Page 1

CHANGING THE WORLD What your investment in UT makes possible


DIY Diagnostics turns freshmen into health-science researchers—and could save lives in the bargain.


By Emily Nielsen ummer is synonymous with fun in the sun, but those carefree days

come with a downside: the increased risk of skin cancer. Rachel Graubard was thinking about ways to fight this widespread health threat even before her freshman year. Now, after availing

herself of UT’s ample research opportunities, she has created a smartphone app that can help people diagnose and monitor potentially dangerous changes in their skin.

Above and right: Students

in the College of Natural Sciences’ DIY Diagnostics lab work on tools and apps that people can use to detect and prevent disease. Opposite: Professor Jamie Pennebaker leads Project 2021, a campus-wide effort to develop new teaching and learning methods for undergraduates. CREDITS: Marsha Miller (5);

Rachel Graubard family photo

56 |The

Graubard first developed an interest in dermatology after learning about a greatgreat-uncle who was a dermatologist in Vienna. He discovered a rare skin condition that was named after him: Oppenheim-Urbach disease. When she was 13, her grandmother passed along the late doctor’s medical journals. “Even though I couldn’t understand a word of them, I became really fascinated by the pictures and diagrams and have wanted to be a dermatologist ever since,” says the Liberal Arts Honors junior from Houston, who is majoring in psychology and biology and plans to graduate in 2017. In her senior year of high school, Graubard had the opportunity to observe surgeries at a skin cancer center. That further sparked her interest in skin cancers while solidifying her passion for dermatology. Her first year at UT, she participated in the increasingly popular Freshman Research Initiative (FRI), starting off in an undergraduate studies class teaching research methods. “Toward the end of that semester, we had the opportunity to attend information sessions for the various research streams we could join as the next step in the FRI

sequence,” she says. “DIY Diagnostics was definitely my favorite, and I was lucky enough to be placed in my first choice of labs.” The DIY Diagnostics lab in the College of Natural Sciences focuses on do-it-yourself projects that emphasize easily available diagnostic tests people can take independently to improve their health. Tim Riedel, research educator for the lab, worked with Rachel to create her app. “She did the bulk of this work as a true freshman, including developing the concept,” Riedel says. “I like to tell people that I’m not a research educator so much as a facilitator. She made this happen—the FRI and DIY and I just supported her.” In addition to developing the framework for the diagnostic tests, Graubard wrote the code herself after learning some rudimentary techniques from Riedel. Still a work in progress, the app doesn’t yet have a name. However, the core of the idea—allowing users to identify warning signs on their skin—is in place. The app asks a series of questions to distinguish skin cancers from normal lesions based on outwardly visible characteristics. Based

on the responses, a probability is calculated of the lesion being skin cancer vs. a benign mole. The user can also upload a picture to compare it to pictures of cancerous lesions. “I know some people can get a little nervous when they notice a strange, dark spot, so the goal is for the app to serve as a first resource before people go to the doctor, and to help monitor any changes,” Graubard says. “Smartphones are now so prevalent, and they can provide a means to revolutionize health care as we know it.” The work has already had an impact on Graubard’s family. Her grandfather recently had a suspicious lesion on his arm. She showed him how to use the app, and it indicated there was an 85 percent chance it was cancerous. A visit to his dermatologist and subsequent biopsy led to a diagnosis of melanoma and an appointment for removal. “It’s a huge relief to know that the melanoma was caught early enough to be removed before it spread,” Graubard says. “I’m hoping the app can help other people be proactive in checking for signs of skin cancer and seeing a doctor.” Rachel Graubard Graubard, who plans to attend medical school, has some words of advice for incoming students. “Make sure to take advantage of all the amazing opportunities this school has to offer,” she says. “I really recommend exploring different areas of study and taking classes outside your major so you can find something you’re truly passionate about. Oh, and wear sunscreen—we live in Texas!” This story originated in Life & Letters, the magazine of the College of Liberal Arts. Read more at

HELPING STUDENTS THRIVE The Freshman Research Initiative’s DIY Diagnostics stream collaborates with labs, companies, agencies, foundations, and individuals, who have helped it grow by donating funds, expertise, and materials. You can support this and other student research programs at



ans of Star Trek are excited as the pop-culture juggernaut marks its golden anniversary this fall. But move over, Enterprise . UT has launched a futuristic five-year mission of its own. Project 2021 will explore new technologies, seek out better ways of teaching and learning, and boldly go where no university has gone before in the development of next-generation undergraduate programs. President Greg Fenves proclaimed in his first State of the University address that he believes UT can achieve a new level of undergraduate education, and that to be a model research university means pursuing excellence in innovative ways. With Project 2021, he aims to establish the infrastructure needed for innovation across campus. The president appointed highly respected psychology professor Jamie Pennebaker, PhD ’77, to lead the effort. As special advisor to the provost for educational innovation, Pennebaker is responsible for coordinating and overseeing units such as Extended Campus and the Faculty Innovation Center, which create, implement, and evaluate new teaching “Higher education and learning methods. Project 2021 will consider novel ways is in the midst of of educating via classes small and large, a revolution.” online and in person—while preserving UT’s traditional strengths of providing a high-value degree and producing graduates who are leaders and an asset to the state. It is an endeavor, Fenves says, that “will help ensure our undergraduate students receive the maximum benefit of our campus through the integration of research and education.” A member of UT’s Academy of Distinguished Teachers and chair of the Psychology Department from 2005 to 2014, Pennebaker is a strong advocate of using research to enhance teaching effectiveness. He has been a leader in harnessing advances in technology to transform the undergraduate classroom experience. In the large-format Psychology 301 course, for instance, Pennebaker and fellow psychology professor Sam Gosling devised methods to deliver personalized in-class quizzes, online readings, and live chats to each student’s laptop. The system allowed the professors to see how the students navigated the material. Pennebaker and Gosling found, among other things, that pairing daily quizzes with instant feedback on wrong answers helped the students remember and learn from their mistakes. “Higher education is in the midst of a revolution. What a thrilling time to be at a place like UT-Austin,” Pennebaker says. “This is a rare opportunity to bring together new approaches to teaching and research to help the university shape the future of undergraduate education.” Make it so, Number One.

Changing the World is produced by the University Development Office. Please send your feedback and suggestions to editor Jamey Smith at For more news and information about giving to UT, visit

s e p t e m b e r | o c t o b e r 2011

| 57

Changing the World - Jul-Aug 2016  

Changing the World - Jul-Aug 2016

Changing the World - Jul-Aug 2016  

Changing the World - Jul-Aug 2016