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Rice senior selected as Rhodes scholar

(12/01/15 4:42pm)

Since a young age, Tom Carroll has cultivated a passion for both the sciences and humanities, which he will pursue next year through the Rhodes Scholarship at the University of Oxford in England. Carroll is currently the president of Brown College and the president and co-founder of the Rice Classics Club. “I did a lot of Latin in high school, but I’ve also been a science fan,” Carroll, a Brown College senior, said. “My parents are both material scientists, so science was a pretty big part of my household growing up. Latin was kind of my rebellious phase, but it always stuck with me.” The Rhodes Scholarship, created in 1902 by the will of British philanthropist Cecil Rhodes, provides all expenses for two to three years of study at Oxford. One of the most famous academic awards for American college graduates, the Rhodes selects 32 applicants on the basis of intellect, character, leadership and commitment to service, according to the Rhodes press release. To apply, students must first seek endorsements from their universities. This year, 2000 students sought endorsements, and 869 were chosen by 316 different universities. The scholarship committees interview the strongest applicants in each of the 16 geographical U.S. districts and select two students per district.Carroll is the 12th Rhodes scholar from Rice University. The last Rice student to win the scholarship was Ye Jin Kang (Will Rice ’11) in 2011. Carroll, a biochemistry and classics double major, plans to complete a doctorate in clinical medicine, integrating his interests through the lens of cancer research.“I’ve done not only science research and classics, but also bioethics, mythology, just trying to get a taste of everything,”  Carroll said. “That’s really influenced how I do my science research, just different methods and trying the same problem from a lot of angles.”Carroll found overlap between different fields in their research methodologies. He is currently working in the field of tumor immunology, a crossroads between cancer and the function of the immune system. He is also researching his senior thesis, a study of Proto-Indo-European mythology and language. “People hypothesize it existed, but they’ve never seen it firsthand because it’s so old that there’s no written record of it,” Carroll said. “For something like this, when you’re looking at something you have so little information on, you have to take a lot of different angles to see the full picture.”By combining methods from various disciplines, Carroll hopes to be a part of the push to find a broad cure for cancer, rather than a specific treatment for a targeted therapy. “A lot of cancer researchers are doing great work in their own specialized field,” Carroll said. “But cancer is such a diverse entity, so heterogeneous, that it’s going to be difficult to arrive at a cure coming from one perspective.”Carroll, who has a family history of cancer, gets his motivation from helping the millions of families who are affected by cancer every year. “I’ve always had an idea that this is the direction I want to take with my career,” Carroll said. The Rhodes scholarship came to Carroll’s attention this summer. His interest in Oxford stemmed from its strength in cancer research, but also its other distinguished programs, particularly its classics department, which is the oldest in the world. “It’s a place where I can continue building on my set of broad perspectives,” Carroll said. “Continuing to challenge myself with ideas from a variety of fields is going to be key for my intellectual development, especially with the sort of research philosophy I’m looking to cultivate, and I think Oxford will be the ideal place to do just that.”

Teaching consultations draw faculty interest

(11/04/15 3:25am)

Rice’s Center for Teaching Excellence offers services such as teaching consultations, in class observations and workshops to help individual instructors develop effective teaching methods. According to CTE Director Joshua Eyler, 34 percent of instructional faculty utilized these services from the center’s founding in 2012 to March 2015. “We always want more, but we are very pleased with that figure,” Eyler said. “In comparison with our peers, that’s high. We are at least on the same curve as our peers like Northwestern [University], which has a very established center that’s been around for decades.”Faculty schedule appointments with the CTE on an individual basis and can have CTE members sit in on their classes to follow up. All consultations are confidential and operate independently of the university’s official evaluative structure, which deals with tenure, promotion and student evaluations, according to Eyler.“Faculty can come to us without any worry about how it will affect their career,” Eyler said. “For someone to talk about their teaching, that’s a very personal thing.” Due to the confidentiality policy, there is no public record of courses that have been changed or restructured through consultation services. Baker College sophomore Alex Hayes said he wants to see more transparency in how teaching consultations may improve courses. “I would like to know if utilization of CTE services actually results in improved courses,” Hayes said. “We have course review data, so this shouldn’t be difficult.” According to Eyler, there are no reliable ways to measure course improvement. “There are methods to measure effectiveness of our services but none are perfect,” Eyler said.Steven Cox, a CTE fellow, said the center does not gather data on course improvement. “The CTE is a resource for teachers at Rice,” Cox said. “Those that seek consultations with the CTE expect and deserve a consultation fitted to their unique station rather than to a generic rubric. As no metric is applied, no data is gathered.Baker College sophomore Emily Rao said she would like to see the effects of student feedback.“Increased transparency especially in large intro classes would be really helpful,” Rao said.Cox said student evaluations of courses are sometimes used in CTE consultations. “As each consultation is tailored to the individual, it is up to that individual to bring student evaluations into the mix,” Cox said.Student feedback has been incorporated into several of the CTE’s counterpart programs. Northwestern University’s Searle Center for Advanced Learning and Teaching, established in 1992, offers discussion groups for students to provide constructive feedback directly to their professors, according to the Searle Center’s website.Duncan College sophomore Manlin Yao said she is in favor of a dialogue between professors and students about the quality of instruction.“Even with the end-of-semester course reviews, there might not actually be a change in instruction,” Yao said. “Students would also be more honest if they knew that their reviews are actually being considered.Hayes said the faculty are inconsistent in considering  student evaluations.“I was frustrated to learn that one of my professors from last year didn’t even know she had received student feedback,” Hayes said.According to Eyler, the best route for a student is to raise concerns about a course directly with the professor first, with the department chair second and with the school dean third. “Because the CTE is not an evaluative office, we would not be involved with complaints in this way,” Eyler said. Dean of Undergraduates John Hutchinson said students have approached him with such complaints in the past. “There are a number of cases of students letting me know of their concerns about the teaching in a specific course, Hutchinson said. “Students do come to me for advice or assistance, and we are always able to work through a process that results in improvement.”All statistics available at the CTE are presented publicly at the annual Advisory Board Meeting in March. 

Metrolab partnership means possible campus B-cycle station

(10/20/15 9:21pm)

Rice University’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research in collaboration with the City of Houston is examining the possibility of installing B-Cycle stations around campus to make the university an extension of Houston’s bike rental network. The initiative is an offshoot of a joint research project between Kinder and the city to study bicycle user trends with pooled data from Houston, Austin, Fort Worth and Denver. The report is due for release in November.

Professors reflect on distribution classes

(09/23/15 5:11am)

Any Rice undergraduate who has sought academic advice from other students will more likely than not have heard the words “easy distribution credit.” It should come as no surprise that positively skewed grade distributions, light work loads and generous course reviews are tantalizing features to students looking to knock out graduation requirements. From the student’s point of view, it is entirely clear why taking a low effort “blow off” instead of a more demanding course is a desirable, even strategic option.

Student, professor partner to found start-up ‘Data Design Co_’

(09/01/15 2:28pm)

“I think that if data is expressed in the right ways and contextualized properly, it can be visualized in a way that people will understand it and gain something new from that perspective.”This is the guiding principle of Data Design Co_, a startup founded by Brown College junior Brian Barr and Matthew Wettergreen, engineering design lecturer at the Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen. Over the summer, the pair designed, manufactured and marketed a series of household objects that Barr says he hopes will change the way people look at data. The flagship product, “Houston: A Story of Sprawl in 5 Coasters,” illustrates the growth of the Houston metropolitan area from 1836 to the present day with glass drink coasters, each laser etched with a map of the city at a different point in time. “We want to make objects that act as a conversation piece and can use data as a way to do that,” Barr said. “So this is interesting because if you had this at a dinner party or something like that you could look at it and compare between coasters. People could talk about how Houston has really grown.”Barr said the coasters received positive feedback, and he plans to expand the project to encompass the gradual expansions of Los Angeles, Chicago and New York. However, he said the long-term goal is to move beyond the coasters and continue creating novel tools for data visualization. “This is one cool idea, but we have a whole bunch of things that fit within the umbrella of what we’re trying to do,” Barr said. “Like we make other household objects. And from there, I think we just need to focus on sales and focus on designing more things. So our goal is to come up with one product a month.”The idea for the business stemmed from Barr’s final project for the course Fabrication and Design, a woodcut map of Houston in which zip codes were elevated to different heights based on the number of people registered to vote per capita.“We thought it was pretty neat, but not very useful,” Barr said. “I use it as a jar opener now. But there’s something about seeing it so stark, where you have one section of a city is raised much higher than the other sections right in front of you.”The initial inspiration led Barr and Wettergreen on a path to help others visualize and interact with data.  The duo began brainstorming product ideas, figuring out supply chain logistics and filing for an LLC, culminating in the startup’s July launch. Barr said neither he nor Wettergreen had originally aimed to start a business, but they ended up finding a shared interest in the process. “I don’t think it was so much that he was picking anybody to start a startup with,” Barr said. “I think we just had a really good working relationship, but also a creative relationship. It was something we were both invested in.”When Data Design Co_ first started, Barr and Wettergreen funded the venture out of pocket, manufacturing the items themselves and covering the cost of materials. However, for Barr, it was never about the money. “This is what you’d call a lifestyle business,” Barr said. “It makes just enough money to sustain itself. If I wanted to make a ton of money, we would’ve done something else. But this gives me a chance to exercise a set of skills that aren’t really addressed by other aspects of the engineering curriculum.”Barr said while he wishes Rice’s engineering programs offered more design opportunities, some of his most valuable experiences came from looking outside the curriculum. “There’s no formal program in design, so you should create your own, do things that interest you,” Barr said. “So I think just working on projects on your own, even if you don’t launch a business or manufacture anything, just going through the exercises will help you build up a portfolio. I think taking art classes is good, just doing it on your own. It’s not too hard.”

New students reassigned colleges

(08/27/15 11:18am)

Several new students faced last-minute changes to their living situations due to a higher than expected number of students committing to Rice University this fall. According to Dean of Undergraduates John Hutchinson, as of the beginning of August, 11 new students were initially scheduled to share rooms with upperclassmen in order to secure a spot on campus.“We are seeking to provide incentives to upperclassmen to overcrowd their rooms, some financial incentives for them to do that to make spaces for new students,” Hutchinson said. “I would prefer not to overcrowd the rooms of new students since they don’t have a context for knowing what they’re volunteering for if they do that.”Mark Ditman, associate vice president of Housing and Dining, said the incentives work in such a way to prevent students from taking advantage and overcrowding just to save on room and board.“What we don’t want to do is incentivize people to overcrowd a room to save money,” Ditman said. “We think that can have some bad consequences over time. ... Once a bed became available in the college, you had to unwind the overcrowd, and that person would go in the open bed. If they wanted to overcrowd instead of the open bed they could, but the financial incentive would terminate once a bed became open.”However, according to Hutchinson, in cases where colleges could not accommodate any more students, new students were transferred from their original assigned colleges to other colleges where extra beds opened up over the summer. “Four new students chose to live in a different college because we could house them there, and then chose to become members of that college rather than remain members of the college they were originally assigned to,” Hutchinson said. “Two other students very much wanted to remain assigned to the college they were originally assigned to, and in the end, they were actually able to get beds where they were originally assigned.” According to Baker Orientation Week coordinator Sylvia Omozee, two international students originally assigned to Will Rice College were switched to Baker College the day before O-Week started. “They were basically putting new students wherever there were rooms around campus,” Omozee, a Baker College senior, said. “It just so happened that there were things with upperclassmen at Baker who went off campus and there was a double that opened in Baker ‘New New.’”According to Omozee, while the advisors adapted quickly and the new students have adjusted well, the situation was precarious, especially from the new students’ perspective. “I think it’s unfair to promise new students housing in their specific college without intentions of keeping that promise,” Omozee said. “As a new student, I would’ve been wondering, ‘Why me? Why not another student? Was there something about my roommate form that made them think they didn’t want me in their college?’” Hutchinson said that while administration did in fact receive complaints from several of the new students’ parents, his office addressed them accordingly.“We received a small number of concerns from parents, but not very many,” Hutchinson said. “We certainly made sure that we let parents know that we were attentive to the situation, that we were not worried about whether people were going to be able to get beds or not, but that there were some uncontrolled factors that had to play out before we would know for certain where everybody was going to be housed. And parents seemed to understand that pretty well.”According to Omozee, the situation also put a strain on the coordinators, who worked all summer to match roommates and assign rooms, only to find that the expected number of students was higher. Omozee said that while the coordinators were not specifically at fault, certain colleges received complaints from students and parents.   “One particular college kept getting angry emails from at first a new student, then the student’s parents asking why they didn’t have a room,” Omozee said. “Which is completely understandable to be upset about. So we definitely got some heat from that, not specifically Baker, but we have received a lot of heat that is not necessarily our fault, and there was nothing we could do about it. One thing I’m really proud about was that the other 31 coordinators and was that we handled it in a way that despite the things that happened we could still figure it out and put on O-Week.”Omozee said she thinks overcrowding would have been more successful had the financial incentives proposed to upperclassmen been greater.  “I think [administration] just needs better policies if something like this were to happen again,” Omozee said. “The discount given is not enough. So maybe if a higher discount was given, then maybe a better discount would be a solution to that issue. It was more like, this is what you get coordinators, just deal with it.”According to Hutchinson, only two students accepted incentives to move off campus and create space for incoming students.“We did in fact put incentives out there, and students did not find those incentives enticing enough to want to make a move,” Hutchinson said. “We examined different ways to encourage different students to move, and in the end, it was a relatively small number who moved to make room for some of the entering freshmen. It turned out it was only two students who did that. But it turned out that that was what we needed.”According to Hutchinson, the administration will take steps to reduce last-minute transfers in the future while housing many students on campus as possible. However, uncertainties persist that make this a difficult process. “We will make adjustments next year to try to minimize anxiety, but in the end we knew we were going to be able to house people,” Hutchinson said. “We try to balance two conflicting demands. One is we’d like to have as much flexibility as possible and try to house everybody in a situation that is optimal for them. And we’d also like to have as many people live on campus because people want to live on campus. We don’t want to have a bunch of people living off campus while we have a bunch of vacancies.”According to Omozee, however, as O-Week got nearer, there was not much more that could have been done to account for a higher yield. “I think because the issue of overcrowding wasn’t realized until later in the game, there was no way really to move the date of college assignments without students wondering, ‘Where is my college assignment?’” Omozee said. “It would have been better than people coming to O-week and they don’t know what college they’re going to. In all honesty, I think this was the best case scenario for the situation we were given. I’m not happy with the situation. But at this point it’s done. The new students love Baker, so it’s fine.”According to Susann Glenn, communications manager for H&D, the overcrowding system has existed since before 2000 and has been well received by students.“We haven’t heard any pushback because we incentivize certain things for those who participated in that,” Glenn said. “So if anything, we received eagerness from those who have agreed to help us out. … This isn’t a decision that we make on our own as an administration. We need students, to make sure we’re serving [their] needs.”

Houston mayor honors Ping with "Y. Ping Sun Day"

(06/25/15 7:57pm)

Houston Mayor Annise Parker officially designated April 23, 2015 as Y. Ping Sun Day in honor of the Rice University representative and Houston community leader. City councilwoman Ellen Cohen presented Sun with the proclamation at the fifth annual Girl Scouts’ Success to Significance luncheon this April on behalf of Parker, who was out of the country.

Rice administration faces student, faculty concerns over rising tuition

(04/15/15 10:10am)

As students fret over their GPAs, they can rest assured that there is one number that will not be dropping anytime soon. Concern is growing across campus in light of the administration’s recent announcement that the cost of tuition will rise to $41,560 for the next academic year, a 4.2 percent increase from this year’s cost of $39,880. Over the last 15 years, tuition has climbed by 135 percent, with the new total cost of attendance amounting to $55,903. Brown College Student Association senator Andrew Gatherer, who is leading an initiative in response to the tuition increase, said the administration must provide more information when addressing the rising costs. “I think it would be useful to see where the increased tuition is going,” Gatherer, a freshman, said. “You don’t really see the effects of [increased tuition] in the university. We don’t really know where it goes.”Professor of earth science Jerry Dickens stated in a letter to the Thresher that the administration must clearly explain the tuition hikes, referring to Vice President of Finance Kathy Collins’ statement that the money will be used for “educating students, faculty salaries, library resources and other operational expenses.”“The Rice community, especially students and parents, deserve at least an accurate answer for the skyrocketing tuition,” Dickens said. “I think most professors at Rice would be happily amazed by anything close to a salary increase rate of 135 percent over the last 15 years.”According to Collins, however, tuition increases help cover a number of costs beyond faculty salaries. “I did not say faculty salaries have increased 135 percent over the last 15 years,” Collins said. “I explained that tuition increases help cover a number of costs, and I cited a few examples, including faculty salaries, library resources and other operational expenses.”Vision for the Second CenturyCollins said tuition increases over the past decade have helped expand resources like the Program in Writing and Communication, create new undergraduate minors, bolster academic advising and wellness services and build projects like the Moody Center for the Arts, to be unveiled in 2016. “Inspired by our strategic plan known as the Vision for the Second Century, Rice has invested in strengthening and expanding the quality and range of its educational, research, recreational and community service opportunities,” Collins said.Rice’s operating expenses increased by 129 percent from 2001 to 2014 as a result of the investment in the Vision for the Second Century, according to Collins. Three major revenue sources — endowment distribution (57 percent), net tuition revenue (26 percent) and overhead recovery on grants (5 percent)  — account for 88 percent of the revenues to support the core budget.  Keeping the Cost AffordableAccording to Collins, Rice has tried to keep the rising tuition costs affordable through financial aid and loan programs. Rice’s financial aid packages currently require no more than $2,500 a year in loans and require no loans for families making $80,000 or less in annual income. According to data from the Federal Student Aid website, the unsubsidized federal loan maximum for first-year undergraduates is $9,500.“Rice has made an effort to keep its tuition about $5,000 to $6,000 less than most of its peers while also providing a generous financial aid policy to keep Rice affordable to qualified students from all socio-economic backgrounds,” Collins said. According to Gatherer, despite these efforts, there are still issues with transparency between students and the Office of Financial Aid that he is looking to address through the SA.“A lot of students have trouble connecting with the office,” Gatherer said. “They have to speak to many people before they actually realize how much money they owe and where it’s coming from.”Shaian Mohammadian, recipient of the Beverly and Donald Bonham Scholarship, said he experienced a lack of communication with the Office of Financial Aid.“I didn’t even know there was a tuition increase, and no one from the office has notified me about anything,” Mohammadian, a Jones College freshman said. “The transparency doesn’t seem to be where it needs to be, for sure.”Gatherer said that in light of the tuition increase, students should be aware of how rising costs affect their financial aid plans. “A lot of information is available on their website, but a lot of the time, you don’t realize the specifics for you until you’ve talked to about four or five people at the office,” Gatherer said. “We want to make sure students don’t feel like they’re sinking.”Gatherer said the SA also wants to ensure that the university expands their financial aid and loan programs to accompany rising tuition costs. “It’s not really the SA’s place to complain to the university about how much tuition is,” Gatherer said. “But what the SA is doing is, we’re trying to nullify the bad effects of increasing tuition. Some people come in with so much money in scholarships, and they feel that over the four years they see that money disappear, and if not marginalized, because of the increase in tuition.”Gatherer said despite the current problems with financial aid, he is confident that the office is willing to cooperate with the SA.“I know they’re very busy dealing with all the students who need financial aid,” Gatherer said. “But they are receptive to student concerns. It’s just about having that outline and knowing how much money you’re going to pay.”

Sid Rich party theme change unrelated to Title IX talks, 'not a new problem'

(03/25/15 4:47pm)

A varied crowd of flower children and prep school students filled Sid Richardson College this past Saturday for their annual spring semester public party. In previous years, “Sid Schoolgirls” accumulated a wide following of students dressed in button-down shirts, ties and skirts. This year, however, the new theme, “Sidstock,” marked a change in tradition that, according to Sid Richardson President Lauren Schmidt, was only a matter of time and was unrelated to Title IX.“Since its conception, every year Sidizens have come forward and either talked to [resident associates] or masters about how uncomfortable the theme makes them feel,” Schmidt, a junior, said. According to Schmidt, this is not the first time the college changed the theme of the public.“The opposition to the schoolgirls theme is definitely not a new problem,” Schmidt said. “Last year, the theme was [discussed] too late to change it. So the socials changed the name to ‘The Academy’ to diffuse the schoolgirls connotation, which elicits a lot of negative emotions should the person have experience with some sort of rape in high school.” Schmidt said the college’s executive council met this past September to gauge student opinion in response to the controversy surrounding the party. The council initiated an open forum for Sidizens to voice their concerns in addition to releasing an anonymous survey containing questions like, “What offends you about the theme?” and “What would you like to see changed about the party?”“We looked at the feedback and it was clear we needed to change the theme because it did elicit negative emotions from a lot of people,” Schmidt said. “Whether or not they attended the party wasn’t the issue. It was more that, as a college, we were institutionalizing the sexualization of underage women, and that was unacceptable.”As a result, Sid Richardson’s election process for socials this year happened earlier than usual to ensure that the socials could lead the selection of the new theme. According to Schmidt, however, the theme change was not popular with everyone. “Some people liked the classy attire of schoolgirls, but we couldn’t come up with a theme that embodied that without objectifying women,” Schmidt said. “There were a lot of schoolgirls at Sidstock. I don’t know if that’s a protest of the theme change, or people just trying to have some fun.”Schmidt said she views the change as positive regardless.“[Some] people were saddened to see [the schoolgirls theme] go, but there were definitely people excited to see it go,” Schmidt said.  “I think the change was positive because I firmly believe that if something makes people uncomfortable, then it should change. And the minority opinion is very important to me.”According to Schmidt, the open forum talks were successful in creating a safe environment for students to vocalize their opinions.“I [would say] that you could use the discussion at Sid as a model for how people should go about discussing things in the college that make them uncomfortable,” Schmidt said.Despite rumors, the name change is unrelated to recent events and controversies surrounding Title IX, federal legislation that prohibits discrimination in education on the basis of sex, according to Schmidt. “We started the discussion last year, so it’s totally unrelated,” Schmidt said. “It just happened that the timing of our party happened after the events.”Schmidt also said the college did not change the name under any pressure from the administration.“The perception I’ve been feeling from [the] campus in general is that a lot of people think the administration made us change the name, which is not the case,” Schmidt said. “It was an initiative started by a few Sidizens in the spring and our outgoing president Nick Cornell, who really pushed to have a safe discussion about it [and] see how people felt about the party and what needed to change so that we could have a safe environment.”Schmidt said she is confident the change will proceed smoothly in coming years. “Sid will decide in the fall whether or not we like Sidstock and want it to be a continuing theme or whether we want to [change] every year,” Schmidt said. “As far as schoolgirls showing up to Sidstock, institutional memory is only four years. So four years down the road, I bet there’ll be much fewer schoolgirls at Sidstock.”Ana Gonzalez, a Sid Richardson College freshman, said the theme change was well supported among the college community. “We as freshmen didn’t really know about the Schoolgirls party to begin with,” Gonzalez said. “But we all worked hard to give Sidstock a positive image.”Akeem Ogunkeye, a Jones College sophomore who attended the party last year, said he enjoyed Sidstock just as much.“It was generally the same this year as it was last year,” Ogunkeye said. “At the time I hadn’t even thought about [the theme], but if anyone complained I understand why it was changed. I’m okay with it. I know a lot of people who miss the theme, but it is what it is.”