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NEWS 1/14/15 5:13pm

IT and CTE pilot cloud-based 'clicker' system

Rice Information Technology and the Center for Teaching Excellence are collaborating to implement a new cloud-based clicker system to replace existing iClickers. According to Carlyn Chatfield, Manager of Rice IT Technical Communications, the system will be university-wide by fall 2015.

NEWS 1/14/15 5:12pm

Obama calls for new college ratings system

The United States Department of Education announced its proposal for a new rating method for institutions of higher learning on Dec. 19, 2014. Based on recent rankings of colleges with the best affordability, retention rate and diversity, Rice appears to rate highly on the scale.

NEWS 1/14/15 5:08pm

Hutchinson Eliminates Cheer Battle

Orientation Week 2015 will not include a scheduled time for teaching and performing cheers before the Rice Rally. The event, referred to as Cheer Battle, will remain a possibility at the discretion of the O-Week coordinators, but will not be university-sanctioned, according to Dean of Undergraduates John Hutchinson.

NEWS 12/4/14 7:34am

Ferguson rally organizers to host vigil for Garner

Rice students Osaki Bilaye-Benibo and Blaque Robinson, two of the organizers of the Ferguson rally, are holding a candlelight vigil at 6 p.m. in the academic quad. This event comes after a grand jury declined yesterday to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the choking death of Eric Garner.

NEWS 12/3/14 7:21am

Local journalist discusses future of spaceflight

Houston Chronicle journalist Eric Berger spoke on the current state and possible future of America’s space program Nov. 19 at Duncan Hall.Berger, who has researched the American space program for the past year, said one of his driving questions is the disparity between the U.S. government’s stated goals and their actions for space exploration.“How could a functional government that valued a space program — and knew literally for decades that the space shuttle's end would come — fail to put in an adequate plan to replace the shuttle?” Berger said. “To some extent, the U.S. government is dysfunctional, and, sadly, space flight doesn’t rank as high on the political agenda as a lot of us would like.”Berger said America’s lack of progress in space exploration is partly due to a lack of clear vision for the space program."Every president since Kennedy has failed to articulate a clear goal for NASA and provide the resources necessary to reach that goal," Berger said.Officially, NASA’s goal is to reach Mars by the 2030s, but that may not be possible at this point, according to Berger.“To achieve [a human landing on Mars], not in the 2030s but in the 2040s or 2050s, more likely … we would need the kind of commitment to NASA we haven’t seen in a long time,” Berger said. “NASA’s own advisory committee … suggested NASA is probably going to stay [near the Earth and moon] for the next 20 to 30 years.”Berger said NASA’s unrealistic timeline for reaching Mars will not help the organization’s image.“If you’re telling everyone you’re going to go to Mars in the 2030s and then you don’t get there, you just basically set your whole agency up to fail,” Berger said.Berger said a common suggestion among people he interviewed is for NASA to plan missions to the moon as precursors to a Mars mission.“Why not the moon?” Berger said. “It’s close, you can prove a lot of technology you need to go to Mars and … all of the international partners that NASA works on [the International Space Station] with want to go to the moon.”According to Berger, the moon’s ice may even prove an important resource for space exploration.“There’s enough fuel on the moon in form of water … to launch the equivalent of a space shuttle every day for 2,000 years,” Berger said. “If you’re going to go out and explore space, water is essential — you can drink it, shield yourself from radiation [and] provide breathable oxygen or hydrogen for fuel cells.”Berger said the rise of less-expensive vehicles produced by commercial space companies may help promote space exploration.“To really open up space, you have to lower the cost of getting stuff into orbit,” Berger said. “NASA advisors told Congress that the space shuttle would lower the cost … down to $25 a pound. The actual cost, over 135 missions in 30 years, was $25,000 a pound.”Berger said his personal prediction for America’s space program is not optimistic.“[In] the most likely scenario, unfortunately, not much changes at NASA,” Berger said. “It continues to talk boldly about going to Mars in 2030. The president or Congress or both say, ‘We’ve had enough of the budget situation and we don’t want any more major international partnerships.’ We don’t think about bringing China or India or other countries into the ISS partnership. NASA ends up with a rocket that looks great, is totally badass to launch, but is too expensive to fly very often. After the space station stops flying … what is [Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center] doing? Flying a manned mission every three or four years? Maybe the center will revert back to where it came from — Rice University.”

NEWS 12/3/14 7:19am

Crack Team to propose new blanket tax system

The Rice University Student Association’s legislation to create the Blanket Tax Crack Team was passed at SA Senate on Nov. 12. The new team is now looking to review processes that involve the current blanket tax system and to propose a better model for the system as a whole, according to team chair Nick Cornell.Cornell, president of Sid Richardson College, said the BTCT is an extension of the Blanket Tax Pod, a committee formed by the SA earlier this year to look into the blanket tax system. Cornell said an evaluation of the system as a whole was overdue, and the issue was separate from the controversies involving Honor Council.“The motivation for having a pod consider [the blanket tax] had little to do with Honor Council,” Cornell, a junior, said. “The general intuition was that what we’ve always done for the blanket tax may no longer meet the needs of students. We tried to keep our discussion at a higher level than a knee jerk response to recent events.”Cornell said the BTCT is composed of people familiar with the blanket tax system who can provide leadership and knowledge. The team is thus composed of University Court Chair Brian Baran, Thresher Editor-in-Chief Miles Kruppa, SA Treasurer Joan Liu, SA Parliamentarian Zach Birenbaum and current at-large Blanket Tax Standing Committee member Giray Ozseker.According to the SA Senate Bill #5, the BTCT has three key goals: to examine current processes and propose new mechanisms; to outreach stakeholders in the process; and to present new text to be proposed as constitutional during the 2015 spring general elections.Cornell said the BTCT first met Thursday, Nov. 20, but the pod had already proposed a new model to the SA. Cornell said the model and alternatives had not yet been fully fleshed out because blanket tax is such a comprehensive and complex process.“Our work is much bigger than any one blanket tax process,” Cornell said. “We’re trying to consider the entire system from multiple perspectives. This means taking into consideration how organizations can get blanket tax funding, how and whether we should distinguish different types of investment and spending, how blanket tax funding can reflect student priorities, how to make sure organizations have predictable cash flows, etc.”During the recent SA Senate meeting, the BTCT gave key questions they will seek to explore:How can aggregate blanket tax revenues be regularly reviewed and realigned with student priorities?How can the standard review move immediate action on an organization due to technical violations or failure to use funds in line with the organization’s meeting?Can different types of expenditures be considered at the campus-wide level when distributing funds to normalize these differences in organizations’ financial plans?Cornell said he predicts that the BTCT will have drafted models to share with the SA by the end of the semester, and they will begin with comprehensive outreach next semester. “This is going to be a crucial process, as we want both students and organizations to be better served, on average, by a new model,” Cornell said. “The end goal is to have amendments that propose our final recommendation in time for elections.”

NEWS 12/3/14 7:18am

186 solar panels to top Jones College south roof

Rice University Housing and Dining began the installation of 186 solar panels on the roof of South Jones College as a new source of sustainable power for student inhabitants at the beginning of November. This solar panel project is the start of an institutional investment toward making Rice more eco-friendly, according to H&D Senior Operations Manager David Brown.“Our main intent is to reduce our electrical demands from the normal utility and generate some of our own green, renewable power to help [lower] costs and improve our environmental footprint,” Senior Electrical Engineer and Project Manager Jason Hochstein said. According to Hochstein, aside from the power generated directly from the solar cells, there are additional energy conservation benefits from the solar panel project.“The panels provide a degree of shading,” Hochstein said. “The goal there is to reduce the solar load to the building’s roof [to] reduce the air condition requirements for the facility.”Hochstein said the panels will also help prevent the ultraviolet breakdown of the roof and protect the internal parts of the building, including the insulation and air conditioning system. In the long run, the solar panels will extend the life of the building, according to Hochstein.According to Brown, Facilities Engineering and Planning is considering additional solar panel installments on other residential colleges and academic buildings. North Jones College is tentatively slated for a solar panel installment next summer. Brown said Jones was chosen to pilot the project because its roof structure best accommodated solar panels.“One of the things that Housing and Dining is hopeful about is that if this is worth what we invested up to this point, we will continue to invest and add more solar panels to more buildings and make Rice a greener place,” Brown said.The solar panel project at Jones is a learning experiment for both Rice as an institution and the student body according to Brown.“We want to look at how going to a green source will benefit us and the university, and I am hoping that we can really set an example not just for other colleges, but for the students as they graduate and move on and take this lesson with them and share it wherever they go,” Brown said. Because many students have expressed interest in the development of this project, there will be an educative component for the student body focused on explaining how the panels operate and benefit the building and the environment. “As an educational feature, we will be mounting a 42-inch television monitor in the main lobby of South Jones College that students will be able to look at to learn how the system is performing,” Hochstein said. Student involvement played a significant role in advancing this sustainability project.“The solar panels at Jones have been a long time coming,” Lead Campus Eco-Representative Zach Bielak said. “For a while now, students have been pushing for more responsible and sustainable sources of energy, and it’s phenomenal that Rice has finally responded in a tangible way. Hopefully, this project will pave the way for future energy projects at Rice — perhaps even solar panels on top of Lovett Hall!”According to Brown, the sustainability projects at Rice involve support from institutional staff and students alike.“Students are a part of this [green initiative],” Brown said. “Everyone plays a part in the conservation.”

NEWS 12/3/14 7:17am

New entrepreneurship courses to be offered

Next semester, two courses in entrepreneurship will be offered to undergraduate students. BUSI 460 and BUSI 461: Foundations of Entrepreneurship I: Strategy, and II: Financing, are the first undergraduates courses offered by the Jones Graduate School of Business to deal with entrepreneurship, according to Kris Ramesh, the deputy dean of academic affairs at the Jones School.“[The Jones School] is at a stage where we can actually start to invest more in the undergraduate program,” Ramesh said. “Several years ago, we started the undergraduate business minor program, which is flourishing. This seemed like the natural next step.”Ramesh said Yael Hochberg, the Ralph S. O’Connor Associate Professor Of Entrepreneurship at the Jones School, made the courses possible.“[Hochberg] is considered one of the foremost experts on accelerator programs, is very passionate about [these courses], and wants to reach out to as many undergraduate students as possible,” Ramesh said. “When she was hired, she was very focused on making this happen for undergraduates students.”According to Ramesh, the two courses are the first part of a new four-course sequence of entrepreneurship curriculum designed based on observations of best practices at Stanford University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Northwestern University and Cornell University.“The vision is that undergraduate students will have a critical number of courses they can take in entrepreneurship,” Ramesh said. “We don’t know exactly what will happen down the road. The plan is for a new, full course sequence in entrepreneurship curriculum for undergraduates, but whether that will lead into an entrepreneurship certificate or minor or whatever, we don’t know at this stage. But these courses are here for the long run and hopefully a start of a greater focus on entrepreneurship.”According to Ramesh, the offering of the new undergraduate courses signifies the embracement of early entrepreneurship by Rice.“The whole university is thinking about entrepreneurship,” Ramesh said. “Everybody, including the Jones Business School and [business incubator] Rice Alliance, will be more focused on undergraduates.”Ramesh said the courses, which have no prerequisites, are designed for all students, not just those looking to obtain a business minor.“If you look at Rice undergraduate students, they’re all brilliant, innovative and creative, and the next thing is to translate that to commercial success,” Ramesh said. The two courses are each 1.5 credits and half a semester long, with BUSI 460 in the first half of the semester leading into BUSI 461 in the second. BUSI 460 deals with strategic considerations and decisions for startups, while BUSI 461 covers seed and early-stage funding.SA Executive Vice President Trent Navran said the new coursework is very welcome, and that Hochberg is well qualified to lead the effort.“These courses represent a fantastic development in offering legitimate coursework for the entrepreneurially inclined,” Navran, a McMurtry College senior, said. “[Hochberg], who has participated in the [SA’s] Rice Education of the Future Initiative, brings extensive entrepreneurial knowledge and experience to Rice. Having been at Technion (Israel), Stanford, Northwestern and MIT, she knows what it’s going to take to take Rice to the heights it aspires to in entrepreneurship.”Navran said that although the new courses will help, Rice will need an organization dedicated to facilitating entrepreneurship within and from the university itself.“We both agree, however, that courses are only the beginning, and that Rice needs a full-fledged inward facing entrepreneurship organization and space that can truly bring together the ideas and efforts of undergraduates, faculty and graduate students,” Navran said. “The Rice Alliance is excellent at its mainly outward-facing activities, and an inwards facing version of the Alliance is absolutely necessary to catalyze entrepreneurship on campus.”

NEWS 12/3/14 7:16am

New Director of Sexual Violence Prevention joins Rice

Secretary of the Harris County Domestic Violence Coordinating Council Allison Vogt is joining Rice University under the new role of Director of Sexual Violence Prevention and Title IX Support. Vogt began her new position on Nov. 1. With a master’s degree in social work from the University of Houston, Vogt previously worked at the Montrose Center, an LGBT wellness center in Houston that provides aid to the LGBT community. At the Montrose Center, Vogt worked with victims of domestic violence, hate crimes, human trafficking and sexual assault. Amongst Vogt’s duties at the Montrose Center were hospital and police accompaniment, shelter placement and education. Vogt said she believes her experience with the small and diverse Houston LGBT community translates well to her new position at Rice, another small and diverse community.  “Having worked with the LGBT communities, I learned the importance of community advocacy and organizing,” Vogt said. “I feel these principles can [be] translated to the diverse students at Rice.”At the Montrose Center, Vogt was originally hired as an HIV case manager but later transitioned to helping with the anti-violence program. Vogt helped expand the Montrose Center’s anti-violence program by organizing community awareness about the presence of domestic violence, sexual assault and how to prevent violence in the community. However, Vogt said she credits the program’s success to community involvement.Similarly, Vogt believes the programs at Rice for healthy relationships and sexual violence education will succeed only if Rice students get involved. “We need students to give us feedback about programming and inform us about what’s happening on campus,” Vogt said. “We want to get students involved so we can meet students’ needs. We want the prevention program to be student informed and student oriented.” Vogt said she wants Rice to set the standard for universities across the country by becoming a campus known for its safety, with students who know how to live in an anti-violence community. “I would love to see Rice University’s students carry on the message of the program into their professional lives — creating cultures in their companies of being sexual violence and harassment free,” Vogt said.As the new Director of Sexual Violence Prevention, Vogt said she aims to connect Rice students with influences that can translate into their lives and equip them with the proper education. According to Vogt, the plan to achieve these objectives is to create programming that focuses on the topics of sex, sexual assault and domestic violence, as well as defining what consent is. “The programming is geared towards giving students the tools they need to be well educated and aware of sexual violence, in addition to carrying out healthy relationships in their personal lives,” Vogt said. According to Vogt, her department primarily wants to properly educate and prepare students for their lives after Rice. “[We want to] teach students how to have healthy relationships,” Vogt said. “We want to keep [the] campus safe and teach students how to exist in an environment with no sexual violence.”

NEWS 12/3/14 7:13am

Rice takes steps to avoid 'phantom class' scandal

In response to recent reports from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill of athletes taking classes for eligibility without actually attending them, Rice University is reexamining potential risk factors that could lead to these “phantom classes.”Dean of Undergraduates John Hutchinson said these phantom classes, which reportedly sometimes require no class attendance or work, compromise the academic integrity of sports programs, and are opposed to Rice University’s standards.“[Rice] will never compromise any of our ethical standards on any principle,” Hutchinson said. “We don’t think we have similar issues, but it requires vigilance to make sure that we will not.”According to Hutchinson, there are four academic advisors for athletes in the Office of Academic Advising. The advising for athletes is under a unified system so that it is analogous to the advising for other students. The only additional factor for the advising of athletes is to make sure the scheduling of classes accommodates the special demands on athletes’ time.“One of the ways that is significant in Rice is the fact that the academic advising of athletes is not part of the athletic program,” Hutchinson said. “We carefully coordinate between Dr. Karlgaard’s office and mine to make sure that we are doing the best for our students. That significantly reduces the possibility of the conflict of interest that can result and compromise the academic integrity like UNC-Chapel Hill.”At the Faculty Senate meeting on Nov. 12, Director of Athletics Joe Karlgaard said despite Rice’s high degree of integrity, the university is still susceptible to this type of scandal. “I think that institutions that are not proactive at looking into these issues and making sure that they are doing all they can … to guard against academic integrity issues are susceptible to them,” Karlgaard said. “Just because we are Rice, and just because we are an institution with high integrity, doesn’t mean we can’t pay attention to this issue.”Karlgaard said the UNC-Chapel Hill scandal is a cautionary tale for Rice. The scandal has brought together several different departments, including the Office of Academic Advising, Dean of Undergraduates and the athletic department, to reexamine Rice’s structure for potential risk factors that had not been considered previously. “When we first heard about the scope and scale of the issues in North Carolina, it caused us to come together and make sure that all the systems of checks are right,” Karlgaard said. “I don’t know if we are going to make any changes other than potentially subtle ones — maybe how often we get our group together — but I would say that it’s something that we will be willing to evolve over time.”In response to whether the classes that are known as easy and mostly taken by athletes compromise Rice’s academic standard, Hutchinson said Rice designs classes to ensure students with all academic backgrounds can succeed academically. “Academic integrity has to do with making sure that students are receiving appropriate academic instruction, being held accountable for that and being appropriately accessed,” Hutchinson said. “That’s what went wrong with UNC-Chapel Hill. These phantom courses weren’t real courses and there’s no appropriate assessment in those courses.”One student-athlete said she is not surprised by the UNC-Chapel Hill scandal. She chose to remain anonymous to maintain her reputation. However, she said the problems at UNC-Chapel Hill do not reflect the situation of student athletes at Rice. “In the [statistics] class last semester, we had take-home tests and finals and some weekly assignments,” the student said. “I know some athletes just ask their friends for answers, and they basically learn[ed] nothing from the class. [But] most student-athletes here work really hard and actually do their own work. We have really good academic advisors; they help us a lot. For example, they would hire us tutors if we need help.”

NEWS 12/3/14 7:12am

Faculty Senate reconsiders AP policy

Drew KellerStaff WriterA Faculty Senate committee is studying the school’s policy of awarding course credit for high scores on most Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate exams amid concerns that such credits give some students an unfair advantage and a less comprehensive college education.University Committee on the Undergraduate Curriculum Chair Susan McIntosh presented an analysis of the committee’s current policy on Pre-Matriculation Credits at the Nov. 12 Faculty Senate meeting. McIntosh said many other universities have reduced the amount of AP and other exam credit they grant in recent years.“We wanted to just examine, to see the kind of effect of these credits and our policies, which are quite liberal,” McIntosh, a professor of anthropology, said.According to McIntosh, the committee found that students with more exam credit hours spent significantly less time at Rice, based on data from students who matriculated in 2006, 2007 and 2008.“Students who are coming in with less than 20 to 30 credit hours are, in general, taking more than eight semesters to graduate,” McIntosh said. “[Students] who are coming in with over 30 are taking between 7.5 and eight semesters to graduate. What we take from this is that it’s a disadvantage for students to come in without many credit hours that their majors require.”Additionally, the committee’s data showed a clear correlation between exam credits and GPA, with more exam credits corresponding to a higher GPA. Michael Wolf, the faculty director of the Rice Emerging Scholars Program, said students without many exam credits might not be as prepared as their peers for college academics.“There happens to be a very high correlation between not very many AP courses and decently crummy high schools,” Wolf, a professor of mathematics, said. “So it’s not just how many college credits you come in with; it also correlates to their general preparation to do Rice work.”Wolf also said international students have less access to AP courses, though IB and several other programs offer comparable credit. However, according to President David Leebron, access to college-comparable courses in high school does not affect admission to Rice.“We judge applicants by the level of courses they take relative to what is offered at their school,” Leebron said. “Students who attend a school that offers honors credit, and who choose not to take those courses, ... are heavily disadvantaged in the application … They can get straight As and we don’t treat that as a straight-A student.”At the Faculty Senate meeting, several faculty members expressed support for reducing the extent to which AP credit is applied, including Gerald Dickens, a professor of earth science. “There should be a minimum threshold of what a student has to experience in college, has to experience in classes,” Dickens said. “There should be a minimum threshold of distribution.” Dickens said he was concerned with students’ ability to get a Rice degree with a relatively small number of actual college classes and students using exam credits for distribution and never taking classes outside of their major. “I think the argument that students are taking too many classes is false,” Dickens said. “It’s students taking [fewer] and using AP credits, consistently.”However, the data presented by McIntosh showed the number of credits students earn at Rice generally is not affected by the number of pre-matriculation credits, at least for the large majority of students matriculating with fewer than 60 exam credits. The mean number of Rice credits earned by graduation increased slightly from 116.7 to 119 between 2006 and 2008.“We didn’t see any trend [with regards to pre-matriculation credits] there,” McIntosh said. “[Exam credits] allow students to experiment with more majors in different types of schools.”Michael Diehl, a professor of bioengineering and chemistry, also disagreed with the argument that students use exam credits to reduce the number of courses they take at Rice.“It’s my impression that it could be quite the opposite,” Diehl said. “I’ve had a number of students come through my laboratory who want to do research but don’t have the time … They’re loading up on credits, not getting out of them. I think there’s a tendency in the undergraduate populace to take too many courses.”According to Wolf, the workload required by many majors, especially in natural sciences and engineering, is difficult for students to handle without pre-matriculation credit. Wolf questioned whether it was plausible to graduate with majors such as bioengineering without exam credit. Adrian Perez, a Brown College freshman, also said test credit could provide a valuable advantage.“It’s helpful to have a head start with AP credits, especially for engineering,” Perez said. “I think [the credit system] is fine how it is right now, but if they were to change something it would only be for specific majors … Like a chemistry major wouldn’t be able to use AP Chem, but any other major would be. I know [General] Chemistry is way harder than AP Chem.”Cody VanZandt, a sophomore computer science major, said his lack of AP credit has set him back in his major. VanZandt’s high school did not offer AP classes for him to take.“I know for sure it’s put me definitely behind the ball on my Comp Sci degree, especially switching into Comp Sci sophomore year,” VanZandt, a member of Brown College, said. “At this point, I’m going to have to take classes outside of Rice. Especially if you decide to change your major, it makes a serious difference.”

NEWS 12/3/14 7:08am

Honor Council found 'in violation'

The Blanket Tax Contingency Committee found the Honor Council in violation of the blanket tax process. The Honor Council has pledged to return its surplus rollover of $18,882, according to Student Association President Ravi Sheth. The Contingency Committee reviewed the Honor Council with three possible outcomes: in good standing, in violation and in aggravated violation. If an organization is found in violation three times within a period of four years, the Contingency Committee may recommend that the blanket tax be reduced or removed. A count of aggravated violation is equivalent to two violations. After this decision, the Honor Council stands at one violation.The only other way by which a blanket tax organization’s funding can be reduced is by an initative petitioned directly by the students and voted on in the General Elections. The organization was judged based on four criteria outlined in the SA Constitution. These criteria included whether the organization acted as good stewards of student money and whether the funds were used in a manner consistent with the organization’s mission, for organizational purposes and consistent with Rice rules and regulations. The Honor Council was found in violation of two criteria: acting as good stewards of student money and using the blanket tax funds in a manner consistent with the organization’s mission, goals and purposes.According to the Report on Contingency Review, the Contingency Committee found three examples showing that the Honor Council did not act as good stewards of student money. The Honor Council’s budgets for 2013-14 were found to reflect irresponsible record-keeping, although the committee commended the organization for its recent budget amendment efforts. The committee noted that the Honor Council did not spend its blanket tax funds properly from 2013-14 and the years before, indicated by the $21,582 surplus at the start of the 2014-15 review year. The Committee also recommended the Honor Council halve the changeover dinner budget to $25/person.However, while the changeover dinner cost was decreased in the amended budget, other new food expenses were added, which increased the total amount spent on food by $500. In order to determine whether the Honor Council is in aggravated violation, the Contingency Committee evaluated the organization based on three criteria outlined within the SA n Constitution: if the organization’s budget reflected a surplus of at least 50% in the previous year, if the organization has not adequately justified its surplus and if the organization does not indicate a reasonable attempt to address this issue. If the Honor Council were to be found in violation of all three criteria, the committee would then require a two-thirds majority vote to find the organization in aggravated violation.According to the report, the Honor Council had made a good faith effort to make a reasonable attempt to address the issues and surpluses in the 2014-15 year. As a result, the Contingency Committee did not find the organization in aggravated violation.In Honor Council’s amended 2014-15 budget, the surplus decreased from the initial 50% to 43%. This was due to the addition of a $2,260 expense for training conferences not included in the original budget as well as the increased amount budgeted for food. The annualized replacement costs for furniture and electronics remained unchanged. According to Sheth, when and if the Honor Council returns its surplus, the SA executive committee will determine how to best allocate the approximately $18,000 in funds. Sheth said because this is the first time a Contingency Committee has ever convened, the ruling will have lasting effects on the blanket tax review process.“I believe that this is an important moment for the effectiveness of our processes, and also gives us an opportunity to reflect and think about what we can do better in our overall allocations, and processes — which our Blanket Tax Crack Team... is currently looking into,” Sheth said.

NEWS 11/24/14 9:44pm

Students organize Ferguson solidarity rally

Rice University students are organizing a solidarity rally at noon in the academic quad after a St. Louis County grand jury declined to indict officer Darren Wilson, 28, for killing 18-year-old Michael Brown.

NEWS 11/18/14 4:19pm

Rice outlines plans for climate neutrality by 2038

Over the past few weeks, passersby in north campus may have noticed the Jones College south wing rooftop is undergoing construction of solar panels to be completed in the coming months. But this project, led by Housing and Dining, is no usual renovation: According to Rice University’s Director of Energy and Sustainability Richard Johnson, it is the first of many initiatives aimed at making Rice a more environmentally-friendly campus.“We will also be starting soon on an energy efficiency project in the Space Sciences building,” Johnson said. “Our intention is, over the next ten years, to reduce our emissions by 20 percent.”Last year, a university-led committee of administrators, faculty and staff completed a study called the Rice Integrated Climate and Energy Master Plan. The plan, which includes projects like investing in renewable energy, retrofitting buildings and establishing energy efficiency standards for new construction, provides an outline to make campus climate neutral — in other words, producing zero net emissions — by 2038.“We’ll still have some emissions, but we’ll have something that counters it,” Johnson said. “And that something is in the form of a 50,000-acre timber plantation in southwest Louisiana — the Rice Land Lumber company, a part of William Marsh Rice’s original endowment. It sequesters carbon, providing an offset for some of our emissions.”Though the plantation has been around for years, Johnson says this initiative has been made possible only recently due to the development of new, sustainable technologies.“In 2006, electricity from a photovoltaic panel cost $9 per watt,” Johnson said. “Today, that number is down to $2. That’s an illustration of how significantly change in cost has made projects like this viable.” The idea of climate neutrality gained traction among universities in 2006 when a group of university presidents initiated the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment aimed at phasing out greenhouse gas emissions from campuses nationwide. President Leebron signed the pledge in 2007, making Rice one of the now 684 members of the initiative. Johnson said Rice’s participation will yield substantial benefits for the environment as well as the university itself. “[This] is an excellent learning opportunity for our Rice community, especially for our students,” Johnson said. “To this end, students have played a key role over the last several years in developing the university’s carbon footprint and identifying potential strategies to mitigate our emissions … In fact, one of those projects ended up leading in part to the solar installations at Jones.”On a larger scale, Johnson said he is confident the climate neutrality plan will have a positive impact on the university’s reputation as a leader in addressing environmental sustainability.“This particular initiative speaks to our desire to leave a better world for future generations,” Johnson said. “We’re in the energy capital of the world, so it makes a powerful statement for us to take a leadership position.”Tierra Moore, head of the Student Association Environmental Committee, said she hopes to extend awareness of the climate neutrality initiative to the entire student body. “In order for things like [the initiative] to be successful, it’s important for the SA environmental committee in particular to host an educational campaign across campus to show students what it truly means to be sustainable,” Moore, a Baker College senior, said. “We have made progress in securing funding for future environmental and climate related student projects. With regards to the SA40K, the senate recommended allotting $22,000 to the Rice Environmental Society.  I’m thinking of hosting a meeting with Rice Environmental Society to discuss how we should move forward. I think we should advertise these funds as a platform for us to go forth with this educational campaign and see if we can make it into [Orientation Week].”Several students have voiced their approval for a campus-wide educational campaign. Camila Kennedy, a native of Austin, Texas, said she was surprised that Houston is not as environmentally conscious as her hometown.“I arrived here and was shocked that people didn’t seem to be using the recycling bins around campus,” Kennedy, a Jones College sophomore said. “And when I went to the grocery store, I didn’t have to bring my own reusable bag. It’s very different from Austin, which is very progressive about environmental issues. So I would definitely be in favor of an educational campaign.” 

NEWS 11/18/14 4:18pm

Faculty Senate approves RCEL certificate proposal

The Faculty Senate unanimously ratified the Leadership Certificate proposal for the Rice University Center for Engineering Leadership during its Oct. 1 meeting. The program began three years ago and has around 120 students currently enrolled, according to Kazimir Karwowski, executive director of RCEL.Karwowski said the purpose of the certificate program is to train future engineers to develop leadership, management and teamwork skills outside the technical realm and to connect students with professional mentors and leaders.According to Karwowski, the program was established as part of a broader movement outlined in a National Academy of Engineering report, “The Engineer of 2020: Visions of Engineering in the New Century.” Peer institutions like Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Cornell University have adopted similar engineering leadership programs in recent years.“The days when an engineer could just get a solid academic background and expect to succeed in the world are over,” Karwowski said. “The program is part of a movement toward changing the way future engineers are educated.”The newly-approved certificate is open to all engineering undergraduates and consists of 10 credits of coursework, experiential learning, internship and presentation components.“It’s not a huge commitment, but it’s definitely something that you want to make sure you’re invested in,” Karwowski said. “If you actually invest in asking for coaching and mentorship and you look for multiple internships, you’re going to get a lot out of it.”The certificate will appear on the student transcript as an academic credential, according to Karwowski. “Employers will recognize the certificate,” Karwowski said. “They will say, ‘You took a certificate in engineering leadership? Well obviously you have the skills that we’re looking for.’ We have companies interested in interacting with our students because of the training they are receiving.”Karwowski said the long-term goal of RCEL is to expand from the current 10 percent of the School of Engineering involved in the certificate program to 20 percent. With this growth, an increase in faculty and resources would be necessary to maintain quality of instruction.“I think that anyone [who] wants to pursue it should be able to pursue it, and we’ll grow accordingly without diluting the program,” Karwowski said. “Not everyone is a leader and not everyone wants to be a leader, so you don’t want to force people to do something they’re not interested in doing. But we want them to at least have the opportunity to try it.”Jones College sophomore Austin James said the skills he has gained in leadership labs have been invaluable.“The faculty will point out things that you may not have thought about, like the use of negotiation power in our everyday lives, and help you develop skills that you’ll be using as a leader in a company,” James said. “Everything we practice is applicable to our futures in the engineering field.”Ryan McKnight, a McMurtry College senior, said one of the best parts of the program is having one-on-one advising with faculty mentors. McKnight is part of the Student Advisory Board that hopes to expand the program and steer it toward catering to a more diverse representation of all engineering majors. “The certificate program has given me the opportunity to invest in skills I wouldn’t learn in a typical class,” McKnight said. “I don’t know of anyone in the program that would regret it. I think in the next couple years, you’ll start getting people graduating from the program coming back and saying, ‘Yes, this has really impacted my personal development and my career.’ And I hope to be one of those people.”

NEWS 11/18/14 4:15pm

SA senators partner on legislation to create oral communications courses

Student Association senators have teamed up to spearhead an initiative on creating disciplinary oral communications courses for undergraduates. Martel College sophomore Neethi Nayak and McMurtry College sophomore Madhuri Venkateswar co-authored the legislation, which passed at the SA Senate meeting on Nov. 5.“In today’s world, it’s becoming increasingly important to have the communication skills in addition to the technical skills,” Venkateswar said. “You cannot get past a certain point if you cannot communicate orally and through writing. I saw that through my experience and I thought that it was extremely important that Rice students have that knowledge because it puts them above other students from other institutions.”According to Nayak and Venkateswar, peer institutions like Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University offer resources to undergraduates including mandatory annual communications courses. Venkateswar said Rice is behind, but currently on the right trajectory.“There are classes that really emphasize [public speaking], like [BIOE] 252 with problem-based learning, but that was one semester — it wasn’t a consistent way for students to grow,” Venkateswar said. “Especially with oral communication, you need consistent feedback in order to fix the things that you were doing wrong.”Venkateswar said the team collaborated with Tracy Volz, director of the Program for Writing and Communication, to identify areas in which oral communications classes are necessary. The legislation proposes an introduction to communications course as well as departmental architecture, medical, technical and legal courses.Nayak said the high number of students enrolling in BUSI 296: Business Communications is evidence of the need for more specific communications courses. Venkateswar said the high demand for enrollment in HUMA 201: Public Speaking, also indicates interest.“The university has a deficiency in these areas and some courses, like BUSI 296, are oversubscribed when they shouldn’t be,” Venkateswar said. “People are taking that class to gain some oral communication skills but might be better suited in a more nuanced communications class.”Nayak said her own experience in courses involving communication led her to believe Rice had the need for more emphasis on oral communication.“Several of my classes require presenting information to an audience that may not have experience with a particular topic that you’re discussing,” Nayak said. “You have to be able to communicate things that may seem very technical to an audience that doesn’t know what you’re necessarily talking about.”The legislation also recommends greater emphasis on oral communication within FWIS courses. According to Nayak and Venkateswar, FWIS courses currently require only one oral presentation and do not guarantee consistent feedback with skills.During the presentation of the legislation at the SA Senate meeting, some raised concerns about the necessity of communications courses when they may be repeated in graduate school.“The response to that is that I’m an engineer, I’m not planning to go to law school, but I still want to learn how to deal with argumentative communication or with confrontational communication,” Venkateswar said. “Legal communication doesn’t have to be just if you’re going to law school. These skills are applicable across the board.”Venkateswar said the communications courses are not necessarily specific to individual majors.“I can be a pre-med and still want to learn technical communication,” Venkateswar said. “You can take what you want to take depending on what your professional/personal  sinterests are, but you may not be [learning more about] that in the future.According to Nayak, the timeline for the availability of these courses for undergraduates is in the hands of the Committee for Undergraduate Curriculum and the Faculty Senate.

NEWS 11/18/14 4:06pm

SA40K Recommendations

Student Association senators presented their recommendations on allocating $40,540.92 in leftover funds at the Senate meeting on Nov. 12. According to the senators, these recommendations are based on undergraduate surveys carried out at each college. Students also pitched ideas for multi-year, sustainable initiatives. Since Rice Endowment for Sustainable Energy Technology originally intended the money be used for environmental sustainability, the majority of the funds are allocated toward supporting sustainable initiatives. Funding has been set aside for Query’s creation of a Queer Resource Center, Rainbow. Student organizations Rice Emergency Medical Services and Rice Bikes would receive several thousand dollars for purchasing equipment. The Initiative Fund is intended to support campus-wide programming like Rally Club. The final allocations of the funds will be decided by the Senate Executive Committee and presented at the SA meeting on Nov. 19. The SA Senate will then vote on the final proposals.