more of myself, being more outwardly [open] about myself, was very important to me, especially by the time I was a senior,” Mack explains. As such, he took identity-centered courses for his degrees, organized with queer groups off campus and led the Black Student Association as vice president. Mack coordinates transfer admissions and serves as the liaison to the

School of Architecture and also works on domestic and international recruitment efforts as a territory manager for Florida, the Caribbean, Puerto Rico and Africa. While working to reach the broadest swathe of communities possible, Mack encourages students to indulge in their dreams. “The college admission process … is about feeling open to thinking about the possibilities of your life. And it could be as farfetched as you think it could be.” By participating in campuswide conversations about college access and equity, Mack’s student advocacy extends far beyond the recruitment process. “We also need to be concerned [with the question], ‘Is Rice the best place for all of our students?’” He points out that a majority of higher education institutions were never created to include people of color. “If we truly want places and spaces to embody diversity, equity and inclusion, it requires intentional actions in order for that to happen,” he says. This call to action on campus dovetails naturally with his activism off campus, as well. Since 2013, Mack has been organizing with the group that is now the Black Lives Matter Houston chapter. In addition to addressing instances of police brutality, the team’s daily labor is dynamic. “We work on food insecurity issues, we work on education issues, LGBTQ+ issues — the full gamut of how we make sure people know that Black lives, in all of our intersections, matter.” They are currently working to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act and fight legislation targeting transgender communities. Mack’s work on and off campus often converges in this drive to manifest a world where we can share in the richness of being ourselves. “I’m fully who I am everywhere I go. And I want the world to operate in the same way — where we all get to be fully ourselves in every single space. … Imagine what this world could be.” — LILY WULFEMEYER ’20

PHOTO BY TOMM Y L AV ERGNE


ALUMNI

ALUMNI BOOKS

Now Reading BY JENNIFER LATSON

This Is How We Fly

A Haven in the Sun

Five Stories of Bird Life and Its Future on the Texas Coast B.C. Robison ’88 Texas Tech University Press, 2020

MORE THAN 480 species of birds spend at least some of their days in coastal Texas as permanent residents or as seasonal guests. In “A Haven in the Sun,” nature writer B.C. Robison focuses on five species with especially close ties to the region: Attwater’s prairie chicken, white-tailed hawks, whooping cranes, redheads, and migratory shorebirds and songbirds. With its varied habitats and geographic centrality, the Texas coast is a crossroads — and a true haven — for birds of all kinds, Robison writes. As the coast becomes more crowded and habitats degrade and disappear, however, the region has less in the way of shelter and sustenance to offer its feathered visitors. Take the Hudsonian Godwit, a shorebird that makes a 2,000-mile trek over the open Atlantic every summer, from Canada to the Amazon rainforest, before continuing to its winter home in southern Chile and Tierra del Fuego. In the spring, the birds begin the return trip north, stopping over in rice fields and pastures along the Texas coast. But habitat destruction threatens their dwindling population at every stage of their journey, including the Texas rest stop. “What happens to the Hudsonian Godwit may also be the fate of other shorebirds,” Robison warns.

Assembling the Architect

The History and Theory of Professional Practice George Barnett Johnston ’84 Bloomsbury Visual Arts, 2020

Architecture has existed for millennia, since humans first moved out of caves and started building structures. But the role of an architect as we conceive of it today is relatively new. In “Assembling the Architect,” George Barnett Johnston maps the profession’s evolution in the U.S., focusing on its foundations from 1870 to 1920. Back then, the defining traits of the role were just

Anna Meriano ’13 Philomel Books, 2020

ELLEN LOPEZ-ROURKE — the 17-year-old narrator of Anna Meriano’s young adult novel “This Is How We Fly” — lost her mother when she was only 4 years old and ended up with a wicked stepmother instead. That made her feel a bit like a Disney princess, and she became preoccupied with fairy tales. “I liked the story that every fairy tale tells,” Ellen says. “That the world is full of danger, which I already knew, and that happy endings exist, which I wanted to believe. They also give stepmothers a pretty bad rap.” When the villain in Ellen’s tale grounds her for a month during her last summer before college, her only way out of the house is to join the local “Muggle” Quidditch team. And although the magic they use on the field is only pretend, the experience opens up a whole new world to her. Meriano, who plays for the Houston Cosmos Quidditch Club, has created a playful, funny and poignant take on the classic Cinderella story, which critics have lauded. “This clever, subtle reimagining of a beloved fairy tale is both subversive and empowering,” Kirkus Reviews says. “Truly enchanting.”

beginning to take shape as architects jockeyed for social status and professional prestige. Industry regulation was virtually nonexistent; and relations between architects, builders and owners were confusing and often contentious. “The role of the general contractor was still a novelty, general conditions of contracts were inconsistent, competitive bidding was decried as an

evil, local customs frustrated consensus about national norms, and the agency of the architect was unsettled law,” writes Johnston, an architecture professor at Georgia Tech and principal of Johnston+Dumais [architects]. And while the role continues to evolve today, Johnston hopes that a measure of historical awareness will help the profession avoid some of the pitfalls of the past.

M AG A ZINE . RICE . EDU 49


05.14.2021 // Elhadji Diop ’21 // Lovett Hall

LAST LOOK 50 RICE M AG A ZINE SUMMER 202 1

PHOTO BY JEFF FITLOW


Invest in INNOVATION The New Engineering and Science Building

Rice engineers and scientists are leading some of the most inspiring breakthroughs of our time: designing revolutionary materials from the molecular level up, planning for a zero-emissions future and ensuring clean water for everyone, everywhere. The new Engineering and Science Building, a $152 million, 266,000-square-foot facility, will sit at the forefront of discoveries in materials science, quantum science and energy transitions — and position Rice as a world leader in these fields. Partner with us to empower innovation and strengthen Rice’s research impact. Visit futureofresearch.rice.edu to learn how you can be a part of this exciting endeavor.

A rendering of the new Engineering and Science Building from the Engineering Quad.

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ON THE WEB

magazine.rice.edu VIDEOS

A Reunion and a Celebration

More than 500 alumni from the Class of 2020 and their families returned to campus for a joyful commencement weekend. Videographer Brandon Martin captured the voices, the cheers and the hugs of this long-awaited gathering.

ATHLETICS

Coach Cruz JOSÉ CRUZ JR. ’96 is returning to his alma mater as the 22nd head baseball coach of the Owls. Joe Karlgaard, Rice’s director of athletics, recreation and lifetime fitness, made the announcement June 9. “As a player, he gave us immediate credibility when he chose Rice. He saw the program grow into a perennial powerhouse through his brother playing on the 2003 CWS Championship squad, and he has felt our recent struggles as the parent of two players,” Karlgaard said. “It is an honor and a privilege to have the opportunity to come home to Rice, a place that has given me and my family so much over the years,” Cruz said. “Wayne Graham sold me on what Rice could become, and he was right. It’s up to me and my staff to return Rice baseball to the position we worked so hard to build.” A college standout and three-time All-American, Cruz was drafted in 1995 by the Seattle Mariners and enjoyed a 12-year career in the majors. Cruz joins the Owls from the Detroit Tigers, where he was in his first season with the club as a coach. — CHUCK POOL Read more at riceowls.com.

Grads Galore

In a commencement weekend that upended many traditions, while adhering to the ones that really counted, the Class of 2021 celebrated a historic graduation — in person, with family and friends in the audience. Videographer Brandon Martin caught all the elements and emotions of this milestone weekend: the march through the Sallyport, speeches by honored guests, the conferring of undergraduate and graduate degrees, and expressions of love. Congratulations, graduates!