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Friday, April 19, 2024 — Houston, TX


NEWS 9/16/15 4:03pm

Authors discuss legacy of Vietnam War at Baker Institute

Four award-winning authors who served in the Vietnam War examined the lasting legacy of the war by reading excerpts from their works and by participating in a panel discussion at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy on Sept. 10. The authors included Philip Caputo, Larry Heinemann, Tim O’Brien and Tobias Wolff.According to Heinemann, an interesting consequence of the war was the proliferation of veterans who became writers, poets or scholars.“It is a remarkable irony of the war that I became a writer,” Heinemann said. “If it hadn't been for my war years, I'd be driving a bus like my old man. This irony is something that I share with a number of other Vietnam veterans who came home.”Wolff said joining the war seemed like a natural path to follow because he grew up in a working-class environment surrounded by veterans.“You saw it as an opportunity to distinguish yourself, but it wasn't my motive when I went in,” Wolff said. “I enlisted when I was 18 largely because I pretty much screwed up my life at that point. I didn't have a high school diploma, and I didn't have any prospects.”On the other hand, Heinemann said he reluctantly joined the war because he was drafted.“I was distinctly not interested in being in the army,” Heinemann said. “The harassment we were treated to offended me.”Caputo, who served for a time as a casualty reporting officer, said his worst experience on the job was having to identify the body and report the death of his best friend, Lieutenant Walter Levy.“His death affected me very deeply and does to this day,” Caputo said. “Not too long ago, I was at a reunion in Washington, and I went to the wall and saw Walt's name there, and 40-some years after the event I just started bawling like a child.”When asked if he would partake in the war again, O’Brien said he views the war as an evil, but is unsure of his own response.“It was sinful,” O’Brien said. “We were killing people. Veterans are too often looked upon as victims, but we are participants. I wouldn't participate again, but until you are in the circumstances, you really don't know.”According to O’Brien, the years following Vietnam have shown how the driving forces behind wars can be misleading.“Wars are always sold to us as pending catastrophes,” O’Brien said. “If we don't go kill people, horrible things will ensue. We lost the war. Where is the catastrophe? We have shirts that are made in Vietnam.”Emily Rao, an event attendee, said she appreciated hearing the speakers share their different perspectives.“The four authors had four very distinct styles and were unsettlingly honest about their experiences, and I just feel lucky to have heard them speak,” Rao, a Baker College sophomore, said.  Dean of the Jesse H. Jones Graduate School of Business William Glick said the event was meant not only to observe the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War but also to recognize the growing number of veterans at Rice University.“Together with the Jones School, we have set a goal of being the most veteran-friendly MBA program,” Glick said. “The veterans have taken on tremendous leadership roles within the student body and have gone on to be highly valued graduates. They enrich Rice. They enrich Houston and the broader community.”

NEWS 9/16/15 7:34am

Mayoral candidates present platforms

The Houston mayoral election will take place this fall as Mayor Annise Parker’s final term comes to a close. With no incumbent running for the position, Houstonians will have the opportunity to vote for new hopefuls on Nov. 3. The two winning candidates from the general election will compete in a runoff election in December.

NEWS 9/16/15 6:27am

Students flock to Bernie Sanders kickoff event

Rice students came together to “feel the Bern” at the Rice Students for Bernie kickoff meeting at Willy’s Pub on Thursday. Despite the heavy rain, over 100 students were in attendance to support Bernie Sanders for United States president in the 2016 election, according to Student Chapter Leader Alex Amari.

NEWS 9/11/15 5:34pm

Rice climbs back to 18 in USNWR rank

Rice climbed one rank in the U.S. News and World Report Best Universities ranking, placing it at number 18, as it was ranked in 2014. Rice had previously been at rank number 17 from 2005-2013, then fell to 18 in 2014, and again to 19 in 2015.The ranking places Rice just behind Cornell University, Vanderbilt University, and Washington University in St. Louis, all tied for the 15th place. The University of Notre Dame is similarly ranked at number 18.According to the USNWR website, the rankings are calculated based on a number of quantitative factors, including academic reputation, retention, student selectivity and faculty resources, which are weighed most heavily. Alumni giving rate is the least heavily weighted, factoring into five percent of the overall calculation.This year, according to the USNWR website, there were two changes in the calculations. The rankings included survey results from two years, spring 2014 and spring 2015, instead of one and the high school counselor scoring average used three years of data instead of two.  The USNWR states this is to reduce year-to-year volatility in the results. The data used for the calculations is almost entirely provided by the universities themselves.The listing does not include liberal arts colleges, but does include both public and private universities.

NEWS 9/11/15 7:19am

Band logistics dictated Sid '80s date

The ‘80s are coming just a day earlier this year. Sid '80s will be held today, the same day as Screw-Yer-Roommate, instead of Saturday due to scheduling issues with the party’s live band, Molly & the Ringwalds, according to Sid Richardson College President Lauren Schmidt.“The live band is booked six months in advance,” Schmidt, a senior, said. “We use the same band each year. We have a good relationship with them, and they’re a part of what we love about [Sid] ‘80s.”Schmidt said the lead singer of Molly & the Ringwalds was due to have a baby soon, and a replacement vocalist was only available during weekdays.“[The rescheduling] had to happen to preserve the party’s culture,” Schmidt said.Typically, Screw-Yer-Roommate and associated festivities occupy all of Friday evening. Schmidt said she is unsure of how the rescheduling of Sid ‘80s will affect turnout or reception.“I don’t think [the Sid Richardson socials, who plan the party,] realized Screw was the same day,” Schmidt said. “We were focused on scheduling the band. I’m guessing there might be more turnout, or maybe more people will come with a group already. We’ll probably have more costumes than usual from a different century though.”

NEWS 9/9/15 3:16pm

Recent Texas law requires RUPD to make police records public

Rice University Police Department is required to make all records related to law enforcement activities available to the public upon request according to Texas Senate Bill 308, as of Sept. 1, 2015. The Texas Public Information Act, which holds public institutions to these same requirements, has been in effect since Sept. 1, 1993 according to General Counsel Vice President Richard Zansitis.“Private universities in Texas are permitted by state law to have police departments with officers commissioned under state law,” Zansitis said. “However, in the past, the attorney general of Texas ruled that since the private universities themselves were not governmental bodies, their police departments were not subject to the PIA.”Texas Senator Rodney Ellis coauthored S.B. 308 to make the standard of openness the same for public and private institutions, Ellis said.“I signed on as a coauthor to Senator Whitmire’s bill because transparency and accountability are important factors for any entity with policing powers,” Ellis said. “If an entity has the ability to detain and use force on the public, they should have to be transparent about how they are using their police powers.”Now, individuals can apply to see police records related to a case, regardless of whether or not they have direct involvement in the incident, according to RUPD Chief Johnny Whitehead.“Once we get a request, we have to look at the request and make a determination of whether or not it’s subject to open records,” Whitehead said. “Each time these come in, we’ll have to do a certain amount of research. We may have to rely on consultation from the general counsel and in some cases ask the attorney general’s office for a ruling.”Because of these new procedures and rules, RUPD will have to do more work to do its job correctly, RUPD Captain Clemente Rodriguez said.“There’s going to be a little bit of a learning curve, [since] we’ve never been subject to open records before,” Rodriguez said. “So when the request comes in, we’re going to probably have to pay a little more attention to make sure we’re complying with the law.”The bill has positive effects too, according to Rodriguez.“It means that people will continue to have confidence with us,” Rodriguez said. “We’re going to comply with everything that’s required. We’re doing what’s in the best interest of the community.”Whitehead said RUPD has prepared extensively for the law.“We’ve worked very diligently to be ready for when the law went into effect, in establishing the website, designating the [Public Information Officer], training everybody [and] making members of the campus community aware of the new law,” Whitehead said. “We’re ready.”

NEWS 9/9/15 3:15pm

Code of Conduct limits college Backpages

Student Judicial Programs released an updated version of the Code of Student Conduct to its website on Aug. 20. The majority of the changes to the Code, which was last updated in late January, removed redundancies and clarified language. According to Lovett College President Griffin Thomas, one major update to the definition of public disclosure of private information has led to some confusion over the legality of the Lovett Backpage, a publication with college government minutes and anonymous gossip regarding members of the college.The added section on public disclosure of private information explicitly prohibits official and quasi-official publications from publishing private information without a legitimate university interest. However, the Code does not specify what constitutes private information.“Examples of forums in which this type of violation can occur are: college government’s minutes, college social media sites, and publications of colleges, university-affiliated organizations, teams and clubs,” the Code reads. “Responsibility for any alleged violation may apply to the individual, the college, the organization, team or club, and/or the officers.”Thomas, a junior, said SJP Director Lisa Zollner and Associate Dean of Undergraduates Don Ostdiek contacted Lovett College in March to collect all copies of the Backpage that were on file for an investigation led by the general counsel’s office. “Past Lovett secretaries four or five years ago chose to highlight hookups on the Backpage, whereas the current secretaries choose to use the Backpage to share funny and often drunken shenanigans from the prior weekend,” Thomas said. “After Sid [Richardson College] was sued for the grotesque nature of their Backpage in the early 2000s, Lovett has chosen to keep a tighter rein on its Backpage.”According to Thomas, Lovett has had a few complaints about its Backpage in the past, but to his knowledge recent complaints have been resolved in a timely and ultimately satisfactory manner internal to the college. Thomas said the new Code won’t affect the Backpage because the current secretaries will not repeat mistakes from years prior. However, he said the secretaries and colleges in general are afraid to publish anything that may be seen as offensive because of the vague nature of the wording in the Code.“When pushed for clarification on the rules, SJP and Dean [of Undergraduates John] Hutchinson responded that they are purposefully vague in order to allow students to develop ‘good judgment,’” Thomas said. “However, when the resulting punishment is also undefined and could be anywhere from a warning to the rustication of college officers, then this uncertainty causes panic … In a process that is becoming increasingly more common, the administration decided to proceed in a unilateral manner without seeking student input and then was surprised when students responded negatively.”Lovett College Secretary Rahul Kothari, who works with junior Darcy Curtis, said the Backpage has changed since its inception years ago.“[Curtis] and I made it our goal this year to make the Backpage into something that brings the Lovett community together over comedy and satire, instead of tearing it apart by publishing people’s personal and private information,” Kothari, a junior, said. “I don’t think we’ll run into any problems with SJP’s new Student Code of Conduct.”The new version of the Code also clarifies college masters’ authority to rusticate their students, both socially and from the college. The masters may also ban members of another college from the location and activities of the master’s college. SJP may add further prohibitions or prescriptions to the student’s rustication parameters.“A Master’s Rustication does not prohibit investigation, charges or sanctions by SJP even if the investigation arises from the same behavior that gave rise to the Master’s Rustication,” the Code states. “In that case, if SJP finds the student ‘in violation’ of the Code, SJP may take the rustication or ban into consideration when determining appropriate sanctions.” Language in the document clarifies that SJP sanctions similar to those of rustication are not, semantically, rustications, as only masters may rusticate students. SJP sanctions similar to rustication are described as a disciplinary loss of privileges.Other changes include a new section regarding student rights within SJP proceedings intending to increase transparency, although all the rights listed were already valid and provided to students in the discipline process. The language under the Records section has been corrected to state that violations are not noted on transcripts, but are held on record for 10 years after graduation, not 10 years after the resolution of the incident. 

NEWS 9/9/15 3:13pm

O-Week sees increase in voter registration

The 2015 Rice Vote Coalition garnered over twice as many registered student voters as last year. Between first-year students and returning advisors, 362 new voters were registered during Orientation Week.According to University Relations and Welcome Center Assistant Director Mary Lowery, the change is quite visible in the student body.“I’m actually there on site when we’re doing voter registration,” Lowery said. “We generally have some time to chat with people as they’re coming through, and it was my impression that we had a lot more questions about the differences between voting here on campus and voting in their home state.” Outside of the new students, Lowery also noticed new enthusiasm in the voter liaisons and advisors aiding in registration. “I noticed that the liaisons this year were really excited about the process, and I think that really translates to more incoming students registering,” Lowery said.Martel College junior Neethi Nayak was one of her college’s voter liaisons during O-Week. Nayak said she wanted to take a typically dry topic and present it in an upbeat way to help new students gain political awareness.“We knew that in order to get new students at our college more excited about the importance of voter registration, we had to take a more creative approach,” Nayak said. “Turns out rapping about civic engagement in the middle of the commons was a great way to do just that!”The trend of voter enthusiasm has continued outside of registration, as the RVC has been contacted to organize an event with the Jesse H. Jones Graduate School of Business.Chairman of the College Republicans Sam Herrera attributes expanding voter interest to the upcoming presidential election.“The political arena is definitely heating up,” Herrera said. “We have a lot of new students that come from different states, and I suppose they’re excited to vote and participate in the election next year.”According to Herrera, the College Republicans have noted an increase in interest this year. “We have 62 members and at the Student Activity Fair last week we gauged around 70 people who expressed interest in joining,” Herrera said. “We have set a goal of going to over 100 and I think that’s totally feasible.”One of the main roles of the RVC is to aid Harris County in setting up a polling location on campus which is important for increasing voter turnout, according to Herrera.“I think it’s fantastic; it’s obviously very accessible,” Herrera said. “It’s a Tuesday, people are in class and they don’t have time to go somewhere significantly off campus.” Madeleine Tibaldi, vice president of Rice Democrats, said new students’ interest in politics is evident in both club recruitment and voter registration.“This year our organization received a lot of interest from new students wanting to get involved in politics on campus, and we are thrilled to see this trend mirrored in the spike in voter registration,” Tibaldi, a Jones College senior, said. Tibaldi said the organization also hopes for students’ political participation on multiple levels, which is why they are planning a meet-the-candidates panel for the upcoming Houston mayoral elections.“Perhaps the rhetoric and excitement surrounding the 2016 presidential election is increasing students’ desire to become politically active, but we also hope to see an increase [in] the number of students voting in state and local elections,” Tibaldi said. Lowery said registering to vote on time is important for students to keep in mind.“Registering keeps your options open,” Lowery said. “If something interesting happens in a race between when the deadline closes for registering and the actual race … there’s not a lot you can do.” 

NEWS 9/9/15 3:12pm

Rice Indo-American Business Club to connect alumni, business owners, students across Houston

The Rice Indo-American Business Club launched at the Jesse H. Jones Graduate School of Business on Sept. 2. According to RIABC Vice President Nishanth Babu, the club serves as a platform for Houston Indo-Americans and Rice alumni to meet, learn from each other and network. “This organization really does the two things we’ve been trying to put a lot of emphasis on,” President David Leebron, the opening speaker, said. “One is connect to the local Indo-American business community, and ... create opportunities internationally to connect to India. Ultimately, that will provide more opportunities for students.”According to Babu, about 140 Indo-Americans from across Houston met for the inaugural event. Babu said the board of the RIABC did not envision the event to be as large as it ended up being, and they had initially planned for a small inaugural event with around 25 people. “When we started reaching out to alumni, they were very passionate about it,” Babu said. “It was that passion and we were impressed that if everyone else was thinking that [the event is] worth something, then let’s do it.”The program featured speeches from Prashant Kale, associate professor of strategic management at the Jones School, and Parvathaneni Harish, consul general of India in Houston. Kale said he encouraged a view of India as a disruptive innovator, driven by the needs of its people to create products that are improvements on those in American markets.Martel College senior Komal Agarwal is currently the only undergraduate involved with the club. All other members are Rice MBA students.“This club has a lot to offer for undergraduates involved with the club at the moment,” Agarwal said. “Ultimately, this club is about promoting ideas across a diverse community. The Rice community and the Greater Houston population are such a diverse population that learning how to communicate with people of various backgrounds is essential to everyone.”Ashok Rao, an entrepreneur who will serve as a long-term associate of the club, is on the Council of Overseers of the Jones School. Rao was the first Indo-American to take a company public on NASDAQ and has founded, grown and traded several companies since founding Midcom Communications in 1990. Rao spoke about the Indian diaspora and how American immigration policies resulted in Indo-Americans consisting of mainly highly skilled workers. Rao said he believed students would get as much out of the club as they were willing to put in.“It’s a terrific idea ... long overdue,” Rao said. “[RIABC] will connect students to the Indian community here, and into the business community, so it will help them with potential employment and assimilation into the milieu.”Hanszen College junior Sai Chilakapati said  his interest in combined M.D./MBA programs drove him to attend though he is pursuing medicine.“As an undergraduate, I think it’s a great opportunity to come to these networking events and get to know businesspeople in the community as well as more of the graduate population,” Chilakapati said.Babu said he hopes to have more input from undergraduates as the club grows and even hopes to see them on the board of the organization. RIABC President Himanshu Upadhyaya voiced similar opinions, and both said they see the future of the club as largely flexible in nature.“We encourage all undergraduates to join this club,” Upadhyaya said. “There’s plenty of opportunities for mentorship [and] networking. We plan on keeping our regular meetings so anyone can come participate and volunteer.”For more information or to get involved in RIABC, contact Nivriti Chowdhry at nivi@rice.edu.

NEWS 9/9/15 3:11pm

Former MD Anderson president discusses clinical cancer research

John Mendelsohn, M.D., a distinguished cancer researcher, spoke at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy’s Center for Health and Biosciences on Sept. 2 about his professional journey and the future of cancer treatment.Mendelsohn is an L.E. and Virginia Simmons Fellow in Health and Technology Policy at the Baker Institute. After previously serving as president of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Mendelsohn currently sits as the director of the Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan Institute for Personalized Cancer Therapy at MD Anderson.The institute focuses on preclinical research and clinical trials in order to employ personalized cancer therapy and optimize patient outcomes, according to the MD Anderson Cancer Center’s website.Mendelsohn went to University of California, San Diego where he founded a National Cancer Institute designated cancer center. There, Mendelsohn and Dr. Gordon Sato eventually succeeded in targeting and suppressing specific tumors through the production of a certain antibody.Targeted cancer therapy is the focus at the Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan Institute for Personalized Cancer Therapy.“Precision, or personalized, cancer treatment involves taking advantage of all information available about the patient and his or her cancer in order to prescribe treatments most likely to succeed in achieving a cure or substantial prolongation of life,” Mendelsohn said. The goals of the Institute emphasize improved prognoses for cancer patients and education for doctors and patients.“We now know most of the genetic abnormalities that cause cancer and can detect biomarkers in an individual’s cancer in a reasonable time frame for a reasonable cost, about the same amount as two MRI scans,” Mendelsohn explained. “Clinical trials using this approach have been successful, showing that for prolongation of life, targeted treatment is better than randomly assigned.”This type of therapy affords a potential opportunity to cure the incurable, according to Mendelsohn. “If standard therapy, surgery, radiation and chemo are not producing a cure, we wanted to be able to screen genes, develop clinical trials to bring therapy to these patients, and provide decision support to help physicians and patients,” Mendelsohn said.Mendelsohn said it is clear from the data that this personalized therapy is working overall, but there is still much to learn.“We need more trials with combinations of therapies,” Mendelsohn said. “We need to work with multiple drug companies, handle toxicities, understand sensitivity and resistance better. We need a vast knowledge network to create a research computational platform.”According to Mendelsohn, the work of the Sheikh Khalifa Institute is changing the way cancer is treated, while showing pharmaceutical companies that the modern way to fight cancer is not necessarily what they expected.“Once we have shown that something works, it goes into the standard of practice and any doctor and any patient can benefit from that,” Mendelsohn said. “The [pharmaceutical] companies dream of drugs that work against all types of one cancer, but there won’t be one. The companies are retooling and making sense of the fact that there won’t be a ‘blockbuster’ drug.”Jones College sophomore Alina Mohanty decided to attend Mendelsohn’s talk, which was entitled “Precision Medicine: Past, Present, and Future,” after learning of all he had accomplished.“I was drawn by Dr. Mendelsohn’s positions and achievements,” Mohanty said. “I figured if he had accomplished so much, he would definitely have something to say that I could learn from.”Mohanty enjoyed the talk due to Mendelsohn’s incorporation of medicine, science and policy.“Dr. Mendelsohn’s talk was exciting and informative,” Mohanty said. “While the lecture was very scientific, he explained step-by-step how he came about producing Erbitux. Not only did we learn about cancers and cancer treatment, but also we learned about the experiences of a successful physician and his views on policy that should be implemented in his field of medicine. It was altogether a very well-rounded talk.”

NEWS 9/9/15 3:09pm

Rice pilots Canvas as alternative to Owlspace

Rice University is testing a new learning management system, Canvas, in 15 pilot courses involving 16 instructors and nearly 1,000 students, according to Director of Informational Technology and Access Services Diane Butler. Canvas could potentially replace Owlspace as the primary platform for learning management.“We are targeting faculty who use it in different ways,” Butler said. “Some use a lot of quizzes and tests. Some do more interactions and collaboration. We have [surveyed] across the board from large to small classes just to get a good idea.”The university is moving away from the open source Owlspace system currently in use to a vendor-supplied learning management system. Rice staff currently run the server that hosts Owlspace and maintain the service, while an independent vendor manages services for Canvas. “Owlspace is more than 10 years old,” Butler said. “Most of the [information technology] department is trying to move to cloud-based services. IT has posted a job, instructional designer ... to help faculty design courses [online] other than just putting a syllabus out there.”Butler said the pilot courses this semester test the possibility of moving web-based courses such as Computational Thinking (COMP 140) to Canvas without losing their current features. According to Scott Rixner, professor of computer science and the instructor of COMP 140, Canvas is significantly better than Owlspace because it allows instructors to release online material in parts in a way similar to Coursera, an online service previously used to teach COMP 140. “The biggest thing Canvas does is that it helps me to organize the material in a logical way and release it in stages,” Rixner said. According to Rixner, Canvas better meets the needs of on-campus teaching than Coursera by incorporating grades by teaching assistants.“[Canvas] is not as automated and as hands-off as Coursera is,” Rixner said. “Coursera expects you to never have a human grade anything. This causes problems for on-campus classes, when you do have TAs grading. So Canvas has facilities that have things that are automatically graded by machine and also allow you to grade things with TA. Canvas, in that sense, is better than Coursera.”Three courses in the summer session were the first pilot courses for Canvas. A working group consisting of representatives from Fondren Library, the Office of Digital Education and the Office of Information Technology has surveyed the classes’ students on their experiences. They will conduct further assessments on Canvas in the coming school year, according to Butler. “We did a pre-survey and we are going to do a post-survey,” Butler said. “In the middle, we are doing one-on-one assessments, some with students and with all the faculty who were teaching. [The assessments will] identify and help us move on to the next step.”Isabella Yang, a student in Biomedical Instrumentation Lab (BIOE 385), a pilot course for Canvas, said Canvas attempted to combine Owlspace and Piazza, an online course forum for discussion, but failed to integrate them efficiently. “There are options for Discussions, Conferences and Chat,” Yang, a McMurtry College junior, said. “Aren’t they necessarily the same?”Rixner said he agrees Canvas has redundant functions that might add to students’ confusion. “There is a lot of redundancy, but the instructor has the ability to pick and choose which ones you want to use for your course,” Rixner said.Steve An, a student in General Chemistry I (CHEM 121), another pilot course on Canvas, said Canvas is currently too rigid in the answers it accepts, which results in faulty grading. “Our answers have to be extremely specific,” An, a Martel College freshman, said. “My friend got points off because she put ‘grams’ instead of ‘g.’ Although she can tell the TAs and get the points back, we should not [have to] go through this extra process.”

NEWS 9/9/15 3:07pm

Alum recounts experience at Rice and NASA

Rice alumnus and NASA engineer Jerry Woodfill (Wiess ’65) discussed his time at Rice University and his experience as the Warning Systems Engineer during the Apollo 13 mission at a presentation on Sept. 3. The presentation was the first of this year’s Houston Spaceport Frontier Lectures series hosted at Rice.Woodfill attended Rice on a basketball scholarship and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering. He said that although he struggled significantly in college, he firmly believes that his failures are a key piece of his later success at NASA.“I had a dismal career at Rice,” Woodfill said. “Not only was I a failure at athletics, academically I was not doing any better … I had the lowest grade ever made in MATH 300 at Rice. I was ready to quit, believe me. I was doing just desperately badly.”During his junior year, Woodfill said he was inspired by President John F. Kennedy’s 1962 “We choose to go to the Moon” speech made at the Rice stadium.“It was so life changing for me,” Woodfill said. “It was that catalyst in my life that turned things around.”Woodfill graduated after his fifth year at Rice and began working at NASA. He was among the hundreds of staff at the NASA Mission Control Center during the Apollo 13 mission that began on April 11, 1970, according to the NASA Mission Summary.“We have Nobel Prize winners and famous athletes … but look what happened,” Woodfill said at the lecture. “It took 50 years! 50 years! I am now a notable alumni! Don’t give up! You can’t have been struggling with anything for a half-century like I did.” Woodfill was among those who shared the Presidential Medal of Freedom for the Apollo 13 Mission Team and continued to work at NASA for over 45 years afterwards. On the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 13 mission, Universe Today released his book “13 Things that Saved Apollo 13.”Woodfill said he travels frequently for scholastic talks focused on his time at NASA and his book. The lectures aim to provide an engaging educational experience for both students and the general public on a range of issues pertaining to exploration and development of space, according to the Space Frontiers website.David Alexander, director of the Rice Space Institute and professor of physics and astronomy, is the organizer of the event. “I’ve helped put these lectures together,” Alexander said. “We’ve got a good season going. We have a couple different kinds of lectures that are not just Spaceport lectures this fall. I’m lining up the program for the spring.”Alexander said he is trying to allow broader access to the programs. The lecture on Thursday was live streamed online from Rice to the University of Hawaii.“Streaming is free,” Alexander said. “I’d like to get these lectures well received in Houston and to get broader access to them … It would be great to get them around the country.”Future lectures in the series will be on Oct. 22, Nov. 19 and Jan. 14. Details can be found at the Houston Spaceport Frontiers website, spacefrontiers.rice.edu.

NEWS 9/1/15 2:35pm

New mobile app provides rewards for Rice sports fans

Rice University Athletics recently launched a student rewards app, allowing students to check in when they attend certain sporting events to gain virtual rewards.Rice Athletics Director of Marketing Vaughan Moss led the initiative, which officially launched  at the Orientation Week Rice Rally. According to Moss, the new system is designed to increase spirit in the student body.“We are always looking for creative, new ways to engage students with athletics,” Moss said. “The app makes natural sense because everyone in the age group is always on their phones and always so connected.”The app was created with the help of the Rice Rally Club, a group dedicated to the promotion of overall school spirit on campus, according to Moss. The club, which reformed last year after a period of inactivity, presented Moss with the idea of a rewards system.“We thought the concept was a great one and I knew of a company, FanMaker, that made apps for this purpose,” Moss said. “Companies approach us all the time trying to sell ideas like this but FanMaker ended up being the one that had the best user interface and fit our budget.”Moss said the app boasts features such as the ability to send out mass messages to fans and a technology feature called Beacon, which detects fan location by connecting with their phones and Bluetooth devices. Moss said the GPS technology can recognize when you are in a certain athletic venue on campus.According to Moss, fans using the app will accrue points that then earn them points for prizes. Points can be earned by attending sporting events and by promoting Rice Athletics through social media. According to Moss, attending any sporting event on campus is 125 points. Connecting to social media, liking Rice’s football and basketball Facebook pages as well as retweeting Rice Athletics on Twitter will also earn points.Rewards will range from merchandise from Rice’s official athletic sponsor Adidas to gift cards from local sponsors such as Buffalo Wild Wings, according to Moss.Moss said he hopes the app will be especially effective in increasing attendance in sports that are working on building excitement and support.“The [men’s] basketball team, for example, is currently undergoing rebuilding under Coach [Mike] Rhoades and would really benefit from the support of the student body,” Moss said. “Hopefully they have such a great time coming to a game that they come back again and again.”Captain of the Rice Owls dance team May Zhong said the app could function as an equalizer of school spirit among different sports.“The dance team performs at a lot of different sporting events and I definitely got the sense that not every game got the same level of support and school spirit,” Zhong, a Baker College sophomore, said.Baker College freshman Matthew Ringheanu said he downloaded the app as soon as it was introduced at the O-Week Rally.“I haven’t been here very long but from what I’ve gauged so far, I think Rice is a very spirited school and has a great sense of family,” Ringheanu said. “This app would definitely help increase that sense of family.”The Rice Owls Rewards app is available on both the Apple Store and Google Play.

NEWS 9/1/15 2:28pm

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

“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.”

NEWS 9/1/15 2:28pm

NSF grant funds new nanotech water treatment system center

In early August, the National Science Foundation announced a $55.5 million grant for the opening of three new Engineering Research Centers. Of the total, $18.5 million is  dedicated to creating a center for Nanotechnology Enabled Water Treatment Systems at Rice.The center will be led by Pedro Alvarez, professor of civil and environmental engineering, who said his goal is to create a durable, efficient and cost-effective water treatment system that will produce potable water from either wastewater or seawater. He hopes to accomplish this goal through nanotechnology.“[Nanotechnology] is critical for making small systems that are easy to deploy and have significantly greater capacity to treat a wide range of water sources that would otherwise require large and complex treatment trains,” Alvarez said.The grant will also expand the environmental engineering program at Rice and allow more students to get involved with research and pursue graduate degrees, according to Alvarez.Alison Archabal, an environmental engineering major, said she is proud her school is taking a leading role in fighting the global water crisis.“Having lived in countries where water purification is almost nonexistent including Cuba, India, Philippines, I’ve experienced the difficulty that is questioning every source of water,” Archabal, a Baker College sophomore, said, “I think Dr. Alvarez’s work is a great step not just for Rice but also for the larger community around us.”Archabal said worldwide environmental problems have made water treatment research increasingly important.“With the earth’s population increasing and the increase in water crises, like droughts or flooding, sustainable water purification is vital for the future,” Archabal said. “The fact [that] Rice is going to be part of a collaboration to develop the systems that can achieve this is exciting.”Though the flagship center will be located at Rice, Alvarez said the project leaders will partner with Arizona State University, the University of Texas, El Paso and Yale University.The other two schools with flagship Engineering Research Centers are the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, which will focus on compacting mobile power, and Arizona State University, which will examine soil engineering tasks.

NEWS 9/1/15 2:28pm

Court rules RUPD officers have full law enforcement power

Rice University Police Department officers are “officers of the state” according to a May 11 ruling by the Texas State Supreme Court. As officers of the state, they have the power to enforce the laws of Texas within their jurisdictions, which includes the Rice campus and Harris County.“[T]he private university police officer is an officer ‘of the state’ because by statute the Legislature has conferred on him the authority to enforce state law on the Rice campus, a public purpose and vested him with all a police officer’s powers, privileges and immunities,” the ruling read. The decision also granted RUPD the right of interlocutory appeal, which gives them the ability to appeal rulings previously made by appellate courts before any trial could occur. The ruling came on a false imprisonment case brought by a man who was arrested by an RUPD officer on drunk driving and evading arrest charges after a car chase near campus. He then sued the officer and Rice for false imprisonment, negligence, gross negligence, assault and intentional infliction of emotional distress.In a written statement, RUPD Chief of Police Johnny Whitehead said RUPD supports the Supreme Court decision. He said the ruling does not change RUPD’s mission and operations, but instead affirms their rights as officers.“Our officers face the same dangers as any other peace officer in the state and deserve the same protections and rights,” Whitehead wrote. RUPD came under scrutiny in 2014 for alleged misconduct during a bike theft. A dashboard camera video from the incident shows two RUPD officers using batons on the suspected thief as two others attempt to handcuff the man’s arms while he resists arrest. A grand jury neglected to indict the two officers alleged of misconduct.The case has been remanded to the Court of Appeals for further proceedings.

NEWS 9/1/15 2:27pm

Athletics exceeds fundraising record

The Owl Club, Rice Athletics Department’s fundraising branch, has raised a record-breaking $2.3 million, a 52.6 percent increase from the $1.51 million in donations they received the previous year.Director of Rice Athletics Joe Karlgaard said the unprecedented fundraising success speaks to the growing support from Rice’s fan base.“We surpassed our previous annual fundraising record by $500,000, and we are thrilled with the signal of support this sends from our alumni and friends,” Karlgaard said.According to Karlgaard, cultivating donor loyalty was key to the accomplishment.“We really tried to emphasize continued and consistent annual giving as part of our vision for becoming a department with 16 programs of excellence,” Karlgaard said.Following previous examples, the department is planning to spend the extra money on needs unforeseen in the budgeting process, according to Karlgaard.“Each year, we set a goal for the Owl Club and incorporate that goal into our budget,” Karlgaard said. “Our goal last year was $2.2 million, and we exceeded it by $100,000. We used those funds to help us fund unexpected expenses that were not accounted for in the budget.”Sergio Santamaria, football sport head and executive board member of the Rice Rally Club, said since 2013 Rice Athletics has demonstrated a dedication to brand awareness which almost predicts the fundraising success.“I find it as no surprise that Athletics had a record year — ever since the arrival of [Joe Karlgaard], Athletics’ vision for growing the Rice brand has been very evident in all they do,” Santamaria, a Duncan College sophomore, said.Almost every Athletics employee has spent less than two years at Rice and brings fresh perspectives to the office, according to Santamaria, who visited Rice Athletics for an externship last semester.“There’s definitely new blood and an exciting attitude toward the future of Rice Athletics,” Santamaria said.Santamaria said he hopes to see increased investment on things with lasting impact, such as infrastructure, personnel and publicity.“I’d like to see the money spent on the long-term investments of Athletics — its facilities, its coaching staffs and, of course, its on-campus presence with students,” Santamaria said.Swim team captain Taylor Armstrong said she hopes the money goes toward  sports that are not regularly advertised.“We see a lot of publicity and game advertising for men’s football, baseball and basketball,” Armstrong said. “However, ask any of these supporters at these games how many women’s sports they’ve attended and the most frequent answer heard is zero.”Armstrong said she wonders whether the lack of involvement and support in women’s sports is due to student apathy or lack of publicity.“We can have four people at a home swim meet and they will be the parents of my teammates because Rice lacks advertising women’s sports,” Armstrong said.On the other hand, according to Katie Jensen, a member of the cross-country team, some Rice athletes have felt the positive impact of additional financial resources.“I think [Rice Athletics] is trying to have a bigger presence on campus and I think that the extra fundraising is good for facilities and bringing more student-athletes into the mix,” Jensen, a Lovett College junior, said. “I know track and field is getting a new locker room so I'm excited about that.”Jensen said she would like to see the extra donations being utilized to foster relationships beyond Rice.“The extra money could be spent on connecting the athletics department to the community and doing more to encourage sports in areas surrounding Rice,” Jensen said.

NEWS 9/1/15 2:27pm

New RPC constitution proposed at Senate

The Student Association commenced the 2015-16 school year with an introduction to major changes to the Rice Program Council constitution. The SA will vote Sept. 2 on ratification, requiring a two-thirds majority to pass. According to RPC President Dixita Viswanath, the constitution, which was last updated in 2005, outlines organizational restructuring on the executive board and committees.

NEWS 9/1/15 2:26pm

Students found pro-choice group

Pro-Choice Rice, a new advocacy group and the first college chapter of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, aims to bring awareness of women’s reproductive rights to the Rice University campus and the surrounding community.