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Tuesday, June 25, 2024 — Houston, TX


NEWS 11/12/14 7:56am

Undergrads present business plans at OEDK Elevator Pitch Competition

The Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen held the sixth annual Elevator Pitch Competition on Nov. 6, where Rice undergraduate teams and individuals presented 90-second pitches for their business concepts and ideas. According to Maria Oden, professor in the Practice of Engineering Education and director of OEDK, the scale of this competition surpassed the previous years’ by both number of contesting teams and number of judges.The pitches varied greatly in content, covering a spectrum ranging from medical equipment, transportational device for natural disaster relief, golf training software and short term bike rental system to mobile apps, according to the team summaries sheet.Team SharpTank, a senior design team working on one-time-use syringes to prevent syringe reuse in the developing world, captured both the Most Investable award and the first place honor. Team Presenter Sergio Gonzalez said winning the competition was a pleasant surprise.“There were no real expectations,” Gonzalez, a Duncan College senior, said. “The team and I wanted to do our best to present our project in an interesting and compelling way. It felt great to win, though; the top presentations were all fantastic, and I think everyone enjoyed giving their pitch.”Judge and co-founder of Cormedics Corp Houston James Meador (Baker ’75) said the presentations were of high quality.“They will learn the financial sides and shareholder returns, but the Rice students are better than some professionals, including some in California, New York and Boston, that I have watched and presented in for many years,” Meador said. This year, unlike previous years, a reception and judges feedback session followed the competition. Gonzalez said it was a welcome change.“The networking event is new, but I think it was a good addition,” Gonzalez said. “It’s important to have practice giving a formal presentation, but it’s also important to talk with people in a more personal environment.”Fay Pauly, a presenter for Team BOP-it, said the competition was a good learning experience even though they did not win. Pauly said the team aimed to develop a new annular blowout preventor.“I thought it was a great opportunity to practice my speaking skills, especially in front of such a large audience,” Pauly, a Lovett College senior, said. “[Also,] I was very impressed by the other pitches and really enjoyed all of the witty puns.”

NEWS 11/12/14 7:52am

Journalist reflects on Mexican identity

Alfredo Corchado, a well-known Mexican-American journalist and author, spoke at Rice University about drug-related violence and journalism in Mexico this Monday.Corchado, who was born in Mexico, said his experience with journalism began after his family immigrated to the United States; when he was working on a farm in California at age 13, a reporter investigating immigrant labor asked him how old he was.“It really marked me; it was like, wow, somebody really wants to tell my story,” Corchado said. “What a noble profession... It’s that sense of giving a voice that always inspires me.”Corchado said he later dropped out of high school and expected to become a hairdresser, but he ended up graduating from community college in Texas and then attending the University of Texas, El Paso and finally Harvard University. Corchado has worked for the Dallas Morning News since 1994, winning several journalism awards, and is now the Mexico bureau chief for the newspaper.Earlier this year, Corchado also authored a book, Midnight in Mexico, which relates his experience reporting in the dangerous conditions of present-day Mexico. According to Corchado, the book deals with the emotional side of his experiences much more than his reporting did.“As reporters, something we do a pretty good job of is keeping our emotions to ourselves,” Corchado said. “And then when you open the gates, it’s like a flood — the emotions take over. There were times [writing the book] when I couldn’t stop crying.”Corchado identified his split Mexican-American identity as one of his main sources of emotion.“It’s the nostalgia of the immigrant,” Corchado said. “It’s like you’re searching for your identity, you know, where do you belong? Do you belong in Mexico, do you belong in the United States? That’s the tears — it wasn’t just the bloodshed in Mexico, it was also this longing to belong to one country or the other.”Throughout the talk, Corchado emphasized the importance of being informed about events in Mexico. He pointed to the protests in the U.S. of South African apartheid when he was in school as an example of Americans becoming passionate about a foreign injustice.“I wonder whether that kind of outrage is here about Mexico,” Corchado said. “I think what Mexicans want more than anything is for the outside world to share her pain.” Enrique Walsh, a Baker College sophomore originally from El Salvador who attended Corchado’s talk, also said he emphasized the importance of spreading concern for Mexico.“I always find it very interesting and encouraging that people like [Corchado], who have first-hand experience with these problems, can spread their voice, write a book,” Walsh said. “[They] make other people feel the same way I feel, and other Mexicans and Central Americans feel, about issues that are very hard to solve.”Walsh said he went to the discussion hoping to hear about possible solutions.“I see a lot of the same problems in my country as in Mexico,” Walsh said. “I was curious about how [Corchado] treated these problems in his book and if he would talk about any solutions.” While acknowledging the continued conflict in Mexico, including the recent disappearance and likely murder of 43 students in the state of Guerrero, Corchado concluded his talk on a hopeful note.“Think about where Mexico has been in the last 20 years,” Corchado said. “And yeah, this is a very dark, difficult time in Mexico. It’s almost like the country is transfixed by what has happened with the massacre of these students in Guerrero... but it’s also a much more plural, much more open society [than 20 years ago].”According to Corchado, the fact that the media has been publicly reporting on the role of the government in Guerrero is emblematic of the changes occurring in Mexico more generally.“Think about the fact that you have journalists today who in the last ten days have been shedding all this light about the administration,” Corchado said. “That kind of stuff you wouldn’t have seen 20 years ago. Is it a country that has changed? No. But it’s a country that’s changing.”

NEWS 11/5/14 6:46am

New initiatve seeks to enhance Rice education

Rice University is launching a three-year volunteer and fundraising effort called the Owl Edge: Initiative for Students that will aim to enhance Rice’s student experience, according to the Office of Development and Alumni Relations. The initiative will debut during Homecoming weekend and will seek to provide an educational edge for students through the funding of three specific goals.The first goal involves raising student scholarship aid through new endowments, according to President David Leebron. “We have an increasingly diverse student body, which is resulting in greater demand for scholarships,” Leebron said. “The cost of funding these scholarships is becoming more challenging.” Leebron said another goal of the initiative is strengthening the Rice educational experience.“Part of what we’re trying to do is fund more opportunities for students, whether it’s research, travel, internships or mentoring programs,” Leebron said. “We will also be enhancing the Center for Teaching Excellence and creating a new entrepreneurship track within the business minor.”According to Leebron, the third aspect is related to helping students achieve lives of impact both while they are here and beyond. “[The third aspect] involves providing more professional development opportunities for students and developing entrepreneurship programs like OwlSpark,” Leebron said.Leebron said the initiative reflects a time in Rice’s history during which there must not only be a continuation of volunteer and fundraising efforts done in the past, but also the introduction of new campaigns. “For me, there are two big pillars of this campaign,” Leebron said. “How do we make sure that, having admitted the most remarkable students that we can find, this education is possible for them and how do we make sure the education is as good as it can be, in terms of a full range of opportunities that we can offer?” According to Darrow Zeidenstein, the vice president for Development and Alumni Relations, the initiative will invite parents, alumni and friends to support the mission to educate and prepare students for leadership for the future. An explicit goal of the effort will also be to ask for contributions of time and effort.“For a lot of people, giving their time is every bit as valuable as giving their money — for some of them it’s even more,” Zeidenstein said. “So asking them to make a difference in student’s lives by giving their time is something that we have to be very thoughtful about, and this initiative is meant to mobilize that effort.” Leebron said the impact of the initiative will reach both incoming and current students.  “There will be ideas we will develop, pilot programs we can get started and opportunities that we will continue to enhance and sustain,” Leebron said. “We hope to acquire resources for the future but also impact students that are here already.” Zeidenstein said success of the initiative will not be measured by a dollar goal but on what is achieved through the funding. “At the end of three years, we want to be able to say that we’ve accomplished what we put forward in our three goals,” Zeidenstein said. “So this isn’t really a dollar-driven effort so much as a ‘get it done on the ground’ effort.”According to Leebron, student involvement is encouraged for the initiative’s success. “I think our students’ enthusiasm is actually the biggest driver of everything,” Leebron said. “My experience with Rice students has led me to realize they’re remarkably dedicated to making Rice better for the people following them — that they are very thoughtful and very generous when it comes to thinking about making Rice stronger for the next generation.” Leebron said the initiative reflects both the concepts outlined in the Student Association’s Education of the Future initiative and the ideas of the administration regarding the improvement of the Rice experience.“Those two things are remarkably aligned,” Leebron said. “Faculty, students, alumni and donors are all pretty much headed in the same direction — to make our education more impactful, in terms of giving people not just knowledge, but skills and ambition, and excitement. We want our students to arrive thinking they’re going to change the world, and we want them to leave thinking they can change the world.” 

NEWS 11/5/14 6:46am

Information Tecnology hires new CIO, VP to consolidate different IT units

 Incoming Vice President for Information Technology and Chief Information Officer Klara Jelinkova will officially come to position in the first week of January. The Rice University Task Force on Information Technology suggested the creation of the new position. “Rice would benefit from having a person vested with sufficient responsibility and authority to influence the entire IT ecosystem and help set policies and priorities at the senior management level,” the Report on IT Principles, Governance & Organization said. “The university should formally create the position of Chief Information Officer (CIO) for the university, reporting to either the President or Provost.”According to Kevin Kirby, vice president for administration, the vice president for IT and CIO will serve as senior technology leader supporting the research, education and administrative functions. The CIO will consolidate the university’s academic and administrative IT units. “Reporting to President David Leebron and serving on the senior leadership team, the CIO will provide leadership on issues facing the university broadly and work with Rice’s academic and administrative units to achieve the desired results,” Kirby, chair of Rice University Task Force on Information Technology, said. Kirby said the CIO will also implement the governance and organizational changes according to the recommendation by Task Force on IT. “One of the core premises of the task force was not to add or reduce resources allocated to IT at Rice but rather to reallocate existing resources,” Kirby said. “This new position and the other recommendations are intended to make the current IT organizational structure more effective and efficient. [The CIO] will focus IT on supporting Rice’s strategy and core missions of research and education, while simultaneously improving the day-to-day operations and services.”Jelinkova is currently the senior associate vice president and chief information technology officer at the University of Chicago. She was the assistant vice president of Shared Services and Infrastructure at Duke University prior to her position at the University of Chicago.In an interview with Rice University News and Media, Jelinkova said she is excited to serve as VP and CIO of Rice’s IT department.“I am delighted to be joining Rice University, where technology is playing an increasingly important role in all aspects of university life and has the potential to catalyze new ideas in both education and research,” Jelinkova said. “I look forward to working with the faculty, students and staff at Rice to articulate an innovative technology vision for Rice and make that vision a reality.”

NEWS 11/5/14 6:45am

RUPD purchases new Chevrolet Tahoes to replace aging patrol vehicle fleet

 The Rice University Police Department recently acquired new 2014 Chevrolet Tahoes for their patrol fleet. The new vehicles feature updated and enhanced exterior graphics, as well as a larger appearance and other exterior modifications.The funds for the new patrol Tahoes came from the university’s fiscal year 2014 operations budget. Chief of Police Johnny Whitehead said the police department requested funding for the new vehicles because of high mileage and maintenance of the old patrol vehicles.“The fleet is pretty aged,” Whitehead said. “We were spending so much on maintenance. When the cars are in the shop, you can’t put them out in patrol.”   According to Whitehead, RUPD had several vehicles with high mileage — between 80,000 to 90,000 miles.“The maintenance costs were [also] very high,” Whitehead said. Whitehead said each new Tahoe cost around $18,000. However, the police equipment that had to be added to the vehicles, including emergency lights, sirens and in-car camera and computer systems, cost an additional $19,000 per vehicle, making the total cost of each vehicle $37,000.According to Whitehead, the choice of Chevrolet Tahoes was based partly on Michigan state’s police department, which annually conducts precision driving tests on police vehicles, including the Tahoe. When testing, they look at braking distance, fuel economy, ergonomics, dynamics and comfort level for the officer. “The Tahoe consistently rates well in the Michigan state police testing,” Whitehead said. “We checked with other police departments, and those that have the Tahoe are very pleased with it. [Also,] the cost is lower than a lot of other options out there.”Whitehead said RUPD has been happy with the new Tahoes and the replacement of some of their patrol fleet. The update of the patrol vehicles was a priority for the police department this year, according to Whitehead.“We [also] like the Tahoe because it’s high [off the ground] and we get a lot of flooding on campus, so we are able to continue to patrol and respond to emergencies at those times,” Whitehead said. “We are in pretty good shape. All of our patrol vehicles have been the priority. All of the patrol vehicles are now up to date.”

NEWS 11/5/14 6:45am

Slackerplanner allows students to select classes by difficulty, ratings, distribution

Brown College senior David Nichol has created a website that allows students to browse courses using data from Esther course evaluations.“The website lets people search for courses based on course evaluations,” Nichol said. “What this means is that you can ask, ‘What are the easiest distribution classes?’ or ‘Which FWIS is the best?’ You can use this information to then choose which classes you should take next semester.”The website is available at www.slackerplanner.com and has course evaluations from fall 2012 to spring 2014, not including summers. Nichol said he created Slackerplanner to see which courses are better than others. “I created the website over winter break when I was incredibly bored,” Nichol said. “I remember when registering for courses wishing I knew which classes were the best ones to take, and then being all like, ‘Oh wait, I’m a comp sci major, I know how to make this thing a thing.’ So then I did.”The website allows students to narrow their search by semester, distribution group, subject and either workload or quality. According to the website, courses with lower numbers are easier or better. Nichol said he hopes the website will make it easier for students to pick classes.“I’ve spent a long time on the website just looking at different courses just to see how classes compare against each other,” Nichol said. “Hopefully people can use it to decide which classes they plan on taking in future semesters.”Peer Academic Advisor Magen Eissenstat said she will not shut out the possibility that students can use a tool like Slackerplanner for good, but she worries it could also fuel a negative mindset when engaging with academics. “I think the most important question to ask yourself when using a tool like this is: Why?,” Eissenstat, a McMurtry College sophomore, said. “We are all here to get an education and to grow in our knowledge and understanding of the world. The distribution program, in particular, is designed to give us the freedom to challenge ourselves to think in new, unfamiliar and therefore sometimes uncomfortable ways.” Eissenstat said students looking for easy distributions for the sake of not working hard or learning may want to think about the opportunities and values associated with academic challenges. “When we think about our academic experiences at Rice, I believe it is more valuable to think about our classes in terms of what we want to gain from them, rather than as an arbitrary list of requirements that we want to ‘get through’ as easily as possible,” Eissenstat said. 

NEWS 11/5/14 6:44am

SA solicits proposals for $40,000

 The Rice University Student Association is encouraging students to join the discussion on how to spend a leftover sum of $40,000. The money comes from the Rice Endowment for Sustainable Energy Technology’s $9 blanket tax, which was approved in 2010 and dissolved in 2013.  Leftover funds RESET was originally approved in 2010 as a blanket tax organization with a “sunset clause,” meaning its blanket tax status had to be reapproved in three years. According to a report published by the SA, RESET intended to use the $40,000 to fund any student-led initiatives to promote energy efficiency and sustainability on the Rice campus. However, the blanket tax ultimately failed reapproval in 2013. According to SA President Ravi Sheth, these funds are now under the jurisdiction of the SA. Sheth, a Martel College senior, said although the money was originally intended to go towards the promotion of energy efficiency and sustainability, the SA is willing to consider to any creative proposals from the student population. “How this money should be spent is a difficult  question, but also an opportunity for creativity,” Sheth said. “It [is] ultimately up to the student body to decide the best way to spend the money.” Archit Chaba, a Will Rice College senator and Rice Environmental Society member, said the funds should be returned to their original purpose of funding campus environmental projects.“Previous projects by RESET have positively impacted a significant portion of the student body while improving campus sustainability,” Chaba, a senior, said. “A survey conducted recently demonstrated continued student desire to improve Rice’s environmental infrastructure. We should use the former RESET funds to support these aspirations.”According to Chaba, RESET no longer exists due to ambiguous wording of policy and lack of quorum. However, the Rice Environmental Society, the umbrella organization for all environmental clubs on campus, is currently trying to achieve the same goal that RESET sought to accomplish: supporting and funding student environmental projects. Chaba said if chosen to receive the $40,000, RES — an organization that currently has no source of funding — would start an environmental initiative fund that could be used for any student-led environmental project.“According to a recent survey taken by the SA’s environmental committee, students have expressed an interest in installing more water bottle refilling stations, similar to ones in the RMC, recreation center and Fondren Library, improving the sustainability of older buildings such as Herzstein and Sewall and expanding the bike share program,” Chaba said. “This list is by no means exhaustive, and that is the inherent beauty of this proposal — any student with an idea for an environmental project will be able to gain the funding required to actually implement that idea.” Student Input According to Sheth, the SA Executive Committee will discuss options with the college senators and give them the freedom to engage the students in the discussion however they wish. Hanszen College Senator Nathan Andrus said he will be leading the senators in engaging students and is currently asking senators to not only talk to college residents, but to also encourage them to fill out an online form. Andrus, a senior, said the online form will help the SA understand how students wish to spend the $40,000. “The purposes of the online form are to gauge numbers and ask for specific proposals, which all the senators will be able to see and judge critically,” Andrus said. “What students want has a priority in determining what we will do.”Andrus said the most popular idea thus far is using the money for RESET’s original purposes, although other ideas have come up. “There have been ideas of starting up an initiative fund — investing the money for the long term to be used in physical improvements or in event programming,” Andrus said. “However, spending money towards RESET’s original purpose is still currently one of the frontrunners.”According to Andrus, when the senators sit down next week to review the proposals, they will look for ideas that are creative and sustainable.“We will be evaluating proposals based on their thoughtfulness,” Andrus said. “Proposals should describe how the idea will have a long-lasting, long-term impact on the students.”Hanszen College President TJ Patel said she agrees the money should not be spent on one-time events.“We should spend the [$40,000] on something sustainable, especially because it is rare to have so much [funding],” Patel, a senior, said.  Rice Environmental Society According to RES President Ashley Ugarte, the SA received $40,000 in RESET funds the same year students created a 100-year sustainability plan outlining their desire to make Rice more sustainable. Ugarte said the student population still supports sustainability, which is why RES should receive the funds.  “We hope [that the decision to give the $40,000 to RES] will honor all students — those whose initial intention for these funds was to be used for campus greening and those today who also hope to see the same outcome,” Ugarte said. “We believe this to be an incredible opportunity to expand environmental sustainability projects beyond just water and energy and to include other areas of need such as recycling, composting, expanding the Rice gardens and other similar ideas.” According to RES, the organization is actively raising awareness about their efforts, which includes running a photo campaign in front of Coffeehouse. Ugarte said the campaign invites students to offer their input regarding specific sustainability projects they’d like implemented. “We believe this will model the positive, lasting and sustainable change we can make with the [$40,000],” Ugarte said. Sheth said the discussions on how the $40,000 will be spent or whether the funds should be spent on RESET’s original purposes should strive to actively involve the whole student body, because an opportunity like this does not come often.“There are very few times in Rice’s history where students have had this magnitude of unallocated funding,” Sheth said. “[The executive committee] urges, with the utmost importance, that the discussions should be transparent, extensive and involved.”

NEWS 11/5/14 6:43am

Esperanza tickets sell out again

Due to demonstrated student demand for more tickets, Rice Program Council decided to rent the second floor of the Museum of Natural Science, thus providing 425 more tickets for Esperanza. RPC President Aisha Jeeva stated that while RPC had always considered renting this extra space, they did not want to book it without knowing the demand for tickets and then losing money due to an overestimation. The opening of the second floor has enabled RPC to add new elements to the homecoming dance. “There will be a photo station with props and a karaoke set-up on the second floor,” RPC Socials Committee Co-chairs Jodie Nghiem and Audrey Smith said. “While we have had similar photo areas at past Esperanzas, we have never had karaoke. However, we believe that the main attractions of the second floor will be the five additional exhibits that attendees will be able to explore, including the Hall of Gems and Minerals, the Hall of African Wildlife and more.”Given the additional space, RPC had to re-adjust the budget to cater to additional costs. Nghiem and Smith said costs were mostly incremental and were easy to calculate on a per-person basis, such as food and drinks, which amount to about $9 per person. Jeeva explained that other flat fees costs were also easily predictable, such as the additional $2,000 needed to rent the second flood.“Additionally, the cash bars were both incremental and step function cost increases,” said Jeeva. “The cost of alcoholic drinks are a combination of a flat fee per bar which increases on a per-person basis, only taking into consideration attendees over 21 … Ultimately, we were able to get the venue cost, HPD, RUPD, EMS, food, cash bars, non-alcoholic beverages, activities for the second floor, tables, chairs, table linens and decorations covered for about the $8,500 we made on ticket sales.” Thus, Nghiem and Smith said RPC did not need to increase its blanket tax contribution to the formal. The RPC Socials added that extra tickets had to be limited to 425 not only because the caterers could only prepare food for the current amount of guests, 1,800, but also due to the fact that the Museum imposed a limit of 1,000 guests on the dance floor at any given time and because the caterers could only prepare food for the current amount of guests, 1,800.  “If it starts to exceed that capacity, the HPD officers present to keep an eye on the fossils according to our contract will start to remove people,” Jeeva said. “We didn’t think it would be fair to sell 2,000 tickets when only [a half] of the attendees could be on the dance floor at one time.” Nghiem and Smith said ticket sales have been going well, as an increasing number of students have been taken off the waitlist in several rounds.Initially, there were over 1,000 students on the waitlist, and now there are less than 600 remaining.However, RPC  remains confident they will allow the majority of students to buy tickets. Jeeva admits there were many issues previously  surrounding the sale of tickets, but hopes that students will acknowledge the work that RPC has dedicated in making this event happen. “We know it was a frustrating time for students,” Jeeva said. “We really appreciated the people who were patient and understanding while we were trying to work through the issues and find reasonable solutions, and hope that students will keep in mind that the people they are so harshly criticizing are their peers who have put significant time and effort into making this event as successful as possible.”

NEWS 10/28/14 4:56pm

Alumni return to campus in various roles

For some Rice University students, being at Rice on an almost daily basis does not stop at graduation. Some, like Andrew Bowen, director of the Levant Program for the Baker Institute’s Center for the Middle East; Dylan McNally, research analyst for the Baker Institute’s Mexico Center; and Neely Atkinson, senior lecturer in statistics, come back to research or teach at Rice.

NEWS 10/28/14 4:53pm

Rice Buys A Second Rice Village Property

Rice University recently purchased the building that houses the Urban Outfitters clothing store in Rice Village for an undisclosed amount. The property of 2501 University Blvd. is a two-story, 15,273 square foot building. According to the Houston Business Journal, Rice purchased this property from a local partnership that owned the building for nearly 60 years.

NEWS 10/28/14 4:51pm

Rice in Houston Panel Calls upon Students to Get Involved in Government

In anticipation of the upcoming Harris County general election on Nov. 4, the Rice University Young Democrats hosted the first annual “Local Politics and Houston’s Future: Rice in Houston” panelist discussion on Oct. 15. Held in the Herring Hall auditorium, the event featured seven politicians, candidates and a mix of incumbents, who addressed this election season’s major issues.

NEWS 10/28/14 4:42pm

REF Task Force gets new at-large members

At the Oct. 15 Student Association Senate meeting, SA Executive Vice President Trent Navran introduced new members of the Rice Education of the Future task force. The new at-large (non-Senate) members are Jones College junior Mariah Lawhon, Jones freshman Bailey Tulloch, McMurtry College sophomore Sawyer Knight and Cyndie Wu.

NEWS 10/28/14 4:40pm

SA accepts two new members to Club Approval Committee

The Student Association recently accepted two new members to the Club Approval Committee.  According to Parliamentarian Zach Birenbaum, Hanszen College freshman Austin Cao and Hanszen junior Mathew Derichsweiler have already approved several clubs.The Club Approval Committee acts as a branch inside the SA to allow for the formation of new clubs. The contents of the constitutions must include mission and purpose statements that clearly state how the club will function within Rice.“Any club that wants to be legitimate has to submit a constitution to the SA for review,” Cao said. The goal is to make sure that clubs have a plan and that they don’t overlap with each other.”The Committee of Club Approval follows a certain procedure during their weekly meetings to decide on the approval or deferral of clubs.“Every meeting we have five to ten constitutions to address,” Cao said. “We read them, discuss them, and take a vote.”Whether or not the clubs under review are legitimized and find a home within Rice University heavily depends on how the organizations in question will ultimately benefit the student body. Some of the clubs that have passed through the committee are “League of Legends,” “Hip Hop Club” and “Grassroots Islam” among the many.“We ask the question of whether [the club] will be good for the Rice and Houston community as a whole,” Birenbaum, a Hanszen college sophomore said.Cao said he was excited to be a part of an organization that allows clubs to grow and prosper.“It’s cool to see people taking initiative,” Cao said. “I’m glad to be a part of that process.”

NEWS 10/28/14 4:39pm

Rice hosts conference on science/religion dialogue

Elaine Howard Ecklund, director of the Religion and Public Life Program at Rice University, presented the results from a survey on the relationship between science and religion. The conference, titled “Matter and Meaning: Exploring the Religion and Science Dialogue,” was held at various locations across campus on Oct. 24.

NEWS 10/28/14 4:32pm

Baker Institute hosts talk with Meir Dagan, former director of the Mossad

Rice University’s James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy hosted a question-and-answer session on Israel’s regional security issues with Meir Dagan, former director of the Mossad, Israel’s national intelligence agency, on Oct. 14. It was moderated by the Honorable Edward P. Djerejian, the founding director of Baker Institute.

NEWS 10/28/14 4:23pm

SA examines teacher evaluation system

In accordance with the post-centennial vision, the Student Association University Standing Committee on Teaching is reassessing teacher and course evaluations. The new subcommittee collected results of its survey on how to improve the current evaluation system and asked for feedback from SA members at the second SA Senate meeting on Oct. 21. The survey had a sample size of 72 students and consisted of multiple choice questions and free-response space for suggestions. Student representative Amber Lo said the Esther course evaluation survey offers the Committee license to implement any changes it may seek to make.USC student representative Alexandra Franklin said many students suggested mid-semester evaluations. She also said changes may be difficult to institute in light of the differences between course and exam structure, midterm dates and class sizes. She said some evaluations may be outliers that are not representative overall.“One really bad review — even if all other reviews are really great — can really affect how your ratings come out in the spreadsheet,” Franklin, a Brown College junior, said. “One of the ideas is to cut the ‘extreme evaluations’…so that the students have a more accurate view of what a typical student feels about the class.” Currently, teachers must generate their own questions to conduct mid-semester surveys, which are rarely conducted. Lo, a Hanszen College sophomore, said the Committee is looking into a possible standardization of these mid-semester surveys. Franklin said a likely obstacle is that there is no foreseeable way to penalize students who don’t complete mid-semester evaluations, whereas viewing grades may be put on hold for incomplete end-of-semester surveys.Franklin said while the Committee is still gathering feedback, they have been discussing with Registrar David Tenney (Sid Richardson ’87) the option of adding a survey question at the end of the add/drop form related to why the student decided to drop the class. Franklin sees this as a solution to the current exclusion of opinions of those who left a course. “In this committee, we’re really advocating for the student voice, and we’re making sure that the students are able to continue seeing what they want out of the evaluations — and getting even more out to them,” Franklin said.Lo said all 72 surveyed students consider the course evaluations an important factor in choosing their classes, and the Committee’s ultimate goal is to make this tool more effective. Both student representatives said, while changes will not be made this semester, the University Standing Committee on Teaching will continue to meet to set an action plan for future modifications.

NEWS 10/28/14 4:22pm

R-STEM office promotes K-12 outreach

Rice recently established the Rice Office of STEM Engagement, abbreviated R-STEM, in order to coordinate all the science, technology, engineering and mathematics outreach efforts at the university, according to Director Carolyn Nichol.“The office will serve as a main source for people to go to if they have questions about STEM outreach at Rice, because there are quite a lot of different ones distributed throughout campus,” Nichol said. “We can help people with their outreach efforts by, for instance, telling them what forms they need to fill out or supporting their efforts with funding.”According to Nichol, the office will help faculty by recruiting students for outreach programs that are required by their grant proposals. R-STEM will also help undergraduates who wish to reach outside the hedges and increase K-12 students’ interest in STEM fields. R-STEM also hopes to ensure that the undergraduates’ teaching relates to what the students are learning in class. “R-STEM will work with school districts and teachers in the Houston area, as well as Rice faculty and students,” Nichol said.According to Nichol, the office will serve K-12 teachers and school districts by working with them to improve their STEM education. The office will also serve as a point of contact between faculty and school districts to streamline the process of creating STEM programs.Additionally, R-STEM will help nonprofit organizations, such as Project Grad, Genesis Works and Houston A+ Challenge, as well as  connect with Rice undergraduates to help students in the greater community. Many of these nonprofits seek to help potential first generation college students gain an interest in continuing their education by showing them the opportunities that are available to them in STEM fields, according to Nichol. According to Vice Provost of Research Yousif Shamoo, the impact R-STEM will have is two-fold; it will help faculty with obtaining funding for their research by helping them satisfy their grant proposals’ requirements for broad impact STEM programs and will help increase Rice’s impact on the greater community.Rice has a large impact on the community for a school of its size, Nichol said. “We have so many people with great hearts who share their knowledge with the greater community,” Nichol said.According to Nichol, many of Rice’s faculty are involved with STEM outreach. For example, once a week, biochemistry and cell biology professors Elizabeth Eich and Beth Beason-Abmayr teach high school biology teachers engaging teaching strategies. Dean of Undergraduates John Hutchinson teaches high school chemistry teachers, and physics professor Jason Hafner teaches high school physics teachers. Additionally, Rice faculty and teachers who are involved in ConocoPhillips Rice Elementary Model Science Lab teach elementary school teachers nontraditional and engaging educating methods.Former Vice Provost of Research Vicki Colvin suggested that a central office for STEM outreach programs be created. This streamlined the process of creating outreach programs. Students and faculty who wish to establish these programs can now learn how to design and start these programs through the central office. Nichol said she believes STEM outreach is crucial for Rice and for the greater Houston community.“A lot of students, especially inner-city students, don’t have role models or mentors and don’t know what the possibilities are in STEM careers,” Nichol said. “These students don’t see all of the opportunities that could be available to them if they get science or engineering degrees. We want to engage them at young ages and help them become the science and engineering leaders of the future.”

NEWS 10/28/14 4:20pm

SA Blanket Tax Committee convenes

The members of the Student Association Blanket Tax Standing Committee have been finalized and will review organizations receiving blanket-tax funding. As of Oct. 8, appointed members include Lovett College freshman Andy Yuwen, McMurtry College sophomore Giray Ozseker and Jones College sophomore Akeem Ogunkeye. The blanket tax organization officers are Duncan College senior and University Court Chair Brian Baran and Martel College junior and Rice Program Council Treasurer Ronald Foo. SA Treasurer Joan Liu said the Committee is currently working on submissions and meetings with organizations. “Our next steps are to meet with each organization’s president, treasurer and sponsor to discuss the submitted documents and any questions the committee has for the organization,” Liu, a Jones sophomore, said. Liu said the Committee is responsible for conducting the annual review of all organizations receiving blanket tax funding. The Committee is also responsible for accessing proposals to increase or decrease existing blanket tax allocations. “We are also responsible for providing the Student Association with an understanding and evaluation of how subsidiary organizations’ operations and use of student funding aligns with their individual missions and purposes as well as with the interests of the student body and the Rice University community,” Liu said. In light of the ongoing Honor Council contingency process, Liu said she does not anticipate any major changes. “We, as a committee, will review all organizations to the best of our ability in accordance with the Student Association Constitution, and I am confident the blanket tax organizations will do their best to follow the process constitutionally,” Liu said.Baran expressed a similar opinion. “While the Committee will be aware of the outcome of the contingency process for Honor Council, its review will be conducted in the same manner as the review for any other subsidiary organization,” Baran said. 

NEWS 10/28/14 4:19pm

Fondren begins enforcing food and drink policy

Fondren Library administration implemented a new, more restrictive food and drink policy this month, according to Rice University Librarian Sara Lowman. “It was only three years ago that we actually started allowing students to bring food or drink in the library, and we never had an official policy,” Diane Butler, Fondren’s director of Information Technology and Access Services said. Butler said the unregulated flow of food into the library has created various problems for the administration.“First of all, the furniture is expensive,” Butler said. “But we’re also trying to preserve the collection. This is a very expensive [environment]. We have computer equipment and rare archives. So the motivation for this policy certainly wasn’t just one incident; it was a culmination of everything. We finally felt we needed an official policy.”With Lowman’s approval, Butler oversaw policy development, coordinated staff and revised proposals with an executive board. Fondren did not solicit student input to craft the new food and drink policy. “A rough draft of the policy was drafted among access services, which monitors the doors and building,” Butler said. “They researched the food/drink policies at other universities. Then [the executive] tweaked the policy according to what we thought would be best.”However, the library’s lack of concern for student opinion has generated negative feedback, according to some students.“Student input should be considered when forming policies that would affect studying habits in Fondren,” Jackie Olive, a Duncan College sophomore, said. “[Students] can represent their residential colleges or other interest groups to provide input into policies that best serve students.”Fondren administration sought student input when renovating study rooms this past summer.“In the spring of 2014, we ran two focus groups, one with undergraduates and one with graduate students,” Butler said. “We asked them what their ideal study environment was. Based on their comments, we decided what to do in the 24 study rooms due for renovation.”Olive suggested the use of online student surveys to gauge student opinion beforehand.“I was unaware of any serious concerns of the library staff, faculty or students, so it would have been beneficial to increase awareness of the issues before the policy was constructed and enacted,” Olive said. One of the policy’s key components is that it prohibits disposable cups, such as those provided at Coffeehouse and in the serveries.“The reason for [the prohibition of paper cups] is because, if you’ve ever had a disposable cup, you know that if you drop it, the entire cup explodes on the floor,” Butler said.Lowman said the library also views the policy as a push for sustainability on campus.“[The food and drink policy is] actually a green initiative, too,” Lowman said. “We’re just cutting down on waste.”Wiess College sophomore Olivia Nixon said she would have been more supportive of the policy if she knew it was meant to be a green initiative. “If that was the real reason they changed the policy, that would be a good thing,” Nixon said. The new food and drink policy relies on the student body’s sense of respect and understanding, according to Lowman.“We hope that students will understand that this policy is meant to enhance the experience and is in everybody’s interest,” Lowman said. “It’s green, it’s going to help preserve the library, it will make it feel cleaner and people can still eat self-contained foods that are not messy or smelly. We hope students will comply and just bring their coffee in these sealed cups.”