Imagine a place where people are mapping the farthest reaches of the universe, taking a case all the way to the Supreme Court, helping students learn to teach, giving teachers an opportunity to learn, developing ways to boost memory and documenting local history.
That place is The University of Texas at Austin, and it’s all in a day’s work for the university’s students, faculty and staff, who are changing the world through research and education.
With new feature stories on the university’s home page each Monday, we shine the spotlight on the people, ideas, activities and programs that make the university such a distinctive place.
We’ve chosen 10 stories from 2007 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 2008. After more than 275 stories, we’ve just scratched the surface in revealing the range of what makes the university a center of excitement, impact and discovery.
MOM NEEDS AN “A”:
Research indicates that baby boomers make very attentive parents. According to a study by Dr. Patricia Somers, hovering parents, or “helicopter parents” as they’ve been dubbed, are landing in record numbers on university campuses and “helping” their offspring with everything from term papers and dorm decorating to girlfriend selection. Somers found that, whether you need your laundry done or a course dropped, help from a helicopter parent is only a phone call away.
History is never one tidy, linear story. It’s the culmination of many complicated, concurrent stories. Karen Kocher’s “Austin Past and Present—An Interactive Digital History” is an interactive multimedia tool rich in archival photos, films, historical documents and animation that brings history to life by enabling people of all ages to customize the experience to fit their interests and learning styles.
In 2007, an increasing number of people turned to a new source for answers about their family history—genetic ancestry tests. However, anthropologist Deborah Bolnick urges consumers to use caution when interpreting results. In an October issue of Science, Bolnick and researchers across the nation called upon the scientific community to better educate the public about the limitations of the controversial DNA tests, which raise complex questions about identity and race.
Since the Supreme Court handed down in April its decisions in the Capital Punishment Clinic cases noted in this story, the Fifth Circuit, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals have all granted new sentencing hearings based on the clinic’s Supreme Court victories to death-sentenced Texas prisoners. The Capital Punishment Clinic’s staff and students remain involved in numerous pending Texas capital appeals raising the same legal issues, to make sure the Supreme Court’s decisions are fully enforced. The petition for certiorari in the Bly-Magee whistleblower case, which the Supreme Court Clinic filed in March, is still pending. On May 29, the Court invited the U.S. Solicitor General to file a brief in the case expressing the federal government’s views, which is often a precursor to granting cert. That brief should be filed shortly and the Court is expected to decide in January whether to hear the case. The Supreme Court Clinic also filed a brief in an immigration case that will be heard in January. During the week of Dec. 17, the clinic will file cert petitions in two more cases.
THANKS FOR THE MEMORY:
Research tells us that the majority of older adults will never have memory problems that will adversely affect their lives—with only 20 percent being really impaired. And, yet, memory loss is one of the most common fears among older adults. School of Nursing Professor Graham McDougall has been studying the effects of memory training through National Institutes of Health grants since 2002 and says people can remain mentally fit by constantly educating themselves and putting themselves in mentally challenging environments. In other words—“use it or lose it.”
EXPLORING THE DARK:
Dark energy is not the mysterious force that drove the Grinch to steal Christmas. Nor is it a bad karmic vibe, dude. Well then, what is it, you ask? Scientists don’t exactly know, but they do know that it is causing our cosmos to expand around us, and it makes up more than 70 percent of the universe. Four astronomers are on a quest to understand this mysterious force using unique and innovative technologies at the McDonald Observatory.
THOSE WHO CAN, DO: Talented math and science majors make good math and science teachers—who knew? The College of Education and College of Natural Sciences teamed up 10 years ago to see if they could increase the dwindling number of secondary-level teachers in math and science by actively recruiting natural sciences students. The outcome was a program called UTeach, and the experiment worked better than anyone could have expected. A decade later, UTeach has graduated hundreds of highly qualified new teachers, and universities around the nation are competing for grants to replicate the program.
The U.S. was once the world’s undisputed leader in science and technology education, but today the country is experiencing declining enrollments in science, engineering and technology. African Americans and the country’s rapidly growing population of Hispanics are particularly underrepresented. GeoFORCE Texas aims to improve the situation by offering summer academies designed to inspire a new generation of college students and the next generation of earth scientists, the people who look for energy, steward environmental resources, and forecast climate change and natural disasters. Entering its fourth year, the popular program targets regions with traditionally low college attendance, offering free summer field trips to geologically significant locations around the country.
PASSPORT TO THE ARTS:
ArtesAméricas not only provides a vehicle for presenting Latin American and Latino artists, but also fosters international, professional exchanges and outreach programs so teachers can bring Latin American culture back to their classrooms in the United States. The ArtesAméricas mission is to share the university’s knowledge of Latin America by serving as a resource for the performing arts throughout the Americas.
SEEDING THE FUTURE:
As global warming threatens entire plant populations, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is banking the seeds of Texas native species before they become endangered. Braving West Texas cliffs and East Texas bayous, the center’s 150 volunteers are well ahead of schedule to deposit seeds of 950 species with the Millennium Seed Bank at the Royal Botanical Garden, Kew, United Kingdom, by 2010.