The UT Tower will shine orange on Friday, April 3, in honor of GeoFORCE Texas, an outreach program of the university’s Jackson School of Geosciences, which received an award from President Barack Obama on March 27.
President Obama gave the GeoFORCE Texas program the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring, the highest such honor from the United States government.GeoFORCE Houston 10th graders learn with instructor Peter Flaig at the Grand Canyon in 2011. The program recently won the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring from President Obama.
GeoFORCE Texas takes high school students from disadvantaged areas of the state in inner-city Houston and rural Southwest Texas on field trips each summer throughout high school, visiting geologically significant sites across the country. As a result, potential geoscientists are introduced to the profession, and students from disadvantaged areas find a path to college and rewarding careers.
[Learn more about the program and hear from participants in GeoFORCE Milestone: Budding Geoscientists Graduate.]
“We are thrilled that the president has honored the program,” said Jackson School Dean Sharon Mosher. “GeoFORCE plays such an important role in shaping and improving young lives, particularly from underserved populations. There is nothing more fulfilling for an educator than helping young people achieve their full academic and personal potential. GeoFORCE is a wonderful example of a program doing just that.”
Eighty percent of GeoFORCE participants are members of minority groups. Since its inception, GeoFORCE has been a robust success, with 100 percent of students graduating from high school; 96 percent going on to college; 94 percent staying in college through their sophomore year; 64 percent focusing on STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) majors — more than double the national average; and 16 percent majoring in geoscience — more than 50 times the national average.
The Presidential Award recognizes the crucial role that mentoring plays in the academic and personal development of students studying science and engineering — particularly those who belong to groups that are underrepresented in these fields. A GeoFORCE representative will receive the awards at a White House ceremony later this year, and the program will receive $10,000 from the National Science Foundation.
“These educators are helping to cultivate America’s future scientists, engineers and mathematicians,” President Obama said in a press release honoring all of this year’s recipients. “They open new worlds to their students and give them the encouragement they need to learn, discover and innovate. That’s transforming those students’ futures, and our nation’s future, too.”
[GeoFORCE is one of Five Great UT Programs Changing Education.]
GeoFORCE began in 2005 and has served more than 1,500 students. The program is more than an introduction to the geosciences. It also offers high school students support through high school, help preparing for the SAT and ACT, guidance applying for college, and has awarded more than $2 million in scholarships. After high school, GeoFORCE continues to mentor students through college, into internships and the workforce.
You may also like:
Longer version of the video: includes a more in-depth look at students’ experiences in the program and how they learn in the field.
More information about GeoFORCE Texas.
White House media release.
A version of this story originally appeared on the Jackson School of Geosciences website.
It’s almost like it was meant to be.
In January 2014, the #TexasStrong era began. Now it’s #TexasSmart, too.
Today Shaka Smart was announced as the new head coach for Texas men’s basketball. Smart, who was previously the head coach at Virginia Commonwealth University, replaces Rick Barnes, who led the Longhorns to 16 NCAA Tournament appearances and one Final Four in his 17 seasons at Texas.
“Shaka Smart is one of the best basketball coaches in the nation, and we’re thrilled to bring him to Texas,” said UT president William Powers. “He has vaulted VCU into the top tier of basketball programs and will now build on the great tradition established by Rick Barnes and the other Longhorn coaches who came before him. With his upbeat style of play, proven leadership and focus on education, Coach Smart will inspire our student-athletes for years to come. I look forward to seeing our program thrive under Shaka Smart.”
The 37-year-old Smart won 26 or more games each season during his six years at VCU and shot to national prominence after the 11-seed Rams reached the Final Four in 2011. He is known for his signature “Havoc” style of play, including an intense full-court press on defense. His team workouts have included a week of Navy SEAL training (something UT System Chancellor William McRaven knows a little about).
Smart was a four-year starter at Kenyon College, graduating magna cum laude with a history degree. He later earned his master’s degree in social science while an assistant coach at California University of Pennsylvania. He went on to serve as an assistant coach at Dayton, Akron and Clemson before spending the 2008-09 seasons as an assistant at the University of Florida. (Another Gator assistant coach that year: Charlie Strong.)
Messages of congratulations and excitement started pouring in over Twitter, including tweets from current and former players and prominent Texas Exes:
Welcome to the family Coach Smart.— Kevin Durant (@KDTrey5) April 3, 2015 April 3, 2015 April 3, 2015 April 3, 2015
Great hire by Texas. I love the line by @GoodmanESPN "Smart and Strong."— Dick Vitale (@DickieV) April 3, 2015 April 3, 2015
Smart choice. Now let's get to work. #Hookem— Connor Lammert (@ANDtwenty1) April 3, 2015 April 3, 2015
Longhorn fans are ready, too:April 3, 2015 April 3, 2015 April 3, 2015 April 3, 2015
Any loss of life is tragic, but this is especially true when a person’s death is self-inflicted. In the case of the Germanwings plane crash, the reported suicide by the co-pilot was even more tragic (and appalling) because in doing so the co-pilot also took the lives of so many innocent others aboard the plane. It’s been widely reported that the co-pilot had sought treatment for depression and other health issues.
But despite all we know, why do so many people intentionally kill themselves every year and why can’t we stop it? After all suicide is preventable.
Research suggests there is no one answer, but instead there may be several pathways to reducing suicide and suicide attempts. What clinicians really need are reliable predictors that will identify who will actually attempt suicide.
Approximately 90 percent of people who commit suicide have a diagnosable illness such as clinical depression or substance use disorders. These mental health disorders are treatable with medications and psychotherapy.
However, the vast majority of people with a diagnosable mental health or substance misuse condition will not contemplate or attempt suicide. Simply using a diagnosis as a risk factor for suicide will produce many false positives and does not go far enough for identifying those at highest risk for suicide. Ideally, clinicians need a set of reliable predictors that will identify who will attempt suicide.
This would involve a test of some sort — such as a biomarker (gene expression) or a task that measures cognitive dysfunction (difficulty stopping impulsive behavior) — that reliably predicts who is at highest risk for suicide. Many attempts have been made to develop this sort of test, but few tests with any clinical utility have emerged.
It is a combination of biological, psychological and social factors that all work in concert to produce suicidal behavior in a given individual. Although use of genetic information has been very successful in other complex conditions such as cancer, genetics may be only part of the equation for predicting who will attempt suicide.
For instance, twin studies suggest that genetic factors provide about 40 percent of the explanation for suicide and suicide attempts, leaving plenty of room for other factors to contribute to the onset of suicide. Much research effort is being devoted to identifying important predictors of suicide risk.
Ultimately, it may take the measurement of a variety of biopsychosocial risk factors (not just a single risk factor) and the development of a sophisticated statistical model that uses this data to reliably predict whether a person will attempt suicide.
Until such tests are developed, however, the presence of a diagnosable mental illness, and associated thoughts about suicide, may be the most useful predictor of potential for future suicide.
A coordinated effort is necessary from multiple sources to stop suicide. Rapid access to trauma services can reduce fatality following a suicide attempt. The availability of a 24-hour crisis team has been shown to be a very effective service for reducing rates of suicide.
Conducting multidisciplinary reviews, sharing results with the family and altering treatment based on these meetings can also reduce rates of suicide. Better follow-up and continued contact for those leaving health care facilities after a suicide attempt also make an important difference.
Friends and family will also play a large role in reducing suicide. Most adolescents who attempt suicide have previously received mental health treatment; however, most had not received treatment within the 12 months of their attempt.
Most youths and young adults contemplating suicide do not seek medical help. They instead seek the support of peers. Public awareness of suicide and making it more acceptable to seek help should be addressed as part of a comprehensive suicide prevention strategy so that those in distress and reluctant to seek care can be encouraged to do so.
Suicide is unfortunately a highly prevalent and complex problem in our society. To effectively reduce suicide, we will need a comprehensive approach that involves families, caregivers, politicians and society at large. Suicide is preventable, and we all need to do more to make it so.
Christopher Beevers is a professor of psychology and the director of the Institute for Mental Health Research at The University of Texas at Austin.
A version of this op-ed appeared in the San Angelo Standard Times.
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Share this story on Twitter:April 7, 2015
Newspapers and magazines are filed with stories of adolescents and young adults struggling with addiction.
Just recently in Texas, a 16-year-old from Cypress landed in the ICU from a form of synthetic marijuana packaged as “potpourri” that she and friends bought at a gas station. A freshman at Heritage High School in Frisco died after taking a synthetic drug that he thought was LSD. And a 17-year-old at Plano Senior High School died of an overdose after he took drugs to celebrate having achieved a 3.9 GPA. He was exploring options for college, with aspirations of becoming an engineer.
The death rates from overdose in Americans aged 15 to 24 more than doubled from 2000 to 2010, and Texas high school students were more likely than their peers nationwide to report lifetime use of alcohol, cocaine, Ecstasy and methamphetamines.
Less attention, however, has focused on the dynamic needs and changes in new modes of intervention, providing hope to young people seeking recovery. Parents and policymakers should support these options because they are essential to the move forward.
Presently, federal mandates do not require schools to accommodate the learning needs of children with substance abuse disorders. Some states such as New Jersey are creating legislation to help fund recovery schools.
On the national level, the Comprehensive Addiction Recovery Act is the most expansive federal, bipartisan legislation to date for addiction support services, designating between $40 million and $80 million toward advancing treatment and recovery support services in communities across the country. It has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee, but it has a long way to go. We must support this legislation and others like it.
But more importantly, we need to create a community that embraces people in recovery and ends judgment, fear and condemnation.
One emerging alternative is the creation of new institutional structures such as recovery high schools. Growing from the awareness that school campuses may be “sobriety hostile,” recovery high schools are specifically designed for students recovering from substance use disorders.
Young people who attend these schools get a chance to connect with other youths and staffers supportive of recovery, having an environment free of substance use triggers, and also become a part of new peer group settings where they make friends, experience clinical support, recreation and social activities after school and on weekends.
There are presently 35 recovery high schools nationally, five of which are in Texas, including in cities near Dallas, Austin and Houston. This trend needs to continue across Texas.
We must acknowledge that for youths today, experimentation is, for the most part, normative. And there are youths with unique brain chemistry such that once they experiment, they quickly lose the ability to moderate their use and make solid decisions for their well-being. There have to be schools that understand the nature of recovery, not just addiction.
Most people regard “rehab” or “treatment” as the primary or even exclusive option for teens spiraling out of control with drugs and alcohol, but new research reveals increasing options with promise.
Also, treatment settings now aim at community-based exposure to “life in recovery” and longer periods of intervention and support across a continuum of care. This model is replacing the acute care tradition of removing and isolating individuals in 28 days of inpatient care and returning them to their previous worlds, full of relapse risk and triggers.
The depth of the problem and the limited effectiveness of treatment call for imaginative and energetic responses. Not all solutions will work for everyone, but we have to develop more resources and awareness so adolescents and young adults can find their individual paths to recovery with support along the way.
Expanding recovery high schools and legislation that fosters accommodation with substance abuse disorders must be the first steps toward this goal. We must break down the stigma and raise awareness so we can provide an environment conducive to productive and healthy living.
Lori Holleran Steiker is an associate professor in the School of Social Work at The University of Texas at Austin.
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Share this story on Twitter:April 2, 2015
A UT researcher says coffee drinkers should stick to shade-grown brews, which help promote sustainable agriculture. (Image and latte art courtesy of Monkey Nest Organic Coffee & Bakery.)
Think twice before making that next pot of coffee.
When you’re deciding between regular or decaf, and black or cream and sugar, you also need to ask: shade or sun-grown?
One University of Texas at Austin researcher says that choice can help improve sustainability practices in the $100 billion global coffee industry.
Coffee comes in two species: robusta, a plant that produces a lower-quality coffee, is able to grow in direct sunlight and at lower elevations and is typically produced using an intensive farming style; or, Arabica, a plant that produces a higher-quality coffee that flourishes under the cover of shade and is grown in more sustainable and environmentally friendly ways.
Coffee evolved in shaded environments, Jha says. It thrives in rain forests and under layers of trees patching together a blanket of shade from different heights.
“It’s amazing to walk through a shade-grown coffee farm and see that vertical structure and diversity,” says Jha, whose research has taken her to a coffee farm in Mexico that is also home to 150 species of birds. “It’s just so full of life.”
But across the globe, more and more farmers are using the intensive style of production rather than growing coffee under shade. Jha and her colleagues found in a recent study that the proportion of land used to cultivate shade-grown coffee has fallen nearly 20 percent since 1996.
“Even now, very little of the market is shade-grown coffee,” Jha says. “The amount of coffee produced in the world has increased, and a large fraction of that is sun coffee, not shade-grown coffee.”This picture shows the difference between the types of coffee farms. On the left, an intensive style of farming is used to produce lower quality sun coffee. On the right, a shade-grown coffee farm not only produces higher-quality coffee but also preserve wildlife habitat and promotes sustainable agriculture. (Image courtesy of Shalene Jha.)
Jha’s study, published in the journal BioScience last April, shows that although global production of coffee has increased since 1996, the area of land used for non-shade-grown coffee is growing at a much faster rate than areas producing shade-grown coffee. That disparity caused shade-grown coffee to fall from 43 percent of total cultivated area in 1996 to 24 percent in 2014.
Shade-grown coffee usually tastes better and is of higher quality, but the production method also comes with five environmentally friendly advantages that can help make the coffee industry far more sustainable in the long run, benefitting both growers and coffee lovers for generations:
- Provides habitat: Compared to empty pastures, wildlife thrives on shade-grown coffee farms. Thousands of migratory birds take shelter in the canopies that cover shade-grown coffee farms when they fly from the tropics to more temperate regions during seasonal shifts. (Bonus: The birds prey on insects, which means farms can use fewer pesticides.) “Shade-grown coffee became popular in the ’80s when people started thinking about coffee as an important corridor and refuge for migratory birds,” Jha says.
- Increases pollination: Shade-grown coffee farms support the ecosystems needed to sustain a diverse range of pollinators, from bees to bats. These native pollinators help increase yields of other crops, from coffee to berries. Bees, for instance, pollinate more than $15 billion worth of fruits, nuts and vegetables in the U.S. each year. The number of managed honey bee colonies, however, has fallen from 6 million beehives in 1947 to 2.5 million in 2014, prompting President Barack Obama to launch a multiagency task force to help stop the rapidly diminishing populations of honey bees and other pollinators.“The greater the diversity you have in terms of flowering trees within the coffee farms, the greater the abundance and diversity of native pollinators,” Jha says.
- Purifies water and air: The dense vegetation needed to produce shade-grown coffee helps purify air and filter water, improving the quality of both.“With shade management, there’s a lot of secondary benefits to the local water supply without a cost to the community,” Jha says.
- Prevents landslides: The large and numerous trees at shade-grown coffee farms, which are often on mountainsides in hurricane-prone areas, help hold soil together, keeping chunks of farmland from eroding. Landslides caused by more intensive farming can claim lives and ruin infrastructure. “Having sustainable, shade-grown coffee reduces the landscape’s vulnerability to extreme climate events, and thus is a benefit to entire communities,” Jha says. “The production style of coffee really affects the quality of life for all organisms, including humans, around them.”
- Replenishes the land: Intensive farming methods exhaust the soil after a couple of decades, which often leads to farmers cutting down forest for new fields. But shade-grown coffee farming techniques store carbon and replenish soil nutrients, letting the farms thrive for centuries. “Sun coffee systems largely focus on short-term inputs and extraction, while shade system can naturally provide the soil with organic matter and nitrogen,” Jha says. “Once the soil quality is depleted the landscape is more likely to be turned into pasture because it can’t really be used for much else.”
But despite the benefits shade-grown coffee offers, high demand for inexpensive and instant coffee causes some growers to move to the intensive style of farming, which has lower land and labor costs and higher short-term yields.
The solution for increasing the number of shade-grown farms, Jha says, is twofold.
First, governments and conservation groups should incentivize shade-grown coffee production and help farmers find better ways to handle the expensive, up-front costs of getting certified to sell specialty coffees, like shade-grown blends.
Second, she says, coffee drinkers should stick to shade-grown brews.
“With any ecological or social challenge, there are multiple ways to work on it,” Jha says. “This happens to be one issue that consumers can actually participate in. By purchasing shade-grown and organic coffee, you can make a difference by voting with your dollars to increase more responsible agriculture practices.”
But while Jha has immersed herself in the coffee world, don’t ask her for detailed flavor profiles of your next-favorite blend.
“I’m not a coffee connoisseur,” Jha admits. “I’m a biologist who happens to study coffee ecosystems because they’re great examples of how to produce a crop and do it in a way that’s sustainable, biodiversity friendly, supports farmer livelihood and is sustainable in the long term.”
- $100 billion: total value of the coffee industry
- $40 billion: amount Americans spend on coffee each year
- $32 billion: value of specialty coffee sales, which can include shade-grown coffee, in the U.S. in 2012
- 1.6 billion: number of cups of coffee consumed around the world each day
- 25 million: people who depend on coffee production for their livelihoods
- 75 percent: increase in the economic value of specialty coffee sales, which can include shade-grown coffee, from 2000 to 2008
- 37 percent: U.S coffee sales by volume that are specialty coffees, which can include shade-grown coffee, in 2012
- 20 percent: global decrease in the proportion of land used to cultivate shade-grown coffee, relative to the total land area of cultivation, since 1996
With the weather turning warmer, more Texans are heading outdoors to walk or bike. But it seems that many Texas drivers continue to think that these non-motorists, like pedestrians and bicyclists, do not belong on the roads.
At the same time, it seems that many Texan non-motorists think they are exempt from traffic laws. These perceptions and behaviors need to change if we want to make a dent in the crash rates involving motorized vehicles and non-motorists.
When people think of injuries or fatalities in relation to traffic crashes, the typical picture is of two or more cars slamming into each other or a car crashing into a stationary object. But a not-insignificant fraction of fatalities involve a crash between a motorized vehicle and a pedestrian or a bicyclist.
In 2012, pedestrian fatalities represented about 23 percent of traffic crash fatalities in Houston, 26 percent in San Antonio, and in the range of 29-34 percent in Dallas, Fort Worth and Austin, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In the same year, bicyclists’ deaths represented about 1.6 percent of traffic crash fatalities in Texas.
An understanding of the risk factors associated with pedestrians and bicyclist-related crashes can allow for the identification of high-risk crash factors and inform engineers about how to better design roads.
For instance, studies have shown that raised medians in the middle of a two-way road, or a pedestrian hybrid beacon activated by pedestrians to send a flashing alarm to drivers, can reduce pedestrian fatalities.
But while we may talk about engineering fixes, behavior changes are what also need to happen if we truly want to cut down on the number of pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities.
Many bicyclists in the U.S. have a general mistrust of drivers and complain about the lack of respect afforded to them as legitimate users of a shared roadway.
While a fraction of motorists are definitely to blame for this broad perception, it is also true that bicyclists do not always observe traffic rules and are rarely cited for such infractions. Think about it: When was the last time you saw a bicyclist get a ticket for running a red light?
Ironically, the mistrust of drivers by non-motorists itself sometimes engenders illegal behaviors among non-motorists, such as some bicyclists traveling against traffic as a coping and control mechanism.
But this only increases crash risk because motorists typically scan for traffic in the direction of their movement when making right turns from driveways. Further such illegal behaviors only serve to tarnish the perception of non-motorists by motorists in a reinforcing cycle of mistrust.
To keep everyone safe on Texas roadways, we all need to follow the laws and recognize that non-motorists and motorists are legitimate users of the roadway, each with their rights and responsibilities.
In doing so, entire communities of parents, children, school systems, law enforcement officials, traffic engineers, transportation planners and driver education agencies must come together. It’s a model that is now gaining attention in the U.S. in the form of, for example, the Walk Friendly Communities program of the Federal Highway Administration.
Many states also now include, as part of the driver education curriculum, information on the responsibilities of a motorist when encountering non-motorists. More of this is needed.
We also need more stringent laws and, more importantly, better enforcement of our current laws. Emphasis is also needed, as is routinely done in European cities, on education and training from a very young age that both drivers and pedestrians/bicyclists are legitimate users of the roadway.
If we, as Americans, can change our perception and behavior as drivers and non-motorized users of our roadway system, we can make a dent in the fatality rate.
Chandra R. Bhat is the Adnan Abou-Ayyash Centennial Professor in Transportation Engineering and director of the Center of Transportation Research.
A version of this op-ed appeared in the Fort Worth Star Telegram.
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Share this story on Twitter:March 31, 2015
Horns are up this week for our men’s swim team, which this past weekend won its 11th national championship, all 11 occurring under legendary Head Coach Eddie Reese. The Longhorns led the meet from start to finish and claimed the team title with 528 points to UC-Berkeley’s 399 points and Michigan’s 312 points.
With this championship, Eddie Reese ties former Ohio State coach Mike Peppe for No. 1 all-time. Saturday’s win marks UT’s first team championship since our volleyball team claimed the national championship in 2012. UT now has 48 all-time NCAA team championships and 51 overall national team titles throughout school history.
To our swimmers and to Coach Reese and his staff, thank you for your hard work and congratulations on your victory.
Photo courtesy UT Athletics
In 2014, President Obama launched the “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative, challenging local governments, philanthropists, non-profit leaders, educators and individuals to address the significant challenges that young boys and men of color continue to face today.
After joining President Obama at the White House last month to roll out the initiative, Gregory J. Vincent, vice president of diversity and community engagement, helped continue the conversation at a SXSWedu city-wide conversation co-hosted by the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement (DDCE).
The community dialogue, held on Wednesday, March 10, included an opening address by Austin Mayor Steve Adler and a keynote by Michael D. Smith, special assistant to President Obama and senior director of cabinet affairs for “My Brother’s Keeper.”
The panelists discussed the historic barriers that are holding young students of color back from reaching their full potential, such as debilitating punitive measures in schools, lack of guidance and support from family members and administrators, and financial constraints.
Vincent moderated the panel discussion featuring professors, university leaders and UT Austin alumnus, Johnny Hill, whose personal story of graduating from a top-tier university after going to prison, moved the audience to a standing ovation. In the future, Hill plans to attend graduate school and earn a Ph.D., a feat that he hopes to prove is possible to other young men of color who are at risk of falling into the school-to-prison pipeline.
“In prison I challenged all of my ideas,” Hill said. “I realized that this wasn’t my plan, and that I didn’t want to be a gangster. I wanted to be a doctor like Dr. Huxtable. I made it to a half-way house in 2009, went to ACC and decided to go to UT. I’m now proud to say that I’m a member of the Longhorn family.”
During the panel discussion, UT Austin Professors Victor Saenz and Leonard Moore, shared some solutions for preventing students like Hill from failing in school or dropping out altogether. Moore, who is the senior associate vice president at DDCE, proposed that large universities should take the HBCU (historically black colleges and universities) approach by connecting underrepresented students with academic advisors, study abroad opportunities, and internships that can ultimately lead to a lucrative career after graduation. The goal, he said, is to make students feel like they belong.
Seanz, who is the executive director of the Texas Education Consortium for Male Students of Color and Project MALES, shared insight into his peer-mentoring research. He also discussed new strategies for framing and defining this national problem in a way that’s meaningful for young boys and men of color.
The SXSWedu event is one of many public forums the DDCE has coordinated since it launched the Longhorn Campaign for Men of Color in fall 2014. Visit this site for more about Vincent’s White House visit and how the DDCE has been taking steps toward closing the opportunity gap with a broad range of resources and research-based mentoring programs like the Texas Education Consortium for Male Students of Color, the African American Male Research Initiative, and Project MALES.
Go to the Longhorn Campaign for Men of Color website to read archived summaries from the roundtable discussions.
The Texas men’s swimming and diving team celebrates winning its 11th national championship on March 28 in Iowa City, Iowa. Photo courtesy Texas Athletics.
The Tower will shine orange with No. 1 illuminated on March 29 to celebrate the Longhorns’ 11th NCAA team title at the 2015 NCAA Division I Men’s Swimming and Diving Championships.
The Longhorns led the meet from start to finish and handily claimed the team title with 528 points. California, the 2014 NCAA champion, took second with 399 points while Michigan placed third with 312 points. USC took fourth with 278 points and Florida rounded out the top five with 248 points.
[Read more about the win and see a photo gallery from the meet at TexasSports.com.]
Head coach Eddie Reese tied former Ohio State coach Mike Peppe for No. 1 all-time with 11 NCAA team titles and was selected as the CSCAA Swimming Coach of the Meet. Saturday’s team trophy marked the first NCAA team championship for The University of Texas at Austin since volleyball won in 2012. UT now has 48 all-time NCAA team championships and 51 overall national team titles in school history.
Reese won his first NCAA team title since 2010, and UT notched its 29th top-three NCAA Championships finish in Reese’s 37 seasons on the Forty Acres. Texas won six individual swimming titles, the most at a single NCAA Championship meet since 2001, when the Horns won seven en route to UT’s eighth NCAA title.
Texas’ seven NCAA individual titles at the 2015 NCAA Championships moves UT’s all-time total to 114 individual swimming and diving titles, good for No. 5 all-time (54 individual swimming, 41 swimming relays, 19 diving). UT last won seven events at an NCAA Championship meet in 2004.
Saturday night, March 28, the UT Tower will go black in recognition of Earth Hour – a global event that raises awareness about humanity’s collective impact on the planet and how we can make a positive difference towards its preservation.
Only the clock faces and aircraft warning lights will remain illuminated.
This marks the sixth year that UT has participated in Earth Hour. Those wishing to participate more fully at work or at home are encouraged to turn off all nonessential lights to raise support for energy conservation.
Earth Hour was conceived in 2007 as a simple way to engage people in the issue of climate change. It has since expanded into a global phenomena that includes hundreds of millions of people. Organized by the World Wide Fund for Nature, the movement emphasizes the need for climate change awareness to extend beyond the day of the event and into the daily concerns of individuals and communities.
Unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, are definitely the “in” thing nowadays. Never before have highly capable drones been so inexpensive and widely available.
But with this new frontier comes problems, and how we proceed in terms of regulation will dictate whether the drone industry can take off in the United States.
Perhaps a perfect example of the problems that can arise came last August when nearly 100,000 football fans gathered at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin to watch the Longhorn football season opener.
Hovering above the stadium was a drone with blue and red blinking lights. The police watched as the drone shifted from one area of the stadium to another. When the drone’s operator finally recalled the device and landed it at his feet in a nearby parking lot, the police immediately took both drone and operator into custody.
The situation turned out to be no more menacing than a devoted, but ticketless, football fan trying to watch the game through the video feed on his drone. But the police could not have known this beforehand and had to treat the incident as a potential chemical, biological, or explosive attack on the multitude of gathered spectators.
As we enter an age of highly capable and increasingly autonomous drones purchasable for a few hundred dollars over the Internet, the intrusion at the football stadium will be replayed in various forms at sites all over the United States, some critical to security.
The great majority of these incidents will be accidental, such as the flyaway drone that recently crashed on the White House grounds. But in the early stages of a UAV incursion, it will be impossible to distinguish the accidental from the intentional, the benign from the malicious.
The distressing truth is that even consumer-grade drones can be rigged to carry out potent attacks against which our defenses will either be only weakly effective or so militarized that the defenses themselves will pose a threat to the surrounding civil infrastructure.
So what should the Federal Aviation Administration do? Let’s start with what they should not do.
Imposing restrictions on small UAVs beyond the sensible restrictions the FAA recently proposed would not significantly reduce the threat of rogue drones or their operators. But additional restrictions would shackle the emerging commercial drone industry.
Even the FAA’s current ban on non-line-of-sight drone control would be of little consequence to a criminal capable of modifying open-source autopilot software.
The best way forward is for the FAA to adopt simple measures that sharply reduce the risk of accidental or unsophisticated drone incursions, such as voluntary manufacturer-imposed geofencing.
For especially critical sites such as the White House, detection and tracking systems based on electro-optical sensors will be most effective, particularly those applying infrared sensor pattern recognition to distinguish a drone’s warm motors and batteries from a bird’s warm body.
A squadron of at-the-ready interceptor drones, guided by the tracking system, could snare the intruder in a net and haul it off.
Cities such as Paris, where drones seem to pop up regularly around nuclear plants and government buildings, could adopt a large-scale version of this system, deploying electro-optical sensors and interceptor drones at key sites across the city.
We should refrain from any more drastic measures than these until the threat of drones proves to be more of a menace than recent incidents, which were alarming but nonetheless harmless.
Todd Humphreys is an assistant professor of aerospace engineering and engineering mechanics in the Cockrell School of Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin.
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Share this story on Twitter:March 24, 2015
In light of President Barack Obama’s looming carbon regulations for existing U.S. power plants, it’s worth remembering that a comprehensive climate policy needs to do more than tackle smokestacks.
It also needs to do something about agriculture. And more broadly, Texans and the rest of the nation need to think more environmentally about the way they eat.
After fossil fuel combustion, agriculture is the second largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the nation. Despite consuming 2 percent or less of our energy, agriculture generates 10 percent of our emissions.
And while other sectors of the economy are reducing emissions, agriculture is heading in the opposite direction. This trend is bad for Texas and the U.S.
Agriculture primarily emits two potent greenhouse gases, nitrous oxide and methane, from activities such as the application of nitrogen-based fertilizers, manure management and burps from cows. And, agriculture is a source of dust and precursors for air pollution.
But, agriculture often gets a pass when it comes to air quality laws.
Historians can debate why this happened in the past, but to allow it to continue by giving agriculture a pass on its greenhouse gas emissions would be a huge mistake moving forward.
Regulations on carbon emissions disproportionately affect states that rely heavily on coal-fired electricity such as Indiana and Illinois, while states such as Washington that rely on hydropower would not be noticeably affected.
By contrast, everyone in America eats, so putting a price on the carbon intensity of food would spread more uniformly across society so we all share in the benefits and costs.
It’s true that farmers will have to make adaptations, but through incentives we can make these revenue neutral for farmers who lower emissions.
If we were to put a price on agricultural carbon, consumers would face higher prices for more carbon-intensive foods, such as meat. The change would encourage healthy shifts in diet and could dramatically lower emissions, because meat is known to be much more carbon-intensive to produce than fruits, grains and vegetables.
The agricultural sector may balk, saying that holding it accountable for emissions the way we hold other sectors of the economy accountable will be bad for business. But this is not true. There are plenty of ways farmers can adapt to a lower carbon world and even find new revenue streams in the process.
Consider the 100 million tons of manure that livestock generate each year. Those piles are a major source of greenhouse gases and a major headache for farmers, who have to deal with economic, environmental and legal liability from odor and handling costs.
Those same mounds of manure, however, are potentially a rich source of biogas, which could offset 4 percent of our annual natural gas consumption. This might be one of the easiest, cheapest and fastest ways to produce a significant amount of renewable, low-carbon, domestic energy that is available around the clock.
Another big opportunity is to reduce food waste. Amazingly, anywhere from 25 to 40 percent of our food is wasted, which amounts to a tremendous, equally wasteful use of energy and emissions. We quite literally throw that food-energy right into the garbage.
Reducing food waste is a straightforward way to reduce energy and emissions from the food system, and it should save money for everyone along the entire food supply chain, from farmers to retailers to grocery shoppers.
Most important, certain land management techniques can sequester hundreds of millions of tons of carbon into soils each year. No one is better suited to do this at larger scale than the agricultural sector. Putting carbon back into the soil from conservation programs does society an important service, and farmers should be paid handsomely for it.
The time has arrived to tackle climate change in a comprehensive way. At a policy level, we have to stop giving agriculture a free pass. If we can drive more efficient cars, insulate our homes and use less coal, surely we can also reduce emissions from the food we eat.
Michael Webber is the deputy director of the Energy Institute at The University of Texas at Austin.
A version of this op-ed appeared in the Corpus Christi Caller Times.
To view more op-eds from Texas Perspectives, click here.
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New op-ed on TP: We need to stop giving agriculture a free pass and reduce emissions from the food we eat. http://t.co/B8Ug66rAsx— Texas Perspectives (@TexPerspectives) March 19, 2015
The University of Texas at Austin Tower will be lit orange Wednesday, March 18 to honor the Texas Track and Field teams for winning both the men’s and women’s Big 12 Conference Indoor Championships. Photo courtesy of Texas Athletics.
The Tower will shine with orange lights Wednesday, March 18 to honor the Texas Track and Field teams for winning both the men’s and women’s Big 12 Conference Indoor Championships.
The Longhorns last swept the titles in 2006, but this year’s victories mark the first time a single school has won both the men’s and women’s titles at the Big 12 Conference Indoor Championships since 2012. This year’s women’s team successfully defended their 2014 title, and the men’s team returned to the conference’s top position after last winning the title in 2013.
After the title sweep, men’s head coach Mario Sategna’s peers selected him as the Big 12 Conference Men’s Coach of the Year, and sprinter Courtney Okolo was named the Women’s Indoor Track and Field Co-Outstanding Performer of the Year.
“Winning is going to continue to happen at the University of Texas at Austin,” Sategna says. “I think now more and more these athletes in that program are starting to see the light. They saw that if they pull together as a team and as a group there’s going to be some great things that happen.”
To win the Big 12 titles, the women’s team went toe-to-toe with Kansas State and pulled off the victory during the final four events with a 6.5 point lead. The men’s team, meanwhile, outperformed second-place Texas Tech by more than 40 points.
The Longhorns then competed in the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships, where each team finished sixth overall.
During the NCAA championships, Courtney Okolo won the national title in the 400 meters race, and the Longhorns also won the national title in the women’s 4×400 meter relay with the No. 5 time in collegiate history.
When it comes to cellphones, we are no better than trained rats in a box.
Just the other day, I was stuck behind a driver playing with a cellphone while driving. I have gotten used to assuming that everyone doing something silly on the road is driving while distracted.
In Austin, San Antonio and several other Texas cities, it is illegal to text or hold a phone while driving. It is also illegal to hold a phone while driving in 14 states and to text while driving in 44 states.
So, why are people still using their phones while driving, even though most of us know it leads to hundreds of thousands of injuries in distracted driving crashes each year?
Because as it turns out, most of us are addicted to our phones.
In my introductory psychology class in college, my lab partner and I got a rat to train. The rat was in a small box with a small cup that could be filled with water and a bar on one side of the cage that the rat could press.
The rat was thirsty, so the water was a great reward. At first we gave the rat water when he went near the bar, then when he brushed it, next when he touched it, and finally when he pressed it.
After that, the ideal schedule of reward was to give it water about half the time it pressed the bar randomly. This schedule keeps the rat pressing the bar for a long time.
You create this schedule of reward for yourself with cellphone use. You pull your phone out at intervals that give you the reward of a new message about half the time you check it.
Once the habit is set, you start getting a serious craving to pull out the phone when too much time goes by. Cravings are painful, and so it is easy to give in and check the phone, particularly because the odds of crashing are small, even if they are vastly higher than they would be if you drove without texting.
Unfortunately no amount of information about the dangers of distracted driving is going to change people’s behavior. The habit to pull out the cellphone is at addiction-level strength.
Hefty penalties for distracted driving help a bit, but the odds of being pulled over are also low. It would send a strong message for all states to ban texting and require hands-free devices (although even talking on a hands-free device is still distracted driving).
It would also be valuable for the media to report more of the crashes that involve distracted driving, even when they do not involve fatalities.
Beyond laws and fines, what needs to happen is people need to protect themselves from themselves.
A key principle of changing behavior is to fix the environment to make desirable behaviors easy and undesirable behaviors hard.
If you’re a cellphone junkie, then create a new habit. Before you start the car, put your cellphone in the glove compartment or the console between the seats. Otherwise, you have about the same chance of keeping yourself from checking the phone while driving that a rat does of avoiding the bar.
Art Markman is a professor of psychology and marketing at The University of Texas at Austin and author of the book “Smart Change.”
A version of this op-ed appeared in the Austin American Statesman.
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Share this story on Twitter:March 17, 2015
Police badge cams, those small, portable video recorders, are the latest tool being deployed by police departments around the U.S. to improve crime-fighting and community trust.
They are valuable, but limited, tools for building safer neighborhoods, and more is needed to foster a positive relationship between police and the public.
The Los Angeles Police Department knows this well as it reviews a set of badge cam videos from a shooting in that city that left a homeless man dead. The badge cam videos recorded one of the officers shouting that the man had grabbed for his gun, according to news reports.
The advantages of badge cams are twofold.
First, they provide another piece of evidence for the kind of tragic case unfolding in Los Angeles. Studies find that witnesses, even victims of crime, are often inaccurate and subject to cognitive bias, including racial bias. Video cameras can provide an independent visual record of events unfolding in real time.
Also, as indicated by a study from Rialto, California, where complaints about police plummeted, badge cams seem to have a preventive effect. An officer wearing a badge cam is more likely to take a deep breath before saying something inappropriate or rude in a stressful situation — and in turn is protected from bogus complaints.
Still, badge cams can only do so much in fostering goodwill between police and the public. Rogue officers can turn them off.
A badge cam also shows only the officer’s point of view, which is valuable, but that is only one perspective. The wider view from cellphone videos from Los Angeles, for instance, shows a somewhat chaotic scene with a number of officers, two suspects and many bystanders.
Camera perspective is like political perspective: The view from changes when you switch sides. This is why responsible police accountability activism, in which members of the public film police activity without interfering, is essential.
Citizens need to exercise their right to film police in public. The more perspectives, the better.
My research explores the way video must also be defined and explained. One of the most famous arrests caught on video was that of Rodney King, who was beaten by multiple officers in 1991. When defense attorneys showed the video in court in segments, explaining frame by frame what police were doing, the case ended with acquittals for all of the officers.
Trust between police departments and residents, therefore, requires more than video. Recent events in Ferguson, New York City and other parts of the U.S. have called attention to the wide disparities in the way African Americans and white Americans experience the justice system.
African American parents in Texas and across the U.S. lament the fact that they must have a “talk” with their teenagers that has nothing to do with the birds and the bees, but instead about how to respond during a police stop to avoid violence.
The hashtag trend #crimingwhilewhite, while not scientific, provides multiple anecdotes of the way white and black Americans experience policing very differently.
Badge cam video only has evidentiary value after something has happened. This is why in my classroom I spend many hours talking about stereotypes and how the brain processes visual information. Simply put, our brains respond differently — more quickly, more emotionally — to visuals, particularly fearful ones.
Even with their extensive training, police officers are humans who experience excitement, danger and fear, and they have occasion to face such emotions every day on the job.
As long as people with darker skin are stereotyped as dangerous, their appearance can spark fearful, or at worst, violent, responses.
Safer communities, therefore, require badge cams, public cameras, even-handed law enforcement and departments with diverse staffing. Video is great for a look at the evidence, but American justice is symbolized with a blindfold for good reason. Fairness is served only when everyone is “seen” the same way by the law.
Mary Bock is an assistant professor of journalism at The University of Texas at Austin.
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Share this story on Twitter:March 12, 2015
This week, U.S. News & World Report released its annual rankings of American graduate programs, and numerous UT programs were highly ranked. In engineering, law, education, and nursing UT graduate programs are ranked among the top 15 in the nation, and the University’s accounting program is No. 1.
In all, more than 50 science, social science, humanities, and professional programs and disciplines are ranked in the top 15 nationally according to the rankings, which are based on quantitative and qualitative measures, including GRE scores, student/faculty ratio, research expenditures, job placement success, and ratings of academic experts, national faculty members, and administrators.
The Cockrell School of Engineering ranks No. 10 (No. 5 among public universities) with eight specialty programs in the top 15. Law repeated as No. 15 nationally (No. 4 among publics). Education is No. 10 in the nation (No. 3 among publics), with five top-15 specialty areas. Nursing ranks No. 13 nationally (No. 5 among publics). And Business ranks No. 17 in the country (No. 5 among publics) with eight specializations in the top 15.
U.S. News & World Report does not rank every discipline in every year. Therefore several other graduate programs at UT Austin remain nationally ranked according to data from 2012-2014 that was not revised this year. Pharmacy ranks No. 4 both nationally and among publics. Geosciences ranks No. 8 for earth sciences (No. 4 among publics). Computer Science ranks No. 9 (No. 4 among publics). The School of Information ranks No. 6 (No. 5 among publics). Social Work ranks No. 7 (No. 5 among publics), and the LBJ School of Public Affairs is No. 16 (No. 8 among publics).
You can see how we ranked in additional programs here.
I’m tremendously proud of our graduate programs and the students, faculty, and administrators who make them the centers of excellence they are. Graduate education is a critical link in the higher education ecosystem, and the fact that more than 50 of our programs rank in the top 15 testifies to UT Austin’s remarkable breadth and depth.
Scientists and mathematicians at The University of Texas at Austin have reasons to celebrate pi year round. Here’s a sampling of how pi plays a central role in their research. Extrasolar Planets
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Astronomer Bill Cochran uses pi every day in his search for planets around other stars, called extrasolar planets. Pi is a key element in measuring the size and shape of an extrasolar planet’s orbit. Knowing that information about the orbit can tell you whether the planet is in a region around a star that might support life, called the habitable zone. Pi is also useful in determining the size of a planet, which is important if you want to find Earth-like planetary cousins.Drug Discovery
Computer scientist Chandrajit Bajaj uses computer simulations to predict how well a drug might bind to a drug target, such as a virus or tumor cell. Since real-life drug trials are costly, this method can help sort through drug candidates to select the most promising ones to pursue. His simulation essentially tries to stick a drug and drug target together in thousands upon thousands of different ways, like rotating pieces of a 3D jigsaw puzzle, to find a match. A formula that includes pi helps insure that these binding attempts are evenly distributed in 3D space.Tracking Tumors
Mathematician Andrew Blumberg is collaborating on a research project that charts how a person’s cancerous tumor evolves over time, with the hopes of finding more effective treatments. The genetic changes in a tumor can be mapped out in a 3D evolutionary tree. To measure how far different versions of the tumor have evolved apart — and predict how effective certain treatments might be against it — he uses a calculation that involves pi.One True Constant
Some physicists have suggested that our universe is but one of many universes, each with its own set of physical constants. These other universes might have electrons with different charges than ours, for example, or gravitational constants that are weaker or stronger. But in a system where so much seems capable of change, Bill Cochran says pi is one of those rare physical constants.
“I couldn’t imagine a different universe where pi would be different,” he says. “It’s so intimately tied to geometry and I don’t see how you could change geometry. Even if string theory is right, and there are something like 14 dimensions, as long as you have at least two dimensions, you’d still have pi.”
So celebrate Pi Day! Eat some pie. Compose a piem (that’s a poem where the number of letters in each word is equal to the corresponding digit of pi). Toss some frozen hot dogs on the floor a few hundred times and calculate the value of pi yourself. View pi-inspired art from the university community at the Art of Pi virtual exhibit. And watch for public art displays like this one at the University’s Physics Mathematics Astronomy Library, or the amazing one that appeared in the skies over downtown Austin and campus last year. An artist teamed up with an aerial advertising company to write hundreds of digits of pi a quarter mile high.
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Making Pi (Know)
Think back to your grade school days and those many times when you had to memorize a lesson. Even decades removed from the exam, you might still remember the material, even if it never had relevance in your life again.
But the ability to recall the quadratic formula, for example, masks a much bigger question: Did memorizing the material lead you to apply it to your life?
That is one of the questions raised by a recent move in Texas, Arizona and several other states to begin requiring students to pass a civics test to graduate.
North Dakota has already approved a requirement similar to Arizona’s, and South Carolina, Indiana and Utah have bills in the pipeline.
Few would dispute the statements made by the sponsor of a bill that would require Texas students to pass a civics test, Texas state Rep. Bill Zedler, who was quoted as saying “When you start having students graduate from high school who don’t know where we got our independence from and that kind of stuff, I think it’s a little frightening. I want kids to know as much as people who become citizens of the United States.”
Concern about students’ levels of civic knowledge has plagued Texas and the nation for a while. Scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress in civics barely rose between 2006 and 2010 for eighth- and 12th-graders, though they did edge up for fourth-graders.
But beyond civic knowledge, Texans should be concerned about a student’s ability to participate as an active citizen.
The most recent Texas Civic Health Index completed by the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life found startlingly low levels of civic engagement among all Texans, including young adults, on everything from voting to discussing issues to communicating with their elected representatives.
An exam that tests a student’s civic knowledge would enable and encourage some of those students to participate more actively in civic life. But research shows that three ingredients are necessary for more students to become active citizens: civic knowledge, civic skills and pro-civic attitudes.
Building all three requires a curriculum, sometimes called “action civics,” that not only teaches kids facts, but also offers an experiential learning opportunity that encourages students to identify, research, and address community needs.
From an attitudinal standpoint, students need to grasp the significance of government in their daily lives and the need for an ongoing dialogue with their elected and appointed public servants.
What is needed is a more profound project-based civics curriculum that encourages students across Texas to research current issues of interest and articulate causes and solutions. Those experiences help make civics fun, challenging and, perhaps most importantly, relevant to a student’s life.
Research shows that such experiences significantly increase a young person’s inclination to become civically active as an adult — to vote, to join a community organization, to contact elected representatives and to continue speaking out on issues that concern them for the rest of their lives.
The challenge of making students more civically literate is daunting. While adding another graduation requirement in a state with already extremely low graduation rates may give some reason to pause and while some Texans bemoan more school assessments, an exam would help make teaching civics more of a priority.
After all, if teachers are evaluated partly on the basis of their students’ test scores, then those teachers would probably be more motivated to spend more time on civics lessons if their students had to take an exam in that subject.
Students themselves might also show a greater interest in the subject if they knew that mastering the three branches of our federal government and key milestones in American political history was a key part to their advancement.
It is encouraging to see the topics of civic literacy and civic engagement entering the public consciousness in Texas.
If an exam does become required and gets paired with added resources for action civics, students would be given the opportunity to practice what is being preached, develop fluency in the language of civics, and become lifelong engaged citizens.
Regina Lawrence, Larry Schooler and Deborah Wise are affiliated with the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life at The University of Texas at Austin.
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Share this story on Twitter:March 10, 2015
This year’s Pi Day (March 14, 2015) corresponds to the first five numerals of pi (3.1415). In honor of this auspicious numerical alignment, the Physics Mathematics Astronomy Library (PMA) asked Longhorns to submit artistic representations of the ratio found in every circle (ratio of circumference to diameter). From knitting to sewing to computer-generated graphics, the interpretations illustrate the artfulness of pi. (And check out ways that UT Austin researchers use pi in their work every day.)
“Spring Pi” by PMA Libraries head librarian Molly White and Jack Moore (pinscreen impression).
“Orchard” by mathematics graduate student Aaron Fenyes (digital art). In this garden, seeds were planted in a neat grid, but not all of them grew into flowers. Each seed cast a shadow in a straight line out from the center of the garden, and the seeds planted in the shadows did not sprout. When the flowers were gathered, and the size of the harvest was measured, a factor of pi appeared. I do not know why pi came to this orderly garden, shaped only by straight lines. Perhaps it was attracted by the buzzing of the bees, as it is by all music?
“Pi Pile” by mathematics graduate student Aaron Fenyes (digital art). This pile was made by dropping twelve thousand balls through a giant pachinko machine, with six thousand layers of pins. Its height reflects, as expected, the number of balls and the number of pins, but it also contains a factor of pi. I do not know why pi took a hand in this game, which should have been ruled only by the laws of chance. Perhaps it was attracted by the thought that, in a three-dimensional pachinko machine, the balls would have fallen in a circular pile?
“Pi Spiral” by astronomy graduate student Aaron Javier Juarez (digital art – Python scripting language). This work contains 3,000 digits of pi, approximated will a simple generator function. The background is 314 stacked circles with different radii and colors, to give the illusion of a color gradient.
“Special Triangles of Pi” by astronomy graduate student Aaron Javier Juarez, (digital art – Python scripting language). This work conveys the special right triangles [red (30-60-90 deg), green (45-45-90 deg), and blue (60-30-90 deg) triangles] and their angles found from the unit circle. Along the vertical center of the piece are equilateral triangles whose sides are scaled by a factor of pi from one another. The “fog” effect of the color in the background is actually many encircling circles with varying opacity. In fact, all the gradients you see are illusions, created by many stacked shapes with varying colors.
“Pi Pincushion” by PMA Libraries librarian Dave Gilson (bamboo yarn, straight pins). Knit in the round, starting by increasing in stitches and ending by reducing the number of stitches. These increases and decreases change the radius which in turns changes the circumference of the row being knit causing the base to expand and then the top to contract until it is closed up.
“Berry Hot Pi” by Life Sciences Library head librarian Nancy Elder (cotton fabric). I used π to calculate the circumference of the pie.
This story is part of our series “The Creative Campus,” which showcases student creativity. Learn more about the Creative 40 Acres program, which supports student artistic expression at the university.
Like any top-notch university, The University of Texas at Austin campus is home to state-of-the-art labs, extensive library collections and hundreds of classrooms designed to enrich the student experience.
But that’s not where education or the campus identity ends.
Spend any time on the Forty Acres, and you’ll find yourself encountering some rather extraordinary art, even if you don’t seek it out — and often without setting foot inside a building. That’s due in large part to Landmarks, the university’s public art program that launched in 2008.
At 36 pieces and counting, the Landmarks collection helps ensure UT is not only an academic campus, but a cultured one, too. Much like the classroom discussions and lab experiments taking place around them, the sculptures, murals, videos and installations Landmarks brings to UT create a vibrant campus that encourages new ideas, debates and thoughtful reflection.
We took a closer look at five important pieces of campus art and their relationships to the settings in which they reside.Gates Dell Complex / A Mathematical Theory of Communication Photo by Paul Bardagjy.
Artist and Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate Casey Reas, whose work has been exhibited at the San Francisco Museum of Art and the Art Institute of Chicago, is the co-creator of an open-source programming language called Processing, which he manipulates to produce digital art.
Reas’ A Mathematical Theory of Communication is a mural on two separate walls in The Bill & Melinda Gates Computer Science Complex & Dell Computer Science Hall (map). The piece is a site-specific commission for Landmarks and is named after a seminal 1948 article of the same name that helped establish the field of information theory.
In her artist entry for the piece, New School faculty member Christiane Paul writes, “A Mathematical Theory of Communication puts viewers in the middle of the data landscape, inviting them to experience algorithms and the digital medium in both its fidelity and uncertainties. While the murals create this experience on the basis of specific imagery, they raise questions about perception that ultimately apply to any work of digital (or even visual) art: how do images communicate their message and how do we decode and perceive them?”
In other words, it’s both art and science.Walter Cronkite Plaza / And That’s the Way It Is Photo by Paul Bardagjy.
Evoking legendary newsman and UT alumnus Walter Cronkite’s broadcast sign-off, And That’s the Way It Is projects a grid of text from televised news broadcasts onto one of the Moody College of Communication buildings that overlooks the plaza (map) every evening.
Landmarks commissioned the piece in 2012 from sound designer and visual artist Ben Rubin. His own software scans and selects segments of closed caption transcripts of live network news and archival transcripts of Cronkite’s vintage CBS Evening News broadcasts, each displaying in a different typography. As daily news is generated, the language adapts to reflect current events, connecting the past and present in surprising and poetic ways.
Cronkite attended UT in the 1930s and studied political science, economics and journalism. He also worked for the university newspaper, The Daily Texan, which is headquartered across the plaza from the video projection. He was anchorman and managing editor for the CBS Evening News from 1962 to 1981, and his personal archive is housed at UT’s Briscoe Center for American History.
[Related: Five Great Longhorn Speeches]Student Activity Center / The Color Inside The Color Inside during the day (left) and during a light sequence (right). Photos by Florian Holzherr.
When the new Student Activity Center (map) was being designed, students requested a “reflection room” for the building, which is bustling with Longhorns attending events, grabbing lunch and studying. Now, perched on the roof above that constant activity, sits The Color Inside, by renowned “sculptor of light” James Turrell.
The structure, designed specifically for the university, is one of Turrell’s signature Skyspace naked-eye observatories. The Color Inside is an elliptical white-plaster tower with an oval opening in the ceiling. A black basalt bench lines the reclining walls, with room for just 25 people.
At sunrise and sunset custom LED lights unleash brilliant washes of color on the ceiling, morphing slowly between all manner of pinks, purples, whites, greens and yellows. Meanwhile, the sky changes color with the rising or setting of the sun and in comparison to the ceiling. In one sunset sequence, the sky shifts from indigo to gray to rust and then finally a vivid teal set against saturated watermelon LEDs.
The design of the tower and the intensity of the lights sometimes make it impossible to discern sky from ceiling. All sense of depth seems to disappear.
“I hope that people find it as a place of refuge, a way to cultivate attention and have a moment of quiet in a busy day,” says Landmarks director Andrée Bober, who hopes the piece becomes a new university icon.Perry-Castañeda Library / Square Tilt Left to right: Photos by Ben Aqua and Paul Bardagjy
In its 2014 “Best of Austin” critics poll, the Austin Chronicle named the Perry-Castañeda Library (PCL) Austin’s “Best Brutalist Architecture,” a prime example of the midcentury architecture movement that once produced massive concrete structures but has since fallen out of fashion. The exterior of the PCL (map), which opened in 1977, displays all the hallmarks of Brutalism. In the words of the Chronicle, the PCL has “an imposing fortress-like appearance, sharp angles, a complex form out of simple geometry, rough macro-texture of repetitive windows, and those awesome walls of concrete that threaten to smash your ignorant meatbrain into a state of education.”
It’s also an intriguing backdrop for the off-balance, abstract piece, Square Tilt, which sits on the PCL plaza. Constructed in 1983 by Joel Perlman, and on permanent loan from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Square Tilt is a 10-foot-tall open rectangular frame made of steel with smaller geometric steel plates attached at various angles. It possesses a sense of liveliness and uncertainty that stands in contrast to the PCL’s weighty, dense demeanor.
And yet, as a portal, which Perlman’s work is often likened to, Square Tilt is a natural partner for the university’s main library, home to 70 miles of book stacks, 3.2 million volumes and countless students cramming for finals.
Consider this line from the artist entry about the sculpture: “Square Tilt consequently carries connotations of openness, far horizons, and passage into other domains of perception and thought.”
On a good day, that’s what happens at the library, too.
[Related: Five Great UT Ideas]Bass Concert Hall / Various Sculptures Clockwise from top: Column of Peace by Antoine Pevsner (Photo by Robert Boland), Untitled (Seven Mountains) by Ursula von Rydingsvard (Photo by Mark Menjivar), Amphora by Bryan Hunt (Photo by Mark Menjivar) and The Swan’s Dream of Leda by David Hare (Photo by Mark Menjivar).
A goal of the Landmarks program is to be a primary resource for students in their fields of study, art or otherwise. Take the recent “Sound in Sculpture” concert, which featured the premiere performance of five compositions by Butler School of Music students inspired by sculptures in Bass Concert Hall (map). Each original work was performed next to the sculpture that inspired it, with musician and audience member sometimes less than three feet apart.
Music composition doctoral student Elizabeth Anne Cominellis was drawn to artist Antoine Pevsner’s Column of Peace (top row, above), located on the east side of the fourth floor of Bass. The bronze sculpture, created in 1954, was meant as a monument to postwar peace and was actually a model for a large memorial that was never realized.
Taking cues from the sculpture’s four intersecting, upwardly rising diagonal arms, Cominellis composed a piece that “share(s) melodic material among instruments” and that contains various textures and timbres, reminiscent of the sculpture’s delicate ridges. The trajectory of the columns is echoed in the conclusion of her composition, which is titled “Peace I Leave with You,” a reference to the promise Jesus Christ makes in the New Testament. “Much as the sculpture shoots to the top and fans outward slightly, each instrument, as the music draws to a close, rises to a dramatic peak, each playing in its most extreme high register,” Cominellis explains.