<![CDATA[The Rice Thresher]]> Wed, 22 Mar 2023 07:30:36 -0500 Wed, 22 Mar 2023 07:30:36 -0500 SNworks CEO 2023 The Rice Thresher <![CDATA[Muslim students and H&D prepare for Ramadan]]> The Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins this week, falling between March 22 to April 20 this year, overlapping with events such as Beer Bike and the end of the semester. Observers fast from dawn until dusk, which is approximately 13 hours in Houston, to practice spiritual devotedness.

Housing & Dining will continue accommodations that debuted last year, which include providing extended servery hours for students needing to break their fast and halal options, according to H&D. Summer Shabana, co-president of the Muslim Student Association, said the ongoing conversations between H&D and the MSA allowed these accommodations to continue to expand.

Since many students expressed interest in opting out of the meal plan because they were fasting, there was an interest for both H&D and MSA to create accommodations with extended hours, Shabana said. This year, iftar, the meal to break fast, will be available at West Servery from 7:45 to 8:30 p.m., and suhoor, eaten at dawn, will be available for pick up as well.

"Chef Kyle was especially interested in providing food for us that was representative of our cultures, so it was really nice because people felt at home," Shabana said.

For many first year students, like Ayaan Riaz, a freshman at Will Rice, this Ramadan will be the first away from home. Riaz said he is happy to see Rice accommodating the needs of the few hundred students who observe Ramadan.

"There's a lot of anxiety around it now because I'm so far away from home," Riaz said. "I don't have my mom's cooking, the schedule is so much more busy, so it's like there's a lot of new variables I have to take into account."

While last year's take-home suhoor options were limited, this year's menu includes expanded protein options, according to Shabana.

Will Rice President Gazi Fuad said access to food options throughout the night is something he is trying to budget for. Other colleges also plan to stock communal kitchens with food for those fasting.

The MSA also presented to the Student Association and Faculty Senate about what the observance of Ramadan would mean for Muslim students, including possible accommodations faculty could make for students. Bridget Gorman, dean of undergraduates, said the presentation was received well at Faculty Senate, and that most instructors try to support students observing religious holidays.

"During my time at Rice, I've noticed more conversations about accommodations in general, including for religious reasons," Gorman said. "I think there's increased recognition that the circumstances students manage as it relates to their ability to successfully navigate and complete their academic obligations can vary for a lot of reasons."

While administration has made significant strides in accommodating religious celebrations, Ambreen Younas, co-president of the MSA, still feels like there is work to be done.

"I think year after year, [seeking accommodations] keeps falling on us," Younas said. "And then the response we get is, 'Oh, we can't really do anything now, but maybe in the future,' but then no one really takes initiative in the future to remember us or keep us in mind. And always, I feel like a lot of … Muslim student needs come as an afterthought in a lot of areas of the Rice experience."

As the student population has grown, the MSA continues to grow with it. The association is hosting many events throughout the month, including a Ramadan Gala, MSA x BSA x HACER H&D Appreciation Day, Ask a Muslim and a Fast-a-thon which Shabana and Younas encourage everyone to attend as they aim to foster a community for Muslim students at Rice.

<![CDATA[Beer Bike to divide races amid safety concerns]]> Beer Bike races will be held in two heats this year, instead of the traditional singular race, according to Anne Wang, a campus-wide Beer Bike coordinator. The change is in light of last year's crash during the women's race, which injured three bikers and sent one to the hospital.

Associate Director of Campus Events Petre Herbert said that the decision to hold the races as two separate heats was collectively made by administration and students.

"[Bikers and pit crew] have a higher risk for physical injury during the actual race, as they are in the lanes … Two heats reduce the amount of people on the track at once, which allows bikers to navigate around [fewer] people while riding," Herbert wrote in an email to the Thresher. "We were also looking to the future as a twelfth college would be joining us."

According to Wang, safety precautions are imposed by administration, risk management and other entities, and not the Rice Program Council.

Wiess College Beer Bike Coordinator Matthew Sheets said that administration considered breathalyzing chuggers, but ultimately decided against it.

Wang also said RPC is seeking to move the breath alcohol screening to later in the day, compared to previous years. Wang said the exact blood alcohol percentage cutoffs are yet to be determined.

"We're working on giving the bikers [and] pit crew a better check-in process so that they can breathalyze closer to when they enter the track," Wang said. "But that won't be finalized until we meet with campus partners, Beer Bike Coords and others this upcoming Wednesday."

Sheets also said that the race winners will be determined once race times and penalties are finalized, as they have been in the past, and there will still be one winner for the men's race and one for the women's. He also said that the heats makes the reveal more exciting.

"[The results reveal] was always a part of the Beer Bike experience, but I think that it will seem like it's a bigger part now that you don't have any direct comparison," Sheets said.

Sid Richardson College Beer Bike Coordinator Akshay Sethi said an additional safety measure included repairing the bike track over spring break.

"There were a lot of bumps [so] the track was not safe up until last week," Sethi, a sophomore, said. "In the next week or so there will be [biking] time trials, and we'll have that last test for track safety."

As one of the individuals leading campus-wide biker certifications, Suraj Chandramouli said the process is not very intensive.

"We have official rider certifications where we check the skills of [bikers], but it's very rudimentary." Chandramouli, a sophomore on the Hanzen bike team, said. "It's just making sure that [bikers] can ride a road bike, get on and off, clip in and out and [bikers] can ride around the track safely."

Chandramouli said he is concerned about the placement of the track barricades.

"I'm not a fan of the metal barriers being placed so close to the track, especially because [for] a lot of people, Beer Bike is the only time they race," Chandramouli said. "If they get nervous or if they lose control, [they] don't get a lot of runoff area to stop before going into a metal barrier."

Chandramouli also said he is concerned by the relative inexperience of many bikers.

"A lot of people don't have experience riding in groups, especially because it's hard to get group experience at Rice," Chandramouli said. "It's definitely a skill that needs to be practiced, so that people's first experience riding in close proximity with each other isn't Beer Bike."

In the future, Chandramouli said he hopes to increase biker training prior to Beer Bike, potentially by introducing simulated races.

According to Wang, RPC is considering further changes to future Beer Bikes for safety.

"While not being implemented in time for this year's Beer Bike, conversations have begun around [adjusting our insurance coverage], as well as gathering funding to do major track renovations for the safety of the bikers, as opposed to the annual patchwork [repairs] the track has gotten since its creation," Wang said.

<![CDATA[Administration affirms commitment to diversity]]> President Reginald DesRoches announced Rice's commitment to diversity ahead of anticipated Supreme Court rulings on affirmative action cases in a campus-wide email sent on March 3, cosigned by Provost Amy Dittmar and Vice Provost for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Alexander Byrd.

"Diversity at Rice is not just tolerated, it is celebrated as a strength of this great institution," DesRoches wrote in his email, recounting his investiture speech.

The announcement preemptively responds to upcoming Supreme Court rulings on cases challenging race-conscious admissions in higher education. Students for Fair Admissions v. President and Fellows of Harvard College and Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina allege that considering race as a factor in admissions violates the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the 14th Amendment.

DesRoches wrote that the rulings will not significantly impact diversity, equity and inclusion on campus in an email to the Thresher.

"Because of our holistic approach to admissions and faculty hiring, not a lot will change for us here at Rice," DesRoches said.

Dittmar said holistic review establishes diversity among Rice students.

"The [admissions] process ensures that each application is reviewed in the context of a student's academic background, as well as their personal life experience," Dittmar said. "It has helped to create a student body that is diverse in terms of race, ethnicity, socioeconomic background, gender, geography, culture, education and other perspectives."

According to DesRoches' announcement, holistic review continues to influence Rice student demographics, citing that the percentage of students from underrepresented minority groups is up 3% from last year.

Beyond admissions and enrollment, DesRoches' email listed a range of new and ongoing initiatives designed to uphold a "diverse, equitable and inclusive" environment at Rice, including financial aid through the Rice Investment, support for first generation students, the Analyzing Diversity undergraduate general education requirement and graduate student programs.

Duncan College junior Briana Gellineau said that she still sees barriers to equity and inclusion within residential college communities.

"I've seen a lot of friends have issues with Resident Associates at their colleges, like seeing them use stereotypes and microaggressions," Gellineau said.

Gellineau also said that not all spaces on campus welcome marginalized populations.

"I don't personally identify [as LGBTQ], but a lot of friends in the community have come to me saying, 'I don't feel safe in these situations and environments,'" Gellineau said.

Byrd said that departments and offices across Rice work to address the structural factors that influence the needs of students.

"Investments - material, social, and intellectual - in maintaining and further enriching a diverse, inclusive campus environment are evident throughout the university," Byrd wrote in an email to the Thresher.

Outside of the undergraduate class, Dittmar said Rice has doubled the number of Black professors in the past five years and increased the number of female faculty hires, recruiting a diverse faculty class.

"Recruiting, developing and retaining a more diverse faculty and attracting excellent graduate students from diverse backgrounds to work with them isn't about numbers," Dittmar said. "It creates critical teaching and community advantages, informs complex problem-solving and offers diverse perspectives and mentors for all students."

Byrd said that Rice endeavors to promote ongoing conversations that are crucial for nurturing equity on campus.

"The university … is very often at its best when it creates spaces for productive discussion and debate on what a diverse, inclusive, equitable society might look like," Byrd said. "The upcoming Heather McGhee lecture event - made possible through the collaboration of several entities across campus - is one such example."

Looking ahead to the Supreme Court decision, Dittmar said that Rice's commitment to diversity remains strong.

"Regardless of the outcome, diversity, equity inclusion and excellence are foundational values of the university," Dittmar said. "We will do all that we can within the bounds of the law to recruit and retain a diverse student body and faculty."

<![CDATA[Proposed Quad redesign decenters controversial history]]> The architect firm Nelson Byrd Woltz unveiled their proposed plans for the Academic Quadrangle redesign to the public on March 9. The changes included relocating Willy's statue to the corner of Lovett Hall and the Welcome Center, adding community gathering spaces by Fondren Library and paving a curved, tree-lined path stretching diagonally from Rayzor Hall to Herzstein Hall.

Thomas Woltz, the owner and principal landscape architect of NBW, said that the firm's goal was to reimagine the quad and recontextualize Willy's statue within it.

"We're trying to bring life and energy into the quad so that it becomes a hub of student life rather than only for the ceremonial moments," Woltz said.

Ian Brennick, a designer at NBW, said that the firm always tries to layer multiple uses into every space they design. He said that a professor approached him about creating a small amphitheater for campus acapella groups.

"It could be a gathering for acapella, it could be a classroom, it could be a space for yoga class or office hours," Brennick said. "All of [that] feedback or input that you have is stuff that is creating a much richer, more diverse layer [to a] space that is really in service to university students and alumni."

The new design proposes relocating William Marsh Rice's statue by Sewall Hall, placing it directly on the ground. Woltz said that this will allow visitors to contextualize Willy's statue within the university's history while also reflecting Rice's current values of inclusivity and community.

"​​The idea is to bring William Marsh Rice to the ground amongst us," Woltz said. "You can stand with him … he's no longer on a plinth looking down on the students, he's eye-to-eye with the students."

Additionally, NBW proposes moving the plinth atop which the statue sits off-center and back, facing the Cambridge Office Building. Woltz said that the plinth will be a platform for student activism, debates and performances to uplift many voices.

During the event, NBW provided QR codes leading to a survey open until March 23. President Reginald DesRoches encouraged all to provide their opinions.

"We intend to host future walk-throughs and community events in addition to collecting feedback via online surveys so that Rice and NBW can socialize the design concept while also keeping the best interests and desires of the Rice family at the top of mind," DesRoches said in an email to the Thresher."

Visitors were also provided Post-it Notes to add their opinions about the proposed plan to the poster boards. Some notes included messages such as, "I want swings," "a lazy river [with] tubes" and "remove the proposed connection."

Sohani Sandhu, a McMurtry College freshman, said that she likes the new path as long as the design doesn't stand out too much from the rest of the quad's features.

"I definitely do think [the path]'s a good idea … I just want to make sure that it fits in with the rest of the paths that are being made and make sure that it's not taking up too big of a space on the quad," Sandhu said.

However, Justin So said that the curved path cutting across the quad was too asymmetrical.

"I'm not really sure about the proposed connection, like this curved path, because I feel like with the current design as it is, it makes it kind of look ugly," So, a Baker College junior, said.

Woltz clarified that the path was chosen based on previous "desire" lines created by past foot traffic and that the curved design was selected to disrupt the angles and symmetry of the quad.

When envisioning the new space, McKinnon said the firm tries to balance both architectural significance and architectural capacity within their designs.

"We don't know what it's going to look like just yet," McKinnon said. "[With] a quad with this much land in it, there's [a] real opportunity here to make an amazing space for the students and the faculty and the next generation of students on campus."

<![CDATA[The previous year kind of sucked': Ni debuts at first senate]]> The first Student Association senate was held for the 2024 fiscal year after leadership changeover occurred prior to spring break. SA President Solomon Ni led the meeting, highlighting some changes he wanted to see in the organization moving forward.

"I'm going to be honest with you, the previous year kind of sucked," Ni, a Jones College sophomore, said at Senate.

Ni listed his "expectations" for the SA this year, including transparency and inclusivity, creating a platform for the "most relevant" voices to be heard and having a "low tolerance" for offensive behavior.

SA Treasurer Yuv Sachdeva introduced the new budget for the 2024 fiscal year, including the elimination of the budget for international night, which has not been used for years, increasing the general projects fund and implementing a senate per diem.

Ni proposed a resolution to compensate college presidents, senators and executive committee members for the time they are required to be at senate meetings. Ultimately, the resolution was tabled indefinitely due to near unanimous backlash.

"College senators, college presidents, the president, internal vice president, external vice president, treasurer, secretary and the parliamentarian are entitled to a per diem of $8 for each meeting of [the] senate," Ni wrote in the resolution. "The amount is capped at $200 for a legislative session for each officer receiving a per diem."

McMurtry Senator Lauren Verthein said that they were elected with the expectation from their peers that they would work for free.

"Because of that expectation from many of our colleges, I would be worried that with the inclusion of this, it would cause the student body to lose faith in us, because we are volunteers from our colleges who are volunteering our time to come here and represent," Verthein said.

Brown College President Jae Kim said there needs to be a greater discussion in the university about making leadership positions more accessible via compensation. However, he said he thinks this seems like a misguided step to solve that issue.

Several other senate members echoed these sentiments and proposed using that money to increase engagement with the student body in different ways.

Duncan College President Evan Jasica said that an issue is that a lot of students don't know much about the SA, don't care about it or don't know why they should care.

"I think this money would be better served as an outreach for informing people about what specifically the SA [does]," Jasica, a junior, said. "What it actually has control over, different blanket tax organizations - the money that Rice students give, where does that go? And how is that decided?"

Discussions about the purpose and efficacy of the SA, marketing ideas and lack of committee involvement followed. The amended budget passed with $3000 moved from per diem to general projects; $2600 will be equally spent among the fall and spring kick off events.

<![CDATA[03-22-2023 Crossword Solutions]]> <![CDATA[03-22-2023 Crossword: "What's Up?"]]> ]]> <![CDATA[Do it yourself: Students talk designing area majors]]> Any prospective student flipping through Rice's major offerings would miss Computer Science and the Arts - probably because it's not listed. This specific program is an area major, a type of unique student-designed major made by students looking to forge their own curriculum. Bria Weisz said she created the Computer Science and the Arts major upon finding out that the curricula lacked adequate flexibility for her intended double majors, computer science and visual and dramatic arts.

"I wanted the flexibility to take different classes and branch out," Weisz, a Brown College senior, said. "I decided I wanted to make [Rice] work for me."

One of the main benefits of an area major, Weisz said, is the flexibility it affords students. In her case, it allowed her to combine two very disparate majors into one more streamlined program, focusing on the aspects which interest her most.

Alison Maniace, an area major studying Bioethics and Biotechnology, echoed this sentiment, saying that her area major allowed her academic career to make space for her developing interests.

"What I appreciate about my area major most is that it accommodated [the way that] my interests solidified in the later portion of my time at Rice and let me adapt my education to that," Maniace, a Martel College senior, said.

In order to pursue an area major, minor or certificate, Weisz said a student must gather tenured faculty advisors and then make a proposal to the Committee on the Undergraduate Curriculum.

Jeffrey Fleisher, the chair of the CUC, said he typically meets with four or five prospective area majors a year, although generally only one or two students actually complete the area major proposal process.

"What I tend to do with students who are thinking about an area major is ask them a lot of questions," Fleisher said. "What are the things that interest them at Rice and why don't those majors work?"

According to Fleisher, few students pursue area majors - in fact, Weisz and Maniace are currently the only two at Rice. Weisz attributes this to a lack of common knowledge about the possibility of designing your own major. According to her, the concept was novel even to many of the professors she met with.

"Most of the professors [who] I talked to kind of had the same reaction as many of the students, like 'Oh, that's really cool, I don't know many people who are doing that,'" Weisz said.

Fleisher said that another reason that area majors are rare is that the proposed course materials are already offered by other aspects of the Rice curriculum.

"It's going to be a lot of work to create a new major, and if you can achieve the same thing through the curricular structures we have, you should do that," Fleisher said.

According to Maniace, another possible pitfall of proposing an area major is course timing. Departments offering institutional majors can structure core courses so that they are offered most semesters, whereas courses necessary for area majors are more likely to conflict with each other.

"There is less of a guarantee that courses will be offered [or] won't overlap with each other as with an institutional major," Maniace said.

Fleisher emphasized that creating an area major is a difficult process for students.

"We're asking students to create a piece of curriculum that is normally created by a whole department of faculty," Fleisher said. "It's actually very challenging for students to propose a new piece of curriculum [that is] tailored to themselves."

In the best cases, however, area majors can forge a new path and even give the Rice faculty ideas for new programs.

"The best area majors are ones that … actually help Rice think about what future interdisciplinary majors or new majors could look like," Fleisher said. "Sometimes [area majors] point the way forward for creating a new interdisciplinary major … Our curriculum grows and changes, so sometimes students do point us to places where maybe there's a deficit."

<![CDATA[Sniffles season: A Pisces moon's guide to crying on campus]]> Even the happiest students in the country need to cry sometimes. If crying in your room is starting to feel overdone, fear not: as your resident Pisces moon and experienced campus crier, I've compiled a list of on-campus alternatives where you can let those tears flow.

Sewall Hall Basement: for a Subterranean Cry

There's something magical about crying underground, and there's nowhere more underground than first-floor Sewall. Freezing cold and consistently devoid of human life, empty Sewall basement classrooms are prime crying real estate. After you're done, the dull, beige maze of Sewall's identical hallways will lull you back into peaceful complacency before you ascend to the surface and continue with your day.

Shepherd Practice Rooms: for a Fortissimo Cry

Did you know non-MUSIs can sign up for music lessons through Shepherd? Did you know they will give you a key to a soundproof practice room that hardly anyone ever goes into? Finally, did you know that the crying experience is greatly enhanced when it is done flanked by two concert grand pedal harps? I have cried multiple times in the harp practice room and only one of them has been in front of my harp teacher. Shepherd practice rooms are a great choice for wailers, claustrophiliacs and those with discerning tastes in their cry-room aesthetics.

The Couch Cubes on Kraft Hall Fourth Floor: for an In-Utero Cry

You know those weird couch cubicles on Kraft fourth? Blue, soft, private and enveloping, they're a perfect choice if you're craving a fetal-position cry that transports you back to the peace of the womb, before you were thrust into the horrors of human existence and chemistry homework. The fourth floor is usually pretty empty, but it is home to the economics department, so don't be surprised if an ECON/BUSI double major swings by to inform you that spending time crying fails to maximize the efficiency of your human capital.

The Rec Showers: for a Full-Body Cry

Crying in the shower is iconic for many reasons: the privacy, the sound-masking and the drama. If your roommate has informed you that they can hear you sniveling through the walls of your bathroom, consider a migration to the showers at the Rec. They're conveniently located right next to Wellbeing in case you want a post-cry debrief with a mental health professional, and they come with built-in cry-fodder: Rice's cost of attendance is $74,000 a year (including a $109 Rec Center fee) and our Rec showers are still this grotsky.

Outdoors During Passing Periods: for an On-The-Go Cry

This one may come as a surprise. Crying? Outside? During the busiest time of the day? For those who have mastered the art of silent crying, passing periods present the perfect opportunity to slot in a sob between back-to-back classes. If you keep your head down, your phone out, and follow the flow of traffic, you'll be swallowed up by the crowd and look like just another student hustling across campus. Remember, the key to this method is silence - unless you happen to pass a tour group, in which case you should let loose a few sniffles to give them a taste of the real Rice experience.

<![CDATA[Agnes Ho talks wellbeing, social work and sushi]]> Agnes Ho has two loves: sushi restaurants and genuine connections. The latter is one that she's spent the past decade cultivating at Rice as director of the Wellbeing and Counseling Center. Her experiences as a first-generation, international student have enabled her to tackle mental health issues for a wide variety of adolescents at Rice and in the Houston community as a whole.

"Growing up, I knew I didn't want to sit still in the office all day long," Ho said. "I love to get out and talk to people."

According to Ho, she has always been enamored with the field of social service. She grew up in Hong Kong, where she earned her undergraduate degree in social work, and fell in love with the field through a hands-on internship experience. After an exchange semester at the University of Houston, she secured a scholarship to pursue her master's degree in social work from UH and has resided in the city for the past 16 years.

Ho started her post-graduate career working with at-risk adolescents and families in a Harris County outreach program to provide and abuse prevention services, before coming to work at Rice.

"It's very rewarding to see the changes in students … it's amazing, actually, I tend to work with students from their freshman year up until when they graduate … I even stay in touch with some students after they graduate," Ho said. "For many years I've been a mentor for college presidents, SA presidents [and] in [those roles] I was able to build that connection more deeply with my mentees."

Although her day-to-day career involves promoting mental health wellness, Ho said that sometimes it can be difficult to remember to follow her own advice.

"Sometimes we, especially myself, need to remind ourselves to practice our own self-care…it's okay to set healthy boundaries," Ho said. "I have two kids [and] they are lovely, they help me to distract my attention a lot … When I get home I can switch off my work stuff and focus on my family or myself."

She notes, however, that there is a lot of overlap between her relationships with Rice and her personal life, through bringing her children to work with her and familiarizing them with the campus.

"It's a really great community to raise a family," Ho said. "They feel like they're a part of it, too."

Outside of her professional pursuits, Ho and her family are self-proclaimed foodies, making the most of the diverse cuisines and friendly faces that Houston has to offer.

"There's a restaurant called Sasaki on Westheimer…we've been going there for the last 15 years," Ho said. "The sushi is good, but really it's about the connection with the chef. He's [been] a witness of me and my husband … when we were dating, married, first kid … he's seen us each grow as [people], adults and family."

To Ho, connections such as this, and networks of people to rely on, are critical to fostering mental wellness. These resources enable her to maintain a positive outlook on her endeavors in social work.

"Sometimes we may not be able to see the change [in students] within four years, but I do believe what we're doing here is planting the seeds out there," Ho said. "Maybe that's just one conversation with a student, maybe 10 years, 20 years later it will make an impact on the student's life … that's my belief and faith when working with students, that's what keeps me going."

<![CDATA[Senior Spotlight: Grace Walters spells her way through Rice and beyond]]> In 2019, the Scripps National Spelling Bee saw an unprecedented eight-way tie after the competition ran out of words. The person partially responsible for three of those eight wins was spelling bee coach Grace Walter. Walters, a Jones College senior, has coached two other spelling bee champions, including last year's winner, Harini Logan.

Walters is finishing her double major in linguistics and Asian studies. Her passion for linguistics is rooted in her childhood experiences competing in spelling bees, long before she matriculated at Rice.

"I learned about [linguistics] when I did spelling [bees] as a kid - it is my favorite thing ever," Walters said. "I loved to compete as a kid. I loved just flipping through the dictionary, learning new words, what they meant and their etymologies."

After competing in spelling bees, Walters said she began spelling bee coaching for middle schoolers nationwide as she wanted to continue teaching about language.

"There are words that mean just about everything, so in doing spelling [bees], studying these words in preparation, you learn a little bit about every part of the world you can imagine," she said. "Seeing my students really take an interest and find passion in learning, not only about words and language but also about the world at large, is so much fun."

According to Walters, studying linguistics has always been a clear decision for her.

"I figured out that linguistics was a thing, and I was like, 'Wait - you mean I could spend the rest of my life studying language?' and that just thrilled me," Walters said.

Walters is currently working on her senior thesis, which meshes both linguistics and Asian studies. Her research aims to understand the social factors underlying a shift in a specific sound change rule in Kannada, one of the Dravidian languages spoken in southern India.

"I think the reason why the Dravidian languages are so close to my heart is because of the people in the spelling bee community. There's a large overlap between the South Asian diaspora and that community," Walters said. "I feel like there's not enough talk about the linguistic diversity and situation in India."

Walters hopes to continue her study of the Dravidian languages in graduate school with the long-term goal of becoming a linguistics professor. She plans on taking a gap year before graduate school, and as a semi-finalist for the Fulbright Program, an international merit-based grant program, she hopes to spend her gap year teaching English abroad in India.

"Teaching is one of my passions. I've been doing spelling bee coaching, mentoring students competing in the [same] competitions that sparked my love for language, since I was 13," Walters said. "I get paid to talk about language and linguistics - it's just the best job in the world … teaching is something that really sets my heart on fire."

With post-graduation plans on the horizon, Walters looks back on her time at Rice as a challenging yet valuable experience, especially during her sophomore and junior years which were impacted by the pandemic.

"Those years really forced me to turn inward and evaluate what sort of lifestyle I want to lead, especially because I think that I was caught up a lot in Rice's whole cult of busy-ness," Walters said. "I learned that it is so important to prioritize yourself and to fill your own cup first so that you can then pour [it] into other people."

While she said that she's unsure if she will continue spelling bee coaching in the coming years, Walters looks back fondly on her years teaching and mentoring her students, and she hopes to one day write a book for spelling bee competitors.

"The spelling bee community is who I have to thank for where I am today. The fact that I'm at Rice, the fact that I'm studying linguistics, the fact that I have this thesis going on studying a Dravidian language - I am here because of the relationships and the love that the spelling bee community has shown me," Walters said. "And even if I'm not coaching, I will definitely be finding ways to give back to them in the future."

<![CDATA[Emily Houlik-Ritchey explores medieval language and literature]]> Wacky, crazy and terrifying. These words might evoke pictures of daredevils or precarious adventures but for Emily Houlik-Ritchey, an associate English professor at Rice, they point to something entirely different: medieval literature.

Houlik-Ritchey said she was primarily drawn to medieval literature because of the language in which it was written: Middle English, an archaic form of English commonly used in the 11th to 15th centuries by the likes of Geoffrey Chaucer and John Gower, both 14th-century English poets.

"I fell in love with the way the language sounded, all the crazy [and] cool features of it and the way it has shifted over time," Houlik-Ritchey said. "Sometimes the same words don't mean exactly the same thing as they used to and all those nuances and details captured my heart. I have rarely found a book [written in Middle English] that I didn't like."

After graduating from Sewanee with an English major and Spanish minor, Houlik-Ritchey worked at a bookstore for a few years before realizing that she missed studying literature.

"I didn't like selling books," Houlik-Ritchey said. "I actually wanted to talk about them and study them and teach them."

Houlik-Ritchey's research in medieval studies also incorporates studies of gender, sexuality, postcolonialism and race relations. Her dissertation is a comparative study of Castilian and English romances. Her first book, "Imagining Iberia in English and Castilian Medieval Romance," which was published in 2023, focuses on three stories written in both languages set in medieval Iberia.

"The way these two very different languages and cultural traditions tell the same stories set in this place and the different ways they imagine what medieval Iberia is through these stories is a really interesting comparative picture," Houlik-Ritchey said.

Aside from publishing her first book, she said she is proud of the teaching she has done and enjoys the collaborative nature of the courses she has taught at Rice. Recently, she worked with a group of graduate students on a course on race in the medieval period, where the students in the class used an archiving digital platform Omeka to curate an exhibit on race in the Middle Ages. Teaching to Houlik-Ritchey has simultaneously been one of the biggest challenges and benefits of her job.

"It's the most dynamic, exciting [and] unpredictable space, and that makes it really challenging but also makes it just that much more exciting," Houlik-Ritchey said.

Beyond the classroom, it may come as no surprise that Houlik-Ritchey never stops reading.While her research deals with medieval works, her leisure reads are not limited to the realm of Middle English. She enjoys reading science fiction and mystery novels, and her current favorite authors include Alan Bradley, N.K Jemisin and Tony Hillerman. But while modern reading seems worlds removed from medieval literature, some similarities still persist.

One of these similarities came up in an ENGL 200 classroom four years ago,where Houlik-Ritchey's students found distinct parallels between Chaucer's literature and one of the most popular teen romance series of the decade: "Twilight."

"We were talking about the interesting and disturbing way she is attracted to this man who is very violent, who hurts her," Houlik-Ritchey said. "I remember this so vividly - we had this really intense, vivid, animated, fabulous discussion of how disturbingly well ['Twilight'] presents the man who's trying to kill you as the sexiest man in the world. And we were analogizing it to 'The Wife of Bath.'"

When asked what motivates her ten years after receiving her doctorate, Houlik-Ritchey expressed appreciation for the literature she reads for her research.

"I love writing, I love revision … it's complicated and hard and it's wonderful to get it right after you work," Houlik-Ritchey said. "Because the literature is so rich, it's also really rich for teaching. And I don't think I'll ever get tired of talking about these stories with students either."

<![CDATA[ASB groups ditch the beach, connect with community]]> According to just about every college stereotype ever, spring break is associated with partying and hanging out on the beach. However, some Rice students spent their recent breaks a little differently. Some wrote policy briefs on mental health in migrant communities. Others volunteered at clinics for Vietnamese refugees or visited local arts organizations. These students all have one thing in common: they were a part of Rice's Alternative Spring Break Program, which aims to work with community partners on a range of social issues.

"I really appreciate the idea behind Alternative Spring Break, providing the means for exploring community activism," Anisha Abraham, a Jones College sophomore who participated in ASB this year, said.

The trips take students to cities near Rice to engage with various social issues. This year, eight ASB groups explored areas including Austin, San Antonio and New Orleans.

Although the program takes place during spring break, planning for ASB begins as early as the previous spring. Last spring semester, pairs of site leaders pitched ideas that they were passionate about and, once approved, started designing these programs.

"When I was developing the curriculum for the ASB, it was really important to me that what we were learning was applicable to any Rice student," Bria Weisz, a recent ASB site leader, said.

Weisz, a Brown College senior has always had interest in both visual and dramatic arts, specifically in equity within art spaces. She proposed the topic as an ASB, later titling the program "The Big Picture: Equity and Accessibility in Art."

Months later, Weisz's group traveled to San Antonio, Dallas and Fort Worth to engage with organizations working on increasing equity in the arts. Among other community partners, the group met with a public art administrator about how spaces dedicated to art can uplift communities and later visited a public art venue in San Antonio.

"It was really to give the participants a deeper understanding of their approach to art, rather than just going into it as a viewer," Weisz said. "The next time that they view art, they are going to know all of the different layers that go into making that piece."

Barakat Ibrahim, another site leader, said her group's trip focused on the foster care system in Houston and Louisiana. Her group of nine students volunteered at donation centers, learned from community partners and even talked to a mother trying to regain custody of her kids after being arrested.

"I've always wanted to adopt personally, and then I realized I really wanted to learn more about the system just because … people don't know the nitty gritty of what's happening," Ibrahim, a Wiess College sophomore, said. "This [was] a great opportunity to learn more about it for me and I know [other] people will be passionate about it too."

Another group, led by Michelle Martinez and Denise Maldonado, was focused on exploring the current healthcare resources for recent immigrants in the U.S. They said they wanted their group to learn about public policy surrounding immigrant healthcare, and all the current barriers that exist legally, economically and systemically for immigrants.

"We chose [to go to] New Orleans due to its unique status as a sanctuary city within the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals," Maldonado, a Lovett College senior, said. "The fifth circuit - comprised of Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi - is notorious for its anti-immigration rulings."

While in Louisiana, Martinez and Maldonado's group volunteered with Catholic charities to help newly migrated people get accustomed to everyday life.

"The family that I personally worked with was a Honduran family that just arrived in the U.S. 10 days ago. We taught them how to use Google Maps, we downloaded Google Translate on their phone, we walked them through Target and showed them how to use self-checkout," Martinez, a Hanszen College senior, said. "I thought that was really helpful for them but also really eye opening for all of us, understanding the experience of a migrant - it's a whole different system for them."

Martinez said that several members of their group, including herself, said their ASB trip strengthened their pre-existing connections or interests in migration work.

"Whenever we were having our final reflection, the participants who were pre-law said that this made them more sure that they want to study immigration law in the future," Maldonado said. "It [solidified] those ideas that they had of going to law school."

<![CDATA[Review: 'Creed 3' is the best boxing movie since 'Rocky']]> Rating: ★★★★★

"Creed 3" is one of the best sports films ever made. The film not only establishes Jordan and Majors as bonafide superstars, it also heralds Jordan as the next great director.

The film begins with Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) fighting his final boxing match and retiring after a long and illustrious career. However, shortly after, his childhood friend Dame Anderson (Johnathan Majors) returns from prison after a run-in he and Creed had with the police. Although Anderson was imprisoned for 18 years, Creed was able to escape and establish himself as a world champion. Initially, the relationship between the two appears cordial, but soon Anderson wants to box for a shot at earning the heavyweight world championship.

While the story may be a bit traditional, its three-act structure excellently portrays the tension between the two leads, and its conclusion once Creed fights Anderson in a grueling 12-round boxing match at the end of the film is extremely satisfying. Anderson as a villain feels almost Shakespearean - from the beginning, his boxing ability is repeatedly emphasized while his resentment towards Creed is slowly revealed through the use of flashbacks. The audience gradually understands Anderson's motivations and hatred for Adonis, who he believes stole the glory he intended to earn.

Through this arc, "Creed 3" touches on themes of regret, forgiveness and acceptance. Just as Anderson carries resentment for losses of his youth and boxing career, Creed also harbors a tremendous amount of guilt about escaping while Anderson went to prison. Much of the film is centered around Adonis' healing process with both his wife Bianca (Tessa Thompson) and daughter Amara. Amara, who is deaf, is brilliantly portrayed by Mila Davis-Kent, a deaf actress. Her interactions with her father are not only charming, but serve to motivate Creed as he overcomes his challenge with Anderson. By the end of the film, Creed can finally let go of his misplaced guilt and reconcile with Anderson.

In addition to its well-executed story, the directing throughout the film is immaculate. It's hard to believe that Jordan has never directed a feature length before because the boxing sequences were masterfully choreographed and executed. Not only does each fight in the movie feel real, each fight sequence is creative and excellently executed. While two of the fights replicate the feel of real-world boxing matches, the final fight between Creed and Anderson isolates the two away from a crowd, and during this fight, one can really feel that it's not just about winning a championship, it is about addressing their deep grudge. In particular, the sound mix intensifies with every punch and the visuals of each blow further add to this immersion.

"Creed 3" is not just a boxing movie, it is a story of tragedy and triumph. Through each fight, its epic training montages and the tender moments of sadness, this movie carries a lot of heart, and its story and message will certainly resonate with audiences well after the film ends.

<![CDATA[Review: 'UGLY' is a post-punk rebirth]]> Rating: ★★★★½

Top Track: "Yum"

When I put on Slowthai's newest project on a cozy Friday morning, I was not expecting to be met with a propulsive, anxious and fervidly aggressive electro-industrial track. Slowthai's last album "Tyron" was a departure from the UK rapper's grime and punk roots, alternating between boastful trap anthems and R&B-influenced introspection. With "UGLY," the Northampton-born rapper has reinvented himself once again.

"Yum" is a phenomenal opener, introducing the listener to the raw and angry contemplation that Slowthai has displayed in spurts but lets completely loose on this project. Hurried breathing, explicit sex noises and pulsating synths conjoined with Slowthai's impassioned illustration of his self-hatred and anxiety culminate in a feverish climax - and that's just the album's first four minutes.

While many albums don't live up to the expectations set by their phenomenal openers, there are no songs following "Yum" that feel ineffective in Slowthai's exploration of his deepest thoughts and emotions. This is Slowthai at his most experimental. There are many interesting musical choices utilized to great effect: the breakbeat-influenced production on "Never Again," the shoegaze-y noise of "Falling" and "UGLY" and the psychedelic post-rock on "Tourniquet" are some of the most memorable.

Similarly to "Yum," Slowthai is clearly pouring his heart out on the title track. While still introspective, "UGLY" positions Slowthai as a cultural commentator with the lyrics, "When pigment's a depiction of class / When your body has to be a wine glass / You drop your guard, you realize it's hard, it's ugly." According to Slowthai, the letters UGLY stand for "U Gotta Love Yourself," and with this song he seems to tell listeners that in the midst of racism, classism and violence, you have to remember to love yourself because you can't rely on the world for it.

The album's penultimate track is another highlight. While "Tourniquet" may initially seem like a quiet reprieve from the anger of the previous track "Wotz Funny," it is as, if not more, powerful. Produced by ingenues Ethan B. Flynn and Taylor Skye, the song is a devastating and soul-baring alternative rock piece that sees Slowthai at the end of his rope, screaming lyrics like "I'll play the wound / You play the salt." After "Yum," this is Slowthai at his most emotionally naked, the song's growing freneticism representing the final stage of his self-destruction. The track ends with 30 seconds of instrumental post-rock; in context, it sounds almost funereal.

Unlike his previous two projects, Slowthai fully leans into the post-punk genre with "UGLY." His musical choices, from the guitar work from Irish post-punk band Fontaines D.C. to the Radiohead-influenced production on "Tourniquet," make this one of the most quintessentially British albums in recent years.

At only 28 years old, Slowthai has released the best project of his career thus far, and it will be incredibly exciting to see how he continues to reinvent himself. He clearly has a passion for experimentation and subverting expectations with each new project, and his next one is sure to be worth the wait.

<![CDATA[Five of Houston's indie theatre productions to watch]]> Tired of scrolling through Netflix for new shows to watch? Impatient for more theatre productions on campus? For your viewing pleasure, the Thresher has compiled five up-and-coming indie theatre shows produced by local venues, and all are likely to be hard acts to follow.

'The Best of Everything' at Main Street Theater

Located right next to Rice University is the Main Street Theater, a smaller, intimate venue that has been run out of Rice Village since 1981. Main Street Theater strives to enrich Houston's art scene by introducing new plays to the region, which is exactly what they plan to do with their next MainStage production, "The Best of Everything." Running from May 20 to June 18, the play is focused on three aspiring secretaries in New York trying to balance their dreams, careers and responsibilities. This production will be the regional premiere of Julie Kramer's adaptation of the novel, and previews begin on May 14.

'Cleansed' at the Midtown Arts and Theater Center

Just down Main Street from Rice is MATCH, a theater that highlights smaller art organizations. From March 31 to April 22, MATCH will host the Catastrophic Theater's production of "Cleansed," a story of a university operating to remove society of its "undesirables." The play examines the brutality inflicted by societal institutions through a more surrealistic lens. This specific production will be the regional premiere of Sarah Kane's script and will be hosted on the Matchbox 3 stage at MATCH.

'The Greatest Hits Album: Side A' at the Music Box Theater

Since 2011, the Music Box theater has been a venue focused on sketch comedy, cabaret and popular music performances. Unlike the other shows mentioned, "The Greatest Hits Album" is a compilation by the performers at the Music Box showcasing various songs and sketches that the Music Box theater has been known for. The setlist features songs across all decades that have been rearranged by the performers. This show has been running since February 18 and will continue until April 8. This show will be the group's final production in their space on Colquitt St.

'Plaza Suite' at Playhouse 1960

Further outside Houston's downtown theater scene is Playhouse 1960, a volunteer-based community theater that has been run since 1973. The theater's main stage production will be "Plaza Suite," a Neil Simon-written comedy revolving around three different couples who occupy a suite at a Plaza hotel. The production will run from March 31 to April 16 and is a great opportunity to see a production outside of the theater-district scene.

'Clyde's' at The Ensemble Theatre

The Ensemble Theatre is a smaller group in downtown Houston formed in 1976 with the intention to preserve African American art, a goal that it maintains through its various productions. The theater's next production will be the regional premiere of Lynn Nottage's "Clyde's," a comedy about a truck stop and the formerly incarcerated employees that work there. The play follows these employees and the redemption they find by working together. The play will run from March 23 to April 16.

<![CDATA[.SWOOSH: Nike bets on the Metaverse]]> Fashion has been making a comeback in the metaverse. Virtual characters can now don North Face puffers and Off-White hoodies in Snapchat Bitmojis, Jordans in the "NBA 2K" video game series and Fortnite unicorn back bling. There have long been ways to express yourself in online worlds (think skins in video games), but only recently with the emergence of blockchain technology have big fashion companies started to explore that space as well. One brand investing heavily in the metaverse market is Nike, and they recently hosted a community event at Houston's The Better Generation sneaker shop showcasing .SWOOSH, Nike's virtual creations division.

The event's speakers included Franchec Crespo, .SWOOSH lead product manager, and Jasmine Watkins, .SWOOSH community & content manager. Watkins touted multiple advantages of virtual creations over the physical shoes and apparel many Nike consumers are currently familiar with. During the presentation, Watkins provided mockups of shoes made of lava and water as an example of the possibilities of the .SWOOSH technology.

"We are able to create products not possible in real life," Watkins said. "Plus, you can rep Nike gear in your lives beyond our world, whether that is on Fortnite or NBA 2K."

Another benefit to virtual creations are the perks and longevity that come with owning a Nike product on the blockchain. Watkins said that when purchasing physical products, your brand experience with Nike is largely limited in scope to the use of the product only. They said that virtual creations allow consumers to connect with the brand long after the initial purchase.

".SWOOSH projects have so much more longevity because we are able to add experiences and benefits long after the drop," Watkins said. "This could be exclusive access to a drop, an opportunity to meet Lebron, NFTs - there are a lot of possibilities."

In addition to making it easier to purchase, trade and collect coveted sneakers, .SWOOSH's eventual goal is to bring co-creation to the masses, according to their blog. Sneakerheads are likely already familiar with Nike's previous collaborations, from luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton to child patients at Doernbecher hospital. However, these products are often impossible to get without paying multiples of their original retail price on the resell market, and only a few established creatives are allowed to be involved in the collaborative process. Crespo emphasized .SWOOSH's ambitions to greatly expand the ability to collaborate with Nike to the masses so that everyone can be a sneaker designer.

According to Crespo, this represents an exciting step for Nike in driving interaction with its wide consumer base and solidifying brand loyalty in the digital age.

"Here, we want to think about how to scale the creative process for everyone," Crespo said. "Being able to make your own shoe without being a celebrity or designer - that is our goal."

Houston inspired sneaker colorways, such as 2022's Air Force Low "H-Town" and 2018's Air Jordan 4 "Cactus Jack," have been popular in the past, but Crespo and Watkins imagine a future of Nike where the community has greater input in the company's decision making and product line. The .SWOOSH team is currently planning a round of city-oriented events where communities will be able to collectively create a special Air Force 1 through .SWOOSH that represents and symbolizes the city they live in, with more community oriented events and opportunities to come.

"We want y'all to have a say in the sneakers we create," Crespo said.

<![CDATA[Rice's newest statue founds a 'Blank Slate' for conversation]]> ​​There's a new statue on campus, and it's intentionally provocative. This is the first time that "A Blank Slate: Hope for a New America," an interactive sculpture on a national tour, is being exhibited on a university campus. The monument, created by Ghanaian artist Kwame Akoto-Bamfo to disrupt Confederate and segregated spaces, was first unveiled in Ghana in 2019 and has since been exhibited in numerous American cities, including Chicago, New York and Washington D.C. Rice University is its penultimate stop before Galveston, where it will be for Juneteenth. The monument was unveiled on March 4 and is currently located in front of the Provisional Campus Facilities tents on College Way. The exhibit has been sponsored by Rice's Center for African and African American Studies, the School of Social Sciences, the School of Humanities and Hanszen College.

Jeffrey Fleisher, professor and department chair of anthropology and interim director of the Center for African and African American Studies, worked to bring the monument to Rice and is part of projects that analyze how slavery is globally interpreted and memorialized in different places. He said that the statue travels to spaces where there have been debates about Confederate monuments to create conversation.

"There's a lot of discussion around the William Marsh Rice statue, and so I think it's a really timely and interesting moment for us to kind of think about our own histories of segregation, and the problems that surround monumentality," Fleisher said.

The monument includes a screen where people can display a message. According to Fleisher, the monument didn't have a screen originally. He said that the interactive feature of the monument taps into its free speech aspect and how the public can use the presence of the monument to create conversations. Fleisher often visits the monument and has talked to faculty and staff about it.

"I think they're pleased that this is offering an opportunity to think about difficult subjects," Fleisher said. "I don't think we have a lot of public opportunities on campus to do that … and I think this allows us to have those conversations in a different kind of way."

Molly Morgan, lecturer in the anthropology department, said that she thinks the Blank Slate monument is a beautiful reflection of African American history at different points in time.

"Each one of the figures is so evocative of emotion and of reflection, but then having the blank tablet at the top for people to engage with is such a piece of hope, I think, that lends itself to be open to all kinds of different futures," Morgan said.

Morgan said that she has seen posts about the Slave Voyages website on the monument, recognizing names of people who have appeared in research about Texas ports that were part of the trafficking of enslaved people. Some of this research is done at Rice.

"I thought that was a really powerful use of the monument," Morgan said. "I think that a lot of the events that are coming up might provide more opportunity for engagement and for learning through the sculpture."

Events supporting the Blank Slate monument include a lunchtime picnic at the monument on March 22, a talk by historian Gerald Horne later that evening and a panel discussion and departure party on March 30. Students have also created a StoryMap tracing the tour of the statue through the U.S., researching racial justice movements and the significance of the statue in these different places.

Fleisher said that he is excited for the events and for students to visit and engage with the monument.

"We have a lot of public art on campus, but I think a lot of that art tends to be more abstract. I think, for some of the students, it's harder for them to connect to it. This is a very visually arresting event. It creates a moment for students to really reflect on," Fleisher said. "It's a short visit, but … I'm hoping it has an effect."

Morgan said that she hopes that, as Rice is reflecting on its own history and the remaking of public spaces, all members of the Rice community will be thoughtful and intentional about what kinds of symbols and spaces they want to create at Rice.

"I think that is what the Blank Slate monument is all about," Morgan said. "Getting us to think about not only our past and where we have been, but also what kind of future we want to create."

<![CDATA[The environment meets multimedia theatrical performances in EcoStudio]]> Inside the Shepherd School's Wortham Theater, environmental issues are regularly brought to life in the form of multimedia works. Wortham Theater is the stage for ENST 422: EcoStudio, a space transformed into a multimedia classroom by Kurt D. Stallmann, Director of the Rice Electroacoustic Music Labs. Stallmann and his co-instructor Joseph A. Campana, Rice English professor and poet, spent months discussing how to get students to collaborate and engage with environmental issues. The idea for the course was born from these discussions.

"People can interface with really hard environmental questions and conversations more easily through the arts often than directly through science or policy," Campana said. "The idea [is] that every expertise on campus provides an archive for artists to learn [from] everything."

Much of the discussion centered on how artists can bring multiple disciplines together. Inspired by their own collaborative work, Stallmann and Campana want to present themselves in the classroom as fellow artists generating responses to the world around them. Their current project, "The Work and the Fruit," is a collaborative performance piece, with an excerpt that will be presented at the Moody Center for the Arts for the public, "Thinking with Bees."

"This particular creature, the honeybee, has inspired and confounded and fascinated humans for literally a millennia," Campana said. "That's become an occasion for creating things, so poetry and text in my case, and in conversation with Kurt's work which is electroacoustic composition. And thinking through sensation and sound worlds, putting the two together, that's been part of our method."

For each instructional unit, Campana and Stallmann will lead a discussion and present multimedia works from an environmental theme, ranging from insect sensory abilities to the treatment of toxicity and pollution in the environment. Then, the student groups have one week to collaborate on creative, multimedia responses and perform their works on stage at the next class session.

"The idea [for] that turnaround is, first of all, to immediately get into the action of thinking of creating. So that really is a response, that's how we think about these [unit projects]," Stallmann said. "But then [it is] also to familiarize yourself with everybody in the room and what they bring to the table."

EcoStudio presents a smorgasbord of multimedia art forms as responses to environmental themes. To bridge the gaps between fields, Campana and Stallmann invited a wide array of guest speakers. Scott Solomon, Rice professor of biosciences, presented ongoing research to model insects and how they sense and perceive the world.

Rice History professor Lisa Balabanillar showcased the long history of automated mobile gardens from the Ottoman and Mughal empires. From the arts, they invited Aaron Ambroso, an art historian who co-founded the Houston Climate Justice Museum, and Theodore Bale, a dance critic and reporter who presented the Butoh dance form.

"A class should include all the perspectives [Rice] has to offer," Stallmann said. "It seems like here's an opportunity to bring together all these perspectives, and focus them on these different topics and come up with responses that are performative or related to art in that way."

Campana and Stallman's hope is for EcoStudio's course format to be guided by each future instructor's interdisciplinary background and expertise. They said that this structure can break down barriers that prevent multidisciplinary work from happening.

"We want [the course] to broaden over time. Different people will be teaching it, so [sometimes] it will be angled towards a more particular subject," Campana said. "Each set of instructors will figure out how they want to model this kind of work and to also encourage students to generate their work."

<![CDATA[Gunnarsdottir takes her shot at shot put glory]]> Hailing from a small town outside of Reykjavik, Iceland, Erna Gunnarsdottir was a young girl when she was first exposed to shot put. Now, over a decade later, Gunnarsdottir competes on Rice's track and field team, recently earning seventh place for shot put in the NCAA Championships.

"I started shot put when I was about nine years old. I started pretty early and did shotput throughout high school," Gunnarsdottir, a graduate student and fifth-year athlete, said. "I decided to go to the U.S. because there's better competition and facilities [here] other than small, small Iceland."

The leap from "small, small Iceland" to Houston was indeed a large step for Gunnarsdottir. Beside leaving her hometown and relatively small local universities, Gunnarsdottir said she had to ease into life as an athlete while balancing changes in language and culture.

"There was definitely a culture shock, going from such a small place … to Houston," Gunnarsdottir, who is now getting her master's degree in global affairs, said. "It was pretty difficult at first getting used to just speaking the language more often than I've done before, and then obviously getting used to the academics was pretty difficult, but I have some really good memories from my first year."

One of those significant memories was Gunnarsdottir's first competition, which she reflects on in light of her recent accomplishments at the NCAAs. Early in her career, Gunnarsdottir didn't feel prepared for the pressure of competition. Her success in the five years since then, she said, can largely be chalked up to a change in her mentality.

"I was [in a] completely different mental state for my first competition," Gunnarsdottir said. "I was just way more nervous, not as emotionally ready. Comparing that to now is just such a drastic difference, because now I'm a lot more confident. I feel [more] capable of doing well in competition than I was my freshman year."

Placing seventh at the NCAAs earned Gunnarsdottir first-team all-American honors, which she said was a career-long goal of hers. But she said her accomplishments are more a result of consistency than rising to the occasion at big meets.

"That's been an achievement that I wanted to get for a long time … I've had such a good season. For me, it was just being consistent, doing what I've been doing the entire season," Gunnarsdottir said.

Throughout her time competing at Rice, Gunnarsdottir said that her team has remained a constant pillar of support.

"We uplift each other," Gunnarsdottir said. "All of us cheer each other on when we have competitions. [We] make sure we're doing our best and just encourage people to do better … Every single thrower was [at a recent meet], even though they weren't competing, just cheering each other on."

Nearly 4,000 miles away from home, Gunnarsdottir has also still managed to remain close with her family, none of which live in the U.S. With family trips to the conference championships and younger brothers following in her footsteps, Gunnarsdottir's athletic career has almost become a source of bonding for her family, she said.

"My family went to the outdoor conference [meet] last year … They keep up, try to follow along," Gunnarsdottir said. "My parents did high school sports but weren't really athletes, per se. But my two younger brothers both do handball … My younger brother is 15 and I want him to do shot put just like me."

Although her time at Rice is wrapping up, Gunnarsdottir said she doesn't anticipate an end to her shot put career any time soon.

"I don't think my throwing career is going to be done after college. My goal is to go to the Olympics next year, my goal is to go to the World Championships this year," Gunnarsdottir said. "That's always sort of been in the back of my mind throughout these five years. I love the sport. I wanted to do really well in college but I also wanted to continue being that next-level athlete, and that's really helped motivate me for five years."

Photo courtesy Conference USA