Rice University’s Student Newspaper — Since 1916

Friday, April 19, 2024 — Houston, TX

Hannah Che

NEWS 11/10/15 3:39pm

Missed Meals: Plan Under Review

The Student Association is working with Housing and Dining to find ways to improve the current meal plan system, which has been criticized by some students for being inflexible, according to Wiess College Senator Hannah Todd. 

NEWS 10/20/15 7:46pm

Farmer’s market food sourcing, weekly menus promote sustainability in serveries

As Real Food Week kicks off,  students may find themselves wondering about the food sourcing process behind the food prepared in the serveries.  A closer look reveals the steps Housing and Dining is taking toward sustainability, including creating weekly menus based on availability of seasonal ingredients and sourcing regularly from the Farmers Market. Each of the head chefs at the six serveries are responsible for food sourcing, weekly menu determination and independently purchasing food. According to Senior Business Director of H&D David McDonald, menus are often based on a rotational system at other universities, where the food served for each meal is determined months in advance. McDonald said he was critical of a cycled menu, since problems such as a blight in produce or a recall on a certain item could occur.“Just look at the current situation: The market is experiencing a massive shortage of eggs that’s severely affected our egg supply,” McDonald said. “So imagine if you had an egg-heavy menu published three months ago, and you didn’t know this was going to happen — you’d have a serious problem on your hands.”Head chefs research prices, look into reports from seafood and produce companies, talk to local farmers, and based on that information, determine the menus for the next week at their respective serveries. “Because we know exactly what’s available to us, we don’t have to guess — we can plan and cook based on real time information,” Campus Dining Director Chef Johnny Curet said. “The flexibility allows for menu modifications to be made in case of unanticipated food source changes.”Richard Johnson, director of the Rice Administrative Center for Sustainability and Energy Management, said the system minimizes food waste and maximizes cost efficiency. “If you have a better sense, in the moment, of what’s going to be available, and where you can get it and what the prices are going to look like, you’re going to make decisions that will be less wasteful,” Johnson said.The serveries’ primary food supplier is Houston-based Sysco, according to McDonald. Around 20 to 25 percent of ingredients are sourced locally within a 200-250 mile-radius including seafood, poultry and Blue Bell ice cream. Due to the limited range of in-season produce in Texas, however, it is difficult to increase the percentage of locally-sourced foods.“If we were in Salinas, California, I could easily purchase 80 percent of my product from nearby farms,” McDonald explained. “Here in Houston, a 250-mile radius doesn’t leave us with many options, besides lots of okra and oranges.”Another food source is the Farmer’s Market, which currently accounts for less than 10 percent of the food purchased by the serveries. The market is owned and operated by Rice, and the chefs began directly purchasing from the market around two years ago. Hardwick said that H&D has worked hard to streamline the process of ordering and delivery, and these steps have made it easier for chefs to incorporate ingredients from the Farmers Market into their menu.“Each week, they’ll call in and let us know what they need, and we let them know what we have growing right now or ready to harvest in the future,” Gage Lydahl from Atkinson Farms said. “Besides supporting the Farmers Market, Rice University helps us by purchasing around $400 to $500 of produce weekly.”The local vendors are limited in production capability and selection, however. McDonald said with the sheer volume of food that is produced for each meal at the serveries, the largest farm vendor at the market would not even be able to supply Rice for a single lunch. “We try to purchase whatever they have, and as much as they have,” Glenn said. “Some examples of items we’ve purchased include local honey for National Honey Month and free-range bison meat for tacos at Seibel.”Manager of Communications Susann Glenn said that purchasing from the local farmers contributes to the sustainability of the local economy, especially in cases of surpluses, when Rice can purchase the excess and freeze it for later use.“The farmers like that sense of security, knowing that if they have extra product, we’ll take it off their hands — that’s financial stability for them,” Glenn said. “And it means the world to them.”  Real Food Revolution is a student organization focused on increasing support for local foods and sustainable farming practices, and they have partnered with H&D on multiple occasions to host events like Farm to Fork dinners. Co-President Belle Douglass said she acknowledged the challenges of purchasing locally, but added that there are ways the university can take even more advantage of what Houston and surrounding farms have to offer. “Our chefs are so talented that the fact that local options change with the seasons shouldn’t be a reason not to buy locally,” Douglass, a Martel College senior,  said. “Additionally, buying locally can at times be more expensive than buying in bulk from other sources, so if we want to see an increase in local food then perhaps a change to the way food budgets are structured might help. Setting a required amount to be purchased locally might be an option to explore.”Another food source is found in the on-campus gardens, a club currently run by Rice Community Growers, inspired by Joseph Novak’s Community Garden course (EBIO 204).“Although the gardens last year did not produce enough for regular use by the serveries, we did supply the chefs with some herbs — mostly basil, parsley and cilantro, and sometimes lettuce and arugula,” Lovett College junior Emma Livingston, who had taken Novak’s course, said.H&D is working on further ways to support sustainability in food sourcing, McDonald said. Purchasing imperfect produce for use in the kitchens is one initiative in progress. “Most of these items can’t be sold retail — the quality and taste is just as good, but people won’t buy them in grocery stores because they are oddly shaped, or have blemishes,” McDonald said. “It’s a consumable product that’s not being utilized; if those items don’t get bought from a farm, they will be thrown away.”Douglass said the weekly menu creation permits chefs to take suggestions into consideration when planning the next week’s meals.“Housing and Dining takes suggestions [from the Rice Dining website] seriously and the best way to have a voice in what you’re eating is to engage with the people who are making it,” Douglass said. “If you want to see more local food, tell your chef!” 

NEWS 9/28/15 7:21pm

Leebron named chair of Internet2 trustee board

Rice University President David Leebron has been elected as the newest chair on the board of trustees of Internet2, an advanced technology organization that operates the largest research and education network in the nation. He will take over the position beginning Nov. 1, according to the Rice News and Media release.The nonprofit organization was founded by the nation’s leading higher education institutions, and according to its website, provides services for over 93,000 institutions across the U.S. Among its member institutions are 282 universities, 66 government agencies, 42 regional and state education networks, 86 leading corporations and more than 65 national research and education networking partners representing over 100 countries.“Internet 2 is a critical and remarkably innovative organization that is assuring we will have the connectivity, security and services that higher education and industry need for the research and education endeavors of the future,” Leebron said. “I am excited to become more involved in it.”Leebron will serve as vice chair to a 15-member board of trustees that includes university presidents, chief information officers, network researchers, discipline researchers and industry partners. The board, which is elected by representatives from member organizations, seeks to provide strategic direction, leadership and oversight to the Internet2 community.

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 3:49pm

City health code bans reusable containers

Hannah Chefor the ThresherA proposal to set up reusable take-out containers at the serveries has been prevented by the city of Houston health code, according to Housing and Dining Senior Business Director David McDonald. The objection rose from a concern about cross-contamination hazards. “The logic was, let’s say you have a cold, and you bring back a container that is contaminated,” McDonald said. “When you take food, the serving spoon touches the container, and when it is placed back into the food, it contaminates everybody else who’s going to get food that day. That’s what we call cross-contamination.”McDonald argued the sanitary concern is unfounded because the reusable containers would be washed by H&D. “We’re professionals, and we’re certified,” McDonald said. “Since we’re washing the containers, the risk of contamination would be no different from the risk associated with using paper plates. We feel like we’ve taken the risk out of it, but [the health officials] didn’t see it that way.” The reusable containers would replace the current paper plates and greatly minimize both paper waste and cost, according to McDonald. The system was tested at the Faculty Club last year and seemed to work, but McDonald said logistical issues would arise from the greater demand at the serveries.“There were concerns that the system would slow down lines,” McDonald said. “Also, that students wouldn’t like the idea of us charging five dollars at the counter to get the container, or the fact that they wouldn’t have paper plates.”The University of Houston has a similar container system already in place, according to McDonald, but it follows a different health code.“They’re governed by the state of Texas, because they’re a state school,” McDonald said. “As a private institution, Rice is governed by the city of Houston health code, which has one of the strictest set of food handling guidelines I’ve seen.”McDonald said this container idea came three years ago from an ENGI 302 class project.“Students wanted to see if the serveries could use reusable to-go containers instead of paper plates,” McDonald said. “How it would work is you would come in and say, ‘I want to-go today.’ Then I would charge you five dollars on your tetra points, give you a container and you’d get your food. When you returned the container, I would credit back the five dollars for the cost of the container or switch with you and give you a new clean container.”Tierra Moore, the co-chair of the Student Association Environmental Committee, said a survey by the new student representatives last month found most students were in favor of the idea. “We collected over 270 responses from students and found that 80 percent of them would have liked to use this product,” Moore, a Baker College senior, said. Moore said that students cold contact city health officials to discuss setting up a special-case situation for Rice.According to McDonald, the reusable containers are no longer being considered by H&D. However, students are allowed to bring in reusable bottles to fill with water and other beverages.“The reason I can get away with that is because they’re dispenser style,” McDonald said. “So there is no cross-contamination hazard.”McDonald said the reusable container proposal reflects broader issues about sustainability and the growing take-out culture on campus.“The disposable paper plate usage just ticks up every year, and with the reusable containers, we’re primarily trying to mitigate this,” McDonald said. “But I think the best thing that could happen from a sustainability standpoint is to just stop using so much take-out. In the seven years I’ve been here, I’ve seen a huge increase in people taking out plates instead of eating in their commons.”Moore said discussion stems back to the issue of how much student behavior can be controlled. “I don’t really think you can add [reusable containers] to the serveries and expect the takeout culture to decrease — I mean obviously it would facilitate the existing demand for takeout,” Moore said. “But that doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing.”

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 10/28/14 3:56pm

SA to release mandatory survey

A new, mandatory survey for all Rice University undergraduate and graduate students will be released through email by the end of this week. A hold will be placed on registration until it is completed, according to John Cornwell, the associate vice president of the Office of Institutional Effectiveness.Cornwell said the purpose of the new survey is to collect much-needed information for the university in a more convenient and streamlined way. The survey will average 15 minutes or less to complete and is designed to be highly specific.“We don’t want to bother students with questions that are not relevant to them,” Cornwell said. “Questions in the survey will be divided into sections specific to various student subpopulations — first-year freshmen, transfer students, international students, athletes, etc. The survey is actually going to be a lot bigger in terms of data collected, but what the students get should be tailored to what we need to know from them. If a question doesn't apply to you, you won’t see it.”According to Cornwell, the survey is a collaboration among various administrative groups on campus and the Student Association. It will include questions on academic interests and major declaration, dropping courses after the add/drop deadline, new student transition, internship and research experiences, and extracurricular interests.“Our approach was to keep the survey fairly short — because we know that’s important — and to collect information that we really need and that will be used,” Cornwell said. “We want to know what we should be putting our energy behind in terms of what students can do here at Rice. With the survey scheduled earlier in the semester, we’ll have results out before the semester is over, so if there are issues we need to act upon we’ll be able to deal with it a lot faster.”In the long term, the survey will be conducted twice a year, and the data will be used to identify trends to improve student life and maintain standards, according to the Office of Institutional Effectiveness. The spring semester survey will include more questions about student satisfaction with the variety of services and resources on campus.“By that time, students will have experienced more and developed more informed opinions,” Cornwell said. “The time boundary means that we can ask appropriate questions in the spring that wouldn’t make sense to ask in the fall and vice versa.”“We should be creating a culture here where students want to give feedback because they’re intrinsically motivated to help the university become a better place,” Cornwell said. “There’s a reverse obligation from the university to do something with that information. The bottom line is that with this new survey, we’re trying to be convenient, we’re trying to honor the students and we want students to expect something out of it.”Brian Baran, a Duncan College senior, said he hoped questions would be asked in a way so that legitimate conclusions could be drawn from the data produced.“The last big survey I remember was the add/drop survey, which I found quite problematic,” Baran said. “Many of the questions were biased, the data did not support the conclusions drawn by the Committee on the Undergraduate Curriculum, and most of the results were never made public. If the all-student survey can avoid these issues, I think it can be a positive development for the community.”Surveys attempted by the SA in the past have been limited by the lack of student response, according to SA Treasurer Joan Liu.“I think the mandatory nature of the survey is a good effort towards collecting information more representative of the entire student body,” Liu, a Jones College sophomore, said. “I’m confident that however the survey is executed will be in the best interest of the student.”