Each Monday the university features a new story on its home page, stories that cover some of the breadth of activity going on at The University of Texas at Austin. Since the introduction of this home page feature four years ago, the Office of Public Affairs has sought to expose our readers to the vast range of ideas, activities and programs that make the university a center of excitement, impact and discovery.
The work of the university happens in the individual classroom, but it also happens in Ecuadorian forests, onboard Navy ships and in labs when stroke survivors learn to read again or anthrax antitoxins are engineered. The work happens in archives where irreplaceable manuscripts are housed and behind the cameras filmmakers and photographers use to capture the world. The university’s impact is enormous, in its local community, its state, the nation and around the world.
Of the 50 stories that ran in 2005, we’ve chosen 10 to take a second look at. If you like these, check out our features archives and read more. And watch for new stories in 2006. You may even want to make the university home page your home page so you don’t miss a thing.
One of the year’s big news stories broke in May, when former FBI Deputy Director Mark Felt announced he was Deep Throat, the secret Washington Post source that helped bring down President Richard M. Nixon during the Watergate scandal. Even before that, the Woodward and Bernstein Watergate papers became available at the university’s Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center. The Ransom Center will soon add the Deep Throat papers to its collections.
The news this year wasn’t all about history. Sometimes it was about history being made. The impact of the tsunami in Asia and hurricanes Katrina and Rita was tremendous, and volunteers from the School of Nursing rose to the occasion. Volunteering with Project HOPE, they helped thousands of tsunami survivors. Later they joined a volunteer team on the USNS Comfort to provide care for hurricane survivors.
Around the world, researchers seek to make a difference. Professors Rodrigo Sierra and Camille Parmesan are each committed to protecting the environment and the world’s species, and for each of them this commitment means getting out into the wilderness and down in the mud.
Sierra works with indigenous people in Ecuador to help them manage their land in the face of development. His work seeks to match the needs of the communities with the goal of maintaining the region’s critical biodiversity. When they’re not in airplanes taking aerial photographs, he and his students are donning rubber boots in the jungle.
Parmesan’s study of the Edith’s checkerspot butterfly led her to become an authority on the impact of climate change on species across the world. After determining that climate change has already affected more than half the world’s wild species, she set about convincing policymakers that it’s worth the effort to keep climate change to a lower level. She’s found that chasing butterflies can lead to the hard data that inform decisions.
Decisions are the focus of the new Law School Actual Innocence Clinic, which is dedicated to seeking out criminal cases where someone was found guilty of a crime they didn’t actually commit. Recognizing that even if the Texas justice system is 99.9 percent accurate, 150 innocent people are still in prison in Texas, the clinic’s founders and the students who work with them are passionate about their mission. Clinic co-founder, Professor Robert Dawson, who taught at the Law School for 37 years, died in February. Dawson, along with his co-instructors and students, received a 2005 Public Interest Award for the important and groundbreaking work done by the clinic.
Some university researchers do work that sheds light on what happens inside the four walls of our homes. Professors Barbara Davis and Peter MacNeilage may help you understand your own family a little better. Their research finds that the cute babbling of a baby—the dada, mama, gaga—may be far more than precious sounds to capture on the recorder. They connect babies to babies across the world and across the generations, because baby-babbling patterns are common across many languages. In fact, a baby’s babbling may be related to the earliest beginnings of spoken language.
Aaron Rochlen’s research uncovers how men’s traditional notions of masculinity and independence may be exactly what keeps them from seeking professional help when they need it. The John Wayne swagger may have appeal, but it doesn’t account for the real facts of depression and suicide that men may face. Perhaps it’s time for a new definition of masculinity, he suggests.
Professor Juliet Walker turns her focus to the men—and women—who have defined and continue to define African American entrepreneurship. African Americans have a history in business that tends to be overlooked in most studies of African American history. Looking at examples as varied as cars manufactured by slave-born Charles Patterson and the monolithic Oprah Winfrey, Walker seeks to expand our view of the past.
The university’s ability to have a global impact doesn’t keep it from focusing on its local community. Since 2001, the East Austin Stories documentary project has sent film students east of highway I-35 to capture on film the characters, venues and communities that make the area unique. Since this story ran, films from the project have screened across town, at Austin’s South by Southwest festival and in the Dallas Video Festival, and project founder Andy Garrison and students have led organizations on tours of East Austin. In summer 2006, Garrison and 15 students will travel to Prague to document the city’s people and neighborhoods, and the East Austin Stories class will be offered again in the fall.
A final place to reflect in 2005 may be on how the university’s impact reaches from Austin to the moon. Lunar projects abound in the College of Engineering, where no fewer than eight alumni have gone on to travel in space and students have taken on space-related projects as unique as modifying an exercise bicycle for use by astronauts. As Professor Robert Bishop noted, the possibility of going to the moon is a big incentive for learning math and science.It paid off for alumna Stephanie Wilson, whose flight on the Space Shuttle Discovery is scheduled for 2006.