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DRIVEN TO SUCCEED Mayor Sylvester Turner reflects on his time at UH


Artistic Excellence The University of Houston is honing the artistic talents of legends in the making. UH art programs weave imagination into tangible form and concept into execution. The approach to educating artists, actors and musicians has been reinvented and refreshed. Nowhere is this commitment to the Arts more evident than in the newly founded College of the Arts. By creating a home for inspired minds to fine-tune their skills, they will be enriched both by their peers and pioneers in the industry. Artists of all stripes will continue to learn that creative expression is sharpened by critique and collaboration and that exposure to great works, both local and international, adds breadth to their imaginations. This is how we enable talented Cougars to ascend to even greater heights.

Sculpture by Rachel Even (a UH student) Equinox 2016 8’ x 8’ x 4.5’ Mixed Media

38 Spring 2016 EDITOR

Keidra Gaston (’04) Executive Director, Marketing and Communication


Enita Torres (’89)


Alese Pickering (’98)


Katie Horrigan Tom Newton Rainer Schuhsler


Jessica Almanza Brian Boeckman Braelyn Coulter Todd Spoth


Shawn Lindsey


David Bassity Sam Byrd (M.B.A. ’12) Jeff Conrad Robert Cremins Sarah Dugas Mike Emery Eric Gerber (’72, M.A. ’78) Oscar Gutiérrez Jeannie Kever Lisa Merkl (’92, M.A. ’97) Francine Parker Marisa Ramirez (’00) Veronica Salinas LaRahia Smith Jeff Sutton P’nina Topham





University of Houston System Board of Regents Tilman J. Fertitta, Chairman Welcome W. Wilson Jr., Vice Chairman Spencer D. Armour III, (’77), Secretary Durga D. Agrawal, M.S. (’69) and Ph.D. (’74) Garrett Hughey Beth Madison (’72) Gerald W. McElvy (’75) Paula M. Mendoza, UH-Downtown (’95) Peter K. Taaffe, J.D. (’97) Roger F. Welder Send address and email updates to: University of Houston Gift Processing and Records Energy Research Park 5000 Gulf Freeway, Building 1, Room 272 Houston, Texas 77204-5035

The University of Houston Magazine is published by the Division of Marketing, Communication and Media Relations. Printed on Recycled Paper The University of Houston is an EEO/AA institution. 05.2016 | 70,000 Copyright © 2016 by the University of Houston

34 Driven to Succeed

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner reflects on his time at UH.

38 H-Town

Takeover The story of a historic football season

44 Pitch

Perfect UH’s Concert Chorale hits high notes on and off stage.


Send feedback to:

DEPARTMENTS 6 Leadership 11 Making an Impact 17 Campus Affairs 24 Learning & Leading 48 Innovation & Insight 52 On the Faculty 56 Alumni & Friends 60 Coogs in the Comunity


The 2015 Provost Prize



College of Optometry student, Batoul Abuharb

Valenti School of Communication


Professor Emerita, Grace Lillian Butler


UH Pharmacy students in the community

On the Cover The UH football team is unchained, unbreakable and tougher than nails.

A digital version of this publication, with additional content, is available at


MESSAGE FROM THE PRESIDENT Listen closely enough and perhaps you can still hear the echoes of the excited cheers and enthusiastic applause that resonated across our campus recently. Within a short period, we held a rally celebrating our football team’s upset victory in the Peach Bowl, installed our new Phi Beta Kappa honor society chapter and hosted the nationally televised Republican presidential candidates’ “Super Tuesday” debate. Those were wonderful milestones and something that our Cougar community—and Houston— should take pride in. But recalling such accomplishments doesn’t inspire me as much as looking ahead to the next chapter of the UH story. If the past seven years have been transformative for UH, what we plan to do during the next seven will be even more remarkable. So, let’s not dwell on what UH has done, but what UH intends to do. For example, in keeping with our commitment to community engagement, we are preparing an ambitious plan to help our historic Third Ward neighborhood empower and improve itself. Guided by a number of community partners, UH will assist with expanding educational opportunities, providing additional health care options and encouraging economic initiatives— in short, helping the historic Third Ward transform itself into a “Tier One” neighborhood.


While constructive in itself, it will also allow us to develop a practical model to improve other neighborhoods. Similarly, we will continue refining our research capabilities to deliver real-world solutions to real-world problems, like working with TxDOT to improve structural integrity in bridges and freeways, developing “smart cement,” improving air and water quality, and extending the life of construction materials by coating them with a molecularlevel waterproofing agent. What is particularly inspiring, though, is the expanding role our students are playing, honing their research abilities working alongside seasoned faculty members and, increasingly, taking the initiative to drive their own projects and even launch their own start-ups. By emphasizing such hands-on opportunities, we’ll ensure that innovation is a fundamental part of our students’ DNA, that the entrepreneurial spirit is not just acceptable but encouraged—two traits that are vital to Houston’s character. Increasingly, we want our Cougars to be not just job-ready, but life-ready. Finally, we are taking bold steps forward in UH’s commitment to health care, having broken ground on our second Health and Biomedical Sciences Building, an enormous development both in scope and purpose. The nine-story, 300,000-square-foot complex— which will cost more than our football stadium—will serve as the cornerstone for our expanding health care initiatives and plans to establish a unique UH medical school to train preventive and primary care physicians while serving in community-based clinics. What motivates me today is the UH of the future, with forward-looking plans in community improvement, in targeted research, in public health care and, at its core, an even more ambitious definition of student success. We believe this is a formula for a stronger UH and, as always, a stronger Houston. With warm regards,



GERALD W. McELVY University of Houston System Board of Regents Member BY OSCAR GUTIÉRREZ


n ardent supporter of the University of Houston—

his alma mater—and of higher education, Gerald McElvy has held high posts in the corporate and philanthropic worlds, but says he is most honored to have been appointed to the University of Houston System Board of Regents. McElvy holds a UH bachelor’s degree in economics and accounting and a Master of Business Administration from UCLA. He worked for the Exxon Mobil Corporation for 33 years, capping his career as president of the ExxonMobil Foundation.

When you were a UH undergraduate, did you ever imagine that one day you would be on the Board of Regents?

I was fortunate to attend UH at a time of significant change in our society, and I made lifelong friends who had big dreams. One has been elected Mayor of Houston, another flew space shuttle missions and a third is a major distributor of South African wine. I dreamed of a

successful business career, a great family and a life of service to my community. I believe my appointment is the outcome of the excellent education I received here.

One of ExxonMobil Foundation’s priorities during your tenure was to support math and science education. Is that still a passion for you?

Yes. Math and science remain foundational elements of a great education. I serve on two advisory boards—Reasoning Mind, a nonprofit focused on improving early- and middle-grade math education, and the Texas Academy of Math and Science, an early college program for bright high school juniors and seniors. When you see these young people, you become hopeful and optimistic about the future.

What do you hope your legacy on the Board of Regents will be? I believe my goals are in broad alignment with those of my fellow Regents and Chancellor Khator—to continue the present trajectory toward excellence. At UH, I’d like to see more students living on or around campus, a stronger community presence, more commercial development along Scott Street, an increased endowment and a more geographically diverse student body from across Texas. We should continue progress toward meeting the Association of American Universities membership requirements and increase the number of nationally competitive academic programs. Like many Cougars, I want us to seek an enhanced conference affiliation, compete for national championships in football, basketball and baseball and produce more Olympic athletes.

Recently, many universities have seen demonstrations on social issues, including discrimination. Why do you think similar demonstrations haven’t happened here?

Diversity is not simply represented by the presence of various individuals and groups but by a welcoming and belonging attitude. I entered UH in the early 1970s, when there were relatively few AfricanAmerican, Hispanic and Asian students. We have had a long time to get to know each other, work together and see that there can be real strength in diversity. We also have a strong policy framework against discrimination and a caring administration that will not tolerate abuse. You can see diversity across campus, among the Board of Regents, and among Student Government Association and Alumni Association leaders.

You grew up in Fort Worth and came to Houston—the “big city”—as you described before, to go to college. What words of wisdom do you have for students who see a college education as a difficult dream to attain?

Well, that was four decades ago. And, I do love great cities and have been privileged to work or live in many of them, from New York to London to Melbourne. But Houston has always had a special attraction for me. It started when I was in high school, when I visited relatives or played high school football games on the road. Also, I started my professional career in Houston and met my wife here. Today, pursuing higher education in Houston can make a difficult dream achievable, given costs and the abundance of employment opportunities. So, the dream is attainable if you stay focused on your goals and use the resources available to you in this great city.





STEPHEN J. SPANN, M.D., M.B.A. Planning Dean for the University of Houston Medical School BY LISA MERKL


ast fall, President Renu Khator appointed Dr.

Stephen J. Spann to the position of Planning Dean for the proposed University of Houston Medical School. During his one-year term, Dr. Spann will help research and prepare an academically desirable and financially


feasible program that complements what Houston already offers in the health arena. Spann, who holds both an M.D. and M.B.A., is a seasoned health care administrator and medical educator who brings a wealth of experience to the University. Spann shared his background and ideas for the medical school.

What is your background?

I’m a family physician. I went to medical school at Baylor College of Medicine and completed a residency in family medicine at Duke University Medical Center. Starting out, I spent four years as a country doctor in rural Arkansas and North Carolina. I was interested in improving health care in rural communities, because there was, and still is, a shortage of physicians and health care in those communities, and I thought practicing in rural areas without a lot of resources would be the ultimate challenge. I did everything—cradle-tograve, womb-to-tomb medicine. Medical students and residents rotated through our practice, so I was already involved in training young doctors at that time. I’ve spent most of my career in medical education. I left rural practice to become a full-time faculty member at the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine, where I taught for eight years. I spent the next seven years at The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, where I was chair of the Department of Family Medicine. From there, I went to Baylor College of Medicine and was chair of the Department of Family and Community Medicine for 16 years, as well as senior vice president and dean of clinical affairs for two of those years. I spent the last two and a half years working in the United Arab Emirates as chief medical officer of Tawam Hospital, which is a tertiary care teaching hospital managed by Johns Hopkins Medicine International in the city of Al Ain. At Tawam, I led a large medical staff but also taught residents and medical students in the hospital and local medical school. Along the way, I got my M.B.A. at The University of Texas at Dallas. There are a lot of business aspects to medicine, so I wanted more formal business training. I’ve used what I learned in that program every day since then.

training in nursing, pharmacy, social work and optometry, but other colleges also can make a big contribution to medical training and research, such as engineering, law, business and others. Most medical schools in Texas are not on a university campus, so the chance to be part of a broader university offers great opportunities for collaboration in both teaching and research. We can establish a new and distinctive medical school that addresses the health and health care needs of communities in our area that have significant health disparities. We

than most medical schools. We also hope to attract and train more physicians from underrepresented minorities in medicine, because we need our physician workforce to better mirror the ethnic composition of the population. As an example, 40 percent of Texas’ population is Hispanic, while only 10 percent of our doctors are. There are many culturally sensitive aspects to health care. Another impact would be to develop innovative and new ways to take better care of patients and discover new methods of diagnosis and treatment, thereby providing better access to care.

UH presents an opportunity to teach new physicians how to work in interdisciplinary teams and have them involved in partnering with communities and community leaders.

What are your thoughts about the University’s plan to open a medical school?

It’s a great opportunity to harness the broad expertise at UH. We have health professional

can train the next generation of physicians in an innovative way with a focus on the health care delivery sciences, which include health informatics, quality of care, patient safety, population health management and team-based health care. UH presents an opportunity to teach new physicians how to work in interdisciplinary teams and have them involved in partnering with communities and community leaders. This will be the next generation of physician leaders, improving health care in our city, state and country, by transforming the way we deliver care to make it higher quality and more cost-effective, patient-centric and team-based.

What kind of impact do you envision it will have on the community? We hope this medical school would result in an improvement in the health and health care of communities in our area and the population at large and that we’d have a higher number of students choosing careers in primary care and underserved care

What are your goals for your one-year term?

As the planning dean, I will develop the initial plan for the medical school that will include a broad outline of the curriculum to help us understand our needs for faculty, staff, facilities and other kinds of resources to inform a budget and business plan. We also will do philanthropic fundraising, as well as educate the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and our state legislators about what we’re trying to do, why this school will make a difference and why it’s important, so we can get legislative approval.

Would you like to share any other thoughts about the proposed medical school?

I’m optimistic we’re going to move forward and that it’s going to be a great success. We’re hoping to admit the first students in 2019. We will train medical students to be undifferentiated physicians, so our graduates will be able to choose whatever specialty they want. There is a shortage of primary care doctors in America and Texas, with our state ranking 47 out of 50 states in terms of the primary care physician to population ratio. So, hopefully their exposure to primary care and community health will be very robust and many of them will choose to practice in a primary care specialty, perhaps in an underserved community, be that rural or urban. But some of our graduates will become neurosurgeons, and that’ll be great, too.




Shared governance is the most significant difference between the two organizations. In higher education, it’s a unique and delicate balance between faculty and staff participating in the planning and decisionmaking processes, on the one hand, and administrative accountability on the other. Of course, the military doesn’t really have a shared governance mentality. Its leadership is hierarchical and paternalistic. There is a lack of open-ended collaboration and more reliance upon formal rather than informal authority. Once decisions are made, then discussions or collaboration ends, which seems to fly in the face of the openness and messiness required for creativity and innovation to flourish as it does in the higher education community.

How would you describe/define your position as Chief of Staff here?




ichael Johnson is a career professional with more than two decades of

progressively responsible leadership and management experience in public service, university administration, organizational research and the classroom. He holds a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from The Citadel and completed his master’s degree and doctoral work in higher education at George Mason University. Prior to joining the University of Houston, he served in various administrative and leadership positions in Enrollment Management, Student Service and Advancement at Purdue University, George Mason University and Northern Virginia Community College. In addition, Johnson served as an officer in the United States Marine Corps in various leadership and command positions from platoon to division level both in garrison and overseas.

Do you see any organizational similarities between the military and higher education? What would you say is the most significant difference?

Organizationally, what makes the military and higher education successful in their respective areas is leadership. It doesn’t matter which organization you are talking about, if they don’t have good leaders throughout, then nothing you do will make it successful. I have spent a majority of my life studying and practicing leadership, and I believe that Douglas MacArthur put it best when he said, “A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others…” Clearly, the military and higher education have completely different missions, so their organization and hierarchical structures are unique to their respective missions. However, leadership will always be the common denominator for their success.


As the University Chief of Staff, I am responsible for the overall planning and management of the Office of the President, and I provide high-level support and advice to the president and, when appropriate, represent her outside the University. I coordinate activities of the senior administrative staff, providing a link between the Vice Presidents and the President, and assist the President in developing and implementing strategy. My role is to help manage the flow of information internally as well as externally, keeping projects on track, providing advice on a variety of things and generally working to bring issues to resolution and closure while making sure all external constituencies are kept in the loop.

What are your initial impressions of the University of Houston? And Houston in general?

The University of Houston is just an outstanding organization with a dynamic and passionate leader who sees the tremendous potential in everything she puts her hands on. I couldn’t have been more excited about the opportunity to come and work with President Khator and become a part of the University of Houston family. The people here have just been so welcoming and inviting. I grew up in the South, so I’m certainly familiar with southern hospitality, but there is nothing like a big Texas welcome to make you feel great about coming here.

Envirow House (shown exterior and interior) won first place during the Energy Efficiency Innovation Challenge. Team members consisted of Giovanni Peña, Jessica Hedge, Inbisat Zahara and Travis Franks.

SUSTAINABILITY 101 Students live their values by designing energy-efficient, affordable homes. BY JEANNIE KEVER


niversity of Houston

students spent much of the fall semester thinking about the future of housing, working with plans to capture the power of Houston’s sun and reuse its abundant rainfall. Their work for the Energy Efficiency Innovation Challenge, an ambitious project to rethink energy efficiency and affordable housing, could ultimately change the face of the Third Ward. The competition, sponsored by Direct Energy and UH Energy, asked teams of students to design an 800-square-foot, twobedroom house that can be built for $80,000 or less, with monthly utility bills under $25. “When this was first announced, people thought it was not possible,” said Radha Radhakrishnan, joint chief energy officer at UH. “All the teams came in with less than $15 (in energy bills).” The task required technical knowledge, creativity and aesthetic sensibilities to address one of society’s most pressing problems. All of the teams used solar panels to produce

electricity and rainwater catchment systems to supplement the public water system. About 30 students participated, representing the UH colleges of architecture, engineering, technology, business, law and mathematics and natural sciences. First place—and a $6,000 prize—went to a team that considered the history and culture of the neighborhood as it produced its entry, dubbed Envirow House. Team members include Giovanni Peña, a graduate architecture student, and undergraduates Jessica Hedge, industrial design, Inbisat Zahara, finance and supply chain management, and Travis Franks, mechanical engineering. The second and third place teams received $4,500 and $3,000 respectively. But the real reward may come later, as some of the winning designs are built in the neighborhoods around UH. Leaders with the University and Direct Energy are working to raise money and find available land for the construction. The winning team said it drew inspiration


for its project—an 817-squarefoot home wrapped in corrugated metal, the sloping roof topped by solar panels— from Project Row Houses, which started in 1993 to spur community action through the arts and through AfricanAmerican culture. “We wanted to make sure people would keep their culture,” Zahara said. Badar Khan, CEO of Direct Energy, said the competition was a natural outgrowth of the company’s belief in a more energyefficient future. “We want you to buy less of what we sell,” he said. “We waste a tremendous amount of energy in our homes.” Direct Energy helped design the competition to make sure students address real-world challenges, he said. “Direct Energy goes beyond believing in a more energy efficient future. We’re investing in the people who are going to help build it.” Many students were drawn to the project by the opportunity to be part of that future. “When people think about nice architecture, they think about museums, stadiums, not inexpensive housing,” Peña said. “But design elements can be used there, too.” The $25 monthly energy bill both set the project apart and made it difficult. Solar panels can cut energy costs, for example, but substantially increase the upfront cost. Hitting the energy cost milestone was “doable, but hard,” Hedge said. Her team used solar panels—and calculated the potential savings if a utility company agreed to buy energy generated but not needed—but cut costs elsewhere. Radhakrishnan said the competition fits in with the University’s goal of preparing students to address the nation’s future energy needs. “It is about challenging them to think about how important energy efficiency is,” he said. “Energy forecasts predict that over the next 30 years, there will be a huge gap between global energy demand and supply.”




FEEDING A NEED UH students serve the community with new campus kitchen. BY VERONICA SALINAS


n the fall of 2014, Professor

Andrew Hamilton, the associate dean for Student Success in the Honors College and director of the Bonner Leaders Program, gave his Introduction to Civic Engagement class a simple assignment: Find a challenge within the community that you would like to address and write a proposal that would address that challenge. Brinda Penmetsa, finance major and member of the Bonner Leaders Program, greeted his challenge with an innovative approach by leading and organizing the first Campus Kitchen at a public university in Texas. Prior to arriving at UH last fall as a freshman, Penmetsa performed intense research to prepare for the civic engagement class, “I noticed we didn’t have any projects related to food, and I thought that was something Bonner could really focus and improve on.” The Campus Kitchen Project is a national organization that empowers student volunteers to meet hunger needs in the community. Five days a week, students from the Bonner Leaders Program partner with hospitality and facilities services provider Aramark to recover leftover unused food from the Moody Towers and Cougar Woods dining halls. In addition, students deliver the food three times a week to residents and serve once a week in the Third Ward at the Perry Street location of New Hope Housing, an organization that provides housing to residents with fixed or limited incomes. With few grocery stores and many fast food restaurants, residents in the University’s neighboring Third Ward community have limited access to fresh produce and minimal healthy dining options. For Penmetsa, service is necessary to revitalize the community. “It’s not just about how many pounds of food but it’s more of what


relationship are we developing, and how are we building a Tier One culture of service?” She is not a stranger to leadership: She is a member of the Bonner Leaders Program, on the senate for the Student Government Association and one of the first Resolution Fellows to be selected from Texas at the Clinton Global Initiative University. Her team has secured more than $10,000 in grants, and the operation’s success has expanded from a team of five students to thirteen. Since Aramark has experienced an abundance of leftover food, two additional

New Hope Housing Members of the Bonner Leaders Program locations have been recover unused food added to receive from the Fresh Foods provisions. The dining hall in Moody Towers to be served Campus Kitchen to residents at New operation involves Hope Housing in the not only Bonner but Third Ward. the Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management, the Center for Student Involvement, Aramark and the national Campus Kitchen Project.

SMART COUGARS HELP MORE YOUTH A grant expands opportunity for UH project. BY MARISA RAMIREZ


he Substance Abuse and

Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has awarded the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work (GCSW) $900,000 over three years to work with minority youth at risk of contracting HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C. “SMART Cougars Plus” builds on the college’s existing “SMART Cougars” project that provides free, rapid-HIV testing and counseling to UH students and young people in the surrounding community. While the original project targeted Hispanic and

African-American youth, the new grant will expand its reach to other minority youth on campus and in the community. “Young people ages 18-24 who are Asian-American, Asian, Southeast Asian, North African and Middle Eastern, who are UH students or who live in the surrounding community, will now be served with this project,” said Luis Torres, principal investigator and associate dean of research and strategic partnerships. “SMART Cougars Plus” also will target UH students who are veterans or active military regardless of their racial or ethnic background.”

The expanded program also will offer Hepatitis C virus (HCV) tests for those at highest risk. HCV can be transmitted sexually or through needle sharing. It can lead to chronic liver infection and, in extreme cases, liver cirrhosis or liver cancer, making early detection and intervention critical. “SMART” stands for Substance Use, Mental Health, and HIV/AIDS Risk Assessment and Testing. The project is a partnership between the GCSW and Houston Area Community Services, Inc. (HACS). Torres said HIV is spreading among minority populations through unprotected sexual encounters, as opposed to sharing of needles or other high-risk behavior involving the use and abuse of drugs. Hispanic and African-American youth have the lowest rates of HIV testing, he said, and many minority young people delay testing because of stigma, fear of finding out their status or they don’t have access to health care. “One of the lessons of our current project (“SMART Cougars”) has been that young adults from other minority groups are also aware that their behaviors might place them at risk, but they don’t feel comfortable seeking help in their local community for fear of being identified and stigmatized,” Torres said. “SMART Cougars Plus” will be available to all minority groups on campus. Being able to walk into an office on campus, away from the local community, to discuss their risk behaviors and get tested in a safe, nonjudgmental environment is a big plus.” Up to one-third of returning veterans will need mental health and/or substance abuse treatment and related services, and many of their family members have an increased need for related support services as well, according to SAMHSA. Testing at the UH Campus Recreation and Wellness Center and several locations throughout campus and in nearby communities began in fall 2014. Testing and counseling is conducted by trained HIV/AIDS prevention specialists. Rapid-HIV testing involves a minimal amount of blood and provides results usually within 20 minutes. Participants also receive screenings for substance use and mental health issues while waiting for their results. Through post-HIV test counseling, the client leaves knowing his/her status, next steps, as well as risks and how to decrease them. If needed, they will be connected to treatment.





New Coogs on the Block

One math lesson at a time BY SARAH DUGAS


igh school students from

KIPP Sunnyside visit the University of Houston twice per week to participate in the Cougars and Houston Area Math Program, also known as CHAMP. In its third year, the mathematics and STEM outreach program is enhancing local high school students’ educations and encouraging them to pursue college dreams. Mark Tomforde, director of CHAMP and associate professor of mathematics at UH, created the program to provide math enrichment to high school students from underserved communities surrounding the University of Houston. CHAMP puts local high school students into direct contact with UH students and professors who serve as teachers and mentors. On Tuesdays, CHAMP provides math lessons designed to get students excited about math and science. These lessons use hands-on activities and discovery-based learning, and


they introduce topics not usually seen in high school, such as codebreaking, game theory and mathematical models for the spread of infectious diseases. On Thursdays, CHAMP provides math tutoring in which high school students work one-on-one with UH undergraduates. CHAMP is staffed entirely with volunteer effort. Members of certain student organizations, such as the UH Chapter of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars, the UH Chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers and teachHOUSTON, are especially active in volunteering. Through mathematics education and enrichment, CHAMP is improving high school graduation rates, increasing the number of students going to college and preparing students for college STEM courses. CHAMP is also helping UH faculty and students connect with local school systems and giving Cougars yet another way to have a positive impact in their community.

As freshmen firmly plant their feet on campus to embark on a new journey, tackling course scheduling conflicts and finding resources on campus can be a difficult task for the newcomers. Since 2009, the PALS Mentoring Program’s mission has been to help new Cougars. The program’s goal is to provide freshmen an opportunity to have an “at will” advisor who can answer questions from where to find information about health care services on campus to how to successfully manage a course schedule. Since the program’s debut, more than 350 UH faculty and staff members have volunteered their resources and time to answer an array of questions presented by the students. The students communicate with mentors through email until the middle of their first semester. Among the emails that mentors send to answer the student’s specific questions, they also send frequent messages that contain answers to questions commonly asked by people new to the UH campus or college life. Simon Bott, instructional professor and director of undergraduate affairs and advising, developed the program and serves as lead mentor. Each fall, mentors in the PALS program could be assigned up to 30 students to work with during the first half of the semester. “The program’s greatest accomplishment was assigning each new student to a mentor,” said Bott. During the program’s pilot year, 80 percent of the participating students were assigned to a mentor. Some may have considered this a success, but he viewed it as a challenge to ensure all students in the program had a mentor to help them navigate their freshman year. Almost every freshman since 2009 has taken advantage of the program, and Bott sees no chance of it slowing down. Looking ahead, Bott would like to offer the program to incoming transfer students. Accomplishing this goal requires participation from more faculty and staff, which he also hopes to achieve. “Many students have benefitted from someone being there,” said a longtime mentor reflecting on the program’s impact on new Cougars, “even if there isn’t a specific problem to solve, it’s reassuring to know you’ve got a PAL if you need one.”  –Sarah Dugas

A rendering of an outdoor structure at Lockhart Elementary School which will be completed later this year.

DESIGNING FOR GOOD UH architects building better communities BY MIKE EMERY


ot unlike Cougar Country,


the Bayou City is growing at an amazing pace. New communities and commercial properties are being developed throughout the Houston area. Among those contributing to the city’s evolving landscape are faculty and students from the University of Houston’s Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture and Design. Each semester, a variety of projects allows UH architecture students to take their ideas into Houston neighborhoods and contribute amenities for residents. “It is very meaningful for students to work on projects that affect nearby communities,” said Patrick Peters, professor of architecture. “They not only learn about the intricate aspects of design and construction, they also gain the experience of working on projects that will play central roles in Houston neighborhoods.” Peters leads UH’s Graduate Design/ Build Studio (GDBS), which allows students to design and oversee the construction of community-enhancing structures. The studio has produced many projects for local schools that contribute to the learning process and offer spaces for socializing and studying. These include an outdoor amphitheater

and classroom for T.H. Rogers School (for performances and lectures); a solar shade tree for McReynolds Middle School (perfect for science lessons); and a solar-powered learning space for Paul Revere Middle School (where students can study and have a shaded space to relax). No matter how these structures are used, they all have made an impact on their respective campuses. “Our amphitheater has completely transformed our campus. It’s the place to be,” said David Muzyka, principal of T.H. Rogers School. “I can’t say enough about Professor Peters and the graduate students who met with us numerous times to design a structure that serves our unique community needs.” According to Muzyka, the structure hosts a variety of events, including remembrance ceremonies and other gatherings. The latest GDBS project (guided by adjunct assistant professor Zui Ng while Peters was on sabbatical) is TWOFOLD at Lockhart Elementary School. This outdoor structure can be used as a classroom or as a space for relaxing with friends and family. Among the students who worked to construct TWOFOLD was first year graduate architecture student Monica Rivas.

“It’s very exciting to know that something we’re creating will be used by community members,” she said. “I know that my grandfather is very excited that I’m helping create a permanent part of the city.” Peters’ colleague Susan Rogers is another professor focused on promoting community change. Rogers leads UH’s Community Design Research Center, which works to enhance communities through design, research, education and practice. Every two years, the center leads the Collaborative Community Design Initiative (CCDI). Through CCDI, Rogers and students venture into Houston’s neighborhoods and engage with community members. They identify areas in need of growth and change and then propose solutions. Through CCDI, Rogers has led students through a variety of projects designed to spark community transformations. These include a play zone for Houston’s De Zavala Park, painted areas on the concrete with games (four square, tic-tac-toe and others). Recently, Rogers’ students developed designs for a prospective urban farm that would be located in the city’s Sunnyside area. Partnering with nonprofit organization, Recipe for Success, students researched the community and shared their ideas with members of the community. Rogers also recently collaborated with faculty and students from the college’s Interior Architecture Program (led by instructors Jason Logan and Josh Robbins) to revamp an aging storage building in the Fifth Ward. The plan is to redevelop this structure using a student-constructed truss and create a community center. The project’s design was unveiled in fall 2015 but has not been installed. Still, its potential to touch the lives of community members is exciting for everyone involved. Rogers adds that such projects fuel students’ passions for contributing to their respective communities. Designing and building structures for Houstonians enhances the community, but these projects also build better architects. “When projects are brought into our studios and classrooms that are intended to address a real need in the community, it changes the students’ perspectives,” she said. “Students are often inspired by the challenge of solving a real issue and learn firsthand what it means to work responsibly.”




LEARNING LESSONS College of Education students teach local youth and gain real-world experience. BY MARISA RAMIREZ


t Cuney Homes in the city’s Third Ward, children


The after-school lessons experienced during this day ranged from scavenger hunts— led by College of Education students—to working on word puzzles and helping in the herb garden to transfer plants to larger pots.


are excited to see University of Houston College of Education students who are there to teach. “What’s in outer space?” asks one future educator, her young charges surrounding her. “The solar system is in outer space. Who can name a planet?” Eager hands wave with answers. The science lessons represent a partnership between the college, Cuney Homes and the YMCA that gathers the children from the housing complex for after-school lessons that reinforce literacy, math and science. While the children benefit from extra learning, the UH students benefit from real-world teaching. “It is exciting for the college to be involved in this project, because it gives our students valuable, real-world experiences while allowing us to positively contribute to our neighborhood,” said Jonathan Schwartz, associate dean for graduate studies at the college. “Our studentteachers are learning to work with a wide variety of children as far as developmental level, learning style and educational preparation. But most importantly, our students have the opportunity to be part of a community at Cuney Homes, interacting with family and residents in service of the children.” The student teachers rotate through the after-school program, providing targeted tutoring in addition to the learning centers. The teaching also is extended to the counselors at Cuney Homes who learn how to develop their own lesson plans to assist the children. “The UH students have been incorporating lessons and concepts that our children have learned in school, in hopes of reinforcing them and helping the kids retain the information,” said Karen Beltran, YMCA outreach site director at Cuney Homes. “They also teach basic and fundamental things our children struggle with.” The effort started in the summer of 2015 with a small group of children, but word spread quickly and the group grew to include up to 50 at the Third Ward Cuney Homes. Today, 300 student teachers rotate through the project. It may feel like playtime, sometimes, but the interaction is needed and beneficial. The college has plans to extend this project to work with teachers in area Third Ward schools to increase educational outcomes. “Our children have many needs, especially academically, and people in the community have taken notice of that,” Beltran said. Meanwhile, back in our science lesson, students talk about astronauts, the skills it takes to stay on the International Space Station and the places the astronauts come from. “Yes, some of the astronauts are from Texas,” the future teacher says. “Just like you.” “Our goal is to positively impact our community,” said Schwartz. “This is our community, and these are our neighbors.”


NOT WASTING TIME UH Women’s Golf team quickly swings to the top. BY JEFF CONRAD


f building a program

capable of competing for conference championships and earning berths in the NCAA Regionals is supposed to take time and patience, someone certainly forgot to mention that to University of Houston Women’s Golf Head Coach Gerrod Chadwell. In less than three years, Chadwell has led the Cougars to a team tournament title, two regular-season individual crowns and a berth into the NCAA Regional in its first year of team eligibility. Not that any of this is new to Chadwell, who came to Houston in the summer of 2013 and immediately went to work building the Cougars’ first women’s golf team. He joined the Cougars after a three-year stint with Oklahoma Women’s Golf, where he helped lead the Sooners to three NCAA Regionals, two NCAA Championships berths and a No. 2 national ranking in 2012-13.

It was obvious Chadwell knew the ingredients for a championship program with winning student-athletes—but building one up from the ground to compete so quickly? “I have had a little time to think about what has transpired, and it’s absolutely crazy. It’s insane to think how fast this thing has moved,” Chadwell said with a chuckle. “I have to give credit to our University and Athletics administrators who have allowed us to move the program to this point. Nobody associated with the University could have prepared for this. It has been a perfect storm.” As the leader of the young program, Chadwell would be the first person many would praise. However, he is quick to direct any praise to the group he credits most—his student-athletes. “We have quality young women that play golf. It’s what they do. It’s not who they are. They made a bold choice in choosing something that was not established, and they wanted to lay the foundation for a program. They wanted to learn and take a step away from easy street. That says everything about these young women,” Chadwell said. “These young ladies are out running in front of us, and (Assistant Coach) Lucy (Nunn) and I are trying to keep up with them.” In 2013-14, the program’s first year, the Cougars competed with four young women —Raegan Bremer, Courtney Ferguson, Emily Gilbreth and Kelli Rollo—were not eligible for team championships at any events, per NCAA rules. Team championships weren’t a possibility, but the Cougars could compete for individual titles. With a final-round 70 at the HBU Husky Invitational on April 1, 2014, Bremer earned medalist honors and etched her name

in the Houston records book as the first individual women’s golf champion in school history. All four women returned as team leaders for the 2014-15 season and were boosted by the addition of six newcomers. Eligible to compete for team titles and the NCAA postseason for the first time, Houston wasted little time in establishing itself, finishing among the top 5 team leaders in five of its first six tournaments. In the second tournament, the Cougars posted their lowest team round in the final round, to win the UNF Collegiate at Jacksonville Golf & Country Club in Jacksonville, Florida, another first in school history. The Cougars continued their stellar play for the rest of the 2014-15 season and celebrated when their name was called to compete at the NCAA San Antonio Regional, where they finished 13th in their NCAA postseason debut. With the departure of senior Courtney Ferguson, the program’s first alumnus, the Cougars entered the 2015-16 season with continued plans for championships and postseason play. Facing some of the nation’s top collegiate teams against a grueling schedule, the Cougars enjoyed another historical highlight in late September. With the release of the Golfweek/Sagarin rankings, they stood among the nation’s top-25 leaders for the first time, checking in at No. 15. Despite all the success, Chadwell and his team aren’t resting on their laurels. They have bigger plans for the upcoming spring season with their eyes set on the 2016 NCAA Championships in Oregon.




In recent years, the UH undergraduate literary community’s presence has expanded locally and nationally. The University of Houston Provost Prize was created to keep fueling students’ creative output through acknowledgment of remarkable written works. Each fall, a prose writer will be spotlighted, and a poet will be recognized each spring. Award recipients earn a cash prize of $2,500. The first Provost Prize was presented in fall 2015 to undergraduate student, LeeAnne Carlson, for her nonfiction prose entry, “The Dance.”




s we got closer to the day when Nyla, our first goat, was to kid, we prepared with all of the care of first parents. More care, actually, than we took when we prepared for our firstborn, Kate. We were naive, then, and full of the hubris of youth. You fall in love, you make love, you have beautiful babies, easily, joyfully and with great simplicity. We were older now. Kate had been followed by four younger siblings and we had learned that while life was full of the joy that we discovered when we had begun our lives together, it was anything but easy. Now we craved simplicity and approached our new country life with the simplicity with which a general draws up battle plans. Nyla came to us already bred. A lovely LaMancha doe, she was stately and quiet. She was not overtly affectionate, but she tolerated our ministrations. As the day grew closer to her due date, I checked her compulsively, six, even seven times daily. Goats are consistent about delivering on time, for LaManchas between 146 and 150 days from breeding. We had Nyla’s breeding date from the farm where she was born and bred; we knew we were getting close. We devoured guides to dairy goats, musty old books on animal husbandry and, of course, the internet. I called my

livestock to keep you warm. I heard laughter coming from the house goat mentor daily until she sighed in exasperation. “Look, you are a and running footsteps, as our teenagers burst into the barn. Bless midwife, for Christ’s sake. How hard can this be? You have it easy!” them. They each carried something, Katie had my coat, Christin had a She didn’t understand. Yes, I had delivered hundreds of babies, but camera. Grace had a car seat, cradling the sleeping Noah. Tim brought these babies were from mothers who spoke the same birth language. Even up the rear, a cup of coffee in his hands, a peace offering. He knew the women who only spoke Arabic or Spanish sang the same song. I could better­­this time­­than to ask for details. tell where they were in labor by their breathing, the swaying, the sweat, Everyone staked their seat on a bale of hay and we silently watched. even the smell. I did not speak goat and it felt incredibly out of control. No longer pacing, Nyla was clearly now pushing. I had worried that I Finally the day arrived when the morning Nyla check showed that wouldn’t recognize goat pushing, but it was unmistakable. This was one changes were taking place. She was hollowed around her tailbone place, at least, where the language was universal. She drew in her breath, and there was a long rope of mucous hanging between her legs. She hunched her back and grunted as she bore down. Two pushes, three, they did not seem in any significant discomfort; I anticipated that we came closer together now. Finally we saw a bubble appear between her had several hours to make certain that everything was prepared. I swollen vulva, the bubble growing with each push. I knelt behind her to looked over the supplies; iodine to dip the umbilical cord, gloves, see. Visible inside the cloudy fluid we could see two small hoofs. As she lubricant. We had bottles in case Nyla decided not to nurse, odd continued to push, a small nose appeared above the feet, a perfect position! looking straps to tie around the kid if additional traction was needed, The contractions came faster and Nyla was bellowing now with each even a feeding tube in case of a baby too weak to suck. My midwifery training had insisted upon sterilizing the clamps and scissors that would be used to cut the cord. Towels, I had overlooked towels. I rushed through the house, gathering every towel that we owned. I hoped it would be enough. NA PS C A ME A N D W EN T A N D DIN N ER Towels in arm, I burst into the barn. Nyla looked up at me then back down again, chewing her cud. I looked WAS PR EPA R ED, E ATEN A N D CLE A R ED. her over. The only change I could see was the long rope of goo was gone. Upon closer inspection, I saw some of TI M A R R I V ED HOME FROM HIS CI T Y it sticking to her hocks, I guessed she had licked the rest clean. I returned to the van to unload the kids and make JOB IN TI ME FOR DIN N ER A N D HE lunch. Maybe we would have new babies by nap time? SHOOED ME AWAY TO THE BA R N, Naps came and went and dinner was prepared, eaten and cleared. Tim arrived home from his city job in time S AY ING HE WOU LD TEN D TO BEDTI ME for dinner and he shooed me away to the barn, saying he would tend to bedtime routines while I tended to Nyla. ROU TIN ES W HILE I TEN DED TO N Y L A . When I arrived at the barn, Nyla looked at me unconcerned. I sat on a haybale and watched. The goo was back, Nyla still worked her cud. As I sat and watched, I could tell that she was uncomfortable, she shifted her weight from one side to the other. She pawed the dirt and settled herself in the disturbed dirt only to clamber push, a deep guttural noise that moved the earth, a noise I knew very well. to her feet once more and paw again. Tim brought me Noah. Only four After each push she took two or three steps, forcing me to scramble on my months old, he still depended on me to fill his belly and I snuggled him knees to keep up with her peregrinations. All seemed to be proceeding close as he latched on and drank deeply. according to the books when with one momentous push, the bubble burst, Tim sat beside me on the hay. “Well, what do you think? Soon?” spraying amniotic fluid all over the front of my coat and the feet and nose I looked at him in dismay and wailed “I don’t know! disappeared as if sucked back inside Nyla. I looked at my audience in How am I supposed to know?! I am not a vet!” shock. They gazed at me, all smiles and anticipation. He drew back, surprised, before breaking into a laugh. “The mother “What now?” they asked. of five, midwife for what…oh, sixteen years? And you are nervous Panic struck me. “I don’t know!” Somewhere in the back of my about a goat?!” mind a warning chimed. If I didn’t have a baby in my arms and my legs dangling above the Without the sack…what? A dry birth? Suffocation? I knew that this ground I would have stomped my foot. Instead, I kicked it against the was not the case with women, but this was not a woman! The flood of hay. “Don’t patronize me! Do you want to do this?!” adrenaline gave clarity to my confusion and I made a decision. He rolled his eyes. “You wouldn’t let me.” He took Noah from me The baby had to come out­­now. I yelled for gloves, sliding them and left the barn. I knew that he was right, but it still irritated. I was on my shaking hands. “Lube, lube!” I barked at one of the girls, who unsettled and afraid. I looked around at my supplies. This was the coated the gloves with enough K­Y Jelly for three months worth of sex. simplicity that we wanted to find in farming? Give me a birthing I reached out to touch Nyla’s back, cooing to her in tones that I hoped center with overflowing exam rooms, any day! she would recognize as calming. “Hey there, sweet girl, you are doing I watched Nyla. Paw the ground, lie down, get up, pace, paw the great.” I lifted her tail and stared at the unfamiliar genitals. My usual ground. Around and around in the barn. I wished I had my coat. This landmarks were gone. There was a perineum, all right, and a vaginal might be Texas, but February is still cold, even in a barn with hay and


up at my audience, what now? opening, but labia and clitoris were gone. I tentatively touched the “Honey?” Tim spoke softly and smiled at me, “Do you think you introitus with a lubed finger. Nyla bolted to the other side of the barn. I should give the goat her baby?” looked in disgust and frustration at Tim. “I told you I couldn’t do this!” I stared at him. Oh. Yes. I held out the baby to Nyla, “What do you want me to do?” he offered. “Hold her!” letting her sniff and lick him with short, fast strokes. I laid He followed Nyla to the other side of the barn. grasping her collar him down on the ground in front of her and watched as the with one hand, he threw his leg over her and pinned her between his baby struggled to its feet as Nyla snuffled all over it. “Do you strong runner’s legs. He looked over his shoulder “Like this?” think that is it?” Tim asked, “Might there be more?” “Perfect.” I gritted my teeth, “just don’t let her move!” I slid two Horror and exhaustion struck me simultaneously. “There better not fingers in. They slid in easily enough, but nothing made sense. I was be!” I snapped, “I can’t do that again!” accustomed to reaching in and feeling heads! The laughter of my daughters drew my attention as they pointed to Large, solid heads with wrinkly skin that forced their way out Nyla­­and the second baby struggling to its feet behind her. I staggered into the world with insistence. Instead, I felt…my fingers swept the to my feet and looked down at the pair of kids falling on their faces vaginal vault trying to make sense of the unfamiliar territory. I pulled in their uncoordinated attempts to rise to their feet. I looked at Nyla, my fingers out. “I can’t feel anything! I can’t tell what anything is!” absorbed in her babies. I looked at the human audience, all elated grins. In desperation, I ripped the gloves off my hands, tossing them in the I looked down at my coat, covered in goat amniotic fluid and slime direction of the teenagers watching with fascination. “Don’t let her go,” I warned Tim, and slid my hand in again. Two fingers, three, finally, folding my hand in on itself, I slid in to my wrist. I closed my eyes. I drew to mind the drawings I had seen of goats and the different birth positions. I began to make sense of what I was feeling. A foot, and N Y L A’ S K IDDING WA S J UST ON E IN another. A face resting on top of the feet. Follow the legs up, yes, they are attached to the same shoulders as the A SER IES OF T R A NSFOR M AT IONA L head, no tangled twins, that I could tell, anyway. Distantly I heard Nyla bellow as she gathered herself E X PER IENCES . FOR M A N Y, T HE in another contraction. Her muscles tightened around my hand, clamping around it until I could feel the bones MOV E FROM CI T Y LI V ING TO shift and grate against each other in my hand. “Towel!” I demanded and one was handed to me. I wiped first my T HE COU N T RY IS A M AT T ER OF face, then the vulva, dripping with a slick combination of KY and Nyla’s own lubricant. The contraction over, FOLLOW ING T HEIR VA LU ES A N D I withdrew my hand slightly, catching the two legs just above the tiny feet. I remembered what the books had T HEIR BELIEFS . FOR US , I T WA S said, not to pull straight out, not to really pull at all, but simply to guide the feet down and out along the curve of MOR E A M AT T ER OF PR AC T IC A LI T Y. the mother, and only with contractions. I waited. I felt Nyla’s next contraction before I heard it, the tightening and the groaning beginning shortly after. She pushed, I guided. The feet reappeared. She pushed again, they slid a bit further out. My hand was now pinned between the and­­yes—even the black, sticky, tar­like meconium. I addressed the feet and the bones of Nyla’s pelvis. It hurt, it really hurt, but I didn’t let onlookers, I addressed Nyla, I addressed God. go. As the contraction eased, I looked at Nyla’s bottom. My hand was “Never again. People are SO much easier. Never. Again.” swollen from the compression and the two legs hung limply from her, The next morning I sat and cradled the smaller of the two bucklings growing cold in the February air. That couldn’t be good, I thought to in my lap. The larger one was asleep at my feet in a Rubbermaid tote myself, closing my eyes and shaking my head. My eyes flew open when filled with shavings. I had milked Nyla that morning, amazed when one of the legs kicked in response to Nyla’s next contraction beginning. the yellow colostrum from her teats filled the milk pail. Stream after Nyla was pushing in earnest, now, loud grunts and even screams coming stream came hot and steady from the orifice until the pail was full of from her half opened mouth. The legs slipped out to the shoulder, my foamy goodness. I brought it into the kitchen, straining it into quart­sized hand falling out with them. The head popped out, covered in slime and canning jars. I capped the jars, and looked at them in amazement. This the amniotic sac, the tongue blue and lolling out of the side of the mouth. was not yet milk that we could drink, but it was close. We had done it. “Towel!” I called again, and quickly wiped off the face of the baby as the We had moved to the country, bought animals and now, had milked terry cloth was placed in my hand. Nyla gathered herself and the rest them. In the weeks to come, I would pour Nyla’s sweet creamy milk of the baby slithered out, all long and lean and leggy, sliding through into my coffee and over my children’s cereal. We had done it. We had my hands to splash onto the floor of the barn. I scooped it up, wiping it transitioned to a new world. New to us, yet ancient. I was enthralled. down. On the dirt? That couldn’t be healthy! I noticed as I quickly dried Nyla’s kidding was just one in a series of transformational off the baby that the cord was broken—­­so much for the sterilized clamps experiences. For many, the move from city living to the country is a and scissors. Nyla turned and nuzzled the baby in my hands. The baby matter of following their values and their beliefs. For us, it was more screamed, a loud piercing cry that was jarring to my dazed ears. I looked



a matter of practicality. We wanted to instill responsibility in our children and felt that chores such as caring for animals and gardening would be a means towards that end. The heart and soul of our family was our children, and building good character in them was our calling. What we never expected was that the land would forever change our own character. We moved to the country with a simple proposition, country living as one more child training tool. We were also fueled by a growing desire for freedom and a vague longing for something that caught us by surprise­­—roots. Both Tim and I had grown up in families that moved frequently. We lacked extended family. We had aunts, uncles, cousins, who were rarely seen and barely known. When we married, neither of us knew how to put down roots, in fact we were sceptical of their value and yet the vague longing remained. We bought a house in the city, declaring this to be our roots. We felt that the roots were truly the family, the house was simply where we planted. In the city we considered issues such as property value, what others deemed our home to be worth. We busied ourselves with time and home management, organizing and setting up systems designed to make us more efficient. The home was a tool, a means to an end. We had a job to do, and the house was a malleable aspect of that job. We expected the same from the country. We were mistaken. In the city we owned a house. In the country, the land owns you. The land remakes you as surely as childbirth remakes a woman. It leaves permanent changes in your body. Stretch­marks and scars remain forever. Years after that baby has moved beyond your breast, the actual physical structure of that breast is changed. Years after that baby has moved out of your arms, your arms retain the memory of that weight, lighter than you expected and your heart retains the memory of the weight of responsibility, heavier than you ever imagined. After giving birth you find your perspective forever changed. You no longer think in terms of the here and now, you think in terms of eternity. You quickly learn that although you may claim the child yours, this is more a matter of having deeded your heart to another, rather than being able to claim deed to them. We moved to land that had, in many ways, been treated as a disposable commodity. It looked beautiful but barely beneath the

surface we found the debris of a society that creates comforts and interests with no plans for disposal. Cleaning up has been a slow excavation. It has caused us to look deeply at our city habits of consumption. In the city, it was as simple as dividing trash into “recyclable” or not. In the country, even the recyclable carries weight, for there is no convenient bin provided to place out each week with the trash. Every can of tomato sauce is a liability. We can pay someone to haul it away for us. We can set it aside for a later hour­long drive to a recycling facility. We can find some corner of the property and bury it. Regardless, as the thousands of broken bottles and cans that we have dug up testifies, that metal can will remain. Concepts such as sustainability and the environment do not remain simple concepts when looking past a can of food to the ten acres of woods. With every decision we assume stewardship. We are being allowed the precious gift of participating in the act of redemption. This redemption has become the shaping force of our lives. We are redeeming land that was not only not productive, but was also abused. This house has only been on the land for forty years and yet the clean­up looks like it will take forever. At the same time as we are engaged in the work of redemption, we are demanding to be allowed to partake of the gift of creating life. We desperately desire to see this land productive. We want to see it provide for not only our family, but for our animals and through our animals, for other families as well. This balancing of redemption and production is a merciless dictator. Like a freight train gathering steam, as the farm gains in productivity the work multiplies. We run faster and faster in order to not fall behind­­—or be run over. Fall behind and something dies or does not reach its full potential and failure screams from every corner. But every so often, it happens. The conjoined acts of redemption and creation become one, and we realize that it has become a dance. We are working and moving in unison with a living breathing part of creation, and it is humbling to be able to partake. We realize that it is not simply the land that is being redeemed and brought to fruitfulness, the land itself is doing that same work in us. We are putting down roots that are more than metaphoric in nature. We are being grounded in work that has eternal value. We were created to transform this part of creation and be transformed by the labor of doing so. SPRING 2016 • UNIVERSI T Y OF HOUS TON Magazine 



REMOVING THE ROADBLOCKS TO READING Texas Center for Learning Disabilities has helped drive changes in how we identify and treat learning disabilities. BY JEANNIE KEVER


esearchers in the lab and

in the classroom have learned much about learning disabilities in the past decade: Early intervention works. The brain can adapt and change throughout childhood. Helping children overcome a problem is more important than defining the problem. The Texas Center for Learning Disabilities, led by the University of Houston, has played a role in all of those findings. Now it is leading research to help older children, develop new methods of intervention and identify the genetic and environmental bases of learning disabilities. The center, created in 2007 with a $7 million grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and renewed in 2012 with a $9 million grant, focuses on reading disabilities, a field in which Jack Fletcher, principal investigator for the center, has worked since he was a graduate student 30 years ago. It is part of the Texas


Institute of Measurement, Evaluation and Statistics (TIMES), which is directed by David Francis, a co-investigator of the center grant. Reading problems are the most commonly identified learning disabilities in the United States, says Fletcher, Hugh Roy and Lillie Cranz Cullen Distinguished Professor and chair of the UH Department of Psychology. But there is no single accepted number for how many people are affected. “There’s nothing magical about how you define it,” he says. “There is no biological marker. It’s the lower end of reading ability.” While learning disabilities can’t be measured by a blood test or other common biological marker, they are linked to brain development. How much of that is due to genetics and how much to a child’s environment isn’t clear, and Fletcher says the two are linked, at any rate. “We know reading problems run in families, and they are heritable,” he says. “However, if a child grows up in a home

where there is no reading, the brain may not develop optimally.” The center is one of four nationally selected and funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, part of the National Institutes of Health, to expand the understanding of learning disabilities, which affect the ability to read or understand language, do mathematical calculations and other tasks. Learning disabilities usually aren’t recognized until a child starts school. Until about a decade ago, learning disabilities were identified by comparing scores on intelligence and achievement tests. If the IQ score was higher than that on the achievement test, the student was considered to have a learning disability. Some of the center’s early work centered on demonstrating that isn’t a valid hypothesis, Fletcher says; new approaches stress Response to Intervention, or RTI, suggesting diagnostic decisions should be based on how students respond to efforts to teach them.

The Texas Center for Learning Disabilities takes an interdisciplinary approach to the classification, early intervention and remediation of learning disabilities, including the use of brain imaging, and work both in the lab and in elementary school classrooms in Houston and Austin. In addition to researchers based at UH, it includes researchers from The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston and UT-Austin. Tutors—often retired teachers— deliver the interventions in the classroom. Sharing what it has learned is a key goal, and the center has funding from the Texas Education Association to disseminate its research and train teachers to use it.

the interventions, which involve students enrolled in the program—the cutoff point has varied over the years but now is at those in the lowest 25 percentile—meeting for an hour after school. A number of strategies have been tested; Miciak says researchers now use an organic approach built around practice rather than specific step-by-step strategies. Mostly, the students read—word lists and books, both at the students’ reading levels and “stretch” books, including social studies and science textbooks. “We know one of the important ways to build reading fluency is lots of practice,” Miciak says. “One of our big areas of focus is to provide lots of opportunities.”

After early work with students in

kindergarten through second grade, and later in middle schools, center researchers now are focused on students in third, fourth and fifth grades. Early intervention offered dramatic results—researchers screened all children in a class and focused interventions on those in the lower 15th to 25th percentile of reading ability; by the end of the year, only two percent of those students remained at the bottom of the class. Imaging studies, done at UT Health and UT Austin, have shown that a distinctive neural network is required for efficient reading and comprehension. When the intervention is successful, imaging has shown the normalization of this network. With the value of early intervention widely accepted, the next frontier is improving interventions for older children. That’s more difficult, as older students with reading disabilities generally haven’t had the practice required to spur the necessary brain development. “The catch-up is steep,” says Paul Cirino, a neuropsychologist who heads one of the center’s projects. And by the last half of elementary school, students with reading problems are falling behind in other subjects as well, a result of their inability to read grade-level textbooks. “Word knowledge,” it turns out, translates to “world knowledge.” “They don’t know as much about the world as students who have been reading for years,” says Jeremy Miciak, a research assistant professor in the psychology department. The center’s tutors address that during


Neuropsychology Lab at UH and an associate professor of psychology, runs the Executive Functions Project at the Texas Center for Learning Disabilities, started in 2012, to more clearly define executive function— traditionally thought of as a “frontal lobe function” but also as the psychological and cognitive processes that help people attain goals—and establish how it relates to reading. The project involves more than 800 third,

fourth and fifth graders in Houston and Austin. After two years of gathering data, researchers are analyzing it to learn how the components of executive function relate to reading, as well as to math and language. The goal isn’t to “fix” executive function in the brains of struggling readers, Cirino says, but to use that information to help make reading interventions more effective. That’s the ultimate goal for all of the center’s projects, including a new project to study the genetic basis of learning disabilities. Elena Grigorenko, Hugh Roy and Lillie Cranz Cullen Distinguished Professor of Psychology, arrived at UH this fall from Yale University, where she served on the faculty after earning a Ph.D. in developmental psychology and molecular genetics there. She is director of the Human Genetics Lab at UH and also holds an appointment at Baylor College of Medicine. She was recruited by Fletcher to add a genetic component to the center’s work. “We know they’re genetically based,” she says. “I don’t think there’s a disagreement about that. But it is one thing to know it’s inherited. It’s another to know why.” The idea of a genetic link began in the early 1900s, when scientists in Germany and the United Kingdom noticed that dyslexia, a common reading disability, ran in families. In the 1970s and 1980s, researchers began to follow identical twins to expand their knowledge. No specific gene has been identified, and Grigorenko says there are likely to be a number of genetic ties. She hopes to do a deep dive into what happens as children learn, ultimately seeking to identify the action at a cellular level. That knowledge could be leveraged to create more effective instructional and pharmaceutical interventions for the most seriously affected children. “My hunch is pharmaceutical intervention is essential for kids with severe learning disabilities,” Grigorenko says. But drugs won’t replace effective teaching. That goes back to the center’s interdisciplinary approach, from looking at ways to identify which students have a learning disability to helping them overcome it. Despite all the progress, Fletcher says, much work lies ahead. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”




ANOTHER PATH TO PREPARATION The Valenti School of Communication’s unique approach to community engagement heightens job readiness. BY LARAHIA SMITH

with local practitioners. Last semester, three stories emerged from the school that shed light on what this looks like in practice—a media production partnership with the Houston Grand Opera, the public relations collaboration with the Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship and an advertising campaign for Zipcar. Students implemented them all. “We value the mutually beneficial nature of working with local businesses and organizations,” said Northup. “Not only is it an opportunity for our school to connect with the community, it transforms our classrooms into community centers where students can literally put into practice what they are being taught.”

Valenti Students at Work


eaching students to turn

what they learn in classrooms into on-the-job skills is one way Valenti School of Communication professors test drive instruction in real-life scenarios. “As often as possible, we give our students a taste of their chosen careers,” said Temple Northup, interim director of the school. “Our faculty are constantly finding opportunities for them to sharpen their skills and prepare for the workforce.” Valenti does this by interjecting its community engagement outreach into specialized coursework in journalism, advertising, public relations and media production. It has partnered with the Houston Grand Opera, the Houston Live Stock Show


and Rodeo, Zipcar and other local nonprofits and business enterprises. “Though a healthy number of students seek internship and employment opportunities on their own,” Northup said, “it’s our job as educators to make sure the classes they take are preparing them, as well.” Last year, the college readiness of recent graduates in the United States was called into question with the release of an Association of American Colleges and Universities’ (AACU) survey. It found a drastic gap between how graduates and employers rate the career readiness of recent students. (Hint: The majority of employers were not impressed.) Valenti professors stay in tune with new influences and developing expectations within their academic disciplines by connecting

Fall 2015 marked the start of the second year collaborating with the Houston Grand Opera. The first year, they tested the waters by having the class film interviews about upcoming shows with a couple of role players. They then packaged the interviews into attractive teasers that promoted the shows. “A former student of mine had been working at the Houston Grand Opera and mentioned what we do here,” said Keith Houk, an instructional assistant professor and media production faculty member at the Valenti School of Communication. Houk teaches the Digital Cinematography and Narrative Storytelling class, which forged a partnership with the opera. Judith Kurnick, the Houston Grand Opera’s director of communication, was intrigued. “It was one of those lucky, serendipitous moments,” said Kurnick. “I realized we could use the help of a film program. I had heard about some colleagues in New York and other opera companies who had partnerships with film students, and I began to look around at what we have in Houston.” When that initial season ended, an impressed Kurnick approached Houk for a second time. “We want to communicate the idea that opera is an exciting, vibrant and interesting pastime. Something that has meaning for people. Opera is very much connected to real emotion, and it has a lot of different elements that go into making a great whole,” shared Kurnick. This season’s theme is “Behind the Scenes.”

The students crafted the “Campus Life Wolff Startup. It seeks to engage the very audience that is Without Limits” campaign, which kicked The class operates like a public relations producing the videos: young adults. The off in mid-October 2015. It singlehandedly agency, and students take on clients from the videos highlight people who are crucial to doubled the amount of user hours and Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship. As the making the show a success but go unseen ultimately increased campus sign up rates. entrepreneurship students build their startups by attendees. To illustrate the work that Several tactics worked in concord to and work to take products to market, they lean goes into producing a superb show, the class achieve these successes. First, the class created on their communication peers for insight and interviewed the lighting director, stage a beautiful calendar that listed free campus strategic communication support. manager, props manager and singing coaches. and local events—all of which were only a “The Valenti-Wolff Startup class taught The resulting videos have introduced viewers Zipcar ride away. The class also organized me quickly that you have to be prepared to these creative team members. three promotional events to distribute the for anything and everything. Clients may Houk’s Digital Cinematography class is calendars and encourage student sign ups: change products, and as a practitioner, you structured specifically for upper-level media Trunk or Treat, where they decorated the cars have to be prepared to immediately reset and production students interested in producing and distributed candy at two popular Zipcar get information and messages prepared as longer narrative videos. Beyond working with parking areas on campus; Bust the Bearcat, quickly as possible,” said Uhrick, whose client the Houston Grand Opera, the students take which allowed passersby to take a swing at a promoted a product that efficiently converts on multiple film projects during the class. rival team-inspired piñata filled with candy wasted heat into energy. “During the initial By the end of the semester, they have enough and swag during the University homecoming stages of creating their company, we conducted polished productions under their belts to form celebration; and Sustainability Fest, where a cyber scan to help them determine their a competitive, professional portfolio. they reinforced the message that car sharing largest competitors. From that point, we were Houk sees preparing students to compete solutions minimize the carbon footprint. able to design key messages that assisted them in the workforce after graduation as one of the most important aspects of his job. “I think it’s very easy when you go to school to just park, walk to the building where you always take your “Being able to fully engage in classes and then go what they were doing for the “We want to communicate home,” he said. “Not campaign was most exciting. only do these type the idea that opera is They weren’t working on of collaborations an exciting, vibrant and let students see how theories or papers or tests; interesting pastime. other areas of the they were implementing Something that has “Clients may change arts function, they their own plan.” meaning for people.” products, and as a also open up different practitioner, you have worlds to them. College to be prepared to should be about learning and opening up the mind.” The students appreciated immediately reset and the experience. get information and “The thing they enjoyed As with the Houston Grand Opera, messages prepared as the most was actually executing most of the community partnerships end with quickly as possible.” the promotional events,” said all parties feeling satisfied. Clients get the Ken Bielicki, who teaches the class communication and help they need to tackle and is a lecturer at the Valenti School of a problem. Students get the experience they Communication. “Being able to fully engage crave in their chosen field of study. in a business competition this past December, in what they were doing for the campaign “It’s very important to work with actual where they placed third.” was most exciting. They weren’t working clients so you can interact with companies on theories or papers or tests; they were who all have different needs,” said Jan Uhrick, Likewise, Zipcar, a leading car sharing implementing their own plan.” a graduate student at the Valenti School of network, recently approached the Local “This is the edge that sets our students Communication. “I feel prepared for a career Campaigns class at the Valenti School of apart,” says Northup, “they live in an in public relations.” Communication. Their task was challenging: experience-rich city, so we’re helping them This comes a semester after she in a semester, create and implement a get ahead of the curve while they are here by took one of the most sought-after classes campaign that prompts more people to adopt giving them as many opportunities to prepare its car sharing solution. in the School: Strategic Communication as possible.” Challenge accepted. Applications, nicknamed The Valenti-




ACADEMIC MISSION ACCOMPLISHED University of Houston earns entry into the nation’s oldest and most prestigious honor society. BY ROBERT CREMINS


n the afternoon of October 9, 2015, the

atmosphere in the Honors College was a little like Mission Control during the moon landings. There was a lot of nail-biting and monitor-watching as personnel awaited news from a distant, rocky place—Denver. That’s where the Triennial Council of the Phi Beta Kappa Society was meeting and about to vote on the admission of its newest chapters. There had been multiple attempts in the past to bring a Phi Beta Kappa chapter to the University, dating back to the 1980s. Coogs everywhere were hungry for this victory. Committed to the idea that “love of learning is the guide to life,” Phi Beta Kappa is “the nation’s oldest academic honor society”; it was founded in 1776, just five months after the United States declared its independence, and more than 150 years before the University of Houston opened its doors. PBK is also widely regarded as the most prestigious of those honor societies—fewer than 300 colleges possess the coveted charter and iconic gold key that signify PBK members of a university faculty have been granted a chapter. The UH delegation in Denver was led by President Renu Khator who, along with Provost Paula Myrick Short, had been an enthusiastic supporter of the faculty’s efforts to make the University a Phi Beta Kappa institution. Sitting alongside Khator at the council’s plenary session were the co-chairs of the Organizing Committee, Honors College Dean Bill Monroe and Moores School of Music Director Andrew Davis. Davis spent the 2013-14 academic year as an associate dean in the Honors College, working with members of the Organizing Committee—Stuart Long in engineering; Jeremy Bailey in political science; Sarah Fishman and Cathy Patterson, both historians and associate deans in the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences; Ann Cheek in biology and Randy Lee in chemistry—to draft the General Report, which was submitted to the Society’s Washington office in September 2013. “The General Report asks for information on all aspects of campus life and operations,” Davis said, “from the very general, such as mission statements and enrollment statistics, to the very specific, such as detailed curricula in all arts and sciences units and descriptions of extra curricular programming.” Just as important as submitting the General Report was preparing for the arrival of PBK’s Site Visitation Committee. “The thing I’m most proud of is the collaboration that led up to the site visit,” Monroe


said. The Organizing Committee received campus-wide support as they delivered their campaign message to numerous groups, including the UH System Board of Regents, the President’s Cabinet, the Deans Council, the Faculty Senate, departmental chairs and directors and various student assemblies. The assistance and counsel of faculty at institutions that had recently received chapters, including Clemson, Oklahoma State and James Madison, not to mention the wisdom of PBK Secretary John Churchill, were also important factors in making the UH case. In February 2014, the Site Visitation Committee toured nearly every corner of the University, from classrooms to athletic facilities, from the library to the recreation center. “The visitors were impressed with the quality of UH students and the diversity of our campus community,” Davis said. “They left completely convinced that this was a place where the values of the liberal arts and sciences were lived strong.” The success of the site visit propelled the University of Houston’s application forward: by the end of 2014, the Society’s Committee on Qualifications and the Phi Beta Kappa Senate had voted unanimously to endorse UH’s candidacy. But there was still a long wait — almost a year — before these decisions could be ratified by the Triennial Council of Phi Beta Kappa, the final arbiter for all chapter applications. During this time, Monroe and Davis answered questions and articulated the University’s qualities in monthly calls to Professor Amy Mulnix, who would serve as the Society’s advocate for UH in Denver. When October came, the wait was over and the UH delegation was off to the Triennial Council, which Davis described as “a highintensity situation.” Mulnix called Davis and Monroe needing lastminute information for the 295 voting delegates. Word was relayed to Houston. Susan Moreno in the Provost’s Office, as well as Brenda Rhoden, Ornela Santee and Andy Little in the Honors College, supplied the requested data. The meeting began in Denver; in Houston, colleagues were on tenterhooks. Finally a message came through late Friday afternoon: we were in, with over 90 percent of the vote. One short tweet from a president, one giant leap for the University of Houston. What does it mean for us? “It means that we’ve joined the ranks of the very best institutions in this country,” Monroe said. “It means that we’ve earned the Tier One standard for undergraduate academic excellence. It means that the University of Houston has arrived.” The Cougars have landed.

HELPING OTHERS A priority for Alum Rushion McDonald BY MIKE EMERY


hroughout his career,

Rushion McDonald has worn plenty of hats. The University of Houston alumnus is a stand-up comic turned writer turned producer turned financial adviser. Now, he’s donning a baker’s cap for his latest project. McDonald is the spokesperson for the Perfect Company, the creators of the Perfect Bake Pro Scale that takes the guesswork out of measuring cooking ingredients. He’s not just promoting this device. McDonald is an avid baker and uses the scale regularly in his kitchen. Baking and promoting cookware might seem a bit out of place on McDonald’s résumé filled with television and film credits. He says, however, that all of his projects—including

this one—have one thing in common. “Everything I’ve done has been about making people feel good and lifting them up,” said McDonald, who continues to produce a number of vehicles for longtime collaborator Steve Harvey (including “Family Feud” and talk show “Steve Harvey”). “I’m happy to do that for everyone, whether it’s a TV audience or someone trying to make a Bundt cake.” Nothing is off the table for McDonald. Whether it’s baking, television production, writing or making people laugh, the versatile Coog is up for any challenge. Growing up in Houston’s Fifth Ward, he says that he had to stand out to be successful. McDonald was one of nine children being raised in a one-bedroom shotgun house by hard working parents. “I was a dreamer,” he said. “I wanted to be different. I didn’t care where I came from. I just wanted to succeed at something.” Success didn’t come easy. After graduating from Houston’s Forest Brook High School, McDonald found his way to UH, where he spent seven years earning an undergraduate degree. He admits that his main challenge in college was deciding on a major. His academic interests shifted from civil engineering to biology to chemistry. McDonald ultimately majored in mathematics with a minor in sociology. “When I first came to UH, I tried to find an easy major,” he said. “I learned that you can’t cheat the process. If you cheat the process, then you’re cheating the results.” When he wasn’t studying or in class, McDonald was checking out the local comedy scene and eventually took the stage himself. He regularly performed at Houston’s popular (but now defunct) Comedy Workshop alongside rising stars such as Sam Kinison, Brett Butler and Bill Hicks. After graduating in 1983, he put his math skills to use at IBM. He worked at the computer company while moonlighting as a comic. In 1986, he left corporate America for a full-time career in comedy. During his travels, he befriended Harvey, who also was working the comedy club circuit. Their friendship evolved into a professional partnership that continues to this day. McDonald recognized Harvey’s passion as a comedian and performer and realized his own talents behind the scenes. McDonald made the decision to step out of the spotlight and apply his creative energies to writing and producing. His first television collaboration with Harvey was writing for the ABC

television series “Me and the Boys” in 1994. The series featured Harvey in the lead role of a widower raising three sons. That opportunity earned McDonald writing and producing credits on a variety of popular shows, including “The Parent Hood,” “Sister Sister,” “The Parkers,” “The Jamie Foxx Show” and “The Steve Harvey Show.” McDonald continues to lend his creativity to vehicles for Harvey. He’s a producer for hit game shows “Family Feud” and “Celebrity Family Feud” and talk show “Steve Harvey.” He also is the executive producer for the syndicated radio program, “The Steve Harvey Morning Show.” One of his favorite projects, however, is “Money Making Conversations.” This weekly dialogue (on McDonald’s Facebook page) allows him to connect with social media audiences and share financial and career building insights. It’s an initiative that McDonald has undertaken to help people. He’s not paid for his advice or time but is rewarded in other ways. “I try to share my experiences with others,” he said. “If I can answer just one question that will help someone be successful, then I’ve accomplished my goal of giving back. When I look back through my life, people did that for me. My success is based on a group of people pointing me in the right direction.” McDonald and his wife, Cecily Mitchell, an alumna of the University’s College of Optometry, continue to give back to UH. Through UH’s Black Alumni Association, they sponsor a scholarship for math and optometry students. Likewise, McDonald— a 2014 Distinguished Alumni Award recipient—offers advice to students and aspiring entertainers during campus events. McDonald said he and his wife are indebted to UH for their successes and are happy to support students and the University. The campus, however, isn’t exactly as they remember it. Each time he’s back on campus, he notices new buildings. He said he can’t help but smile when he sees how UH has changed. After all, UH changed his life, so he’s pleased to the institution doing the same for others. “The success I’ve had is directly tied to the things I learned and experienced at UH,” he said. “It molded me for the challenges I faced in my life. When I go back to campus, I realize it’s changed in the same way it’s changed me. It’s gotten better with age, and I’m happy to do what I can to help it grow.”




THE POWER OF ONE TEXT MESSAGE A story of one young woman’s fierce dedication BY LISA MERKL


atoul Abuharb is a lot of

things. She is intelligent and determined. She is a fourthyear student in the University of Houston College of Optometry. She will be graduating this spring in the class of 2016. She’s a person of great courage and determination who is making a difference at the global level. She was honored by President Obama at a special dinner at the White House. She is also a Palestinian refugee. Born in a refugee camp in Gaza, she moved to Houston with her family when she was an infant. This gave her a chance to strive for the American dream, and she didn’t take that opportunity for granted. Upon graduating from Rice University with her undergraduate degree in 2012, she received a travel grant to return to Gaza to study immunization rates as a marker for quality of life. While there, her research took a new direction. Staff members at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) clinics brought a vaccine shortage epidemic to her attention. “I hadn’t been home in 10 years, and I saw they had an incredibly high rate of immunization. Almost 98 percent of the


population was fully immunized for all the WHO-recommended vaccines,” Abuharb said. “We can’t even dream of having that number here in the U.S. We’re closer to 60-70 percent, maybe lower, so I wanted to see what the reason was for that and why people with such a high compliance rate weren’t immunized.” She discovered that while people in Gaza wanted to be immunized, there was either something beyond the power of the clinics preventing them from getting the vaccinations in time, such as a vaccine shortage, or people were lost to follow up due to any number of reasons, ranging from death and disability to having incorrect contact information on file. “If you live in a refugee camp, have more than five children and work, or if it takes a really long time to get to the clinic, your kids are at a disadvantage. We needed to find a way to make sure every child whose parents want them to be immunized is immunized,” she said. “The solution came with a simple text message to bring people back to the clinic to get immunized. Everybody in the developing world has access to a cell phone, no matter what their situation is. We live in a digital

world, and people want to be part of it. I saw people turn on their power generators in the middle of the night to check their Facebook. Instead of using their limited fuel reserves for something like cooking, they want to be part of the world and participate and engage. We did a lot of basic research to see if people have cell phones, and it turns out they do. So, our idea to collect patient information and find a way to reach them was really solved with just one text message.”

Upon returning to the U.S., Abuharb

collaborated with friend and fellow Rice graduate Jordan Schermerhorn to create a global health start-up in the Middle East for refugees and founded Dunia Health. To help further their efforts, the women recruited Cheire Fathy, a Vanderbilt University medical student who worked with UNRWA on health reform. In October 2012, Dunia Health was incorporated as a nonprofit in Texas with seed-funding from their friends and family. “We wanted a name that is easy and with meaning that could be pronounced in Arabic and English, as well as in other languages,” Abuharb said. “We finally decided on the

word ‘dunia,’ which means ‘world’ in about a dozen different languages.” Abuharb and her collaborators then pitched their idea to the UNRWA, which was incredibly receptive to it. They piloted the project in a refugee camp, with almost 89 percent of the text messages sent out being received. The 11 percent who didn’t receive a text message had incorrect or outdated numbers in their medical records. Three years later, UNRWA independently expanded Dunia Health’s services to every refugee camp in Jordan, now reaching 1.2 million refugees. Abuharb and her colleagues have now been asked to expand Dunia Health’s services to the West Bank to serve several more refugee camps. By the end of 2016, the goal is to serve 3 million refugees. When asked why she thinks this simple text message method works, Abuharb says these refugees just have a better understanding of the diseases that vaccines prevent, because they’ve seen them in their lifetimes. They’ve known people who have been exposed to those diseases, and they don’t want that for their children. Especially now, with the mass influx of refugees in the Middle East, from the Syrian crisis, Iraq and other countries, the threat of vaccine-preventable diseases is real. There was a polio outbreak among Syrian refugees, for instance, so people understand the reality. When someone reminds them to bring in their son or daughter to be vaccinated, they have firsthand knowledge of the importance of doing so. “Palestinians have been refugees for 60plus years. I was born in a refugee camp; my parents were born in refugee camps; my mom lost a brother to measles and my grandparents became refugees in 1948, so this is really personal to me,” she said. “I know people who have had measles and polio. I’ve seen people in wheelchairs, not because they’re elderly, but because they’ve survived polio. All of this is very real. To feel like I can take my privilege here in the U.S. and the education I have to do something really simple that doesn’t take very much time out of my day but that has a very meaningful impact, means a lot to me to give back in that way.”

Most of Abuharb’s team members are

also Arab-American, and they similarly find it rewarding to give back to the communities from which their families came. Finding a way to connect with their culture, even when they’re not living there, is very fulfilling for

them in more than one way. Additionally, everyone on the team speaks and reads some degree of Arabic, which allows them to relate to those in the area and implement the Dunia Health program. “We try to make a trip at least once or twice a year to the region. In 2014, I went to Gaza over the summer and got stuck in the conflict that erupted while we were there. But we had research that needed to be done and data we needed to collect,” she said matterof-factly. “I had traveled with my family this time, with my mom and two younger siblings, and we got evacuated to Jordan. The very

“TO FEEL LIKE I CAN TAKE MY PRIVILEGE HERE IN THE U.S. AND THE EDUCATION I HAVE TO DO SOMETHING REALLY SIMPLE… BUT THAT HAS A VERY MEANINGFUL IMPACT, MEANS A LOT TO ME.” next day, I went back to the UNRWA clinics, because that’s what we were there for, and we have a responsibility to our patients to finish our job.” UNRWA has asked Dunia Health to think about ways to incorporate their services into the field of non-communicable disease, such as diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol, to find ways for refugees to better manage those chronic long-term diseases, so they don’t have complications that lead to hospitalization, losing a limb or vision, and then becoming an even greater burden on

the organization when they can’t work and support themselves. Abuharb and her team are also trying to create training modules for nurses in the clinics, so they can run the text message system on their own. The hope is to get people to train in software skills and the like, making them employable in the future. “We don’t pay ourselves a salary. It’s all volunteer-based work, and we do this full time in addition to being full-time graduate students,” she said. “Everyone is in some kind of health care field. I’m in optometry school, two other team members are full-time medical students and our last team member just finished her master’s degree at Duke’s Global Health Institute. We also have interns throughout the year who are medical students.” The UH College of Optometry, Vanderbilt, Duke and Baylor College of Medicine all have provided financial support. Dunia Health’s biggest support has come from the Arab American Medical Association. “The Houston chapter of the National Arab American Medical Association has not only given us financial support, but also mentorship and guidance. These are doctors who have been working for decades, so the insight they provide is extremely useful,” Abuharb said. “The Arab-American community in Houston is incredibly strong and tight-knit, which has allowed our organization to reach out for support and advice. The Arab Voices radio also helps by running advertisements for our fundraisers on air and their website.” Dunia Health has made such an impact that the group’s work was recognized by President Bill Clinton at the Clinton Global Initiative and also at the White House Global Entrepreneurs Meeting, where they could talk with other people doing similar initiatives on a global scale. Most recently, Abuharb was invited to the White House’s annual Iftar dinner, hosted by President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, to celebrate the Muslim month of Ramadan and to celebrate young leaders and women helping communities across the nation. “I got to sit next to the President and have dinner with him and tell him all about what we are doing, so that was really awesome,” Abuharb said. “In his address that night, he mentioned our work and talked about Dunia Health and said Dunia Health’s name, and we gave him a copy of our annual report, so it was super cool.”




HANDS ON UH Pharmacy students are part of a new standard of care, practicing alongside medical students. BY LISA MERKL

There’s No Place Like Home

“The experience was eyeopening and inspiring. Our elderly patient had suffered from aspiration pneumonia while eating and was hospitalized. He went from walking and having minimal dementia to rapidly declining cognitive function and not being able to walk after his hospital visit. We saw the toll on the body from being bedridden for so long and how difficult it would be to get him on his feet again. We learned that the health goals for the elderly, especially during such an ordeal, are completely different when you are visiting them at home. Activities of daily living, or ADLs, such as being able to walk, dress and eat on your own, are just as important as controlling one’s blood pressure or blood sugar. When we see patients in the hospital, they seem to be just another number, but when we were invited into the home of this family, we were surrounded by family pictures and the reality of the situation. It was definitely an amazing experience that I will never forget.” These are the words of Lydia Matar Solis, a University of Houston (UH) doctoral student in the College of Pharmacy, describing her experiences during one of her field visits as an intern in the “No Place Like Home” program, which is one of several Longitudinal Ambulatory Clinical Experience (LACE) course tracks. This initiative pairs UH pharmacy students with medical students from Baylor College of Medicine (BCM), under the supervision of physicians and nurse practitioners, to deliver in-home ambulatory care services to Houstonarea geriatric patients who are predominantly homebound due to mobility limitations typically resulting in multiple chronic conditions. By interacting with a patient in their home environment, the interprofessional team is able to observe aspects of a patient’s normal routine and make adjustments to the care plan or suggest changes in


behavioral practices that might not otherwise be apparent from just a visit to a clinic or pharmacy. Bringing all aspects of the patient—life, home, family—in to view allows these future physicians and pharmacists to see the entire picture of a patient firsthand, which is invaluable to making appropriate evaluations for a care plan. It gives students the opportunity to look behind the curtain to see the real aspects of patient life outside of a clinical setting. Solis joins a new generation of students who are learning under the Interprofessional Education (IPE) model of instruction. This relatively new way of teaching up-and-coming medical professionals focuses on better integrating and coordinating the education of nurses, physicians, dentists, pharmacists, public health professionals and other members of the patient health care team to provide more collaborative, team-based and patient-centered care. These shared learning experiences among students across a variety of health disciplines have been shown to improve health outcomes. Leading agencies, such as the World Health Organization, have recognized IPE as an effective way to enhance the preparation of the health care workforce and improve care delivery. Following the pilot stage of the “No Place Like Home” LACE initiative, UH and BCM expanded the program to more than 40 pharmacy and medical students from each institution. Eventually, the program partners plan to offer the experience to all third-year BCM medical and UH pharmacy students, as well as incorporating pharmacy faculty. “The goal is not only to improve communication between patients and medical professionals, but also to give students from different health care professions an opportunity to gain an appreciation of the

knowledge, skills and contributions brought by other members of the team,” said Catherine Hatfield, the director of Interprofessional Education at the UH College of Pharmacy. “It’s becoming increasingly important in the early stages of clinical education to demonstrate that an entire team helps treat and keep patients safe. With economic, psychological, medical, functional, spiritual and social issues all affecting patient health, the expertise of several people is necessary to take good care of patients. It’s the reality of how we practice medicine.”

He goes on to say, “Working in the clinic gives us hands-on patient experience that we can’t learn in school, so it’s a great opportunity to actually practice what you learn. It’s helped me build my clinical knowledge, learn how to treat patients and how to improve patient care. It’s also helped with my personal growth, since the homeless population is one most people don’t think about. Most of us think of going into hospitals or the community setting, so this experience is eye opening.” UH pharmacy students are required to do 10 hours of volunteering or community service, called pharmacy No One is Forgotten experience hours, in their first Another IPE for which year and 20 hours each in their students can volunteer is second and third years, for a through the Healthcare for total of 50 hours. Sattar says the Homeless—Houston’s that’s the minimum and, as the HOMES clinic, which is 2014 UH Volunteer of the Year entirely student-managed at HOMES, he has put in many with oversight by attending more hours than that. physicians and licensed The HOMES clinic is pharmacists. A collaboration open every Sunday to ensure among three institutions, access to needed services on HOMES (Houston Outreach a day when most other health Medicine, Education, and care providers are closed, Social Services) has been while also reducing the use successfully run for more than of hospital emergency rooms a decade by students from for non-emergent conditions. the UH College of Pharmacy, More than 3,000 patients Baylor College of Medicine have been served through and The University of Texas the clinic since its launch Health Science Center in 2000. The pharmacy Schools of Medicine and students also have worked Public Health. with Walgreens to offer free Faizan Sattar is one of seasonal flu immunizations the UH pharmacy doctoral to clinic patients. students who has spent many While the doctors on hours volunteering at the ABOVE: site usually change from week to week, chances are that clinic and speaks passionately about his experiences. Managers from the the pharmacist will be UH College of Pharmacy clinical “The health care system now is all about working University of Houston associate professor David A. Wallace, who has been a fixture together with different professions as a group effort, College of Pharmacy, Baylor College of at the HOMES clinic almost every Sunday since it opened, resulting in an interdisciplinary experience. The Medicine and The serving as faculty advisor, preceptor and clinical pharmacist. opportunity to work with medical students not only helps us University of Texas “It’s very rewarding to see the students grow not only in approaching things with a different perspective, but also Health Science Center help care for in their technical and clinical knowledge and skills, allows us to gain an appreciation of what we do and how we a patient at the but also in their empathy and awareness of the complex can contribute from the pharmacological standpoint,” Sattar HOMES clinic. medical, mental health and social needs within this said. “I like to volunteer and have always volunteered. What patient population,” Wallace said. “Getting a chance to see I enjoy most is making a difference, because everybody students apply what they’re learning in class, doing the patient care deserves to be taken care of, and nobody deserves to be forgotten. The and experiencing ‘aha’ moments for the first time is very fulfilling. patients have been through different life experiences that I’ve never What I find most gratifying is watching the students take off in their been through in my life, facing different challenges that I can’t even profession. I look at it as training my colleagues and enjoy watching fathom. It’s taught me to be patient with people and, most importantly, the students get that chance to interact and become part of a health to listen to what patients have to say, because we don’t know everything care team.” and need patient input for it to work.”





DRIVEN TO SUCCEED Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner Reflects on Time at UH. BY MIKE EMERY


n Dec. 12, 2015, Sylvester Turner realized his dream of being elected mayor of the city of Houston. The proud Houstonian and veteran legislator is the second African-American to lead the nation’s fourth largest city. He also is a devoted University of Houston Cougar, who credits much of his success to the lessons learned at the University. Among those lessons was a near “crash” course in driving. Turner expanded on that extracurricular driver’s education tale with UH Magazine, as well as other memories from his time on campus. Born in 1954, Turner was raised in Houston’s Acres Homes neighborhood. As one of nine children in a two-bedroom house, he worked hard to help support his family. Likewise, he excelled

academically, becoming Klein High School’s student body president and valedictorian. His good grades led him to the University of Houston, where he honed his talents as a public speaker and political leader. Turner’s time at UH prepared him for Harvard Law School. After earning his juris doctor in 1980, Turner returned to Houston to practice law with Fulbright & Jaworski. In 1983, he co-founded the law firm Barnes & Turner. From 1989 to 2016, Turner represented District 139 in the Texas House of Representatives. In January, Turner took office, and it’s been full steam ahead at City Hall. Although he maintains a full schedule, Turner took time to share his insights on the city, the University and UH’s chances against the Oklahoma Sooners in the football season opener.


Left: Sylvester Turner receiving an award for Outstanding Contribution to Campus Activities in 1977. Right: Sylvester Turner (back row, right) with fellow students of The Black Student Union. They served to orient black students to UH campus life.

UH MAGAZINE: How did your experiences at UH prepare you for civic leadership? SYLVESTER TURNER: I was on the debate team at UH during my freshman and sophomore years. During my last two years on campus, I served as the speaker of the Student Senate. I was very active and sharpened my political skills on campus. And I studied at UH’s political science department with great professors, including Harrell Rodgers and Robert Carp. They were the professors who convinced me to attend Harvard Law School. UH MAGAZINE: How do you view UH’s role in the community? TURNER: When I was attending UH, the perception was “Cougar High.” That perception has been dismissed. Its campus sits in the heart of the Third Ward, and I know the University works closely with neighborhood groups including the Wheeler Ave. Baptist Church. UH has been a vital part in the development of the Third Ward area. UH MAGAZINE: Beyond the Third Ward, how does the University enhance the city of Houston? TURNER: The city and University are intertwined. UH is a Tier One institution, and the city needs that to help propel it forward. This is the fourth largest city in the country, so having an institution of this caliber is an asset. UH MAGAZINE: What are some of your fondest memories of attending UH? TURNER: I loved being in the Debate Program. I debated in high school and did very well.


One of my fondest memories was that I learned how to drive at UH. I came from a family that did not have transportation. UH was hosting a national debate tournament, and teams were flying into town from across the country. My debate coach, Bill Henderson, handed me his car keys and asked me to pick up some University of Chicago students from the airport. He just put the keys in my hand and took off. Coach Henderson was always high energy and walked away without asking me if I could drive. I got in his car and swerved all the way to the airport and picked the guys up. They got into the car and started talking. All of a sudden, they became quiet. The guy in the passenger’s seat looked at me and said, “Say, dude. How long have you been driving?” I said that I just started. (Laughing) He said, “Yeah, I figured. Do you want me to drive?” I told him that I had it under control. We made it all the way back. When they got out of the car, they suggested that I didn’t pick anyone else up. And, that’s how I learned to drive. (Laughing) I also enjoyed my time as the speaker of the Student Senate and living on the third floor of Moody Towers. I lived on the same floor as the athletes, including former basketball star Otis Birdsong. UH MAGAZINE: You’ve seen both the city and University grow and change dramatically. Do you feel that UH is a reflection of Houston?

TURNER: The city is soon to become the third largest city in America and is one of the country’s most diverse cities. UH is growing as well and also highly diverse. Both the city and UH are on an upward trajectory. As I mentioned earlier, they are interrelated. I believe the best days for the city and the University are still ahead. UH MAGAZINE: You mentioned the diversity in Houston. What else makes this a special city? TURNER: Houston has many great things going for it. It hosts the iconic Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. We’re also an oil and gas town and home to the Texas Medical Center. Houston also has world-class arts that make it very unique. And, we have all of the great universities, including UH, right here in our city. There are so many things in Houston. I tell visitors that they can visit our city and literally travel the globe. It’s the same way at UH. Academics, arts, sciences, research and athletics are all doing very well. When you look at both Houston and UH, you see that fabric—that quilt that exists— and they are both maturing and growing.

UH MAGAZINE: Athletics is definitely a pride point for UH right now considering the Cougar football team’s great 2015 season. Do you have your 2016 season tickets yet? TURNER: I will be at the first game against Oklahoma. It should be a sell out at NRG Stadium considering what UH did this past season. For the Cougars to start out the season against a powerhouse like Oklahoma speaks to how far the program has come. We’ll win that one easily then move on. In this first game, I think we’ll win by 14 or possibly 21 points. Then, we’ll look for some stiffer competition. UH MAGAZINE: Do you have advice for current UH students? TURNER: Take advantage of everything the University has to offer. When I walk the campus, everything looks first class. The library looks great and so does the new Student Center. The Hilton is also great. I also would tell students that they’re not just at an institution that is local. They’re at an internationally renowned institution. It’s a beautiful campus and people from around the globe are interested in investing in UH. I sit here as the mayor of a great city and as an alumnus of UH, and I am extremely proud. If it wasn’t for UH, I may not be sitting where I am today. I wish UH and all of its students well, and say “Go Coogs!”

“The city and University are intertwined. UH is a Tier One institution, and the city needs that to help propel it forward” 37 





AS RED, WHITE AND BLUE CONFETTI FELL FROM THE CEILING OF THE GEORGIA DOME, FIRST-YEAR HOUSTON FOOTBALL HEAD COACH TOM HERMAN LOOKED UP AND PROCLAIMED TO THE RED-CLAD HOUSTON MASSES — MANY WITH TEARS STREAMING DOWN THEIR CHEEKS, MANY WHO HAD WAITED MORE THAN 30 YEARS FOR A WIN OF THIS MAGNITUDE — “LOOK AROUND YOU. COOG NATION IS BACK.” The rejuvenation of Coog Nation did not take place during that celebration in Atlanta; it started much earlier and consisted of 12 months of grueling physical and mental preparation. Twelve months of work that was deposited into a championship bank account, an account that was emptied on the turf of the Georgia Dome for a championship win that would cast a red tint over the entire city of Houston and across the state of Texas. The championship preparation started in December 2014, when Herman was named the 13th head coach in Houston football history. Fresh off of winning the Broyles Award as the nation’s top assistant coach while serving as the offensive coordinator at The Ohio State University, Herman wore two hats for the next month—Houston’s head coach and Ohio State’s offensive play caller in the Buckeyes’ run to the inaugural College Football Playoff Championship. While celebrating Ohio State’s national championship at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, Herman donned a UH cap and immediately went to work, arriving on the Tier One campus the following day.


Offseason workouts under the eye of Director for Football Sports Performance Yancy McKnight, commonly referred to by Herman as his “culture coach,” quickly established a championship culture that was based on competition in every single repetition. “I truly believe we were the best-trained team in America. Coach drove it into us every day,” said senior offensive tackle Alex Cooper. “When you’re that well trained, when you get into moments of uncertainty, you look at each other and you’re like: ‘We’re going to do this, doesn’t matter how


RIGHT: TDECU Stadium was a sea of red at the first game of the 2015 season against Tennessee Tech. BOTTOM RIGHT: Over 5,000 students packed the TDECU Stadium student section in each of Houston’s seven home games.

much we’re down, what the odds are, we’re going to come out with a win.’ It’s such a great feeling to have something like that. You look at your brothers and they’re ready to win. And it just makes you want to go that much harder.”


The 2015 season kicked off with Greg Ward Jr. leading the Cougars to victory against Tennessee Tech, giving Herman his first career win. The second week of the season demonstrated to Houston fans that this was a different team. At Louisville, the Cougars faced a four-point deficit twice in the fourth quarter. Unlike situations in the past, the team remained undaunted as Ward


hit Demarcus Ayers for a 15-yard touchdown with just over three minutes remaining in a wild fourth quarter that began tied 17-all. Scoring 17 points near the end of game, Houston won again. An off-season of hard work was paying off, and the belief was starting to become reality. Houston would win its next five games, exacting revenge on two teams, Tulane and UCF, who had captured 2014 wins in TDECU Stadium in the process. ‘’We train for adversity. We spend an inordinate amount of time on how to respond,’’ said Herman. Rising up to No. 18, the Cougars proved to be an imposing figure as they became the first team to shut out an SEC team in non-conference play since 2004 with a win over Vanderbilt. The energy and buzz surrounding the program grew immensely. The #HTownTakeover became more than just a local story; the nation also took notice. Pundits were discussing Houston’s talent, and the team played in SPRING 2016 • UNIVERSI T Y OF HOUS TON Magazine 


front of record crowds at TDECU Stadium in tight wins over Cincinnati and Memphis. “Having been here the last couple of years, going through some of the ups and downs, I don’t know how many games we walked off the field coming up just a play short,” said senior running back Kenneth Farrow, “We knew we had the capability to be in this position when Coach Herman came in, and right away we kind of got that feeling that he knows what he’s doing and he’s going to be the guy that can really lead us to take that next step.” Despite coming up just short in a road trip at UConn, the team’s only loss of the season, the Cougars didn’t lose focus, annihilating No. 16 Navy in the last regular season game. A flood of red washed across John O’Quinn Field as UH fans fleeted down the stadium stands while American commissioner Mike Aresco presented Herman with The American’s West Division trophy, a scene that would repeat itself one week later, albeit with a larger trophy.



Thirty-five days after Houston’s Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl win, the No. 8 football program added 23 new members to the #HTownTakeover. Welcomed to the program on Houston Football digital platforms by a star-studded cast, the group is being praised as the top signing class in Houston Football history. The class includes three players in the ESPN 300—defensive tackle Ed Oliver, receiver Courtney Lark and quarterback D’Eriq King—and seven players ranked in the top 10 nationally at their positions—quarterback Kyle Allen (No. 1 quarterback in 2014), running back Duke Catalon (No. 10 running back in 2014), defensive back J.J. Dallas (No. 9 junior college


THIS PAGE, FROM TOP: Trevon Stewart (left) and Brandon Wilson celebrate a Houston defensive stop of Florida State; Confetti falls from the Georgia Dome as Houston players celebrate the Cougars’ win over Florida State; Head Coach Tom Herman, VP for Athletics Hunter Yurachek and Offensive MVP Greg Ward Jr. accept the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl trophy.

cornerback), offensive lineman Keenan Murphy (No. 5 center), Ed Oliver (No. 2 defensive tackle), offensive lineman Na’Ty Rodgers (No. 4 junior college offensive tackle) and defensive back Terrell Williams (No. 9 junior college safety). “We have to recruit really good players, and we did that,” said Herman. “One of the unique things, and maybe the thing I’m most proud of this class, is of all the high school players that signed with us, all but one of them committed before we had ever played a football game as a staff. Why did they do that? The answer is relationships. They have tremendous relationships with their recruiting coaches.” Seventeen of the 23 signees were high school players. Sixteen hail from the state of Texas and


A national TV audience watched as Houston hosted Temple in the first-ever American Championship. UH fans were not disappointed as the Cougars prevailed, sending UH to its first major bowl game in more than 30 years. Houston’s opponent in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl was No. 9 Florida State. The same Florida State team that was playing in its NCAA-leading 34th straight bowl game and the same team that needed just one more win to tie an NCAA record with its 50th win over four seasons. They were a prestigious opponent. One that might intimidate or daunt other programs, but Houston players never took their focus off their own team and what they could, and would, control. As the final gun sounded, confetti rained down, tears fell, brothers in red and white embraced, and another historic win and a legendary Houston season was etched into the University of Houston’s books. “Putting the season into words, it all goes to the players—the players and the love they have for each other and the trust and the love that they have in the staff,” said Herman. “They have really reenergized an entire University and, to a certain degree, an entire city. And they should be extremely, extremely proud. “And I’m just happy to be along for the ride and see the smiles on their faces, because they did it. They’re the ones that bled and sweat and cried for 12 months to make that happen. And we are truly appreciative that the city of Houston, Coog Nation and the alumni, fans and students who have seen their sacrifice and have certainly increased their support.” With the success of the 2015 season powering the way, Herman and the Houston Football program started focusing on 2016 and beyond. “Last season was a vision. These kids committed to a vision and bought into the vision,” said Herman. “Now we have testimonies and results we can show that vision pays off.”



one from neighboring Louisiana. The class covers seven position groups—six defensive backs, four offensive linemen, four receivers, three quarterbacks, three defensive linemen, two running backs and one tight end. Members of the class have led their teams to 76 high school state playoff appearances with every player in the class earning at least one all-district honor in their career. “I am very excited about this signing class. We made history. We have signed the highest-ranked non-Power 5 recruiting class in the history of college football, and that should be commended,” said Herman. “Our staff, support staff, coaches, everybody who has a hand in recruiting, should be commended for that. After signing day, Herman and the Houston Football program turned their attention to spring practices, the Red and White game scheduled for mid-April at TDECU Stadium and preparing for the 2016 season. The stage has been set, the world is watching—Coach Herman and the Houston Football program are writing history.

The University of Houston football team started a new game day tradition with the student body called Cage Sway. At the conclusion of its pregame warmups, the team gathers beyond the east end zone in front of the student section at TDECU Stadium. The team joins arms and sways back and forth reciting their pregame “Hold Up” chant while the student body also locks arms and sways back and forth, yelling portions of the chant back at them. SPRING 2016 • UNIVERSI T Y OF HOUS TON Magazine 




No stage is too big—or small—for the University of Houston’s Moores Concert Chorale. From local churches to international concert halls, UH’s award-winning choir— performing a mix of classical music and popular standards—is up for any performance. Credit the group’s accessibility to its longtime director Betsy Cook Weber. In addition to auditioning singers, selecting repertoire and leading rehearsals, she also coordinates the chorale’s busy performance schedule. Each year, the group performs between 10 and 20 shows. “We deliver a really good show, no matter whether it’s a big or small venue,” said Weber, director of choral studies at UH’s Moores School of Music. “That’s part of our training as performers. The size of the stage doesn’t matter as long as a willing audience is ready to see us perform.” The chorale’s busy calendar, however, keeps the group in top shape. In 2015, Weber (a UH alumna) and the group traveled for the fourth time to Europe and competed in the Grand Prix of Nations in Magdeburg, Germany. They returned to Houston with world championship honors.



Months later, the chorale was notified that it was ranked No. 3 among the world’s leading choirs. The ranking was part of choral festival organizer Interkultur’s Top 1,000 Choirs list. The organization also recognized the Moores Concert Chorale as No. 1 on its list of 50 best Children’s and Youth Choirs (under the age of 24). These honors are no doubt gratifying for Weber and Chorale members, but the ultimate reward for these singers is the applause from the audience. “When you get this kind of feedback, you want more of it,” Weber said. “It validates all of the hard work that is put into a performance. I remember certain ovations we received after strong performances. Those are moments I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”


Not just any singer can step on the stage as a member of the Moores Concert Chorale. Weber conducts thorough auditions to select the right voices. Voice alone is not the determining factor, Weber said. Prospective members must have proven themselves in another Moores School of Music vocal ensemble such as ManCorps, ManChoir or the Women’s Chorus—all led by Jeb Mueller associate director of choral studies. “They have to have a great work ethic and be dependable,” Weber said. “That’s determined when they perform with other UH ensembles.” Singers also must demonstrate their sight singing abilities —or performing a piece of music that they have not read or rehearsed previously. “The audition can be seen as challenging or nerve-wracking, but it’s important to remember that all the skills needed to have a great audition are skills that can be gained and improved on by practice,” said junior Justin Shen, who joined the Concert Chorale in 2014.


Each year, Weber selects 40 singers for the chorale. These performers must balance their coursework with rehearsal schedules and local and out of town performances. The chorale delivers several performances at UH’s Moores Opera House and also takes its beautiful voices into the community.



Concerts have been performed in collaboration with Houston-based musicians and even national touring acts. The group performed at the 2008 Latin Grammy Awards ceremony at the Toyota Center, participated in the 2009 “Star Wars In Concert” at Jones Hall (featuring C3PO actor Anthony Daniels), opened for the Temptations at the Mayor’s Holiday Tree Lighting in 2012 and backed platinum-selling artist Josh Groban in 2014. The group closed out 2015 backing up popular singer-songwriter Jim Brickman at Cullen Performance Hall. “The benefits of these kinds of performances is to show students how their classical training will translate into professional music making,” she said. “They also get a glimpse into how these concerts work. When we performed in the Josh Groban concert, we never saw him until the night of the concert. We worked with the music director and his band and a stand-in vocalist during rehearsals. It’s all very interesting to see how these concerts are put together.” The Chorale also extends its reach into local churches. It performs frequently in the city’s most beautiful places of worship, including Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart and St. Martin’s Episcopal Church. This year, the group performed a rare concert at Houston’s Villa de Matel Convent.

Miami (in 2007). In 2009, Weber entered the Chorale in its first international festival and competition. The group traveled to Llangollen, Wales for the prestigious Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod. During its European debut, the group took first place in the festival’s chamber music Previous page: The Concert Chorale competition. performed at Villa Two years later, the de Matel in March. group returned to Europe This page: Betsy Cook Weber directs for Florilège Vocal de Tours the chorale during in Tours, France. During rehearsal at Moores that trip, it earned second School of Music. Opposite: The choir place in the Mixed Choir at Villa de Matel. Competition and an award for Best New Work (the work “I Cannot Live with You” by UH music professor David These concerts entertain and inspire Ashley White). In 2013, it performed at the Houstonians, as well as educate singers on International Chamber Choir Competition classic works. in Germany, where it received first prize and “On the many occasions Dr. Betsy Weber the Gustave Charlier-Anna Maroye Prize for and the UH Concert Chorale have performed best interpretation of a religious chorale work in the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, the (“Splendid Jewel” by Steven Paulus). artistry and care are top notch,” said CoIn 2015, the group further cemented its Cathedral organist and music director Crista international reputation with top honors at Miller. “My favorite performance, however, Germany’s Grand Prix of Nations. was in March 2014. Betsy approached me about These events not only promote the chorale, having the Chorale perform Frank Martin’s they further showcase the University of beautiful ‘Mass for Double Choir’. She wanted Houston as a haven for student talents. this to be as the composer wished—to be sung “It became abundantly clear to me that within the context of a live Mass, rather than if the Chorale simply stayed at home and a ‘mere’ concert. Students from Chorale who delivered concerts, the students would not regularly sing at the Co-Cathedral led the get the recognition they deserve,” Weber said. Gregorian chants, visibly demonstrating a “Outside validation is very important. There laboratory environment for student leadership. are not collegiate level choral competitions Dr. Weber’s vision in creating this experience in the U.S., so we had to look outside of the for the students and for the public attending country for that kind of recognition. These the Mass was very moving on all levels— experiences have validated what people in artistic, scholarly and spiritual.” Houston know—UH has a world class singing program.” Catherine Goode agrees. During her WORLD STAGE freshman year, the singer journeyed with the Houstonians aren’t the only ones to Chorale to France. She returned to Europe experience the Concert Chorale’s talents. three more times with her fellow singers Weber has taken the group to prestigious before graduating in May 2015. music conferences, including the Texas Music “Performing for a variety of audiences Educators Association Conference in San means that our music and efforts are able to Antonio (in 2005 and 2008) and the American touch that many more people,” said Goode, Choral Directors National Convention in


who graduated in 2015. “One thing Chorale takes pride in is communicating emotionally and expressively while performing, and the more people we can share that with, the better. It’s always exciting to perform for an audience for the first time, like in our European competitions, and see their positive reaction to what we’re doing. It’s a nice affirmation.” These overseas excursions have provided wonderful exposure for the Chorale, but the trips have been educational as well. It’s not often that students can hear choirs from other countries. “These singers receive an irreplaceable educational experience,” Weber said. “You can watch their faces as they observe these groups. They are learning throughout each trip—and not just about singing. They’re learning about listening, discipline, camaraderie and much more.”


Performing on stage is just one part of the Moores Concert Chorale experience. While Weber delivers expert guidance with regard to singing and performing, she also instills values that will benefit them in life. Weber’s lessons in punctuality and preparedness will no doubt be applied to singers’ careers long after they’ve left the stage. “The biggest thing I learned is the importance of always being prepared—learn your music ahead of time and arrive early,” said Goode, who is now pursuing a graduate degree in music at Michigan State University. “You learn how to work and communicate with other people. Chorale wouldn’t be half the choir it is if it weren’t for the communication skills we’ve developed as an ensemble, which includes taking initiative and ownership of the music preparation process.” Shen concurs and adds that Weber fuels students’ passion and appetites for excellence in both music and their career goals. “She instills respect, discipline and

determination within all her students. Though all of these attributes are great, I think the most important trait she teaches us is passion,” he said. “Her passion for her field is something that she shows to us every rehearsal. It’s part of what makes her an extraordinary teacher and director. Each one of us, I believe, should strive to have her level of dedication in any career path that we choose.” Katie Dugat earned her bachelor’s degree in 2011 and embarked on a law career. Since graduating from the UH Law Center in 2015, she became an associate with Baker & McKenzie LLP. Dugat is far from the music stage but still finds inspiration from her time with the chorale. “One of the biggest takeaways from my time with the Chorale was learning how to push myself beyond my capabilities,” she said. “Being with this group allows you to work past the point that you think you can or harder than you think you can. It is not stopping when it would be easy or convenient because the people that excel in life don’t do that—the great musicians, the great attorneys, the great anyone really. My entire music experience at UH taught me that.”


Weber’s role as director is no doubt challenging. One of the most difficult parts

of her job, she said, is bidding farewell to graduating students. At the conclusion of each academic year, the Chorale hosts the annual Red Carnation Concert that spotlights singers who are graduating. It’s often an emotional night for Weber and the performers. “I should be rejoicing, but a part of me is actually a little sad,” she said. “I watch these wonderful students walk by and think, ‘I’ll never be able to replace them.’ The beauty is that their departures create openings for other students to flourish. It’s like the circle of life.” Departing Chorale students are equally emotional when it’s time to close this chapter of their UH career. Leaving UH and the Moores Concert Chorale can be difficult. Still, students emerge from the Chorale and the University a little wiser, more prepared for life’s challenges and with memories that will last a lifetime. “I really appreciated my time as a member of this group,” Dugat said. “I know it was a wonderful outlet for many different people. Whether it helped some cultivate love for music or whether it was a stepping stone to other things, being part of the Chorale has so many lasting benefits. This is a phenomenal group that taught me many things that I have taken into my career, and I’m proud to have been a part of it.”




THE CAVE A new invention to battle addiction BY SAM BYRD


he National Institutes of

Health estimates nearly one in 10 Americans over the age of 12 has a substance abuse problem. University of Houston Professor Patrick Bordnick and team are addressing this serious matter. Bordnick is helping recovering addicts discover ways to control alcoholism, drug abuse and other forms of addiction through an inventive tool called “The Cave.” As a licensed clinical social worker, he challenges the modern way for therapists to help patients deal with addictions. The current common treatment is for therapists to role play with the patients to help them learn coping


mechanisms in the comfort of a doctor’s office, but for Bordnick, this methodology seems marred with inherent flaws. “I kept having a problem with the clinical setting. The patient knows there is a therapist in a clinical office. They know they are with a doctor. It’s incongruent with what they’re trying to learn,” he said. “So we thought, how can we put people into an environment that mimics the real world?” The solution, The Cave, involves a virtual reality laboratory capable of replicating scenarios that potentially could trigger a relapse, all from the safety of a controlled environment. It is housed in the UH Graduate College of Social Work. The lab employs a California-based team’s virtual reality designs, which are projected upon two walls in The Cave. The West Coast group synthesizes the virtual reality’s setting. Then, the UH research team helps them finetune the visualizations to even the subtlest of details, such as where to place a bottle of beer or what brand of cigarettes to incorporate into the scenery. One of those team members is Luis Torres, associate dean for research and strategic partnerships. “We’re very involved from the beginning. We canvas and photo the community so that we can provide visualspatial data,” said Torres. This data helps the developers to create the most authentic replication of what a drug addict is likely to encounter in day-to-day life.

Before any patients encounter the

projections at The Cave, the designers and therapists take anywhere from 18 months to two years to build and finesse each scenario from start to finish. Once the visuals are created, the UH team tests the scenarios for accuracy and believability. “We test for the ecological validity of the scenario. It needs to look real,” said Torres. Once completed and put into use, the projections work in conjunction with 3D glasses worn by the patient to enhance the images’ lifelike quality and a system that monitors the patient’s movements and reactions to the stimuli. The room also includes a machine that manufactures the scent of the surroundings—like a fresh pizza on a kitchen table—as well as audio features, including thumping music and people talking in the background to make the experience as realistic as possible.

The Cave allows Bordnick and his team to utilize a variety of situations and virtual reality designs to gain an intimate understanding of what triggers an addict’s cravings. “We study what causes them to crave. Is it seeing people? Is it seeing the drugs? I can put an alcoholic in a party where everyone is drinking bottled water and no alcohol is present, and I can monitor if they have a similar craving when everyone is drinking alcohol,” said Bordnick. “We can separate all the facets of that environment to see what causes the craving.” The Cave’s current scenarios can include alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, heroine and nicotine. An e-cigarette module is in development. Also, The Cave can help people deal with non-drug related stressors, including fear of flying, fear of heights and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Globally known in academia as the

pioneer for virtual reality drug addiction recovery, Bordnick’s story is also a personal one. He dealt with food addiction before learning how to rethink his relationship with food in order to live a healthier life. His experience in learning to shift his own cognitive behavior about food cravings provided a springboard into understanding the behaviors of other people who are affected by different desires and allows him to utilize The Cave for society’s benefit. So far, the simulation has demonstrated a positive effect. “Six months post study, people were adapting in ways that people without the virtual study hadn’t adapted to yet,” said Bordnick. The next step is to develop a way to make this simulation portable. Bordnick says he is working with Google apps in attempt to port the environments into a smart phone so the patients can practice with the simulation outside of the lab. Torres adds that he would like to extend the use of The Cave into the community. Given the low cost of producing the projections coupled with advances in technology, he remains optimistic about the future of virtual reality for recovering addicts. “We want to partner with a few community agencies who provide recovery services and put this technology to use,” said Torres. “This could really make a dent in helping people with substance disorders.”




STRAIGHT FROM THE MOVIES Space architecture program goes to extremes BY JEANNIE KEVER


he nation’s space shuttles


Space architecture is, by necessity,

green architecture. “Space flight requires engineering solutions for recycling just about everything, minimizing the need for resupply and using solar energy as much as possible,” says Bonnie J. Dunbar, former director of the program and head of its advisory board. “Sustainability is more than just a buzzword to people designing for space,” says Olga Bannova, associate director of SICSA. “You won’t survive without sustainability.” In designing habitats—for space travel, for lunar colonies or for eventual use on Mars or elsewhere—space architects have to consider something else, as well. Habitats aren’t just workspaces for extreme environments, Bannova says. They will also be homes. Humans aren’t troublesome complications, but the most crucial element to any space endeavor. “Humans make things happen,” Bannova says. “People care. Robots don’t.”


may be in museums, Constellation Program cancelled and the next generation rocket yet to be determined. The culture of space exploration, however, is alive and well in Houston’s Third Ward. Canaan Martin is wrestling with what it means to be human and how that translates to habitats for living and working in space. James Flores, a former space shuttle flight manager, is researching ways to re-use existing hardware in an effort to cut costs and speed development. And John Cook, who, like Flores, lost his job in the aerospace industry as projects were cut, is thinking about the best, least expensive way to establish a lunar outpost as a way station en route to Mars. Students in the University of Houston’s Sasakawa International Center for Space Architecture (SICSA) are working on projects

with the potential to reshape how we think about space exploration. They are dreamers, with a can-do attitude. “All of this has to be thought through,” says Cook, waving a hand at the calculations and computerized designs that provide detail to his work. “You can’t design the surface elements without understanding the whole picture.” The “whole picture” underlies the University’s decision in 2015 to revamp its graduate space architecture program and SICSA, moving it from the Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture to the Cullen College of Engineering. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board approved changing the degree to a master of science with a STEM—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—designation. Space architecture involves principles of both architecture and engineering, along with physiology, physics and psychology, with a focus on extreme environments. That includes

not only space but also subsea, the Arctic and the desert, even disaster recovery zones. Space architects have to consider the temperature and pressure of space or other extreme environments, as well as “human engineering” factors—things like how people move in a low-gravity or no-gravity environment.

So, Canaan Martin is considering how people would move through a settlement on the moon, including technology needed to extract water from deep craters, where previous research suggests ice could be harvested to provide not just drinking water but also rocket fuel and other products produced from its components, oxygen and hydrogen.

Martin is focused not only on the

technical aspects of extracting frozen water from permanently shadowed craters, he is interested in the psychological elements that will come into play as more people spend extended time in space: Too big, and it’s not practical to launch from earth. Too small, and people go stir crazy. “Everyone wants things bigger than ever, but if it’s too big, we can’t get it there,” he says. Martin is among those who advocate going to the moon first. That would establish what Cook calls “a dress rehearsal for Mars. You don’t want to be doing something for the first time on Mars,” he says. After all, it’s a LEFT: Rendering of a modular SICSA space 550-day trip back habitat. ABOVE RIGHT: home. Rendering of the HousNejc Trost, an ton Spaceport at Ellington Airport which was assistant professor approved last summer. in the program, says BELOW: SICSA rendering modular design and of Mars habitat.

re-using hardware already proven to work could improve safety at a lower cost. Basic airplane design, he notes, has changed little in the past 80 years.

But not all work inside the SICSA

studios involves extraterrestrial worlds. Trost was tapped to design the first building at the Houston Spaceport at Ellington Field, intended to house researchers and businesses working on space-related projects. The Texas University Space Consortium—made up of UH, Rice University, Texas A&M University and The University of Texas at Austin—will be among the tenants. And Bannova says the skills apply to work outside of NASA and the private space sector. “It’s more about problem-solving and sustainable systems. The skills you can apply anywhere.” Arturo Machuca, general manager for Ellington Airport and the Houston Spaceport, says the space architecture program is a selling point when he talks with industry about the spaceport, which was approved last summer and which he and other officials see as a hub for aerospace operations, including designing microsatellites, unmanned aerial vehicles, spacecraft manufacturing and other activities. “Every conversation we have with companies that are contemplating locating

here, or are already here, workforce is the immediate concern,” Machuca says. That workforce may wax and wane in tune with NASA funding, but the passion remains strong. “I always loved space,” says Bannova, who grew up in Russia and completed a master’s degree in architecture at UH before earning a second master’s degree in space architecture in 2005. “People still think space is cool, and we’re part of it.”

Cook and Flores came to the industry

from different directions—Cook has a master’s degree in architecture, while Flores’ degree is in nuclear engineering—but both have spent years thinking about space, and they’re not ready to stop. Their current projects consider how people can live and work in space using “proven technology,” hardware used in previous missions that still has potential value for the future. U.S. astronauts travel to and from the International Space Station by Russian space capsule; little’s changed in its technology since the 1960s, Cook says. “If it’s flown and it worked, we should reuse it.” Whether they are considering new uses for old hardware or designing new technology, space architects draw upon an interdisciplinary set of skills that approaches space holistically. Larry Toups, lead systems engineer with NASA’s Exploration Mission Planning Office and a 1980s-era graduate of the program, says designing for space and other extreme environments requires not just technical expertise but a whole new way of looking at things. “It’s not really the design itself,” he says. “It’s the whole thing.” Bannova agrees, comparing space architecture to traditional architecture. A building might last hundreds of years, she says. “But if you do something in space, you open the door to another dimension.”



for a temporary assignment in the region to advance a key presidential initiative. “It was time to bring this all back home. The University has grown to be an amazing institution. It’s a great story of great opportunity for those future Tier One faculty who want to be part of a stellar institution,” she said.



Increasing faculty diversity at UH has

Erika Henderson returns home to help bring the best faculty to UH. BY MARISA RAMIREZ


oving into the Office of the

Provost at the University of Houston is a homecoming for Erika Henderson. The native Houstonian grew up a stone’s throw from UH in Third Ward, attending the High School for Health Professions (now the Michael E. DeBakey High School for Health Professions), participating in swim meets on the UH campus and attending Riverside Church at Cullen and MacGregor (even her brother is an alum of the UH Children’s Learning Center). But the life that led her away from Houston for 27 years — through higher education sectors, the White House, several states and back to Third Ward — can only be described as one thing. A calling. “Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I’d have an experience like this. This calling reminds me that I’ve had people along the way who made me dream big and be my best,” Henderson said. “That’s some of what I’ve enjoyed doing back here. Not only because it’s important that these diverse students have people committed to their education, but because I had that same privilege.” Since fall 2015, Henderson has been the assistant provost for faculty recruitment, retention, equity and diversity. In addition to


her charge of finding the best and brightest Tier One faculty, she has taken on an additional goal of ensuring the pool of candidates reflects the student body and the city. “There is a misnomer that there are not a lot of diverse academics out there, but the National Science Foundation (NSF) indicates there were close to 4,500 underrepresented minority persons who just received their doctorates,” she said. “We need to get our message out to them.”

That message will be informed by her

calling. A graduate of George Washington University in Washington, D.C., where she earned a doctorate of education in higher education and higher education administration, she wrote her dissertation on civic responsibility and the need to take ownership of community issues, applying one’s own abilities to affect them. To that end, in 2008 she applied for and was hired by then-Senator Barack Obama to be part of his presidential campaign’s advance staff. In his administration, she served as deputy director for the White House Fellows program and later as a senior policy advisor for the Department of Labor. Her hometown tugged when her experiences led her back to Houston

been an ongoing priority for the Office of the Provost, including the establishment of the Center for Advancing UH Faculty Success (ADVANCE), a new NSF-funded, five-year initiative to increase STEM faculty (particularly women STEM faculty) as part of a systemic effort to transform the institution. These efforts also have included the development of a Dual Career Program to support new faculty partners in their professional endeavors. Recruiting Henderson to coordinate these ongoing efforts was the culmination of a year-long national search. Her previous experience and leadership in creating innovative programs to promote diversity is a significant asset that already has yielded positive results. For example, she developed the new Powerhouse Recruitment Tool Kit that will serve as a blueprint for hiring committees. “We feature resources to help hiring committees connect with diverse serving organizations and publications,” she said. “These are tools to recruit all faculty, but definitely some specific tools with which to seek out underrepresented minority candidates.” The Powerhouse Recruitment Tool Kit contains resources, guidelines and practical suggestions, including “proactive diversity language” to increase the diversity of the applicant pool and a list of publications with diverse audiences to advertise positions. Additionally, Henderson is initiating Resource Groups, a mentoring project for new faculty members to share information about classroom management, multidisciplinary research, grant writing or work-life balance. “We want to implement a Powerhouse campaign using new media and new ways to approach faculty that isn’t just the typical brochure,” she said. While some of these initiatives are already in place, others, such as a weeklong faculty orientation and a database of up-and-coming academics to watch are in the works. “As we grow and our faculty are more reflective of our student body and our city, that will be success,” Henderson said.

to more efficient production of some types of plastics. “These complexes are of interest for a wide variety of reasons, but our particular interest concerns using them as catalysts for converting organic molecules more efficiently to useful materials, such as plastics or precursors to pharmaceuticals,” he said. “My work at UH will center on creating new late-transition metal catalysts for olefin polymerization. Not only is it relatively easy

in physical organic chemistry from the University of California at Los Angeles. From UCLA, he moved on to England for a year of postdoctoral study, where he began his initial research in organometallic chemistry. He returned to the U.S. to take on a faculty position at the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill in 1969.

Fast forward to current day, Brookhart’s home continues to be in North Carolina,

National Academy Member Maurice Brookhart Joins UH Having someone of his stature on our BY LISA MERKL



s someone who continues

to be inspired by advances in chemistry and still loves to play soccer at age 72, National Academy Member Maurice Brookhart was not about to rest on his laurels when he retired in 2014. He had research ideas he wanted to pursue. That’s when his former postdoctoral associate and longtime collaborator Olafs Daugulis, the Robert A. Welch Chair in Chemistry at the University of Houston, suggested that it might be possible for his mentor to join him as a colleague. The prospect of this sounded promising and, a year later, Brookhart became a part-time UH faculty member in fall 2015, continuing his research as a professor of chemistry. “This is an ideal situation for me,” Brookhart said. “Professor Daugulis and I work well together, and I expect we can produce some significant research in catalysis. My work in recent years has been highly collaborative, and I look forward to working with my new colleagues, especially the junior faculty in chemistry.” Noted for his research on organometallic complexes, his work involves fundamental research on the synthetic and mechanistic chemistry of compounds containing metal-carbon bonds. This research focuses on developing new organometallic catalysts for linking together molecules in a process known as olefin polymerization, as well as on developing catalysts to break and functionalize inert carbon-hydrogen and carbon-carbon bonds. The work could lead

faculty will help us tremendously in attracting the best faculty candidates from around the world. to modify the properties of the polymers being produced, but also late-transition metal catalysts allow for production of specialty polymers at lower temperatures and pressures than traditional methods. This could potentially result in cost savings on an industrial scale, as well as the development of more environmentally friendly products.” Polyethylene, a common, commercially produced plastic, is an example of a simple polymer that his catalysts are designed to produce. Several polymer manufacturers are investigating possible applications of his catalysts.

Dialing back to his childhood, Brookhart

grew up in a small town in the mountains of western Maryland. His initial interest in science and chemistry was sparked by a combination of his mother, who was a high school science teacher, and his high school chemistry teacher. He says his father also was very much of an influence and supportive. Coming to western Maryland in the 1930s as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Civil Conservation Corps, his father, who was not college-educated himself, was very eager to see his son go to college and excel. After getting his undergraduate degree in chemistry at Johns Hopkins University, Brookhart went on to earn his Ph.D.

where he enjoyed his 45-year career as a professor before retiring from UNC. His wife, Mary Hughes, who also is now retired, earned her Ph.D. in English at UNC and taught at two historically black institutions, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University and North Carolina Central University. Brookhart is happy to have his son, Alan, who is on the faculty in the School of Public Health at UNC, living nearby with his wife and two children. Brookhart’s daughter, Susan, who teaches chemistry at a private high school in Cairo, lives in Egypt with her husband and their two boys. Among his many accolades, Brookhart has received four national American Chemistry Society (ACS) awards—the ACS Award in Organometallic Chemistry, the Arthur C. Cope Award, the ACS Award in Polymer Chemistry and the ACS Gabor A. Somorjai Award for Creative Research in Catalysis. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2001. “Professor Brookhart’s phenomenal research accomplishments speak for themselves,” said David Hoffman, chair of the UH Department of Chemistry. “As we grow our department, having someone of his stature on our faculty will help us tremendously in attracting the best faculty candidates from around the world.”




GRACE LILLIAN BUTLER Professor emerita finds hope after battling cancer. BY FRANCINE PARKER


race Butler’s last day

teaching at the University of Houston campus was if not the most unforgettable day of her life then surely the most

agonizing. On that day in April of 1999, Butler abruptly departed from UH when an “insidious” disease — colon cancer — threatened her life. Following a two-year sick leave, Butler retired, receiving the professor emerita title from the College of Education. Butler’s departure was far different from the optimism and excitement of her first days at UH in 1989. She had accepted the new position of associate vice provost for faculty affairs and was tasked to serve as a liaison between the provost and faculty and to assist in recruiting minority faculty members. “The position enabled me to use the skills and experience that I had gained in academe through the years, and I thought it would be


challenging,” Butler said. “I also recall that there was the desire for UH to become more diverse.” Butler’s arrival came at a time marked by substantial growth at the University. The Legislature had established the Texas Center for Superconductivity at UH. Enrollment in the Honors College had increased ten-fold to more than 1,000 students. For Butler, UH offered a unique opportunity in a city unlike the one from which she had relocated — College Station. There, she worked at Texas A&M University, where she was, for a time, one of two African-American professors. She also served in administrative positions and was instrumental in Texas A&M’s effort to diversify its faculty. At UH, Butler faced some resistance from faculty members accustomed to “having direct contact with the provost.” She continued, though, to develop a rapport with faculty and created an internship program for professors,

particularly women and minorities, interested in transitioning into careers as administrators. One of those participants was professor James Anderson, who retired from the University of Houston several years ago. Butler also immersed herself into the campus community and scholarly activities. She chaired the promotion and tenure, and the Esther Farfel award committees and participated in many others. And, over the years, Butler wrote numerous monographs, book chapters and articles, including “Race, Racial Stratification and Education: A response” and “Legal and Policy Issues in Higher Education.” She also served on the editorial boards of such organizations as the National Forum for Educational Administration and Supervision.

In 1996, Butler returned to the

classroom and taught the Cultural History of Education in America. “The class was fascinating,” Butler said. “One of the projects

I assigned to my students was for them to interview a family member who was older than 65 and ask what was education like for you, what was society like, especially in the context of race relations.” The project, she said, was “an eye-opener” for her students. “Many of my students didn’t realize how there was such an acceptance of a segregated society,” Butler said. Butler thoroughly enjoyed the class so much that she continued to teach and advise three doctoral students, despite the pain she began to experience in early April 1999. “One Saturday, I felt this gripping pain on my right side. Sunday, the pain was a little more intense,” Butler recalled. “Wednesday night, I was at my desk in Farish Hall, bent over in pain, crying. I left the office that night and never returned.” Four days later, Butler was diagnosed with stage-three colon cancer. Surprisingly to her students but perhaps not to her family and close friends, Butler resumed advising her doctoral students from her Pearland home while she recovered from surgery and during her bout with chemotherapy. “Cancer was not part of my students’ agenda. It was not fair to them for me to drop off the world and leave them without their adviser,” Butler said. “They were working to complete their dissertations by May. That’s why I was so determined to be there for them.”

Two years later, Butler founded Hope

Through Grace, a nonprofit organization that provides education services and funding for early detection of colon cancer to some of the city’s most vulnerable populations—the disadvantaged, the medically underserved and the uninsured. The name, she added, is based on biblical scripture—2 Thessalonians 2:16. Butler’s advocacy has taken her from the city’s homeless shelters to the state Capitol and to Washington D.C., where she met former President George W. Bush. She recalled that meeting vividly, noting that she was invited by the White House to participate in a round table with Bush. Butler, along with the heads of various federal health agencies such as the National Institutes of Health, discussed with the president the need to increase funding for health-related causes. “I was seated beside President Bush,” Butler said. “We were each given three or four minutes to talk, and I knew I didn’t have enough time to tell him my entire story, but I spoke about

my experience as a cancer survivor and about my nonprofit. He was riveted with what I was saying. He was warm, amicable and receptive.”

Today, Butler, who is still in remission,

looks and acts younger than her 79 years. She walks daily, volunteers with her church and, of course, manages Hope Through Grace. She also enjoys traveling with her daughter


to such locales as Spain, England, Japan, Italy, Switzerland, the Holy Land, Egypt and Argentina—countries she never imagined visiting when she was a skinny kid living in Louisiana, playing the clarinet and dreaming about a career in music therapy. “I was first-chair clarinet in my high school band. The band director thought I was the greatest thing since apple pie, so I thought I wanted a career in music therapy,” Butler recalled. “I applied to a university in Iowa and was accepted.” Eager to be college bound, Butler soon discovered that Jim Crow existed far beyond the South. In August of 1954, her parents received a letter from the university notifying them that Butler could not live on campus in a dormitory. Instead, administrators “had made arrangements with other African-American families in the community where I could live. My parents rejected that idea,” Butler said. Disappointed but undeterred, Butler enrolled into Xavier University, where she

graduated in 1958 with a bachelor’s degree in music education. She would go on to receive a master’s degree in music education from Northwestern University and a Ph.D. in educational administration and supervision from New York University. She also would fulfill her dream of pursuing a career in music education in public schools and earned numerous accolades, which included being listed in Who’s Who in America and Who’s Who of American Women. Butler was inducted in the Phi Kappa Phi honorary society at UH and Texas A&M University and the Phi Beta Delta Honorary Society for International Scholars. She also is the recipient of the Houston branch of the American Cancer Society’s Partners in Courage Award, among other honors. In 2014, she was awarded a proclamation from Mayor Annise Parker, designating March 4 as Dr. Grace L. Butler Day in Houston.

Butler credits her success to her family

and the “many blessings I received along the way.” Her father, who earned a living as a messenger, and her mother, a teacher, instilled in her a strong work ethic and pride in her heritage. Her aunt, Grace Landry, exposed her to educational administration; however, it was her sister Joyce, who died prior to completing a Ph.D., who inspired her to pursue academia and a doctorate. “For whatever reason, my parents decided to send me to live with my Aunt Grace in Minden, Louisiana, which is east of Shreveport, when I was in the second grade,” Butler said. “My Aunt Grace was a Jeanes supervisor for the entire county — the counterpart today is the superintendent of schools.” Moving to Minden, Butler said, “was the best decision for me. It was the best environment that I could have had for an upbringing; although, the town was segregated,” Butler said. “It was a wonderful environment, because as black youngsters we had our role models in our midst at all times. You sat beside your principal Sunday at church, or you had your teachers as your neighbors. Everybody knew everyone, and everybody cared for everyone.” The lessons she learned from her family influence Butler to this day, she added, noting her plans for the future. “Although Hope Through Grace has helped a lot of people and prevented the onset of colon cancer, there is still much work to be done.”





CLASS NOTES News and announcements from UH Alumni

1960s MARC E. GROSSBERG (’61), a specialist in Litigation and Controversy-Tax and Tax Law in Houston, was selected for inclusion in Texas Super Lawyers 2015 by Thomson Reuters, which was published in the October 2015 issue of Texas Monthly. MARTIN NATHAN (’65, J.D. ’66) was recently elected as the national chair of The Anti-Defamation League. Nathan becomes the 19th National Chair of the organization founded in 1913 with a mandate to fight antisemitism and discrimination of all forms.

1970s BARBARA B. FERGUSON (’72), who focuses her law practice on estate and income tax planning, probate law, marital property law, fiduciary administration, and charitable planned giving, was selected for inclusion in Texas Super Lawyers 2015 by Thomson Reuters, which was published in the October 2015 issue of Texas Monthly. THE HONORABLE JOSEFINA RENDON (’72, J.D. ’76), a municipal judge for 28 years and the first Hispanic Civil


Service Commissioner in Houston, was recognized by outgoing Mayor Annise Parker at the Mayor’s Hispanic Heritage Awards with the unveiling of her portrait at the Herbert Gee Courthouse on November 7, 2015. GEOFFREY GAY (J.D. ’77), chair of the Energy and Utility Practice Group at Lloyd Gosselink Attorneys at Law, was named in Best Lawyer’s 2016 listing of The Best Lawyers in America in the area of Energy Law.

LAURA GIBSON (J.D. ’84) a partner at Ogden, Gibson, Broocks, Longoria & Hall, LLP, was elected president of the Houston Bar Association. BILL DUDLEY (M.B.A. ’85), chief executive officer of Virginia’s Bechtel Group, Inc. was awarded an honorary doctoral degree from Purdue University. KAMERON JOHNSON (’88), Juvenile Public Defender in Travis County, has been appointed to the Task Force on Improving Outcomes for Juveniles Adjudicated of Sexual Offenses by Governor Greg Abbott. LOUIS A. RILEY (’89) has joined Blank Rome LLP as Of Counsel in the Intellectual Property and Technology group, adding to Blank Rome’s recent expansion of the firm’s national IP group in Houston, New York and Washington, D.C. He is based in the firm’s Houston office.


DONALD E. WILLHOUSE (’73) PE, F.ASCE, LTC, USA (ret) has been awarded the highest award given by the Texas Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). The Award of Honor was given in recognition of his service to the ASCE at the branch and state level, as well as his high-level service to the profession at the national, state and local level.

THE HONORABLE JACQUIE BALY (’90) was appointed by Governor Greg Abbott’s University Research Initiative Advisory Board. The goal of the new board is to help public universities attract game-changing researchers, resulting in new companies and jobs involved in commercializing the research the universities produce.

THE HONORABLE MARGARET SPELLINGS (’79), former United States Secretary of Education, was appointed to lead the University of North Carolina system as System President, with an expected appointment date of March 1, 2016.

DR. J. GUALBERTO CREMADES (’92, M.ED. ’94, PH.ED. ’99, PH.D. ’03) was named Fellow by the Association for Applied Sport Psychology (AASP) for achieving distinction through significant contributions to academic and professional practice knowledge in sport and exercise psychology. Cremades is a professor of sport and exercise psychology at Barry University in Miami, Fla.

GREGORY S. PERRIN (’92, M.F.A. ’95) is the associate vice president and executive director for development for diversity and community engagement at The University of Texas at Austin. A former theater major and Master’s candidate, he credits the acting and writing skills he learned at UH for his ability actively engage and connect with donors in his current position. LISA JARRETT (J.D. ’93) judge of the 436th District Court in Bexar County, has been appointed to the Task Force on Improving Outcomes for Juveniles Adjudicated of Sexual Offenses by Governor Greg Abbott. DAWN SMAJSTRLA (’93, M.B.A. ’95) was appointed as vice president of Black Stone Minerals. VICTOR CARRILLO (J.D. ’94) was promoted to chief executive officer of Zion Oil and Gas, located in Dallas, Texas. DAVID HINDS (M.B.A. ’94) was appointed president of Victoria College in Victoria, Texas. CHRISTANN M. VASQUEZ (UHCL M.H.A. ’94) has been appointed to Healthcare Realty Trust Incorporated’s Board of Directors. ROLANDO PABLOS (M.H.M. ’96) of El Paso has been appointed by Governor Greg Abbott to the Texas Racing Commission, which oversees pari-mutuel wagering on horse and greyhound racing. MARIA RIOS (FS ’97) president, CEO and founder of Houston-based Nation Waste Inc., explains how she fled a childhood of civil war and became a business leader in the largely male-dominated waste management industry in a July episode of CNBC’s “Blue Collar Millionaires.”

GEORGE KELEMEN (’97) was announced as the new president and chief executive officer of the Texas Retailers Association. ROB STEINHOFF (’99) has joined the Real Estate Department at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck’s Denver office as a first-year associate. UNIVERSITY OF HOUSTON SYSTEM REGENT PAULA MENDOZA (’95), president & CEO of Possible Missions Inc., has been named one of “Houston’s 50 Most Influential Women of 2015” by Houston Woman Magazine, as well as one of ABC 13’s 2016 Women of Distinction. Possible Missions is an experienced project management company. A graduate of the Jack J. Valenti School of Communication, JOHN STREETER (’90) was awarded a Lone Star Emmy for his video production, “Orion: Trial by Fire.” He was the writer, producer and director of the video, as well as the artist who created the artwork shown in the film. He worked on the production with two other UH alumni: EDMOND TOMA (’94), the editor, and PAULA VARGAS (’84), who provided graphics. All three work at the Johnson Space Center where they educate the public about space exploration.

2000s The PEN Literary Awards, the most comprehensive literary awards in the country, announced the longlists for 2016, and two University of Houston alumni are recognized. JENNIFER TSENG’S (’02) “Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness,” published by Europa Editions, and JILL ALEXANDER ESSBAUM’S (’94) “Hausfrau: A Novel,” published by Random House, both made the prestigious longlist for debut fiction. DR. CHERYL ANN MATHERLY (ED.D. ’01) has been appointed vice president and vice provost for international affairs at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Penn.

ILIANA ROCHA (’03) won the 2014 Donald Hall Prize for Poetry, which includes publication of her book of poems, “Karankawa,” published by University of Pittsburg Press in 2015. She is currently a doctoral student in English at Western Michigan University. AGNIESZKA (KOZLOWSKA) RAKHMATULLAEV (’03, M.M. ’05) has joined South Bend Symphony Orchestra in South Bend, Ind., as executive director. A master violinist, she received her Nonprofit Management Executive Leadership Certificate from Georgetown University in 2012. SCOTT STOVER (M.S. ’04) was selected as one of three new flight directors who will manage and carry out shuttle flights and International Space Station expeditions. Stover will lead human spaceflights from Mission Control at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. VICKI BLOCKER RISINGER (’05) has been named one of the best young professionals in the oil and gas industry by the Oil and Gas Investor 30 under 40 Program, presented by Grant Thornton. Risinger was selected as one of just 30 millennials who possess the “intelligence, creativity, community involvement and values” who are certain to bring future success. JONATHAN CLAYDON (’06) was recognized as a state finalist for the 2015 Texas Presidential Awards for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching (PAEMST). JUSTIN WHITTENBURG (’98, J.D. ’04) has rejoined the firm Baker & McKenzie in their Houston office. As a Corporate and Securities Partner, he brings a wealth of knowledge and more than a decade of experience in securities, mergers and acquisitions and multi-country internal reorganizations. RAYBURN “JAKE” DONALDSON (M. ARCH ’06) is a founder of Three Square Design Group. The firm designed and built Ellen Lighting



ALUMNI & FRIENDS and Hardware, an upscale retail, office and distribution space that recently won a prestigious Tilt Up Concrete Association Achievement Award. TONY BUZBEE (J.D. ’07), one of the most successful trial lawyers in the nation, was named “2015 Attorney of the Year” by Texas Lawyer magazine. LUPE GARCIA (’07), Houston Audit Senior Manager at Whitley Penn, will serve on the Accounting and Advisory Board of the Houston Community College System. JEREMY RINCON (’08), co-founder of Clarus Glassboards, was recently honored by Ernst & Young and named Entrepreneur of the Year.

2010s HILLARY GRAMM (UHCL M.A. ’11) was included in the 2015 Houston Business Journal 40 Under 40 Award List. SIDNEI MCCARTY (’11), owner of Sid Simone Solutions, has written featured articles in the November 2015 issues of Inc. and Good Call magazines. She received her M.B.A. from Southern New Hampshire University in 2015. MO HAIDER (’12) began working as a reporter for KRQE News 13 in Albuquerque, N.M. in August 2015. TROI TAYLOR (UHV M.B.A. ’13) was included in the 2015 Houston Business Journal 40 Under 40 Award list. CARA SMITH (’15) has been named Houston Business Journal’s new money and law reporter.



Alumnus James Hong (’05) gives back to UH and Future Coogs in the Community. BY JEFF SUTTON

ames Hong (’05) has had an entrepreneurial spirit since he was a teenager when he began building and selling computers. As an 18-year-old freshman football player at UH, he and teammate Jaron Barganier (’04) founded Be A Champion Inc., a nonprofit organization that provides community outreach programs to schoolchildren. Less than a decade later, in 2010, Hong started his own financial services company. A first-generation American, Hong is the son of immigrant parents from Seoul, South Korea. Forced to take on a lion’s share of familial responsibilities in the seventh grade with the passing of his father, a hardworking mechanic who was the family’s sole breadwinner, Hong recalled childhood hardships. “My mom didn’t know how to write a check at that point, or pay bills. So, I kind of had to learn how to do that stuff. I valued money very differently at an early age, because when you don’t have much, you appreciate things differently.” As a youth with LEFT: James Hong can a newfound load of often be found at the Pinks Pizza on Calhoun responsibility, he Street. Hong was a began to develop driving force in bringing an interest in the restaurant near campus for the UH investment and community to enjoy. saving money, which led him to major in finance and management at the C. T Bauer College of Business while also earning an entrepreneurship certificate. As a walk-on member of the UH football team, he earned a scholarship for his junior season. The nonprofit he helped found in 2001 and of which he remains chief operating officer and vice chairman of the board, Be A Champion Inc., grew to include the Little Coogs outreach program in 2002, providing access to a college campus and the football gameday experience. The first year, fewer than 50 kids attended each game. Currently, the program averages more than 2,400 kids per game at TDECU Stadium. Additionally, Be A Champion provides inschool and after-school programs along with the Champion Fuel Food Program, providing nutritious snacks and meals to students in enrichment programs across Texas. “We had six kids in our first summer camp in 2002,” he said. “Now, we serve more than 12,000 kids per day in our


after-school and enrichment programs.” As Be A Champion grew, Hong was growing professionally. After graduation, he spent five years working in the financial services industry with Mass Mutual Financial Group. “I graduated in 2005 and wanted to get into financial services, because I was a finance major and didn’t want to go into banking or accounting. I knew a lot of people who were financial advisors who were kind of mentors to me growing up.” Hong noted his motivation to learn about investment and saving at a

of finance, led Hong to agree to teach at Bauer for a semester to see whether it was something he enjoyed. Hong recalled sitting down with Jones at the end of the semester and saying, “It wasn’t too bad. It was a little tough on my schedule, but other than that, I enjoyed it. I really enjoyed teaching the students.” His statement elicited a response from Jones along the lines of “Good. I’ve got you on the schedule for the spring.” Hong has been teaching every semester since. In addition to teaching, he was one of the

He is a Life Member of the UH Alumni Association, a past president of the Bauer College Alumni Association, current president of the H Association, secretary of the Houston Cougar Foundation and, since 2012, he has taught a class at Bauer College on life insurance and annuities. young age. “When I graduated, I wanted to do the same thing, except helping other people do what I was doing.” In 2010, Hong struck out on his own and started Hong Financial, an independent insurance brokerage firm providing insurance, retirement, benefits and executive planning services to small and medium-sized businesses and individuals. All the while, he has maintained an extremely close relationship with the UH community. He is a Life Member of the UH Alumni Association, a past president of the Bauer College Alumni Association, current president of the H Association, secretary of the Houston Cougar Foundation and, since 2012, he has taught a class at Bauer College on life insurance and annuities. An informal meeting with Dan Jones, executive professor in the department

driving forces behind bringing Pink’s Pizza to Calhoun Street. Normally just a pizza joint with no televisions and no alcohol, Hong envisioned a sports bar atmosphere that was accessible to the entire UH community, from the students to alumni, faculty and staff. It’s clear any time you speak with Hong that he is a committed alumnus, donor and fan. He is ever-present at UH sporting events and spent some time discussing the importance of alumni to the University. “It’s a special time right now, with what we’re witnessing.” He urged alumni of all ages to find a way to be involved. “If somebody like me can do it, anybody can do what I’m doing. Maybe not the level of involvement with numerous organizations, but choose one thing. Make it important for you, because at the end of the day, it’s going to benefit generations of Cougars to come.”





The University of Houston has over 600 ongoing community initiatives, resulting in over 1,000,000 hours volunteered annually by UH students. This isn’t a new statistic or trend; for nearly a century, the Cougar community has built a culture of hometown pride, driven by the desire to leave a lasting, positive impact. In our ongoing effort to tell the story of the University—to highlight student successes and grow community—UH Social Media integrated the collective passion for giving back with an interactive UH1UP social gamification challenge. The challenge provided an interactive digital platform for students to engage directly with UH leadership, while exploring the campus and documenting their own personal connection to our community. In partnership with the UH Metropolitan Volunteer Program, these images capture the way Coogs are building a better future. Activities include cleaning up the coastline in Galveston, preparing meals at the Houston Food Bank, planting a greener scene both-on and off-campus, caring for animals and improving the quality of life for our community members most in need. Cougar pride runs deep; UH is proud to be a part of the fabric of our ever-evolving community.





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Whose ice? Coogs ice! The first sports team at UH to reign triumphant didn’t wear shoulder pads, shoot hoops or play on a diamond. It was the men’s ice hockey team, which participated in the City Amateur League. Led by Captain Ed Chernosky, the Coogs skated through their inaugural season in 1934 at the Polar Wave Ice Palace in championship fashion. Despite going undefeated – and vanquishing Rice Institute’s team of owl-eyed puck-pushers – the UH team forfeited the crown on a technicality. During the next decade, enthusiasm for the sport began to melt away and by the time a generation of WWII vets returned to campus, UH’s passion for hockey had cooled and the skates were put away.

Profile for uhmagazine

University of Houston Magazine Spring 2016  

University of Houston Magazine Spring 2016