The University of Texas at Austin is a place of new discoveries and time-honored traditions, global impact and local flavor. Each Monday the university features a new story on its home page that captures some facet of the ideas, activities and programs that make the university so distinctive.
You can find the university in the individual classroom, but you can also find it in clinics where women get free access to breast cancer screening and at ancient Mayan sites in Guatemala. You can find it in the funky staff members at the Fine Arts Library and in labs where computer engineers make the fastest computers go faster. People at the university are helping prevent future disasters like Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and they’re also helping people understand how they choose their mates.
We’ve chosen 10 stories from 2006 to offer to our readers again. If you like these, check out our features archives and read more. And watch each Monday for new stories in 2007. After more than 200 stories, we’ve just scratched the surface in revealing the range of what makes the university a center of excitement, impact and discovery.
AN ARTFUL ENGAGEMENT: When the new Blanton Museum of Art was unveiled in April, a whopping 13,000 people from Austin and beyond lined up to attend the 24-hour Extremely Grand Opening event. The new museum was a long time coming, and its doors opened to impressive collections, innovative programming and a unique social gathering place for art lovers. A recent visit to B scene, the Blanton’s monthly art party, revealed a thousand revelers listening to the techno beats of The Octopus Project while checking out the paintings of 16th century Italian artist Luca Cambiaso. At the Blanton, the party goes on.
THE COLOR OF MONEY: For many Americans, December means shopping, making the work of Dr. Jerome Williams even more imperative. Williams uncovers and fights the marketplace discrimination that keeps African American and other minority customers from receiving equal treatment for equal dollars when they shop. Williams says the work of the Civil Rights movement isn’t complete until equality is practiced every time someone walks through the doors of a store.
MAN AND SUPERMAN: True, 2006 is the first year in many that we didn’t see Lance Armstrong wearing the yellow jersey in the Tour de France, since the champion retired from cycling. Still, for years (if not generations) to come, he’ll be the standard against which all cyclists are judged. Professor Ed Coyle, who conducted a seven-year study of Armstrong, says that it’s a combination of natural-born physical gifts and competitive drive that catapulted the athlete from cyclist to legend.
DISTILLING FACT FROM FICTION: There are few people who aren’t affected by alcoholism somewhere in their families or social circles, which is why the work of Dr. Carl Erickson struck a chord for so many readers. Erickson, professor in the College of Pharmacy, wants people to understand that dependency is a brain chemistry disease, and the stigma surrounding it can keep people from getting help. Look for Erickson’s latest book, “The Science of Addiction: From Neurobiology to Treatment,” in January 2007.
CANCER FIGHTER: What does it take to find new drugs to fight cancer? For Dr. Jonathan Sessler, the answer may include taking a Texas attitude toward chemistry. Sessler, a former cancer patient himself, developed new molecules, dubbed “texaphyrins” for their big size, that are the base for a new drug for patients with non-small cell lung cancer. Recent studies are promising, and a New Drug Application is planned for filing with the Federal Drug Administration by the end of the year.
REGAINING GROUND: The Gulf Coast was fortunate in 2006 to see no major hurricanes. For researchers in the Jackson School of Geosciences, that’s no reason to rest easy. Restoration of the coast after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita must balance the region’s economic and social needs with environmental conditions. The loss of wetlands, marshes and other natural buffers left the coastline at risk in 2005, and scientists say that without better coastal management, the region is set up for future catastrophes. Studies completed since this story ran indicate that Texas could easily suffer the fate of its neighbors to the east if faced with a storm like Katrina.
BY THE BOOK: Dr. Loriene Roy has spent a lifetime promoting literacy for Native American communities, a dedication apparent in her groundbreaking program, “If I Can Read, I Can Do Anything.” The program helps Native American communities in increasing literacy skills while preserving Native American culture, including promoting Native language recovery. In 2007 Roy will make history when she becomes the first Native American to serve as president of the American Library Association.
THE GOSPEL TRUTH?: Speaking of books, were you one of the millions who devoured “The Da Vinci Code”? Were you fascinated when National Geographic announced the discovery of the Gospel of Judas? The world of early Christianity has captured our imaginations recently, as it did for Dr. Michael White back when he was a graduate student at Yale University. Now a professor of classics, White sorts out the confusion of recent findings (and fiction) by reminding us that early Christianity was more diverse than we may have first assumed.
COMING HOME: A lot of attention has been paid “offshoring,” where American companies move operations overseas to save money. A group of students at the McCombs School of Business turned their focus to “homeshoring,” which moves services to providers in rural areas. It’s an alternative they found to have cost advantages and the added benefits of improving communities by bringing rural America into the promises of globalization.
A FETCHING PERSONALITY: Finally, few stories made us smile as much as the one that put all those adorable pooches on the university home page. Dr. Sam Gosling studies animal behavior and found that dogs, just like people, have distinct personalities, even within the same breed. He is in the second phase of a study tracking the success of dogs in their adoptive homes. Gosling hopes the research will help animal shelters make more compatible pairings between dogs and their owners. That way people can make their best choices when choosing “man’s best friend.”