Sombrilla Magazine | Fall/Winter 2020

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S O M B R I L L A M A G . C O M

The extreme times called for a parallel response. How Roadrunners stepped up month after month in 2020—with experts, research, community outreach—to help in COMBATTING THE GLOBAL PANDEMIC.

Welcome to

SOMBRILLA MAGAZINE features | fall|winter 2020



A Time Like No Other

When the coronavirus pandemic seemingly swept everything aside, Roadrunner Nation stepped up in a big way. From research to outreach, the story is a remarkable one. Sombrilla Magazine chronicles one of the most unforgettable time periods in global—and UTSA—history.


As Big & Bold as Texas

During an off-season that could be described only as unprecedented, new head football coach Jeff Traylor and his team found creative ways to keep improving while establishing a new culture for the program. Traylor has a new vision for Roadrunners Football—built on recruiting the state of Texas.


Ø Jeff Traylor sits for an interview with KSAT-TV on the day he is introduced as UTSA’s third head coach.


from the president’s desk by taylor eighmy

Keeping Momentum in Unprecedented Times


ust months ago, in the previous issue of Sombrilla Magazine, we were looking forward to 2020 and beyond—from the university’s Campus Master Plan to major development projects already in the works. As the year unfolded, however, it became exceedingly difficult to look beyond 2020. The coronavirus pandemic brought with it the biggest upheaval to research efforts, instruction delivery, and university life that UTSA has ever experienced. More profoundly, it brought suffering of all kinds to our nation, our state, and our city. But early on, even before the virus was having a direct effect on UTSA or San Antonio, our researchers were diving into data to provide insights and create solutions for the community. As university leadership was developing plans in real time to safely ensure the continued delivery of education, an extraordinary number of people affiliated with UTSA—faculty, staff, students, alumni, and organizations—stepped up to help others during the pandemic with the caring, hard-working spirit that so fittingly embodies what we’re all about. We salute all of the Roadrunners who made contributions to aid, uplift, and maintain our course during the greatest public health crisis of our lifetime. Of course, COVID-19 was not the only source of widespread discord in 2020. The killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery sparked nationwide protests and placed a renewed focus on social justice. Several research efforts based in UTSA’s new College for Community, Health and Policy are lending expertise to our national conversations about systemic racism and structural reforms. As we pick up our heads and once again look forward, there are many reasons to feel Roadrunner pride. Our university recently earned the Seal of Excelencia, a tremendous recognition of the positive momentum the university has made in its continuous efforts to become a Hispanic-thriving institution. We also have a new coach who has laid out a bold vision for Roadrunner Football and has guided our student-athletes through an unprecedented off-season. It may feel like 2020 is the most chaotic year in memory, but I am touched by the boundless grace and relentless ingenuity that Roadrunner Nation continues to display during the most difficult times.

SOMBRILLA MAGAZINE fall | winter 2020 issue 83

stories to watch utsa is a hub of activity

{1} Taylor Eighmy President Joe Izbrand Associate Vice President for strategic Communications and external affairs

Construction Is Close UTSA will kick off the first phase of its Downtown Campus expansion in December when construction begins on the School of Data Science and National Security Collaboration Center on Dolorosa Street. The

{ EDITORIAL } Michael Elkins Edwards Editor & design director Valerie Bustamante Shea Conner associate Editors Christi Fish Bruce Forey Milady Nazir Ingrid Wright contributing writers Lisa Martz social media Editor

multimillion dollar building, which will house both the school and the center, will be completed in 2022.

{2} { PRODUCTION } Shashi Pinheiro Associate Director of Web Services Mitzi Shipley Creative Services Manager Dave Deering video production Maria Castro Josie Medel Emanuel Rodriguez creative & web production


Bridging the Gap UTSA’s College of Architecture, Construction and Planning and the San Antonio Independent School District are joining forces to create a new construction, architecture, and design academy that will bring college-level architectural education to students from Lanier and Jefferson high schools. The new academy will be run as a magnet program for juniors and seniors, with roughly 35 to 40 students per cohort. Students still will be able to earn the certifications that the high school construction and architecture programs offer.



Welcome to

SOMBRILLA MAGAZINE departments | fall|winter 2020 PLAZAS & PASEOS


4 The university gains the prestigious Seal of Excelencia for its efforts to help Hispanic students thrive. 6 UTSA is tapped to lead the Cybersecurity Manufacturing Innovation Institute.

36 Tommy Gregory is on a mission to turn the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport into a space for bold, intriguing art.

8 A new class explores Mexican American identity through Tejano icon Selena.

38 Raven Douglas fights to improve access and engagement for young voters through her new post at MOVE Texas.

9 UTSA releases digital e-books with recipes from the Mexican Cookbook Collection. 9 Archaeologists have uncovered Maya royal vessels from a tomb that looters missed.

39 As a member of the Texas State Board of Education, Marisa Perez-Diaz aims to make education more equitable for all students in the state.

10 Nazgol Bagheri discusses the innovative things going on at UTSA’s GIS Lab.


10 New software developed at UTSA aims to reduce cybersickness from virtual reality use.

40 Lesson Learned It sure feels like 2020 is the worst year ever, but is it? UTSA professor Cindy Ermus provides a historical perspective.

11 Researchers in UTSA’s newest college are contributing to the fight for social justice.


32 Sarah Gibbens has built on the interest in journalism that she fostered at UTSA to become a staff writer for National Geographic. 35 After learning how distilleries operate, Zacharee Ramirez and his business partners create their own tequila brand.

7 Small business owners find a helping hand from UTSA’s recovery accelerator.



1 President’s Welcome 10 Discovery at UTSA



# u t sa watc h showcasing the pride of roadrunner nation from social media and around the globe




Mozart Modernized When the pandemic derailed the UTSA music department’s initial plans to stage Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, students and faculty adapted the opera for 2020’s virtual setting. All of the arias were recorded remotely, and you might even spot some hip-hop. The entire production can be seen online through UTSA Music or on YouTube.

sombrilla (Spanish): umbrella (sohm–BREE–yah)


Viral Mural As George Floyd’s visceral death ignited protests and cries for police reform across the country, it hit especially close to home for Jonah Jackson ’16. Both men grew up in Houston’s historic Third Ward, so with a heavy heart, the UTSA art alum contributed to a street mural in Floyd’s memory. The Houston mural has since become a popular spot to snap photos and leave memorials.

utsa is a hub of activity

{3} Mission: Cool Concepción Preliminary results of a UTSA study at Mission Concepción confirm the air conditioning system is damaging the historic church’s porous limestone structure. A team of experts in the College of Architecture, Construction,

Sombrilla Magazine is the official pub­lication of The University of Texas at San Antonio. It is published once a year and distributed without charge to students, alumni, faculty, staff, and friends of UTSA. The magazine strives to capture the intellectual, cultural, and social life of the university. UTSA’s Office of University Strategic Communications produces Sombrilla Magazine and other publications that highlight the achievements and impact of Roadrunners throughout the world. The division is responsible for promoting the university’s mission of academic and research excellence.

{ CONTACT US } A Driven Welcome In an effort to keep the community safe while also introducing new Roadrunners to the awesomemeness of UTSA, the university held its first ever Welcome Drive on August 29. Visitors enjoyed a guided tour of campus through a designated route while listening to a podcast featuring campus traditions, UTSA landmarks, and campus areas that contribute to student success.

stories to watch

Are you interested in sharing news with members of Roadrunner Nation in Class Notes? Or you’d like to change your contact details, be added to, or removed from the subscriber list? Send submissions to:

SOMBRILLA MAGAZINE office of university strategic Communications One UTSA Circle San Antonio, TX 78249-1644 Editorial Email


and Planning is working to stop the damage. The study confirms what the church’s preservation team had found—that the building’s10ton-capacity condenser and uneven temperatures within the church are at fault.

{4} A Transformative Park UTSA has received $350,000 for the Tricentennial Innovation Park Study Investment. UTSA will use the funds to study the potential benefit of creating an innovation and research park that will leverage the university’s key areas of research with San Antonio’s burgeoning and diverse local economy to foster a transformative ecosystem tailor-made for the 21st century. The study also will help identify recommended target partners and needed facilities.



university honors inclusive excellence

Ilitat aces dite net amentes nis es eaquo commoditatem aut fugitiatur volupit ea aut molor reiunt qui bea qui des ipsandaes eatur, sandaecum eossed moluptat oditatur mos utsa earns the seal ofaciexcelencia, omnis recognizing efforts to become nonserum sit a university where latino students laut moluptathrive sitinve liquis


OF APPROVAL by shea conner

UTSA has made a tremendous effort to transcend its federal designation as a Hispanic Serving Institution by taking bold steps to become a Hispanic thriving institution. New recognition—bestowed by Excelencia in Education, the national organization that seeks to accelerate Latino student success in higher education—makes it clear that the university’s efforts have not passed by unnoticed. Excelencia in Education announced October 1 that UTSA is one of five institutions in its 2020 cohort to earn the Seal of Excelencia certification. The honor is awarded to colleges and universities that are


deemed as intentionally supporting and reinforcing their institutional capacity to better serve Latino students. UTSA joins an elite group of 13 other institutions that have earned the designation. In a letter from Excelencia in Education President Sarita E. Brown



and CEO Deborah A. Santiago, UTSA was commended for its intentional institutional focus to advance Hispanic student success by aligning data and practice, as well as its dedication to foster an environment where

Latino students thrive. “UTSA has a special responsibility to increase access to higher education and support the efforts of our Latino students to complete their degrees, which opens up a lifetime of oppor-

tunities not only for themselves but for their families and our community. It really has that ripple effect,” says Kimberly Andrews Espy, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs. “The future prosperity of our region, state and nation depends on it.” To make strides as a Hispanic thriving institution, UTSA is embracing its founding identity and Latino leaders, purposefully supporting its majority Hispanic student population, and hiring historically underrepresented faculty, staff and leaders who reflect the South Texas community the university serves. Through thoughtful policies, practices, and support, UTSA is tackling institutional inequities to accelerate educational success for the university’s Hispanic students and professional opportunities for Hispanic faculty and staff. In its consideration process for the seal, Excelencia in Education confirmed that UTSA has implemented and advanced evidence-based programs and policies—and displayed positive momentum—in six key areas benefitting Hispanic stu-



dents: enrollment; retention; financial support; degree completion; arriving and departing transfers; and the representation of Latinos in administration, faculty, and staff to further model success. The university was motivated to further improve how it aided Hispanic students in 2019 after members of La Raza Faculty and Administrator Association challenged UTSA to do more to serve the working-class Mexican American population in South Texas that had been “underserved by higher education.” University leadership took the group’s feedback to heart. “I’d like to thank our colleagues in La Raza who have been dedicated from the beginning in helping to make UTSA an honorable Hispanic Serving Institution,” President Taylor Eighmy says. Eighmy points out, however, that this is not a concluding moment. “UTSA won’t become an exemplary Hispanic thriving institution upon receiving the Seal of Excelencia. It’s a state of being that we will continue to work toward going forward,” he says. “It’s a waypoint for this university, not the destination.” S





GETTING THERE Some of UTSA’s programs, policies, and practices that are helping Hispanic students thrive Enrollment □ Transformative programs, such as UTSA Ready, PREP, TRiO, and Dual-Credit □ The LEAD Summer Academy, a summer bridge program for first-year students—67% of which are Latino □ Prioritized recruitment of students in the Rio Grande Valley as well as Del Rio, Uvalde, and Bexar counties Retention □ First to Go & Graduate programming, which includes first-generation faculty coaches and peer mentors □ The Resilience and Retention Advising Program, established to increase retention rates of high-risk students □ The Dreamers Resource Center, addressing unique legal, health care, and financial needs of UTSA Dreamers Financial Support □ The Bold Promise Program, a free tuition program for high-achieving students from lowto middle-income families □ The Distinguished Presidential Scholarship for incoming freshman students based on academic achievement □ Financial emergency and support services, such as Roadrunner Pantry and the Fostering Educational Success Center


Degree Completion □ The Graduation Help Desk, a centralized support center that helps students resolve roadblocks □ Academic Advising’s student success technology platform, which assists advisers in managing their student caseloads and identifying populations in need of attention □ Centers at the Colleges of Business, Engineering, and Sciences that collaborate with university-level student success units Transfers □ The Roadrunner Transition Experience, providing incoming transfer students with programming and peer mentoring □ A recruitment plan that identified market demands, enrollment trends, and the importance of diversity of new transfers □ Two special transfer transition programs with the Alamo Colleges District Faculty and Staff Representation □ Updated requirements for all tenured and tenure-track faculty searches to require complete Inclusive Searches training □ The Faculty Diversity Hiring Program, providing designated funding to hire diverse faculty □ New division of Faculty Success in Academic Affairs to focus on the life cycle of a faculty member S



PLAZAS & PASEOS energy & manufacturing cybersecurity

A New Era of Innovation u.s. department of energy selects utsa to lead cybersecurity manufacturing innovation institute by Christi Fish


TSA has been selected to receive a five-year, $70 million cooperative agreement from the U.S. Department of Energy to establish and lead the Cybersecurity Manufacturing Innovation Institute, ushering in an era of cybersecurity that focuses on achieving energy efficiency, leads to job creation and technical innovation, and further propels the U.S. to the forefront of manufacturing competitiveness. American manufacturers are the top target for cyber criminals and nation-state adversaries, impacting the manufacturing and deployment of energy technologies, such as electric vehicles, solar panels and wind turbines. Integra-

× Renderings of the future School of Data Science and National Security Collaboration Center, where CyManII will be housed.




tion across the supply chain network and an increased use of automation applied in energy-efficient manufacturing processes can make industrial infrastructures vulnerable to cyberattacks. To protect American manufacturing jobs and workers, CyManII will enable a digital transformation that makes manufacturers more resilient and globally competitive against our nation’s adversaries. “CyManII leverages the unique research capabilities of the Idaho, Oak Ridge, and Sandia National Laboratories as well as critical expertise across our partner cyber manufacturing ecosystem,” says President Taylor Eighmy. “We look forward to formalizing our partnership with the DOE to advance cybersecurity in energy-efficient manufacturing for the nation.” As part of its national strategy CyManII will focus on three high-priority areas where collab-

UTSA has assembled a team of best-in-class national laboratories, industry, and nonprofit and academic organizations to cybersecure the U.S. manufacturing enterprise.

orative research and development can help U.S. manufacturers: securing automation, securing the supply chain network, and building a national program for education and workforce development. “As United States manufacturers increasingly deploy automation tools in their daily work, those technologies must be embedded with powerful cybersecurity protections,” says Howard Grimes, CyManII chief executive officer and associate vice president and associate vice provost for institutional initiatives at UTSA. “UTSA has assembled a team of best-in-class national laboratories, industry, and nonprofit and academic organizations to cybersecure the U.S. manufacturing enterprise. Together, we will share the mission to protect the nation’s supply chains, preserve its critical infrastructure and boost its economy.” S

PLAZAS & PASEOS economic recovery small business development



utsa gives hope to small business owners during the pandemic through recovery accelerator by ingrid wright Shortly after COVID-19 struck, the Institute for Economic Development at UTSA launched the Small Business Development Center’s COVID Business Recovery Accelerator to help small businesses weather the financial hardships caused by the coronavirus pandemic. COBRA is the only recovery accelerator of its kind in Texas designed to help stabilize and rebuild the small

business economy. Funded by a $1.2 million grant from the U.S. Small Business Administration, COBRA serves small businesses in Bexar and 10 surrounding counties by providing counseling and resources to pursue loans and to begin recovering from the economic impact of the pandemic. Heather Schnelzer is one business owner who’s benefited from the SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program

through COBRA. She operates three gyms around San Antonio and had over 800 enrolled students before the pandemic hit. In April she had to lay off 19 employees. “I have reached out to so many different sources trying to look for information on how to qualify for the SBA loans, but it wasn’t until I reached out to the UTSA Small Business Development Center that I had the answers I needed,” she says. Schnelzer

applied for the PPP loan assistance and received $134,000 to use to hire 13 of her employees back and aid her in covering the gyms’ mortgage for three months. “Our employees are not only our staff, they are our family,” says Schnelzer. “Receiving the funds from the PPP made a huge impact in our operation. We were able to keep our gyms open and provide an alternative mode of virtual teaching.” Schnelzer has

It wasn’t until I reached out the UTSA Small Business Development Center that I had the answers I needed.

since reopened using the PPP funds and her savings but has had to adjust how her gymnastics business operates, now offering virtual classes and some small in-person team classes. The cost of her operation after the pandemic also has increased her overhead. Each facility and all equipment are commercially cleaned every day. The gyms are sanitized using CDC guidelines and a hospital-grade fogging disinfecting service, and each facility has been updated with handless hand sanitizers and soap dispensers. She says she will eventually


need the SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan, a longer term loan, to keep her gyms operating. The IED accelerator also will help Schnelzer navigate the disaster loan process. It will assess the applications of businesses that have been denied emergency funding and help them reapply. “We feel this program is making a difference for business owners by providing the experts to help them work through the relief as well as the recovery process,” says Terri Williams, director of the SBDC’s Center for Government Contracting at UTSA. S




pop culture hispanic thriving

PuroTEJANO a new class explores mexican american identity through the life of tejano icon selena

by valerie bustamante


he life and career of one of Texas’ most beloved icons is going to “Bidi Bidi Bom Bom” into class at UTSA. The Queen of Tejano, Selena Quintanilla-Perez, is the focus of the course Selena: A Mexican American Identity and Experience in the College of Education and Human Development’s Department of Race, Ethnicity, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. Created by Sonya Alemán, an associate professor of Mexican American studies, the course explores various topics about Selena and her career, such as her image, music, the Spanish language, and Mexican American identity. “This has been a dream for me for a long time because it engages the things that I already am interested in and have spent time studying, researching, writing, and talking about,” Alemán says. “Issues about race, class, gender identity, about the racialized experience of being a Chicana and Mexican American—I just knew that all of that


could be untangled and unpacked through the lens of looking at this iconic figure. Selena embodied all of those things in some aspect of her life and career.” Quintanilla-Perez took the Tejano world by storm in the late 1980s and early 1990s as one of the first women to break barriers in what was then a male-dominated music genre. Together with her group, Selena y Los Dinos, she earned several awards for her music, including a Grammy for Best Mexican American Album—making her the first Tejano musician to achieve this. Quintanilla-Perez’s life was cut short in 1995 when she was 23 after being shot by Yolanda Saldívar, her former fan club president and the manager of Selena’s clothing boutiques. Alemán, a native of Cotulla, says she never once imagined this new class focusing on anyone else other than Quintanilla-Perez. “I can’t believe that it hasn’t already been done



yet in San Antonio. It’s almost like a no-brainer that it would be about her and we would be here,” Alemán says. “I was an undergraduate at St. Mary’s University when the Tejano music industry was at its peak. I saw her in concert maybe five or six times. I experienced grief with my community when we lost her. She is so iconic to this area, community, and she’s still beloved.” With several interviews and articles available, Alemán said the options for developing coursework are endless. “My hope is that this class becomes the signature class for the Mexican American studies program at UTSA. I am just the first of many who will take on the responsi-

bility of cultivating and nurturing it,” she said. “It will be taught from lots of different angles and lots of different ways. I have so many great colleagues that they could each input their expertise and teach it in a way that would feel fresh and new for the group of students taking it.” S


historic artifacts archaeology

Remarkable Recovery archaeologists rescue maya royal vessels missed by tomb looters mexican cuisine libraries

by milady nazir


GET COOKIN’ Special Collections releases recipes from historic cookbooks by joaquin herrera The UTSA Libraries has created a series of digital mini-cookbooks featuring favorite recipes from the Mexican Cookbook Collection, making it even easier to explore the largest collection in the nation. In Recetas: Cocinando en los Tiempos del Coronavirus (Recipes: Cooking in the Time of the Coronavirus), archivists and librarians have selected several recipes to present in a fun, new way—as digital publications for chefs stuck at home. The first edition focuses on desserts, including churros, rice pudding, chestnut flan, and buñuelos. Later editions will highlight soups, sauces, sides, salsas, moles, and main dishes. Rico Torres, chef and co-owner of San Antonio’s Mixtli restaurant, wrote the forward. UTSA’s Mexican Cookbook Collection includes over 2,000 titles in English and Spanish, documenting the variety and history of Mexican cuisine from 1789 to the present, with most books dating from 1940 to 2000. S

Ù Fragments of royal drinking vessels that the UTSA team found in the Maya tomb in Belize.

he looters’ trench was not small. And it definitely was not a one-man job. It stretched 4 feet wide and ran over 30 feet deep into an ancient Maya pyramid in Belize. By some miracle—or perhaps, Indiana Jones’ luck—the thieves passed just over a royal tomb with elaborate painted drinking cups used by nobility who ruled made an exciting the kingdom 1,300 team, which find. years ago. included UTSA “While excavat“The looters postdoctoral fellow ing in the looters’ missed the royal Bernadette Cap, retrench, one of the tomb by just a turned to carefully local men who few centimeters,” excavate and record works with us said Jason Yaeger, the tomb. Although scraped his trowel the President’s the skeleton they Endowed Professor across the trench’s discovered was in floor. That’s where of Anthropology poor condition, we found a layer of at UTSA and they found fine flint flakes,” says associate dean impressions of the Yaeger. of the College of textiles that had Flint and obLiberal and Fine shrouded the rulsidian chips were Arts, who leads a er’s body, preserved team of researchers used by the Maya in mud mortar that to symbolize the with M. Kathryn had dripped onto the body and hardBrown, the Lutcher underworld, and ened. Five large Brown Professor of they placed them over royal tombs. stone axes lay along Anthropology. Luckily the looters the spine. And in Archaeologists didn’t know what an array on each at UTSA now have signs to look for side of the body the the opportunity at the site. This to study the royal team found rows of exciting discovery tomb’s precious pottery vessels, 27 came too late for objects. Yaeger and in total. The tomb the team to properBrown take groups had partially colly document their of anthropology lapsed in antiquity, findings. Instead, students to Belize fracturing many team members, ineach summer for of the vessels, but cluding those who archaeological field all of them were live in Belize, were work. In July 2018 whole. UTSA inthey were wrapping sworn to secrecy tends to restore the until the following up their research drinking vessels on summer. at a site called Buebehalf of the Belize In 2019 the navista when they government. S





1604 seconds with… nazgol bagheri

Virtual Antidote

MAPPING A NEW PATH GIS Lab director helps students navigate their research interests by SHEA CONNER Associate professor of geography Nazgol Bagheri has always been fascinated by the complexity of cities. Whether she was using public transportation growing up in her native Tehran, Iran, or riding the subways and trams of Tokyo and Zurich during her studies of architecture and urban planning, she loved watching the cities morph from one neighborhood to the next. These days she uses geographic information systems to map the relationship between urban planning and social anthropology in those cities—from where women can move freely in Tehran to the geographic patterns of multilingualism in the United States. As director of UTSA’s GIS Lab, she also teaches students how to use GIS to answer their own pressing research questions. What is GIS and


how is it applied to research? GIS is computer software in which we map, measure, monitor, model, and manage spatially referenced data. GIS allows users to overlay data layers to understand relationships, patterns, and trends. What are some of the most innovative ways you’ve seen students use GIS? Our students often are coming not only from different majors but also with diverse research interests. Several students have happily surprised me with their outside-thebox thinking on GIS applications. I had a student who studied the relationship between racial and ethnic enclaves and the location of food deserts in San Antonio. Another studied how the state political affiliation related to the LGBTQ rights and hate crimes against minorities. Another student analyzed the linkages between hydraulic fracturing wastewater injection



new software aims to reduce cybersickness during vr use and the increase of earthquakes in Oklahoma, looking at a huge data set and different types of data while considering sociopolitical aspects and human-environmental consequences of fracking. One geography student examined the 2006 Lebanon War—an event of personal significance in her family. She wanted to investigate the location of air strikes during the conflict and their effects on surrounding communities; this would prove to be no easy task because obtaining geographic data from foreign countries is often very difficult. Luckily, we were able to help her locate and secure data sets from international and Lebanese agencies. In the end she produced a detailed series of maps showing the harsh effects of these air strikes. S

by milady nazir


ybersickness, or motion sickness during the use of virtual reality, has been a roadblock to the development of augmented and virtual reality technology. Researchers at UTSA hope to alleviate those symptoms with GingerVR, the first open-source Unity software tool kit that allows developers to use proven techniques and innovative solutions against cybersickness in future extended reality environments. “Cybersickness is a threat to overall user acceptance of VR, which has a potentially huge impact on the industry. The negative symptoms experienced by a user

can decrease human performance, limit learning, and hinder decision making,” says John Quarles, an associate professor in the Department of Computer Science who along with Ph.D. student Samuel Ang developed the tool kit. “It has been a problem in VR since the creation of the technology and is still not totally understood.” Ginger VR was named after the plant that is known to be an antidote for nausea—one of the classic symptoms of cybersickness along with disorientation and fatigue. “GingerVR can be applied to any Unity application, be it a game, enterprise application, or job training,”

Quarles says. The percentage of individuals who suffer from cybersickness side effects is hard to pinpoint. According to Quarles, the research literature indicates that more than half of users experience symptoms but with a wide range of severity. Quarles and Ang are currently working on releasing an integrated automated, real-time cybersickness detection, prediction and reduction framework in the GingerVR toolkit. “We hope that this package will serve as a shortcut to researchers looking to utilize these techniques and develop a better understanding of why they are effective,” Quarles says. S

EQUITY ADVOCATE Vanessa A. Sansone, assistant professor of educational leadership and policy studies, was named to the 2020 class of leading women in higher education by Diverse: Issues in Higher Education. She was selected for exhibiting

extraordinary leadership skills and advancing equity and success for Latinx students, firstgeneration students, low-income students, student veterans, and rural students.

SENSOR SECURITY Computer science professor Murtuza Jadliwala has been awarded a $499,512 grant from the National Science Foundation to fund his research on securing modern ubiquitous sensing and computing technologies, such as mobile, wearable, and internet-ofthings systems, against private data inference and exfiltration threats.

PLAZAS & PASEOS DISCOVERY AT UTSA STUDYING SPREAD UTSA researchers have uncovered evidence about the importance of maintaining physical distance to minimize the spread of microbes by studying wild colobus monkeys in Ghana. Anthroplogy professor Eva Wikberg and her team studied the fecal matter of 45 female monkeys that congregated in eight different social groups and found that microbes may be transmitted during occasional encounters with members of other social groups.

TB TREATMENT A group of UTSA researchers is interested in paving the way for new tuberculosis treatments to improve upon current drugs that can have adverse side effects. Under the direction of biochemistry professor Aimin Lu, the Metalloprotein Research Laboratory is learning more about the qualities of an enzyme called CYP121. If the understanding of CYP121 can be improved, better tuberculosis drugs can be designed to decrease side effects.

social justice research community engagement

Part of the Fight O

ften when a university establishes a new college, the leadership chooses the passive name the college of something­—for example, the College of Business. Yet when it came time to name UTSA’s new College for Health, Community, and Policy, the preposition means all the difference in how its new dean views the college’s mission. “We will work together to improve the community’s health via policy,” Dean Lynne Cossman says. “I want to make sure our research is community-engaged.” In support of this mission the students and faculty of the college are active beyond the limited rhetoric of politics that can result in a better future for future generations. As Cossman has noted, the college includes the study of criminology and criminal justice, sociology, psychology, social work, public

utsa’s newest college brings researchers together in the battle for social justice health, demography, kinesiology, and nutrition. UTSA is committed to supporting faculty, staff, and students in their confrontation with racial bias and aggression. The university recognizes the need for continued conversations around policing and structural reforms. Here’s

a sample of research being undertaken. □ Sherri Simmons-Horton, a postdoctoral fellow, studies the critical issue of racial disparities within the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. Data shows that over 65% of children in the Texas foster care system are Black and Hispanic—a disproportionate

amount compared to the U.S. population overall. □ Michael R. Smith, a professor in the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice who is a former police officer, has been studying the criminal justice system as a scholar for more than 25 years. His work is a leading example of how

UTSA is helping fight back against systemic social failures. □ Professor Jelena Todic’s research examines restorative justice in K–12 schools as an approach to interrupt and respond to the school-to-prison pipeline, which disproportionately impacts Black youth, and responding to associated health inequities. □ With the help of the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District, Erica Sosa, associate dean of graduate studies in the college, is studying racial inequalities in access to health services. □ Jeffrey Howard, in the Department of Public Health, is researching census privacy and the effect it has on minority groups. S

Ø Protestors march in downtown San Antonio following the killing of George Floyd.









t takes a decent pause of wonderment to grasp just how fully the coronavirus pandemic turned life at UTSA upside down. Never before had nearly every employee and student been asked to go home for months—and be actively engaged from afar. Never before had every class been swiftly transformed for the digital environment or had a commencement ceremony been indefinitely postponed. The dramatic shift to what would become the “new normal” was jarring, and it required countless days, weeks, and months of strategy, reevaluation, and patience to adapt to the issues that came with it. ¶ Yet as the UTSA community adjusted, many undeterred people immediately felt a calling to tackle the greater challenges of the pandemic. University faculty and staff worked tirelessly to curtail the great blows to health, equity, and the economy dealt by COVID-19 on local, statewide, national, and even global levels. Community-minded individuals—including staff, students, and alumni—provided neighbors in need with goods and assistance, restoring some sense of stability and normalcy. ¶ This is a glimpse of how a group of people—called Roadrunner Nation—faced off against unprecedented times to keep the momentum moving toward a bold future. As UTSA’s Bernard Arulanandam summed it up: “Many, many people have spent countless hours and sacrificed a lot of time for the greater good of our institution and our community. And I think it’s a real human story to tell.”






“We want to turn the full collaborative power of our doctors, scientists, and bioengineers against this pandemic threat,” President Taylor Eighmy says. From vaccine development to drug treatments to the transmission of the virus, university researchers wasted no time doing so. Within days of stay-at-home orders in the city, the San Antonio Partnership for Precision Therapeutics issued a call for proposals to combat COVID-19. A vaccine proposed by a consortium of scientists— from UTSA, UT Health San Antonio, the Southwest Research Institute, and the Texas Biomedical Research Institute—led by UTSA microbiologist Karl Klose was given a $200,000 research award in April from a pool of 17 proposals. The Vaccine Development Center of San Antonio contributed 25% of the total project cost. Klose, professor and director of the South Texas Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases, aimed to develop a novel COVID-19 vaccine based on decades of work on another biothreat called tularemia. Also known as “rabbit fever,” tularemia is an infectious disease caused by inhaling microbes of the bacterium Francisella tularensis into the lungs. Because both are respiratory illnesses, Klose knows his work on a prototype tularemia vaccine platform can be directly applied to COVID-19. Klose has been studying tularemia since 2001, when 9/11 and subsequent anthrax attacks heightened the desire to address biothreats and develop therapeutics and preventive measures. His lab discovered how to inactivate the organism’s ability to cause disease, and this led to the identification of a live vaccine candidate. Klose’s team is adapting its prototype vaccine to protect against “spike proteins” found in both Francisella tularensis and the SARSCoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19, that bind to cells in the human respiratory system. “Because it’s a living organism, we




can engineer our tularemia vaccine to produce ‘pieces’ of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which will allow the host to recognize it and make antibodies against it,” Klose explains. Klose’s vaccine prototype has already been developed to a stage where his team is now working with scientists at the Southwest Research Institute on formulations for eventual human use. Vaccine development is an exhaustive process, which can be maddening for the billions hoping for an end to the pandemic. However, Klose is optimistic his group has a leg up because of its prolific tularemia research and the collaboration’s funding. “We’re on the road,” Klose humbly says. “That’s all I can say.” In the same month that Klose began pivoting his vaccine research, hydroxychloroquine had emerged as a promising but unproven drug treatment for the novel coronavirus. Doug Frantz knew that was something to build upon, so he started screening small molecule libraries to identify similar compounds that could potentially be developed into a therapeutic coronavirus treatment. Frantz is the Max and Minnie Tomerlin Voelcker Distinguished Professor in Chemistry and cofounder of UTSA’s Center for Innovative Drug Discovery. For the past decade his research group has collaborated with scientists across Texas on multiple therapeutic approaches toward cancer, chronic pain, and infectious disease. Thousands of novel small molecular compounds were designed and synthesized by undergraduate and graduate students in Frantz’s lab as a culmination of those efforts. “When the news came out about the potential of hydroxychloroquine as a possible treatment for COVID-19,” he says, “I immediately recognized that we had a library of about 250 related compounds that were just sitting in a refrigerator in my lab that could be tested immediately.” Frantz sent samples of those compounds to collaborators at The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston for testing. Cells infected with the SARS-

What UTSA has been great about doing is bringing together people like me and others who have experience in drug development to modify that compound and make it even better in the lab.

CoV-2 virus were then pretreated with the compounds designed at UTSA. The compounds identified by Frantz are part of a class known as quinolines, just like the immunosuppressive drugs hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine, but are comprised of different atoms and bonds that could be safer and provide additional benefits for those infected with a strain of the coronavirus. Drug therapeutic research such as this will go a long way toward both developing short-term treatments and creating drugs that will relieve symptoms for those suffering from future strains of the coronavirus. “What UTSA has been great about doing is bringing together people like me and others who have experience in drug development to modify that compound and make it even better in the lab,” Frantz says. The classic process of drug development, from initial research to animal testing to clinical trials to FDA approval, typically has a timeline of five to eight years. The ultimate hope is to develop a treatment that will reduce the severity of sickness for those infected “not if but when,” Frantz says, the next strain of coronavirus emerges. Data from collaborators at UTMB Health already indicate that UTSA’s compounds per-

COVER STORY form better than hydroxychloroquine. Frantz’s team plans to publish a paper and pursue funding from the National Institutes of Health and other sources based on those initial findings. For now, however, this research is helping the scientific community in its efforts to grasp how the coronavirus attacks cells and reacts to certain molecules. “The cool thing is that even if our compounds never turn into a drug, they’ll definitely be used as tools to probe the coronavirus on a molecular level and understand what it’s doing,” Frantz says. “They’re like little crescent wrenches we can use to study the living daylights out of this virus.” Meanwhile, mechanical engineering professor Kiran Bhaganagar has studied the living daylights out of how the virus spreads in the air. In fact, she says her landmark September study, published in Environmental Research, is the first to measure the spread of coronavirus in outdoor conditions. To develop her findings, Bhaganagar used data available from New York City, the nation’s first large-scale hot spot. Bhaganagar obtained detailed meteorological fields to create highly accurate models that showed the likely spread of the virus under various weather patterns in New York City from March through April. Using computer modeling, she created a real-time, high-fidelity simulation of a virus-filled cough as it was released into the atmosphere from an infected person. As the person coughs or sneezes, respiratory droplets that contain infectious particles are released into the air. The simulations found that combinations of certain weather conditions favor the spread of the virus. Here’s the good news: Bhaganagar discovered windy con-

ditions did little to spread the coronavirus droplets and actually caused the aerosol droplets to disperse faster. Here’s the bad news: Testing showed that warm or moderately cold air temperatures with low wind speed and weak turbulence increased the amount of time the virus can be airborne before dispersing it in the air—up to 30 minutes in many cases. Bhaganagar discovered coronavirus aerosol particles can spread from 1 to 2 kilometers—a little over a mile—in low wind conditions. Bhaganagar has concluded that it’s very likely that outdoor conditions contributed to the wildfire-like spread of the coronavirus in the N.Y.C. metro area during the spring. “This work is further evidence that outdoor air cannot dilute the virus particles,” she says, “and there is strong evidence the spatial spread across states is linked to airborne transmission.” Her study suggests that six feet may not be adequate social distance to protect from the virus—even outdoors. Furthermore, she says, the use of masks and other means of protection should be considered in outdoor areas. TRACKING LOCAL IMPACT

Shortly after the arrival of the coronavirus, the City of San Antonio and Bexar County enlisted four groups to create daily models predicting the spread of the virus, including one led by Juan Gutiérrez, chair of the Department of Mathematics at UTSA, and another by Dhireesha Kudithipudi, who is director of UTSA’s Matrix AI Consortium for Human Well-Being and the Robert F. McDermott Endowed Chair and professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Gutiérrez and his team forecast the citywide spread of the virus by creating mathematical models predicting the possible outcomes under current conditions. Meanwhile, Kudithipudi’s group studied the infectious disease spread based on mobility data and nonclinical interventions.

Every single forecast has to be carefully considered because it might influence the perception of the disease in the community and among our civic leaders.

These duties are taken very seriously by both professors. “It has been a job of tremendous responsibility and constant work,” says Gutiérrez, who had previously participated in research and epidemiology related to malaria. “Every single forecast has to be carefully considered because it might influence the perception of the disease in the community and among our civic leaders.” It was initially a struggle to come up with accurate forecasts, simply because at the time so little was known about the virus and testing in the community was low. Gutiérrez compares those dog days to taking off in a fighter jet without really knowing what the target was. “The greatest challenge in the early phase of the project was access to reliable data, such as case counts, and deciphering through misinformation,” Kudithipudi says. The teams worked around the clock, though, to overcome those challenges. The mathematical research of Gutiérrez’s group accurately foretold several tales in Bexar County, showing how the early response helped prevent an explosion of cases in April and May, how asymptomatic carriers were a silent threat all along, and how initial reopening plans thrust San Antonio’s medical community into dire circumstances in the summer. “Under total lockdown we predicted accurately in March—without much data—the number we would have in May,” Gutiérrez explains. “With more data, we predicted by mid June—when we had 6,000 cases— the 12,000-plus cases observed on June 30.” “If you look at the number of media sources Gutiérrez has spoken to, his modeling has attracted a lot of attention,” adds Bernard Arulanandam, vice president for research, economic development, and knowledge enterprise. “Initially, his models worked with a lot of what-if scenarios and assumptions. Then as the case counts got higher, the assumptions and reality started to align. The data has informed the model, so the confidence of his models have gone up.”




COVER STORY Kudithipudi’s team tracked mobility levels, which reduced by 60% below the baseline in April under stay-at-home directives, increased by 30% as restrictions were gradually lifted in early summer, and then decreased 13% in July as a statewide mask mandate was put in place. “We believe mobility data offers a unique and powerful opportunity to build a valuable model,” Kudithipudi says, noting its association with contact rate and public health population characteristics. Both professors continue to provide models and valuable counsel to city and county leaders. “The power of forecasting is that it informs public officials that we need to change course before a tragedy unfolds,” Gutiérrez says. As city and county leaders have looked to UTSA’s professors, education leaders throughout the region have leaned on the university’s Urban Education Institute for valuable insight. Researchers from the institute began surveying almost 2,000 people, including 545 educators, 1,100 parents, and 260 older high school students in May to collect data about their experiences with distance learning, including how living circumstances impact learning, what populations have been most affected, and how virtual lesson plans can be improved. “There are very high levels of anxiety right now, and it’s understandable,” says Mike Villarreal, director of the institute. “Schools are hearing from teachers that they fear for their health if they have to go back inside classrooms with students, and they’re hearing from many parents who want their kids back in class full-time. We have vulnerable students who have experienced trauma amid food insecurity, grief, and loss. There are no easy answers and there is so much at stake, but that doesn’t mean we have to throw up our hands helplessly.” The first brief released by the institute focused on the teachers’ experiences, finding that students were largely unengaged in any true learning, and that although teachers were adapting and figuring out how to build on their distance learning skills, more training is needed. A second brief released in August, which was widely covered by local media as well as MSN and USA Today, provided key findings about learning in the time of COVID-19. The institute found that 64% of students and parents reported that




students learned less during emergency distance learning. However, the brief also identified what worked for students: live lessons that allowed for interaction with teachers and peers; creative, project-based assignments that gave students autonomy and choice; one-on-one time with teachers; and the use of assignment calendars and video lesson tutorials. “These findings show that the principles of learning and teaching that engaged students when they were in the classroom also apply to online learning,” Villarreal says. “It doesn’t matter if it’s in the classroom or on a screen. We know that students are most likely to engage when they feel connected to the teacher, to one another and to learning activities that challenge them.” A third study by the institute, released in October, found that food-insecure students in San Antonio struggled with distance learning and academic engagement more than their peers with better access to food. “It is well understood that we all have basic needs that must be met if we are to pursue and realize our fullest potential,” Villarreal says. “It is urgent that we as a community find effective ways to care for and respond to families in crisis so children won’t lag behind their peers in cognitive, emotional, and physical development.” At UTSA, 20 students who have enrolled in a new virtual course

We have vulnerable students who have experienced trauma amid food insecurity, grief, and loss. There are no easy answers and there is so much at stake.

are engaged in hands-on learning while also contributing to the public health response to the pandemic. Students in a program for public health majors taught by associate professor Erica Sosa are not only completing coursework pertaining to contact tracing but actually conducting contact tracing alongside Metro Health professionals. The students are connecting with people who had close contact with any university employees or students who tested positive for COVID-19 to notify them of their potential exposure and provide testing information. Sosa says Metro Health has helped in the development of the course. The health agency has shared resources for the class to use for contact tracing, and the agency routinely shares updates and data throughout the process. The course has provided valuable experiential learning, while simultaneously giving the students the knowledge and confidence to contribute to the containment of coronavirus in a meaningful way. AIDING THE PUBLIC HEALTH

Back when Bexar County’s coronavirus case count was still in the hundreds, UTSA speedily coordinated projects to support health care workers and patients through COVID-19 spikes and beyond. Over the final two weeks of March UTSA employees donated protective equipment to UT Health San Antonio. Researchers from different areas, including biomedical engineering, chemistry, anthropology, and occupational health and lab safety, gathered equipment after UT Health realized the critical need for personal protective

equipment to guard health care providers against coronavirus exposure. “UTSA is committed to tackling the grand challenges facing our community, and this virus is a formidable threat,” says Arulanandam. “UT Health is a key research partner of ours, and this includes collaborative work on a novel COVID-19 vaccine. They are also on the front lines taking care of patients in our city.” UTSA supplied UT Health San Antonio with 363 pairs of safety glasses, 1,850 surgical masks, 2,510 hair nets, 1,580 shoe covers, 1,700 surgical sleeves, 259 gowns, 2,250 cotton-tipped applicators, 1,600 alcohol prep pads, 225 face shields, 250 disposable lab coats, 14,176 gloves, 41/2 gallons of ethyl alcohol, three gallons of isopropyl alcohol, and four gallons of bleach.

As supplies were being delivered, UTSA seniors Jaime Messinger, Andrew Noe, Sam Carey, and Tyler Mitchell along with Mark Robinson, an assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science, were plugging away on ESCAL, a software designed for faster postpandemic care. The students built the program in fewer than six weeks between March and early May. ESCAL relies on surgery information, such as date of surgery, urgency, authorization to perform surgery, patient readiness, cancellations, or other criteria. The collected data is then organized into a spreadsheet for the current and upcoming procedures. “The idea was pitched to us by Dr. Amita Shah, a plastic surgeon at UT Health Science Center at San Antonio,” Robinson says. “The COVID crisis required them to put all previously scheduled surgeries on hold so that they could focus on treating COVID patients. But their software setup at the time was not allowing them to easily reschedule the postponed surgeries.”

UT Health is a key research partner of ours, [including] on a COVID-19 vaccine. They are also on the front lines taking care of patients in our city.

× UTSA’s Juan Gutiérrez, Dhireesha Kudithipudi, Mike Villarreal, and Erica Sosa have contributed key efforts in tracking the local impact of the coronavirus.

The plan is to make use of this program throughout UT Health’s entire surgery department, which typically has 250 to 300 surgeries scheduled per day. As an increasing number of coronavirus patients were being intubated and placed on ventilators, UTSA mechanical engineering researchers accelerated their development of a breathing tube that reduces tissue damage from long-term ventilation. Professors David Restrepo and R. Lyle Hood and military science student David Berard are hard at work on a 3D-printed device to mitigate the effects of prolonged ventilation, which can lead to tracheal stenosis, tissue scarring, dislocation, and stricture of the arytenoid cartilages. Such injuries are more likely to occur when an oversized endotracheal tube or overpressurized cuff is used or left in position for longer than a week, but their one-size-fits-all device eliminates the need for breathing tubes in multiple sizes. Insertion of this device will ideally be quicker and easier as well, reducing exposure risk of any airborne illness to first responders. Before the pandemic the group was collaborating with UT Health San Antonio and the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research to create the device for soldiers in the field who required intubation in emergency situations. However, the COVID-19 crisis has brought the need for such a device to the forefront. “We are looking to deploy our technology in animal models this year and human clinical trials for the Food and Drug Administration next year,” Hood says. Health care workers on the front lines weren’t the only ones greatly affected by the pandemic, which also created obstacles for therapy and support programs. With the help of a grant from the COVID-19 Response Fund, educational psychology professor Leslie Neely spearheaded a project to accelerate telehealth training for therapists. The project trains existing applied behavior analysts at the Autism Treatment Center to use videocon-

ferencing software to conduct therapy sessions for children with autism. Those therapists will graduate to training other behavior professionals, including UTSA clinical students, in the same skills. “Telehealth has already proved to be effective for so many families. While I have been working to research the telehealth [applied behavior analysis] over the past five years, the pandemic has accelerated this work,” Neely says. “I am hopeful we can train our therapists and students to immediately reestablish these essential services for our community.” She adds that the long-term goal of this project is to establish telehealth as an effective alternative to in-person services, even after the coronavirus pandemic has passed. LIFTING THE ECONOMY OF SOUTH TEXAS

On Monday, March 16, the same day that the CDC reported over 4,000 coronavirus cases in the United States, a feeling of dread swept over the downtown office of UTSA’s Small Business Development Center. The staff noticed a dramatic number of cancellations from their clients, and the ones that were staying in touch were mostly sharing bad news. “Cutting back” and “shutting down” were among the phrases most often being used by small business owners. The SBDC has been providing assistance to the business community in Bexar and surrounding counties since 1987, but no one had ever experienced a sea change quite like this. Director Richard Sifuentes describes that week as one of the most difficult in his 15 years on the SBDC staff. “The initial inquiries were people asking for any help at all. They’re telling us, ‘I’m going under. What can I do?’” Sifuentes recalls. “On some of those phone calls, we had business owners shedding tears.” The tumultuous weeks didn’t let up. Between late March and the end of May the SBDC team spent more than 1,200 hours dedicated specifically to COVID-19–related relief funding requests—ranging from quick responses to 15-minute walk-throughs to two-hour meetings—as the pandemic pounded small businesses throughout South and West Texas. By April the SBDC was fielding six times as many




calls as usual, adding 20 more advisers to keep up. “The whole team was working long hours,” Sifuentes says. “Those were 12-hour days, at least.” Much of the early guidance that the region’s small businesses were seeking involved applying for assistance through Economic Injury Disaster, Payment Protection Program, and Express Bridge loans. Those calls to the SBDC gave way to loan status check-ins, and those gave way to questions about safely reopening. By June the SBDC was seeing far more inquiries from people who wanted to start businesses and many others looking to pivot their business models. With the SBDC’s help, some businesses even managed to thrive—by shifting from solely brick-and-mortar sales to an online presence or by getting help to apply for and receive EID and PPP loans and other temporary financial assistance. “All of a sudden, these businesses are working smarter, and they’ve ended up creating efficiencies that led to them being more sustainable,” Sifuentes explains. With so many small businesses across Texas desperately seeking assistance, UTSA’s Institute for Economic Development launched the Small Business Development Center COVID-19 Business Recovery Accelerator—or COBRA—to address the demand. Funded by a $1.2 million grant from the U.S. Small Business Administration, COBRA is a no-cost, confidential lifeline that shows small-business owners and employees how to access relief, recovery, rebooting, and resilience resources. Over the ensuing months the accelerator guided businesses as they applied for funding opportunities through the Small Business Administration and other sources. In some cases COBRA assessed the applications of businesses that had been denied emergency funding and assisted them as they reapplied. Advisers have also been on hand to provide expertise in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and COVID-19 employer resources through the Texas Workforce Commission. “We feel this program is making a difference for business owners




by providing the experts to help them work through the relief as well as the recovery process,” says Terri Williams, director of the SBDC Center for Government Contracting. COBRA continues to be the only recovery accelerator of its kind in Texas with a mission of stabilizing and rebuilding the small-business economy, earning high praise from city leaders such as Mayor Ron Nirenberg and County Judge Nelson Wolff. UTSA has partnered with the San Antonio Economic Development Foundation, San Antonio District SBA Office, minority business organizations, and chambers of commerce to provide support to affected businesses. “COBRA is the kind of solution employers asked for, and UTSA answered the call,” says Jenna Saucedo-Herrera, CEO of the San Antonio Economic Development Foundation.

COBRA is the kind of solution employers asked for, and UTSA answered the call.

support, sales, and more. Many laid-off or furloughed individuals took advantage of the courses as a way to bridge the gap between their experiential skills and formal education, earning credentials that proved valuable as they hunted for new employment. Career Builder Badges are web-based microcredentials that can be shared on digital résumés and personal profiles. Each badge highlights competence-based skills earned by completing a set of requirements in areas such as leadership, mentoring and conflict management. Altogether, the program attracted 800 online learners and issued 184 badges. “The mentorship badge was by far the one I gained the most from,” says participant Lorelei Gomez. “I’ve been in the military for 22 years and have been both a mentor or mentee, but I have never seen such a simple yet useful mentorship lesson like the one provided by UTSA.” SHINING A LIGHT ON VULNERABLE POPULATIONS

In the waning seconds of a video published by the Associated Press about Latinos in Chicago’s Little Village overwhelmingly testing posOf course, lifting the South Texas economy isn’t only about lending assistance to small businesses. It’s also about rejuvenating a devastated workforce. In the wake of record unemployment and a tide of furloughs in San Antonio during the spring, UTSA quickly responded with a targeted initiative to help those impacted get back on their feet. By the end of the summer the university’s Career in Focus initiative had served more than 2,000 job-insecure San Antonians through free and deeply discounted career advancement programs leading to skills-based digital badges or professional certificates. The initiative included two primary programs: a series of Job Jumpstart courses and microcredentials known as Career Builder Badges. More than 1,200 San Antonians enrolled in Job Jumpstart courses. Offered through UTSA Extended Education, the slate of free and discounted short-term courses provided skills-building opportunities for in-demand jobs in health care, information technology, customer

COVER STORY itive for the coronavirus, UTSA demography professor Rogelio Sáenz drives home a point that he’d been researching—and emphasizing—for months. “It shows those deep structural inequities that exist,” he says, “and the way they’re exposed when you have disasters and pandemics such as this.” As the country faced a soaring number of confirmed COVID-19 cases and job losses across the board, Sáenz dove into population data to find that both factors were impacting Latinos and other minorities at higher rates during the pandemic. Sáenz’s demographic research raised awareness of these racial disparities not only in Texas media but across the nation. His perspective was sought by national outlets like The Washington Post and PBS NewsHour. Sáenz points out that Latinos and other minorities continue to be infected at higher rates because they are more prevalently in essential roles that put them at an increased risk, including jobs at meatpacking plants, factories, and warehouses as well as roles in the service industry. By late July he found that Latinos were disproportionately overrepresented among people infected by the virus in 45 of the 46 states

[The data] shows those deep structural inequities that exist and the way they’re exposed when you have disasters and pandemics such as this.

where data is available. He even identified 12 states—mostly in the Midwest and Southeast—where Latinos have proportionally at least three times as many COVID-19 cases as the rest of the population. Veterans are another vulnerable population of great concern in San Antonio during this pandemic. Health care professionals had worried for months that social isolation in the time of COVID-19 might worsen symptoms and increase the risk of suicide for the 11% to 20% of veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Sandra Morissette, a clinical psychologist, professor and interim chair of the Department of Psychology at UTSA, has been funded by the Veterans Administration to study the impact of changing social networks during the pandemic on mental health and suicide in veterans. Since her research was funded, Morissette and her team have taken a deeper dive into understanding the impact of social networks on suicide, which will help inform how suicide prevention is approached in the future. This study will be an important addition to her research platform, which aims to help

veterans who are struggling with recovery and reintegration into civilian life. For more than a decade she has worked with a group of national collaborators to conduct trials to better understand how veterans function after deployment and war zone experiences. There is also important research in progress at the university regarding the pandemic’s impact on domestic violence. The United Nations estimates there has been a 20% increase in domestic violence worldwide since the pandemic started. Sáenz and doctoral demography student Lily Casura found that San Antonio already had higher domestic violence rates than most cities when putting together their 2019 Status of Women report for the City of San Antonio. CARES Act funding has made it possible for university researchers to engage in a comprehensive community survey on domestic violence. While it will partly focus on COVID-19’s implications on domestic violence, the survey will also give researchers a better grasp of its scope in San Antonio, who reaches out for assistance, the quality of said assistance, and gaps in service that may exist.





It was apparent that we were serving those that had never been to our pantry before. That is why I’m so proud of what we do and why we do it.





The Roadrunner Pantry in the Student Union on Main Campus made a big pivot after the university closed campus. Typically a self-service shopping model, the pantry transitioned into a grab-andgo service to meet contactless measures and social distancing, becoming a highly utilized resource as local grocery stores struggled to keep their shelves stocked with essential goods. Over the course of the pandemic the pantry served an increasing number of students, faculty, and staff who were facing food insecurity.

Each person was allowed to take up to seven bags per weekly visit. On average, 10 to 30 individuals visited the pantry per day. The pantry had served 1,500 Roadrunners and distributed 33,840 pounds of food by mid June. “This had been a critical time for our community and the Student Union has been able to play an essential role in feeding our Roadrunners in their time of need,” says Nikki Lee, senior associate director. “Our world changed so quickly. Jobs were being lost, and it was difficult to find items in stores that we often took for granted. It was apparent that we were serving those that had never been to our pantry before. That is why I’m so proud of what we do and why we do it.” The pantry even stocked fresh produce, nonperishable items, toilet paper, hygiene products, baby formula, and dog

We never stopped feeding and serving during this crisis, and it shows the true spirit of what it means to be a Roadrunner.

Ù The Roadrunner Pantry stocks nonperishable foods as well as hygiene products and other necessities students, faculty, and staff might need in daily life. × Students select food items in the pantry, located in Main Campus’ Student Union.

food. Monetary donations made through Launch UTSA helped sustain operations, and Follett Higher Education Group, which operates the UTSA bookstore, donated almost 3,600 pounds of food with the help of alumnus Mario Carvajal ’99. The university’s dining services donated an additional 2,500 pounds of food. “We never stopped feeding and serving during this crisis,” says Lee, “and it shows the true spirit of what it means to be a Roadrunner.” In the same week that the Roadrunner Pantry was ramping up its efforts, Kimberly Goodwin ’12 was making her first

food deliveries. Goodwin founded Neighbors Helping Neighbors with fellow social worker Darrell Parsons and the San Antonio LGBTQ community to assist people with food insecurity in Bexar County. “I’m a social worker, so it’s in my nature to think immediately when things are going wrong or there’s a difficult situation in our community,” says Goodwin, who is also an adjunct professor of social work at UTSA. “My first thought is, ‘Who is going to be the most vulnerable and most impacted by this?’ When shelter-at-home started, it became, ‘But what about the people who don’t have homes?’” The organization raises money to purchase oncea-week deliveries from local restaurants in partnership with different agencies

to serve housing programs and shelters for youths, individuals in recovery, and women. As many in the city were struggling with food insecurity, just as many were facing an uncomfortable insecurity that was so 2020—one involving toilet paper. Going to a grocery store or pharmacy had become a harrowing endeavor in March and April as long lines and barren shelves became pervasive images of the pandemic. Seeking solutions, inspired researchers with the Matrix AI Consortium for Human Well-being launched a website to help people identify where they could find the supplies they needed. The COVID-19 Resources & Recovery Site provided a platform for Texans to share the location of hard-to-find consumer goods—such as toilet paper, meat, hand sanitizer, and personal protective equipment—by populating a recovery map with real-time data. “When I initially brought the team together, we were discussing ways to provide information on resource availability to the community dynamically,” says Kudithipudi, director of the consortium, adding that the website was an ingenious way to use data visualization tools to empower the community. The website is the collective effort of Kudithipudi, biomedical engineering professor Amina Qutub, geological sciences department chair Hongjie Xie, doctoral student Tej Pandit, and graduate student Younghyun Koo—all of whom share expertise in crowdsourcing. The site has continued to provide useful information for months after its creation, such as the location of testing sites, mandatory business closures, travel advisories, and a map that tracks the statewide spread of COVID-19. Web efforts were also crucial to UTSA’s Campus Rec, which never gave up on its mission to keep the Roadrunner community active. Roadrunners in their living rooms and bedrooms were back to feeling the burn only a few short weeks after the campus shutdown as rec staff began streaming remote fitness classes. “With everyone stuck at home, it is easy




We have countless stories from students who have reached out about how the classes changed their perspectives on group fitness or fitness in general.




COVER STORY to binge on TV, social media, and our favorite foods,” says Alessandra Sanchez, group program coordinator. “Just because we could no longer meet with patrons physically, our mission didn’t change. Now more than ever it was and is important for us to continue to invest in the wellness of our students, staff, and faculty so that when we are allowed to come back onto campus, we are stronger than ever.” Campus Rec took to Instagram and TikTok with videos created by different instructors performing various exercises such as Pilates, circuit workouts, cardio kickboxing, barre workouts, and yoga. The online videos attracted all sorts of individuals who normally didn’t engage with in-person classes, Sanchez says. “We have countless stories from students who have reached out about how the classes changed their perspectives on group fitness or fitness in general,” she explains. “They truly appreciate the workouts during the pandemic and our efforts to connect with them in the virtual environment.”


In an effort to relieve any stress and insecurity that students were facing due to coronavirus-related changes to their daily lives, UTSA fast-tracked the distribution of emergency aid from the CARES Act. “At UTSA, we recognize that many of our students and their families are struggling. We are committed to their success and to helping them through this crisis so they can achieve their goals,” says Kimberly Andrews Espy, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs. Through two allocations of funding, UTSA received a total of $31.7 million in CARES funding. Per guidance from the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund authorized by the CARES Act, half of UTSA’s CARES funding was distributed

We are committed to [our students’] success and to helping them through this crisis so they can achieve their goals.

directly to students who met the federal guidelines for emergency aid to help with their expenses, including course-related costs, housing, food, technology, health care, and child care. In addition to CARES Act funding, the university awarded $3 million in technology grants to more than 6,000 students enrolled in the summer term. These funds were used to help cover computer, internet-related, and other associated costs. Lynn Barnes, senior vice provost for strategic enrollment, says grants are also being distributed to students taking online classes this fall to ensure their technology needs are met. The university further allocated up to $1 million in research scholarships for graduate students, many of whom had their research activities negatively impacted in the spring due to

changes in campus operations. Shortly after the campus shutdown in the spring, UTSA launched several emergency funds to support Roadrunners’ most prevalent needs. The Student Emergency Fund—managed in part by the Roadrunner Student Alumni Association—offers grants to students who find themselves in difficult situations as a result of natural disasters, medical bills or other unforeseen circumstances, including job losses due to the pandemic. The Student Tech Fund assists students who needed internet access or a personal computer to successfully transition to 100% online instruction. The Veteran and Military Affairs Emergency Fund provides emergency funding for military-affiliated students. Finally, the Fostering Educational Success Fund supports the well-being





As the UTSA community transitioned to remote learning and society became gripped by various uncertainties, constant communication and a steady flow of information and expertise became increasingly vital. Having already begun communicating with students, faculty, and staff via email in late January about the university’s monitoring of the spread of the coronavirus in the United States, the administration was intensively looking ahead to the virus’s potential effect on course delivery and campus operations. That’s why UTSA launched the Coronavirus Updates website on March 2 to keep the community informed and subsequently created an e-newsletter to deliver regular updates directly to students and employees. Over the next few months virtual panel discussions and town halls increasingly became the best way to stay informed and engage in an active dialogue with UTSA’s leadership. They kept the community up to date on reopening plans, prepared recent graduates for job hunting in a COVID-19 world, displayed the local creativity inspired by UTSA’s Mexican Cookbook Collection, and celebrated the Juneteenth holiday. Among the most notable interactive dialogues were those in the university’s Community Conversations series, in




which leading faculty experts shared their insights and research on COVID-19. The first panel discussion laid out the pandemic’s impact on the San Antonio economy, including the big financial hits that were looming for public education, bars, restaurants, and the tourism industry. Over subsequent weeks Community Conversations addressed UTSA’s scientific and mathematical efforts to beat COVID-19, the pandemic’s impact on learning, financial stability at K–12 and higher learning institutions, and the various ways the art community was adapting without live audiences. This was followed up by the launch of the Roadrunner Return website, which coincided with the release of UTSA’s Public Health Task Force report that set guiding principles and safety policies and protocols for UTSA and kicked planning for the new academic year into high gear. Local coronavirus conditions were worsening at the time, so the plan for a limited return to campus was designed with flexibility and safety at the forefront. “The discussions were pretty heavy,” admits Arulanandam, who sits on task force. “It’s one thing to go forward up the hill, but you may have to retreat—and we had to figure out a plan for doing that.” In a series of emails leading up to the fall semester President Eighmy, Provost Espy, and Chief Financial Officer Veronica Salazar Mendez outlined what the fall semester would look like for students, faculty, and staff. Courses would be available primarily online in four formats: fully online asynchronous with course content available at students’ convenience; fully online hybrid, which will incorporate some live class meetings via video conferencing; fully online synchronous, in which classes occur in real time during the scheduled course period; and face-toface, with limited classroom capacity and generally reserved for courses requiring in-person components, such as laboratories. The university also announced that mandatory compliance training would be required of all students and employees. “This training is a crucial element of our shared responsibility as a community to keep one another safe,” Eighmy says. “Every one of us must do our part to minimize the spread of the virus.” Basic health guidelines codified in a campaign called

Every one of us must do our part to minimize the spread of the virus.


of students with a history of foster care, most of whom do not have a traditional family lifeline to help during the ongoing pandemic. Donations to these funds, as well as Roadrunner Pantry, have made a tremendous impact. Financial services leader Frost gave $50,000 to these causes and a university giving campaign raised $80,000. The donations have provided a variety of assistance, such as food, computers, prescriptions, copayments for mental health care, and even the repair of one student’s hearing aid. “We have seen many alumni and other members of the community step up to support our students with gifts to these funds. We are overwhelmingly grateful for the support,” says Karl Miller-Lugo, vice president for development and alumni relations.



I am truly amazed by how far we’ve come since March and our ability to rapidly adapt the ways we learn, live, teach, work, and research—with truly remarkable results.

Do Your Part, feature the Roadrunner Pact and its five principles, which ask all Roadrunners to commit to wearing their mask properly, keeping their distance from others and avoiding crowds, washing their hands regularly with soap, monitoring themselves for symptoms of COVID-19, and staying home if they are feeling sick. FORGING THE PATH FORWARD

President Eighmy sent an email to all Roadrunners in the first weeks of the new fall semester that began to paint a picture of university life reaching for a sense of normalcy, despite the ongoing pandemic necessitating that most students and employees continue to learn and work from home. “I am truly amazed by how far we’ve come since March and our ability to rapidly adapt the ways we learn, live, teach, work, and research—with truly remarkable results,” he wrote. He’s not the only one who’s amazed. Arulanandam speaks with both pride and awe when he says that the greatest public health crisis of our lifetimes hasn’t put a dent in the university’s research trajectory. “Our research expenditure in 2020 is going to be the highest it’s ever been in 50 years, we graduated the highest number of Ph.D. students in our history this summer, and we’re going to meet the threshold for the National Research University Fund— all through this pandemic,” he says. “Our faculty haven’t taken their feet off the gas.” Eighmy has outlined the progress and bold steps that lie ahead for UTSA, including new initiatives and returning focus to plans that had been put on hold while everyone found their footing at the end of the spring semester and over the summer. “I know it hasn’t always been easy,” he says, “but I continue to have great faith that we—as a community and a university—will come out stronger and better on the other side. In the meantime, we march forward to guide UTSA through our ‘new normal’ and into a new era for higher education. From our innovative course delivery approaches to our momentum around retaining and graduating more students to our thriving research enterprise, we are modeling the university of the future.” S







Going to a young football program like UTSA would scare a lot of people, but it really excited me.



Jeff Traylor is revered in Texas football. Now leading the Roadrunners in their 10th season, he has the same level of prestige in his sights for his new team.


here’s a memory that always gives Jeff Traylor a chuckle. While he was the associate head coach at the University of Arkansas, one of the high school players he was actively recruiting Facetimed him in amazement. The player had just arrived for a football game against the Gilmer Buckeyes when he

took note of the stadium’s name. “He said, ‘Coach, you won’t believe this. I’m at Jeff Traylor Stadium! What a coincidence!’” When Traylor informed the young man that the stadium was actually, seriously, honestly, verifiably, legitimately named after him, there was a brief pause before the teenager replied, “But you’re not even dead yet!’” ¶ It’s not often that Texas high school football coaches reach a legendary status in their 40s, but


that’s exactly what Traylor did in his hometown of Gilmer. After serving as an assistant





UNPRECEDENTED Team members weather their spring and summer in pandemic isolation, marked by unusual workouts, community fundraising, and a lot of uncertainty by shea conner






hen UTSA’s student-athletes were asked to stay home after Spring Break this year, strength and conditioning coach Ryan Filo sprang into action to create an individualized workout plan for every single one of them. Using the software program TeamBuildr, he and his staff built an enormous library of exercise videos that would have been here ative with workouts,” each athlete could at least eight hours a Filo says. “We went as access, adapted to week doing mandatory far as getting a broommake the routines as workouts,” Filo says. stick and taping water accessible as possible “Our student-athletes jugs to it to mimic while they were isolatwere really professiona barbell. You know, ing at home. al about it and held everybody has a back“Some athletes had themselves accountpack or a duffel bag, so access to equipment, able. They kept getting you could load that up some had limited the work done even with heavy books, or equipment, and some if, logistically, things utilize canned goods didn’t have anything at might have been drafor shoulder workouts.” all,” Filo explains, “so matically different.” Sophomore safety we filmed variations of He admits that Rashad Wisdom was certain workouts that several issues arose one of those football could accommodate in the first few weeks players lifting water each group. You can of social distancing. jugs and using houseprescribe the sets, the A handful of athletes hold items to achieve reps, the volumes, the were struggling with the best strength trainintensities, and the rest nutrition while they ing possible. “I was periods.” were at the mercy of doing anything I could Although some their home pantries to add weight during weight training exerand grocery store fare. the workout and cises were the same Filo’s staff identified simulate weightlifting across the roster, work- those athletes and in some type of way,” outs for the football provided drive-by he says. team varied by position deliveries of protein Wisdom says he group. Wide receivers shakes. Others could and his teammates and defensive backs, not access green space willingly put in more for example, focus for field work when work during the premore on speed, agility nearby parks were season than he had and lower-body exercis- closed, so Filo came seen in the lead-up to es than linemen, who up with workouts that his freshman season. did more variations on could be performed From schoolwork, upper body strength in tight spaces. With daily workouts, and training. The Teamonly 15% of the film sessions to learn Buildr app includes an football roster having new offensive and accountability element, access to a weight defensive schemes to and Filo says the room or weightlifting Tuesday and Thursteam exceeded every equipment, he had to day position group challenge. get especially clever to chats and weekly de“If we hadn’t been develop home strength fensive meetings via in a stay-at-home training regimens. Zoom, they took the setting, our athletes “We got pretty creinitiative and passed

every test of wills. Wisdom also took the initiative to do something crucial for the community. Along with University of Texas football player Caden Sterns, Wisdom and several other former San Antonio high school standouts started a campaign to raise money for the San Antonio Food Bank. The demand for the food bank’s services were unprecedented as the coronavirus and unemployment spread through the area, so the athletes created a GoFundMe account and social media blasts to bring in donations that would help families who needed it. “We knew a lot of people in the city were struggling with the coronavirus situation, so we wanted to give back in some way,” Wisdom says. He says his efforts to raise awareness of food insecurity will not stop anytime soon. “I know this is going to go on longer than just now— just this year.” On the same week that Sterns and Wisdom launched the GoFundMe campaign, the community rallied around Wisdom’s younger brother, Bryce, as he celebrated his 17th birthday while fighting advanced kidney cancer. They surprised him with a drive-by parade as he sat on an orange-andblue throne adorned with the UTSA logo. Perhaps the biggest surprise of all came when President Taylor Eighmy, Vice President for Intercollegiate Athletics Lisa Campos, and new UTSA Football Head Coach Jeff

We knew a lot of people in the city were struggling with the coronavirus situation, so we wanted to give back in some way.

× Sophomore safety Rashad Wisdom (0) celebrates entering the Alamodome with his teammates ahead of the Roadrunners’ game against Middle Tennesse in September. During his off-season, Widsom, along with some of his former fellow high school players, helped to raise funds for the San Antonio Food Bank.

Traylor arrived—wearing masks—to deliver Bryce’s acceptance letter to UTSA. “It was crazy. There were like 300 to 500 cars out there. I’m not even kidding,” Wisdom says. “It meant a lot to me to see all the support for my brother.” Those thousands of folks would be devastated on July 26 when Bryce lost his battle with cancer. His death rocked the entire community at UTSA, where the Monument Lights and Student Union tower shined white in his honor just days later. “Bryce lit up our lives with his smile, positive outlook, immense fortitude, and love for his family and the Roadrunners,” Eighmy tweeted at the time. “We were so happy to give him a letter of early acceptance to UTSA. Peggy and I are thankful to have gotten to know this amazing young man.” In an offseason marked largely by what was lost—and a football season veiled in precaution—Traylor preaches resilience to his team. He knows that every day in this pandemic will present new challenges, and his staff and players will have to roll with the punches. And even when it hurts, there’s still something good, something meaningful, that can come from times like these. “I believe each day will be different, each city will be different, and each university will be different,” Traylor says of the 2020 season. “I think a lot of us might have taken some things for granted that I bet we don’t anymore.” 



ATHLETICS coach for Big Sandy and Jacksonville high schools in Texas from 1989 to 1999, Traylor got his first head coaching gig at Gilmer High in 2000. Over the course of 15 seasons his teams amassed three state championships, five state title game appearances, and 12 district crowns in the little northeast Texas town of 5,000. During those two-plus decades as a high school coach, Traylor established meaningful relationships with the Texas High School Coaches Association. Those connections would serve him well on the recruiting trail as he made the jump to become an associate coach in the college ranks in 2015. During his time as the lead recruiter at The University of Texas at Austin, Traylor helped the Longhorns sign the nation’s seventh-ranked recruiting class in back-to-back years and was named the Big 12 Conference’s Recruiter of the Year for his efforts. He would go on to help the University of Arkansas ink its first national top 20 recruiting class in 2019. “I have 4,900 numbers in my phone, and I’d bet 2,000 of them are Texas high school coaches,” Traylor says. “I’ve never changed my number, and I still return every text and phone call.” The state’s high school coaches know that Traylor is not only a proven winner but also a transformational leader. Frankly, they’re rooting for him. More important, they’re increasingly pointing their top-flight athletes in Traylor’s direction. That support will be monumental as the first-year head coach aims to build UTSA into a program that can consistently compete for Conference USA championships. Traylor says he had his eye on UTSA from the moment the university played its inaugural football season in 2011. He saw the potential of Roadrunners Football even as he served assistant coaching roles for well-established programs like Texas, SMU, and Arkansas over the five previous seasons. UTSA was a destination for a pioneer, he says, and if it wasn’t apparent from his introductory press conference where he enthusiastically admired men like William Travis and Davy Crockett, Traylor exudes that pi-




This is a place where you can start your own traditions and paint your own picture. I love that.

Going to a young football program like UTSA would scare a lot of people, but it really excited me. This is a place where you can start your own traditions and paint your own picture. I love that.


ATHLETICS oneer spirit. “Going to a young football program like UTSA would scare a lot of people, but it really excited me,” Traylor says as a smile emerges from his thoughtful focus. “This is a place where you can start your own traditions and paint your own picture. I love that.” From his perspective UTSA already had four of the six “puzzle pieces” necessary for a college football program to flourish in Texas: a supportive university administration, a fan base that wants to win, an appealing city, and an impressive stadium in the Alamodome. What the Roadrunners lacked was a solid foothold in the fertile Texas recruiting footprint—an area where Traylor will surely benefit UTSA— and modern-day athletics facilities. That final piece of the puzzle will fall into place when the multimillion-dollar Roadrunner Athletics Center of Excellence opens in 2021. “That’ll be a game changer, in my opinion, and it’ll be an eye-opener for recruits,” Traylor says. The nation has already seen what happens when universities make significant investments in football programs based in large cities without an NFL team, especially those from the Group of Five—a collective that includes the American, Sun Belt, Mountain West, and Mid-American conferences in addition to Conference USA. The University of Memphis recently earned a bid in the 2020 Cotton Bowl after a 12-win season in the American. In the aughts, Texas Christian University and the University of Utah rode year-after-year success in Group of Five conferences to invitations in Power Five conferences—the Big 12 and Pac-12, respectively. Traylor, however, already has a model of success in mind: the University of Cen-

If you have a vision for what UTSA can become, that’s where we should start. We can’t be it if we can’t see it.

× Traylor is holding great hopes in his Roadrunner squad: “We’re going to win every day.”

tral Florida, a college football program that Orlando has rallied around. UCF’s performance in the American has been unmatched. The Knights have played in the heralded Fiesta Bowl twice since 2013 and nearly crashed the College Football Playoff during a sensational 2017–2018 season in which the team finished 14–0. Traylor says UTSA will soon have all the pieces in place to compete on the field and the recruiting trail with UCF and even some Power Five programs. “I think it’s fair to think we can get there. We went 4–8 last year, so we have a long way to go to get on Central Florida’s level. But if you have a vision for what UTSA can become, that’s where we should start,” Traylor says. “We can’t be it if we can’t see it.” Many recruits are already buying into Traylor’s vision. He won a December recruiting battle with Arkansas and Ole Miss for tight end Allen Horace, the highest rated recruit in UTSA history, and signed seven recruits graduating from high school in 2021 on a single April weekend in self-isolation. When those players join forces with a promising young squad that includes 2019 Conference USA Freshman of the Year running back Sincere McCormick, it’s hard not to see a bright future for UTSA football. From there, it’s all up to the coaches and players to put in the work. “We’re going to win every day,” Traylor says. “I have enough confidence in myself, my staff, the players on our roster, and the players we’re recruiting to know that if we keep stacking those days on top of one another, we’ll be hell on wheels on the football field. That day is going to come. It’s just a matter of when.” S





environmental journalist alumni profile

OUR WILD WORLD from wildfires to wildlife, sarah gibbens ’15 tracks mankind’s impact on the world as an environmental reporter for national geographic by shea conner


arah Gibbens arrived at UTSA in 2011 with aspirations of being a creative writer, but a different destiny took shape by the time she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English in 2015. Gibbens had gravitated toward journalism in those four years at UTSA,

excelling as a news editor and then editor in chief of the independent student newspaper The

She took a particular interest in writing about wildlife and environmental issues after reading a March 2015 Associated Press feature that exposed widespread slavery and other abusive practices of the fishing industry in Southeast Asia. Many slaves were freed in light of the AP investigation, which won



the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. “I was so impressed by the impact that good journalism has,” Gibbens says. Today, she’s aiming to make that kind of impact as a writer for National Geographic in Washington, D.C. She got her start in 2016 as a digital producer and then worked as a general assignment


reporter before becoming one of four writers on the environmental desk for the world-famous exploratory publication. Climate change, natural disasters, plastics, parks, and wildlife are among the topics she routinely covers. Thousands of readers were introduced to Gibbens in late 2017 when she

penned the article that accompanied a devastating video clip of a starving polar bear on Somerset Island that made the internet rounds. Gibbens was the first reporter to interview videographer Paul Nicklen, who also works for Nat Geo, about the footage his crew had captured. She wrote three articles on the sub-


Paisano before tackling freelance duties for The Rivard Report during her senior year.

Ø Sarah Gibbens has been part of the team at National Geographic since 2016, first as a digital producer and now as a staff writer.





ject, but the first garnered the most attention—and the most scrutiny—as it lingered on dramatic Nicklen quotes and explored a link between the emaciated bear and climate change. “That was the first story I’d written that had really gone viral, and it was weirdly overwhelming,” Gibbens recalls. “I’d never had that many Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook messages. Some were accusing me of fearmongering, some were asking us why we didn’t help the polar bear, and some were simply saying that it was awful that something like that was happening in the world.” Gibbens says the curiosity surrounding that whole experience reinforced the importance


of interviewing multiple sources and asking more comprehensive questions. She applied that lesson going forward as she became one of the nation’s foremost writers on a few newsworthy topics. Her reporting on the California wildfires addressed multiple challenges that firefighters faced in their efforts to contain the Camp and Woolsey fires in November 2018, breaking down how intense winds, dry brush and severe drought had essentially transformed both Northern and Southern California counties into a powder keg. She spoke with officials about the emerging potential for “yearround fire season” and how wildlife and the ecosystem would be altered by



the blazes. During that month, she was interviewed twice by CBS News as a source of expertise on the matter. Although climate change has made the natural elements of wildfires more combustible in recent years, humans are the cause of about 85% of wildfires (lightning strikes account for the remainder). Gibbens feels that improved disaster management will help California better navigate them in the future. “Had they integrated long-term forest management solutions and stricter littering compliance codes, it may have been a less devastating problem,” she says. Like seemingly every employed journalist in 2020, her focus turned

to the coronavirus earlier this year. She wrote features about how warming temperatures could slow the outbreak and why soap was preferable to bleach in efforts to neutralize the spread of the virus. Plastic waste, however, is the worldwide concern that Gibbens has covered most at length. While National Geographic photographers have shocked viewers with images of Bangladeshi beaches drowning in plastic garbage, Gibbens’s stories have honed in on single-use plastic straws. She’s interviewed plastic-straw–ban advocates and written about the challenges of developing quality alternatives. She also wrote a piece digging into the brief history of how

I was so impressed by the impact that good journalism has.

Ù The Woolsey Fire burns in Southern California. Gibbens has written extensively about the California wildfires of 2018 for National Geographic.

plastic straws and other single-use plastics became so pervasive. Gibbens says it was fascinating to learn about the plastics revolution and how it completely changed everything. She uses the toothbrush as an example: We all use them and more than 99% are made from plastic. “In the historic record, plastic has been around for only 50 or 60 years. It may seem like a long time to one person, but that’s a really short period of time to totally change how your society works.” One of her favorite stories was about Dominica’s plans to fully ban all common plastic and Styrofoam single-use containers, while also aiming to take the mantle as a renewable

energy trailblazer. The Caribbean island has been striving to become the world’s first climate resilient nation ever since Hurricane Maria annihilated its infrastructure in 2017. Gibbens visited Dominica in April 2019 to talk to people about how the hurricane changed their lives and how it all led to such sweeping efforts. She admired their collective commitment. “A single person is not going to make much of a dent,” she says, “but if we create the incentive to get companies and countries to change, that’s where the real difference will be made.” In addition to Dominica, Gibbens has traveled to the Bahamas, the Amazon in Peru, and the Atacama Desert in Chile for assignments. She says she’s cherished those moments much more than any Twitter recognition or CBS News appearance. “There have been times when I’ve been sitting alone in a different country looking through my notes when it hits me,” she says. “I’ll think, Wow, this is exactly what I wanted to do. I can’t believe I stumbled into this.” S


entrepreneur alumni profile

A NICHE BRAND ZACHAREE RAMIREZ ’15 turns his love of tequila into a new business venture by valerie bustamante


ast year Zacharee Ramirez found himself visiting distilleries in the heart of the tequila capital of the world, the state of Jalisco in Mexico. From watching how agaves are transformed into the distilled spirit to the bottling process and label making, he wasn’t on a trip just for fun. Ramirez and his business partners, Jordan Simmons and Jay Torrez, were learning what it takes to make the spirit as they geared up to develop Vice Tequila, their own brand. “All three of us had a natural appreciation for tequila, but we started branching out and realizing there were other, different brands and varieties of tequila,” Ramirez says. “At the time we only knew of the big players, like Patron, Don Julio. So once we started realizing there’s a smaller, better quality variety out there we had the idea to see what it

would take to create our brand of tequila.” So the three aficionados dove right in. “It was challenging, but we looked at it like reverse engineering. We started looking at how other tequila companies started by watching different interviews, listening to podcasts and videos,” Ramirez says. After sending out more than 100 emails, the Vice Tequila team connected with three to four different distilleries and label and cork suppliers. “It was interesting to see the start-to-finish product of how tequila gets made, packaged, and assembled,” Ramirez says. While the idea for Vice Tequila had been born, there still were a lot more steps the three had to take before the product could come to fruition, such as funding. So the crew launched a Kickstarter crowdfunding account focused on creativity. After their story

was picked up by the San Antonio Express-News and other media, they surpassed their Kickstarter goal of $7,500 within 30 days and raised more than $8,000. “We had no product at that point, just a vision and an idea,” Ramirez says. “So for people to donate their hardearned money to support us was overwhelming and unbelievable.” Ramirez, who graduated from UTSA with a bachelor’s in accounting, attributes his business knowledge to his time at the university. “I chose to be an accounting major because I wanted to understand the foundation of business,” he says. And for as long as he can remember, owning a business is something he has wanted to do. “I’ve always had the goal of starting my

× Vice Tequila is the creation of Zacharee Ramirez Ù and business partners Jordan Simmons and Jay Torrez.

own company,” he explains, “so studying accounting at UTSA just gave me a solid understanding of how business works and understanding profit margins, inventory, and understanding that to be profitable in the long run, you have to take certain actions.” “I think it’s happening at a perfect time for me right now,” he

adds. “I think if I would have started this while in college it probably wouldn’t have worked out the way it has so far. We still have a long way to go, but I think we have a good road and a good vision.” Once Vice Tequila officially launches this year, Ramirez says he hopes he and his partners can represent San Antonio to


their fullest potential. “Two of us are originally from Seguin, so we’re not that far away from our hometown, but I’ve lived here for the past 10 years,” he says. “We’ve all lived here for quite some time. We want to create a product that represents that culture and represents the city and just kind of share that with everybody in the community and the world.” S



Public art alumni profile

PREPARING FOR TOMMY GREGORY M.F.A. ’09 is cultivating the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport as a haven for eye-catching artwork

Airport art curator isn’t a job title that will yield many Indeed search results—if any at all. “There are only, like, 20 of us in the country,” admits Tommy Gregory, who is senior art manager and curator for the Port of Seattle. What this small faction lacks in notoriety, however, it makes up for in passion. “All of us, from LAX to Miami, put in a tremendous amount of energy. When you see art in an airport, it’s not just a magic trick. A lot of work goes into it.” Gregory is on a mission to advance the notion that large facilities like airports should serve the public as spaces for high art. After all, for every passenger speeding between terminals to catch


a connecting flight or rushing to meet an Uber driver, there’s another waiting for a long period to board a plane. Those folks are a captive audience, and he’s doing everything he can to get them



to take notice at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, whether it’s relocating various pieces, improving lighting, or fetching fascinating new artworks. This mission started in earnest

in 2005. As an undergraduate art student at the University of Houston, Gregory served as a studio assistant under the late sculptor Luis Jiménez when he began crafting the famous, towering

Blue Mustang for the Denver International Airport. Through this experience he learned about commissioning artwork for airports as well as the phases for fabrication and installation—which was no small task for the 32-foot-tall cast-fiberglass sculpture. His interest in public art continued as a graduate student at UTSA, where he worked in the president’s office as a curator’s assistant. He helped out with the public art collection while simultane-

ously preparing for his thesis show. During this time he found that airports and other transit entities often set aside 1% or 2% of their budgets to commission public art and became interested in how public art was financed through capital improvement projects. “That strengthened my knowledge and made me a little more serious about it as a career,” he explains. Gregory would go on to become a public art specialist for the City of San Antonio

after earning his master’s degree. He returned to Houston in 2012, first serving as a project manager for the Houston Arts Alliance, then as the public art program director and curator for the Houston Airport System from 2014 to 2018. He and wife Casey Arguelles-Gregory M.F.A. ’09—who he met in UTSA’s graduate art program—were happy in Texas, but he couldn’t resist the draw when the Port of Seattle made him a job offer. The airport has


by shea conner



It’s always been a challenge to prove that the collection is integral to the passenger experience— that it’s not just window dressing.

Ù Cable Griffith’s Cascadia and Ø Molly Gochman’s Border: US-MX.

long enjoyed an impressive visual arts reputation in the Pacific Northwest, housing a collection worth an estimated $35 million. He also knew that SEA had several promising projects on the horizon, including a new 450,000-squarefoot international arrivals facility that needed massive amounts of artwork. A year after he took the job, the Port of Seattle voted to reinstate a policy mandating 1% of CIP costs go toward purchasing and commissioning

artwork, meaning that airport would spend roughly $20 million on public art by 2025. The coronavirus pandemic may put a dent into those long-term plans, but the current projects were already approved. “For the next few years we have art projects that are guaranteed and earmarked,” he says. In less than two years on the job Gregory has made a significant visual splash at the airport by bringing in alluring commissioned works. British Columbia

visual arts duo Jacqueline Metz and Nancy Chew recently completed a 20-panel glasswork titled Cathedral that was installed in one of the airport’s elevator cores. It’s complemented by an impeccably cast bronze tree log at the elevator base that was designed for contemplation. Cable Griffith’s Cascadia, a large work of airbrushed enamel on glass, has brought much-needed color and authentic Washington state culture to Concourse C. Gregory also

arranged the airport’s first temporary exterior art exhibition: Molly Gochman’s Border US-MX. The piece consisted of 2.6 tons of red sand poured over a patch of grass longer than a football field in the shape of the United States–Mexico border. It was best viewed from an airplane. Gochman created the large installation to call attention to immigrants who cross the border seeking refuge and wind up becoming victims of human

trafficking. Because Seattle is such a progressive city and they cost less to conserve, Gregory says he’d like the airport to host more temporary experience-based exhibits in the future. For now, he’s focusing on supporting artists in Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia during the pandemic. He has expedited calls for regional art that will be housed in the North Satellite Terminal Nursing Suite and Employ-


ee Services Center. With city budgets around the country being slashed and airports serving only a fraction of their typical number of passengers, it’s tough out there for airport art curators right now. But Gregory will continue the fight because he knows it’s a worthy one. “It’s always been a challenge to prove that the collection is integral to the passenger experience,” he says, “that it’s not just window dressing,” S




voter engagement alumni profile

BUSTER RAVEN DOUGLAS ’18 fights for young voters’ access and engagement as the political director for MOVE Texas by shea conner As Raven Douglas wrote an op-ed for MTV News about the importance of polling places on college campuses in February, memories from her freshman year at UTSA came flooding back. Douglas is now the political director for MOVE Texas, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization working throughout the state to advance voting access and engagement for young Texans. But her journey to this prominent role started in earnest on her very first day as a Roadrunner. Within the same few hours that she moved into Laurel Village as a freshman, she met an organizer who registered her to vote and gave her the inspiration to make her voice heard in a 2015 Texas constitutional election. “I didn’t realize until


three years later that that was a MOVE organizer,” Douglas says. “It kind of seems like I was destined to end up in this work.” Her passion for voter engagement and policy would blossom over the ensuing years at UTSA as she majored in political science and became involved with notable programs, thanks in large part to connections she made through the Honors College. Douglas worked for America Votes, a coordination hub for the progressive community, based in Washington, D.C., through the Archer fellowship program. In 2017 she was selected to participate in the Texas Legislative Program, giving her the opportunity to intern in the Texas Legislature under the tutelage of State Sen. Nicole Collier. All the while, she never stopped



It kind of seems like I was destined to end up in this work.

working to empower young voters on campus and in the San Antonio community. She became a very active volunteer member for MOVE Texas (then known as MOVE San Antonio) and cofounded the Undergraduate Political Science Association at UTSA. Even her undergraduate research showcased issues in voting access. With the help of political science professor Walt Wilson, she presented her 2018 thesis, “Before and After the Texas Voter ID Law,” which dove into how Senate bill 14 impacted voter turnout among communities of color during the 2014 midterm election. She has since been inspired to encourage

Texan voters to stuff the ballot box. Douglas moved into a leadership development role for MOVE Texas shortly before graduating from UTSA and then became the organization’s deputy director in August 2018. She managed a statewide team of field organizers, fellows, and interns to register 30,000 voters that year in addition to planning and executing MOVE’s expansion to Dallas. She was also representing MOVE at conferences, public events, and advocacy functions to engage with donors and partner organizations. One of those partners just so happened to be MTV, which awarded Douglas the 2019 MTV Leaders for

Change grant to help MOVE Texas achieve its goal of registering 70,000 Texans to vote in 2020. MTV has shared photos from MOVE’s events and published Douglas’s commentary pieces. She’s hopeful that the network can collaborate with MOVE on a party at the polls or a Rock the Vote kind of concert in the future. Earlier this year Douglas was named the new political director for MOVE Texas. In this role she’ll be doing much more in the way of advocacy. “I’ll be working with elected officials to really ensure that policies are being passed that positively impact not only young people,” she says, “but also communities of color.” S


education advocate alumni profile

I want to use all that I’m learning to make policy decisions that challenge the status quo.

FOR EQUITY by valerie bustamante


hen Marisa Perez-Diaz was sworn in to office as the Texas State Board of Education’s District 3 member in 2013, she knew the goal for her new role was to build an equitable education for all students. And it’s something she’s been working toward ever since taking her seat on the board, which she won against the incumbent with 67% of the vote. Perez-Diaz’s passion for child advocacy began when she worked as a social worker for the state Department of Family and Protective Services. “I had some interesting experiences when I was with CPS and working in schools,” Perez-Diaz says. “I remember one time I was moved to anger at an experience that I had in a school, and it made me realize that I needed a bigger platform.” After working in and out of several public schools Perez-Diaz realized there was an

existing gap MARISA PEREZ-DIAZ M.Ed ’16 aims between to help marginalized students child welfare and public education, approach the work,” currently working particularly for kids Perez-Diaz says. “We toward her doctorate who had experienced need to humanize in educational leadertrauma. education. It can’t be ship at UTSA, strives “Without the about the numbers to continue making a ability or a network and the scores on a difference. to cope through that, test. Before we effi“I feel like I’m just somebody needs to be ciently and effectively at a point in my an advocate for these educate a student we life where I students on the eduhave to know our kids. recognize cation side,” she says. We have to know what that I’m “I was tired of seeing their experiences are in a students that were and what they’re dealalways marginalized. ing with. That was the There are disproporreal driver for me.” tionate numbers of In her eight years children of color that on the State Board of are in the child welfare Education Perez-Diaz system.” has had the opporAfter taking office tunity to play a role Perez-Diaz felt if she in making a positive was going to serve to impact on the field of her fullest, she needed education. to embrace what it In 2018 she helped means to be in educaspearhead the passing tion and to underof a Mexican Amerstand what teachers ican studies course and administrators go with District 2 board through. Perez-Diaz member Ruben started in the EduCortez. They cational Leadership worked with their and Policy Studies districts and graduate program at many scholars, UTSA under Encarnahistorians and cion Garza. activists to “After going bring the course through my grad to fruition. program my mindset Perez-Dishifted about how to az, who is


unique position, right? I can directly impact policy,” she says. “I want to use all that I’m learning to make policy decisions that challenge the status quo and put our people in spaces where we have opportunity and access for a very long time.” S




Meme-iest. Year. Ever. is 2020 as bad as everyone is making it out to be? utsa’s cindy ermus provides historical perspective.

2020 is a unique Leap Year. It has 29 days in February, 300 days in March and 5 years in April. It’s hard to believe that “Tiger King” was the most normal part of 2020. Q: If 2020 was a drink, what would it be? A: Colonoscopy prep.

by shea conner


or those of you paying attention to social media during the COVID-19 pandemic, you’ll notice a direct correlation between the uptick of people being bored at home and the increasing number of excellent 2020 memes being created. It’s hard to resist joking about a year that feels like it was penned by creatively tapped TV writers desperately pulling out all the stops to avoid cancellation. But is this really the longest, craziest or worst year ever? How did people living through other historical disasters express their dark humor? What will future generations think of our memes? UTSA’s Cindy Ermus is here to answer those questions. Ermus is an assistant professor in the Department of History, a faculty affiliate for the Centre for Community Disaster Research at Mount Royal University in Canada, and the executive editor of the academic journal Age of Revolutions.




2020 really does feel like the longest, worst year ever, doesn’t it?

Do you have a question about science or literature or any topic that’s always made you wonder “What? How? Why?” but you never got around to looking into it? Let us know at and we’ll find a UTSA expert to explain it.

Before memes, the internet, or even television existed, what are some notable examples of humor being used by those suffering through national or international crises throughout history? Especially since the 18th century, some of the best places to look for historical examples of humor in times of disaster and crisis are newspapers and pamphlets. This kind of print literature depicted some of the most unabashed humor, which ranged from funny to sarcastic to very offensive. We could probably say that they were like the memes of the past in some ways. These new mediums allowed people at the time to poke fun at everything under the sun—even in times of disaster—and to reach a wider audience than ever before. The first ones that come to mind are the political cartoons that came out of the American and French revolutions, which depicted, for example,

King Louis XVI with the head of a pig—he would soon lose that head to the guillotine, of course. All kinds of crises, however, including the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, the 1918 flu pandemic, the Great Depression, and the World Wars, inspired satirical cartoons, in some cases showing less-than-appealing portrayals of some of the foremost figures of the day. You wrote pieces about the Great Plague of Provence of 1720. That outbreak had many similarities to the coronavirus pandemic,

including criticism of handling by public officials and the amplification of misinformation. Was there also a parallel of levity being used to cope with conditions during those plagues? How did people express their snark and cynicism in the 1720s? For my research on the 1720 plague, I’ve mostly looked at government documents and letters, official dispatches, images, plague tracts, sermons, newspapers, and even a couple of memoirs or diaries, but I have not come across as many examples of humor as one might guess. That doesn’t mean it’s not

there or that people weren’t finding ways to make light of an otherwise dark situation. It just means that the kind of places where people might have expressed themselves in this way, like letters to a friend rather than government or official letters, haven’t survived, or are more difficult to get at in historical archives. That said, I happened to come across an example from 1721 recently in which a man in France wrote to his merchant son in the French Atlantic colony of Martinique: “Thank God there’s plague in Marseille, because their ships won’t be arriving at your port for a long time. Take advantage, and get a good price for your merchandise!” I’d say that counts as cynical, perhaps even snarky, no? Are all the “2020 is the longest (or worst) year ever” memes justified? There were certainly deadlier periods in American history, but in many ways, 2020 feels like the 1918 flu pandemic and the Great Depression rolled into one. And although the Civil Rights Movement was certainly not a disaster, 2020 has seen national tensions that echo that era as well. Can you think of a more hectic year? 2020 really does feel like the longest, worst year ever, doesn’t it? And yet those who have lived through similarly trying times have always thought that their situation is unique or that no one had ever lived through similarly challenging times. In fact, quite often in history, people have thought that things were so bad it must mean the end times were near— but here we still are. So can I think of a more hectic year in American history? I guess that as a historian, I can’t help but look at this question from different perspectives. So for the millions of Africans and African Americans who lived enslaved in this country, every year was much worse than this. For the Indigenous peoples who were

forcibly removed from their land or who watched their loved ones die from foreign diseases or at the hands of colonizers, every year was much worse than this. Same for those who struggled during the Depression, who have had to send their sons off to war, who’ve lost loved ones to AIDS, etc. In other words, we’ve often been through worse. How do you personally feel about memes? When people look back at our pandemic memes generations from now, will they think we were ignorant and entitled, or will they marvel at how in touch we were with pop culture and our own feelings of isolation, boredom, fear, desperately needing toilet paper, and listlessly staring into the abyss? Most importantly, will they think we were funny? Memes are great! They’re a quick and concise way to express a belief, a sentiment, or an opinion. Looking back on them one day, I assume memes will also help define or capture the zeitgeist of the current era. One thing to note is that humor can be very different from one generation to another, and even one geographic region to another. For example, it’s probably relatively common for something that was meant as a joke in a centuries-old document to go over our heads today. Just because they thought it was hilarious then, doesn’t mean we have any way to know that. So what will future generations think about us? Perhaps they’ll ask, “Why did so many people in the U.S. refuse to do something as easy as wear a mask? Did they not want to end the pandemic?” I think that, on the one hand, they will appreciate our attempts to find humor in the current public health crisis, but on the other hand, they’ll marvel at our individualistic selfishness and resistance to take such simple measures to end the crisis sooner. S




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