Know Fri, 27 Feb 2015 15:11:10 +0000 en hourly 1 Change Approach to Build on Houston’s Innovative Solution to Untested Rape Kits Fri, 27 Feb 2015 15:01:32 +0000 mp35922 The City of Houston recently announced that 6,663 sexual assault kits have been tested after sitting untested for years in the Houston Police Department property room.

Now a team of special police investigators and prosecutors at the Harris County District Attorney’s Office will review each case for potential prosecution. Business as usual? Hardly.

As researchers working with a group of Houston advocates and stakeholders, our task was to devise strategies to avoid this situation in the future. After all, many law enforcement agencies across the U.S. have untested sexual assault kits.

Houston was not unique. But today, Houston is one of the first cities in the U.S. with no untested kits.

Other cities can learn from the way Houston addressed its untested rape kit problem. There are some specific things that should be done right now that could help avoid issues such as this in the future.

For starters, we must reconsider “test-all” procedures. This is a controversial recommendation, especially after legislation passed in 2013 that requires a test-all approach in Texas.

One important finding from our research is that testing alone will not help us to avoid a repeat performance of this tragedy of untested rape kits. Our research shows that accountability is needed, and smart testing procedures may go further toward a permanent change. Smart testing involves the review of kits by a multidisciplinary team of professionals for probative value.

Many advocacy and law enforcement organizations argue for test-all policies because of the accumulation of testing results in the national DNA database. But, our analysis in Houston showed that the benefits of a test-all approach, although compelling, are thus far speculative and expensive, with an average of $985 per kit.

Smart testing is more likely to increase accountability among stakeholders and result in victim engagement. It will encourage multidisciplinary decision making and relationship building, and it will promote cost savings.

Test-all policies have unintended consequences that can lead to the familiar backlog in a few short years. Tens of thousands of Texans are victims of sexual assault each year, but only a small fraction of those sexual assaults are reported to law enforcement.

And the problem goes beyond volume. An increased understanding of sexual assault crimes means that stakeholders recognize that only a small percentage of victims report the offender was a stranger. Often there is no dispute about who the perpetrator was — offenders most often perpetrate against victims known or related to them.

The implementation of evidence-based victim notification and engagement protocols are also important.

Houston made three specific programmatic changes that other cities should follow: a standardized victim notification protocol that ensures victims’ comfort with the criminal justice system and minimizes risk for re-traumatization; a sexual assault information line and email that gives victims a choice to re-engage through a phone call or email to learn about their testing results; and a justice advocate position embedded with special unit investigators to notify and re-engage victims.

Professionals frame victims’ experiences with validation, respect and useful information, regardless of testing and prosecution outcomes.

Sexual assault costs Texas about $8 billion a year, excluding testing. The state’s funding for sexual assault services is unstable and underfunded. More than 50 of our counties are unserved while demand is up. Any cost savings that are a result of better policies should be directed toward under-resourced rape crisis centers.

Texas can learn from Houston that accountability has to translate into evidence-based system changes. Houston has become an epicenter of change that highlights the values of principled treatment of sexual assault victims while steadily balancing individual liberties.

Houston also makes smart testing, instead of test-all, conceivable. It should be part of the conversation to lead us to our ultimate goal of safe and healthy Texas communities.

Social scientists Noël Busch-Armendariz and Caitlin Sulley led the research for the Institute on Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault at the School of Social Work, and economist Bruce Kellison participated for the Bureau for Business Research in Houston. Both research units are with The University of Texas at Austin.

A version of this op-ed appeared in the Houston Chronicle.

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The Benefits to a Paid Family Leave Law That Nobody is Talking About Tue, 24 Feb 2015 16:18:46 +0000 mp35922 This month marks 22 years since the passage of the Family and Medical Leave Act. The FMLA was an important first step toward improving the lives of American workers by helping them secure unpaid leave from their jobs for a variety of family issues, while protecting their employment security.

But the FMLA left much to be desired. It’s now time to increase our support for working families by implementing legal changes that guarantee paid family leave and other polices that support workers in the challenging task of balancing their employment and family responsibilities.

Such policies could be pivotal in reducing the gender inequalities that still linger at our workplaces and our homes.

The United States remains the only country in the industrialized world that does not legislate any form or length of paid family leave.

In an attempt to change this, President Barack Obama recently voiced strong support for policies that would reduce families’ out-of-pocket costs for early childhood education and provide paid leave time for caregiving.

Most American couples currently find it tremendously challenging to strike an egalitarian division between work and family responsibilities because they have access to little or no paid leave, hours are long and/or inflexible, and child care is costly.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, only 12 percent of private sector workers have access to paid family leave in the United States.

Although that percentage is slightly higher at 14 percent in the West South Central states, of which Texas is a part, that still leaves more than 8 in 10 workers without access to this key support. And access to paid leave is not evenly distributed. Whereas 22 percent of workers in the U.S. with earnings in the top quarter of the population have access to paid family leave, that number drops to 5 percent for the bottom quarter of earners.

To date, arguments for and against policies such as paid family leave have focused on economic costs and benefits. How will paid leave affect workers’ productivity and wages? Can employers afford to provide it?

The debate underscores the tension between workplaces — which increasingly demand long and/or inflexible hours in today’s economy — and the substantial time and resources needed to care for children.

But the emphasis on productivity and costs has obscured the fact that more supportive family policies can also promote gender equality, both in the workplace and at home.

As scholars who research this set of issues, we recently published a study that found that if young workers were able to choose an egalitarian relationship with their future spouse or partner, they would select that option.

We also found that if policies such as flexible scheduling, paid family leave and subsidized child care were universally in place, women, in particular, would be even more likely to want an egalitarian relationship with their partner and much less likely to want to be responsible for household work.

These issues should matter to business leaders. The findings from our research underscore the point that achieving gender diversity in a work organization is contingent on managers’ willingness to prioritize policies such as paid family leave and flexible scheduling.

Given the well-established link between diversity and the productivity and success of companies, business leaders and policymakers have a vested interest in implementing these types of policies.

Work-family policies such as paid family leave also affect more than a company’s bottom line.

They impact the way that men and women decide to organize their work and family lives, thereby increasing workers’ happiness and satisfaction at work and at home.

Supportive workplace policies can empower people to live the kind of life they would ideally like to live, an ideal that is now more gender-egalitarian than in previous generations, and that is premised on more women “leaning in” at work and more men “leaning in” at home.

David S. Pedulla is an assistant professor of sociology at The University of Texas at Austin. Sarah Thebaud is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

A version of this op-ed appeared in the Huffington Post and Contra Costa Times.

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Raise the (Solar) Roof: Students Building Solar Home Mon, 23 Feb 2015 22:16:24 +0000 Nicholas Persac

Rendering of home designed by UT 2015 Solar Decathlon team

This rendering of the solar-powered home shows what the Solar Decathlon team plans to build. The home features two 400-square-foot modules and a central connector. Photo courtesy of UT’s 2015 Solar Decathlon team.

Flip a light switch, turn on the TV or open the refrigerator — you probably don’t think twice about the electricity powering your home.

A team of UT Austin students, on the other hand, has spent two years imagining how to power our homes and keep our day-to-day lives running on light from the sun. They’re building a solar-powered house this spring, which they’ll ship to California for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon competition in October.

The UT team, partnering with the Technische Universität München (TUM) in Germany, was one of 20 selected for the competition out of more than 150 teams that applied. Judges will score 10 different contests as part of the competition, from architecture and engineering to the performance of home appliances, affordability and how well the teams market and promote the solar-powered homes.

Dubbed “Nexushaus,” the UT Solar Decathlon team’s solar home aims to address broad sustainability and affordability issues while also focusing on key issues facing Austin. Keeping the city’s expanding population in mind, the team designed a prototype for secondary dwellings that could provide additional housing on more than 42,000 lots in the Austin metro area, explains Jessica Janzen, an architecture graduate student competing on the Solar Decathlon team.

Between UT and TUM, more than 60 students are working to design, fund and construct the solar-powered home.

Bringing an array of specialties to the project, the UT students come from six different schools: Cockrell School of Engineering, McCombs School of Business, LBJ School of Public Affairs, Jackson School of Geosciences, Moody College of Communication and the School of Architecture.

[Read more about the Solar Decathlon team in The Daily Texan.]

Earlier this month, the team submitted to the Department of Energy 500 pages of drawings and detailed documents showing nearly finalized plans for the house. The students have detailed plans for everything from how the house can be integrated into existing neighborhoods to water-collection systems that will irrigate an all-food-growing landscape.

The team’s solar-powered home includes two 400-square-foot modules and a central connector. One module serves as a living unit with kitchen and dining space, and the second contains a full bathroom and two bedrooms. The structure also doubles as a chassis, allowing each module to be trucked to the competition site intact.

“The two modules are connected through a central nexus where we demonstrate the potential for integrated energy and water systems that make the house a unit of production, rather than one of consumption,” Janzen says.

UT 2015 Solar Decathlon team

Members of the 2015 Solar Decathlon team from The University of Texas at Austin pose for a group picture with a model of the home they will build for the competition. Photo by Astrid Eckert.

The two-year process of designing, building and operating a solar-powered home that’s also cost-effective, energy-efficient and attractive comes with a price tag. In all, the team needs to raise $500,000 in cash and in-kind donations to fund the project.

The Department of Energy kick-started each team with $50,000, and the students in Germany have raised more than $15,000. The UT students, meanwhile, have already raised $100,000, including a $10,000 matching donation from Austin Energy and more than $21,000 from the university’s new crowd funding platform, HornRaiser.

[Want to help the team compete? Donate to The University of Texas at Austin and Technische Universität München’s 2015 Solar Decathlon Team.]

The 2015 Solar Decathlon marks the fourth time UT has been selected to compete, with the most recent UT team competing in 2007. This year, UT is the only Texas university represented in the competition.

2015 Solar Decathlon team

Technische Universität München (TUM) students, seen here, are partnering with The University of Texas at Austin in the 2015 Solar Decathlon. Photo courtesy of UT’s 2015 Solar Decathlon team.

Here Comes the Sun: Forty Acres Filled with Solar Research

While the Solar Decathlon team is busy building the home of the future, researchers and students across the Forty Acres are working on other solar-related projects. Here’s a quick look at some of the solar projects powered by Longhorns:

[Watch The Hook, a weekly news show about the University of Texas at Austin, check in with the Solar Vehicle Team.]

Finding Solutions

This story is part of our “Finding Solutions” series, which explores how UT Austin faculty, staff and students are putting their big ideas to work.

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Harsher Assistance Programs in Texas are Not a Good Idea Fri, 20 Feb 2015 15:25:43 +0000 mp35922 Black History Month this year coincides with a high-stakes political conflict over federal food programs for impoverished Americans. Too often, debates about budgeting these longstanding programs hinge less on the availability of funds and more on the “culture” of the poor.

Fifty years ago during the first confrontations over the Food Stamp Program, talk of lazy fathers and out-of-wedlock mothers became as pivotal as it is now. Then, challenges came from civil rights activists who had plunged into antipoverty work.

Today, constant references to “broken families,” “inner cities,” and “cycle of dependency,” and “drug abuse” — terms that often become code words for poor African Americans — convince many Americans that restricting food stamps is a good idea because a sector of the poor is deceiving them.

Such language draws a line between needy families whom both parties term the “struggling middle class” and those depicted as outside that category. The resentment it has fueled has bolstered the political profile of many calling for restricting or abolishing programs to help poor people.

This needs to stop. But it hasn’t.

One state after another has opted to use taxpayer money to perform drug tests on a subset of welfare recipients who seem like they might be drug abusers. Such “suspicion-based” programs have turned up few such abusers. Nevertheless, Maine just became the latest state to announce it will roll out such a program.

The Texas Legislature will vote on a similar one this spring. Texas policymakers would be wise to vote against such a requirement.

Food stamp recipients have never been subjected to these tests. When Georgia attempted to do so last year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture ordered it to stop.

Current federal law prohibits mandatory drug testing because it would add an extra requirement for eligibility; anyone refusing the test would be denied benefits. Regardless, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who recently presented his state budget, intends to make his state the first to do just that.

The specter of junkies supporting their habits with food stamps is a powerful example of how cultural vilification could potentially sway voters to support a harsher food stamp program.

But the stakes can best be grasped by looking back to the struggle that erupted over federal food programs 50 years ago.

In plantation counties that had become battlegrounds for the voting rights movement, activists confronted horrifying levels of poverty, including hunger and malnutrition that threatened the lives of infants and young children.

Circumstances became so dire in part because cotton planters finished replacing sharecroppers with machines in the mid-1960s. Still, Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 Food Stamp Act should have staved off malnutrition, as an alternative to the existing program that distributed mostly starchy food commodities.

Instead, it exposed the poorest families to crippling hunger because the stamps had to be purchased, and it gave county officials the power to choose which program to implement, if either.

Civil rights activists suspected authorities of using the Food Stamp Program to pressure newly registered black voters to move.

Today, when the racial connotations are more veiled, we should remember how Unita Blackwell responded to state officials who blamed hunger on unwed mothers of “illegitimate” children at a 1967 Senate subcommittee hearing: Black women’s sons were “illegitimate” when it came to assistance, she declared, but “legitimate” when they reached draft age and were sent to Vietnam.

That kind of indignation fueled the years-long campaign to eliminate fees and require food stamps in every county.

At the hearing, Marian Wright Edelman then an NAACP Legal Defense Fund attorney but soon to be the founder of the Children’s Defense Fund in 1973, persuaded Sens. Joseph Clark and Robert Kennedy to see the conditions for themselves.

Forty-eight years later, she and the Children’s Defense Fund issued “End Child Poverty Now,” a straightforward economic plan to eliminate most child poverty. The problem, it underscores, is one of political will.

This Black History Month, politicians need to stop encouraging Americans to buy into this old vilification of poor people and to start paying more attention to demands to end poverty now.

Laurie Green is an associate professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin.

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What Physicians Can Learn From Engineers Wed, 18 Feb 2015 20:26:22 +0000 mp35922 February is National Heart Month, and cardiovascular disease is still the leading cause of death of both men and women in the industrialized world, causing more than 30 percent of all deaths in the United States.

It is the most costly component of total health care spending.

To improve health and lower spending cost, physicians should turn to engineering principles and methods. In fact, to improve heart disease outcomes, it appears inevitable that, in the future, the practice of medicine will have to resemble the practice of modern engineering more closely.

Historically, physicians have used various tests to diagnose a medical condition and then plan a treatment or intervention based on experience and statistics.

However, statistics alone are not reliable predictors of success for individual patients. There is simply too much variability from case to case, especially for diseased patients.

In contrast, in engineering there is an attempt to accurately predict the performance of a product or procedure for its intended use.

The entire design process is based on predicted outcomes, and often a number of criteria must be satisfied simultaneously. The field of computational medicine hopes to bring these engineering principles to patients.

Computational medicine will make medical care more like the practice of engineering, and more physicians need to embrace this idea.

Built on vascular research that began about 20 years ago, computational medicine relies on patient-specific computer modeling to diagnose disease, evaluate the efficacy of various possible treatments, and plan optimal interventions.

For example, by using a computer model of a patient’s specific problem, the effectiveness of a bypass graft can be assessed before surgery is performed.

However, of even greater importance are the intervention’s implications after time has elapsed. How does a treatment hold up a month, six months, a year or a decade down the line? At this moment, researchers are beginning to develop models of these longer time phenomena.

Computational medicine technologies will enable clinicians to craft cardiovascular therapies that are optimized for the cardiovascular system of each individual, and to evaluate interventions for efficacy and possible side effects before they are performed.

They will also provide design methodologies, enabling biomedical engineers and physicians to devise new therapies while decreasing costs and increasing safety associated with their introduction and clinical testing.

Medicine has much to learn from engineering practice, which leverages modern computational technology to provide consumers with high-quality products to satisfy customer demand at attractive prices.

Indeed, the noninvasive nature of computational medicine technologies may be one of the most effective ways to control spiraling health care costs without sacrificing the quality of care. Closer collaboration between physicians and engineers will facilitate development and introduction of these technologies.

Cardiovascular disease is the current focus of research in computational medicine. However, the concept is obviously more general and is already beginning to affect other areas, such as cancer.

The development and clinical implementation of predictive computational medicine may represent a milestone in the history of engineering and medicine, one that may have significant benefits for the health and welfare of humanity.

In view of the promise of computational medicine to benefit patients and improve efficiency of the health care system while reducing costs, this field is one that merits strong support in federal research programs and the private sector.

Thomas J.R. Hughes is a professor of aerospace engineering and computational mechanics at The University of Texas at Austin and director of the Computational Mechanics Group at the Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences. Charles A. Taylor is the founder and chief technology officer at Heartflow Inc.

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Solitary Confinement in Texas Prisons Does Not Work Mon, 16 Feb 2015 19:13:23 +0000 mp35922 Of all the statistics that point to an urgent need to reform the use of solitary confinement in Texas prisons, there’s one that is most striking: The Texas Department of Criminal Justice released more than 1,200 people directly from solitary confinement back into Texas communities in 2013.

Imagine for a moment languishing alone in a 60-square-foot cell for 22 hours a day, for months or even years. Then one day, suddenly you’re left to successfully re-enter society.

This practice needs to stop.

If there were evidence that the current use of solitary confinement in Texas was serving to protect law-abiding Texans from harm and make prisons function better, then this scenario would be defensible.

The truth is that the practice serves no one. It endangers the communities into which they’re released, and it inflicts destabilizing misery on prisoners.

A report recently published by the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas and the Texas Civil Rights Project found that 4.4 percent of the prison population housed by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice is held in solitary confinement.

The average term of solitary is almost four years. And for more than 100 Texas prisoners, solitary confinement has lasted more than 20 years.

Let me repeat that, with emphasis. The average time spent in solitary is almost four years. For more than 100 Texas prisoners, that isolated cell has been “home” for more than 20 years.

The cost of this isn’t just borne by the prisoners. It’s shouldered by Texas taxpayers, the communities into which prisoners are released, and prison staffers.

The cost of putting prisoners in solitary confinement is approximately 50 percent greater than housing them in the general population. People released from solitary confinement are more likely to commit new crimes than people released from the rest of the prison system.

Even the rates of violence against prison staff members — which solitary confinement is intended in part to reduce — seem to be increasing as a result of the practice.

In fact, the head of the largest correctional officers’ union in Texas recently testified at a federal hearing that serious assaults on correctional staffers have more than doubled during the past seven years. He attributed this rise in substantial part to the increased use of solitary confinement.

Prisoners with mental illness are especially ill-served by solitary confinement. As a psychiatrist, and the executive director of a mental health foundation, I find it hard to imagine a worse prescription for those with mental illness than to put them in the most haunting and psychologically oppressive spaces in the already destabilizing context of incarceration. It’s a recipe for further trauma and decompensation.

For too long solitary confinement has been deployed as a routine disciplinary measure, rather than as an extreme practice reserved for rare circumstances. This needs to change.

Among other reforms, we should better train our correctional officers to work with people with mental health issues. We should have an incentive program that allows prisoners in solitary to earn their way, with good behavior, back into the general population. And we should ban releasing people directly from solitary confinement back into the community.

In recent years, the Texas criminal justice system has begun to tilt the balance back toward rehabilitation for all but the most violent offenders. In the same spirit, we are overdue for a far-reaching, but entirely common sense, rethinking of the way that solitary confinement is used in our prisons.

Octavio N. Martinez, Jr. is the executive director of the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health at The University of Texas at Austin and the chair of the Behavioral Health Integration Advisory Committee at the Health and Human Services Commission.

A version of this op-ed appeared in the Houston Chronicle.

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Pitch Perfect: Selling the Next Great Idea Mon, 16 Feb 2015 15:58:19 +0000 Nicholas Persac Innovation at UT

This story is part of our “Eyes on Innovation” series, which explores UT’s world-changing ideas, fascinating discoveries and new ways of doing things.

Improved vaccines, nutrient-filled spice packets, the next-generation of solar panels and a way to harvest energy from footsteps are a few of the ideas being put to the test during three different entrepreneurial competitions The University of Texas at Austin is hosting this month.

In February alone, up-and-coming entrepreneurs will leave the Forty Acres with more than $120,000 in cash prizes — and invaluable advice from competition judges — to support ideas that may someday change the world.

Take a look at three business competitions shining a light on new ideas and learn how UT supports entrepreneurs.

Texas Venture Labs Investment Competition

Flipped Health

The Flipped Health team poses for a picture after winning the Texas Venture Labs Investment Competition on Feb. 5. Image courtesy of McCombs School of Business.

At stake: $12,000 in cash, mentoring from experts, and a spot in the Global Venture Labs Investment Competition, held on campus in May and known as the “Super Bowl of Investment Competitions.”

To date, the Texas and Global Venture Labs Investment Competitions have awarded more than $1.3 million in cash and prizes to entrepreneurs.

Since 1984, teams of graduate students from across the university have pitched ideas, attracted investors and propelled businesses during the annual Texas Venture Labs Investment Competition. To give students the real-life experience of raising venture capital, the teams present business plans to a panel of entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, accountants and lawyers.

“The heart of the Texas Venture Labs Investment Competition is for companies being formed by graduate students to really flush out that idea,” says Doug Yeager, a venture partner who helps organize the competition. “It’s learning entrepreneurship through doing.”

The Jon Brumley Texas Venture Labs at the McCombs School of Business hosts both the Texas and Global rounds of the investment competition, in addition to connecting the university’s business, technology and legal resources to students, faculty, researchers and local entrepreneurs.

Divided into five divisions, the competition attracts business ideas from mobile software and the I.T. field to the energy sector, social entrepreneurship and consumer products.

“This is our chance to learn,” says Cheryl Tulkoff, a master of science in technology commercialization student who won the Texas Venture Labs Investment Competition with her team Flipped Health. “There’s no textbook for pitching like this — you have to be out there in the mix.”

The experience is paying off, too. The companies that take advantage of the McCombs School’s resources and participate in the competition often end up doing big business. During the past 10 years, new ventures at McCombs have raised more than $167 million, with 18 companies raising at least $1 million.

Here’s a quick look at five of this year’s competitors in the Texas Venture Labs Investment Competition:

  • ŸFlipped Health is developing a better way to deliver vaccines.
  • BlackBox Trainer is a website and mobile app that provides customized workouts and meal plans.
  • LoBan allows small banks to simplify commercial and retail banking services.
  • aNomNom is a website matching graduate students for lunch based on preferred topics of conversation.
  • DraftCrunch reduces the complexity and time required to create competitive fantasy sports lineups.

[Read about the winners of this year’s Texas Venture Labs Investment Competition.]

Food Challenge Prize

Food Challenge Prize

The Food Challenge Prize is an early stage business start-up competition encouraging innovation in the global food system. Image courtesy of The Food Lab.

At stake: $30,000 in cash, including $10,000 to an overall winner and a $5,000 prize to the first-place winners in each of four categories.

In its inaugural year, the Food Challenge Prize invited early-stage startups to pitch the next great ideas to improve the food chain.

A partnership between the College of Natural Sciences and the School of Human Ecology, The Food Lab is a “catalyst for scientific and cultural exploration, experimentation and innovation in the food system.”

“We produce so much food already, we just need to produce better food and get it to more people at more reasonable costs,” says Robyn Metcalfe, director of The Food Lab. “We’re at a point where we seem to have identified the key areas that need improvement, and now people are stepping up to solve these problems.”

Beginning in June of last year, about 120 teams from across the country submitted business ideas to the Food Challenge Prize in four main categories: inputs and production; processing, packaging and safety; storage and distribution; and healthy eating and nutrition.

In November judges cut the pool of applicants to 20 finalists, who then partnered with industry mentors for about 13 weeks. The top 10 teams pitched business ideas to a panel of judges during the Showcase Day on Feb. 14. Ten Acre Organics, co-founded by Lloyd Minick and Michael Hannan (below), walked away with the grand prize.

“We really got interested in this competition because it’s a first step in solving world hunger,” says Michael Chang, a UT chemical engineering senior who is competing with his team, Cramen, which has created a novel spice mix aimed at fighting world hunger. “We’ve really learned to compromise, put differences aside and focus on the goal at hand, which is to convince as many people as possible that our product is a good one. It’s helped to prepare me for the real world.”

Here’s a quick look at five of the 20 finalists who vied for the first Food Challenge Prize:

  • SMRC uses 3-D printers to create food for NASA’s deep space missions.
  • Cramen uses a cricket and algae spice mix to fight world hunger.
  • Hopper Foods‘ mission is to normalize eating insects with healthy and delicious products.
  • ŸRevive Foods makes healthy preserves from fruits that would otherwise go to waste.
  • Ten Acre Organics is creating model farms to replicate around the world.

Energy Technology Competition

Longhorn Energy Club

As part of Energy Week, the Energy Technology Competition for start-ups rewards the best ideas in four categories with a total of $100,000 in prizes. Image courtesy of the Longhorn Energy Club.

At stake: $80,000 in cash prizes, plus a bundle of entrepreneurial perks, like a one-year appointment in UT’s Austin Technology Incubator.

Also in its inaugural year, the Energy Technology Competition asks entrepreneurs to develop the best ideas in three energy categories: oil and gas; clean tech; and energy, water and resource efficiency.

“These problems require new ideas,” says Jason Wible, a graduate student in the LBJ School of Public Affairs and an officer in the Longhorn Energy Club, which co-hosts Energy Week with UT’s Energy Institute. “Texas is a leading university in the world supporting new technologies in energy.”

Open to students, faculty and the general startup community, the Energy Technology Competition is part of Energy Week, a weeklong conference that takes place Feb. 16-20.

“This competition is a great way to get exposure, and we’re excited to network,” says Aaron Chockla, managing partner of Lucelo Technologies, one of the 40 teams competing this year. “It’s great to think about how what we do in the lab can impact society.”

Here’s a look at five teams competing in the Energy Technology Competition:

Don’t Dread the Judge

Pitching a business idea to industry insiders can be intimidating, but their honest feedback — positive or negative — is invaluable for students trying to fine-tune plans.

“Talking with investors and judges has really helped us to change where our business plan is going,” says Darla Hollander, an electrical engineering senior who is the CEO of Everywhere Energy, a company competing in the Energy Technology Competition. “They’re the ones who say, ‘This is a good idea,’ or ‘That could be better.’”

Judges in the three new venture competitions taking place this month hail from technology incubators, small businesses, massive corporations, foundations, and government agencies and bring years of experience and industry connections.

“We get direct access to movers and shakers because I’m a student and in these competitions,” says Cheryl Tulkoff, a master of science in technology commercialization student whose team won the Texas Venture Labs Investment Competition. “They’ll look at our ideas with a different perspective, and then we can fill in the gaps. It’s great help, and they’re really gurus in the field. I feel like I’ve hit the lottery.”

Of course, it’s not always easy to hear seasoned veterans pick apart your dream idea.

“You have to have a thick skin,” says Aaron Chockla, who is competing in the Energy Technology Competition with his company Lucelo Technologies. “It’s all business.”


Learn more about UT Austin’s entrepreneurial ecosystem:

From Idea to IPO: Entrepreneurship at UT (Know)

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What Consumers Need to Remember About Valentine’s Day Thu, 12 Feb 2015 16:06:17 +0000 mp35922 Valentine’s Day is a holiday that may appear light-spirited, but in reality, it is a complex event for many people buying gifts, especially young consumers.

As a consumer psychologist who completed a five-year study looking at consumer behavior in the context of Valentine’s Day, I say people, especially women, need to remember that this day is about love and affection, not the established traditions of card, candy and gifts.

Buying gifts is one way many of us show affection on Valentine’s Day. U.S. retail sales related to Valentine’s Day last year reached $17 billion, according to the National Retail Federation, with consumers spending an average $131. This gives V-Day a substantial economic significance as well as emotional significance.

Despite the romantic spirit of the mass-marketed day, the emotions consumers share online and offline, along with the ensuing decisions on what to buy, shows complexities of consumer psychology such as perceived obligations, escalating expectations and ambivalence that may turn to market resistance.

Whereas Super Bowl Sunday is often advertised as “a man’s day,” many women see Valentine’s Day as their day — a female day. It’s a holiday when gender roles are on full display along with women’s’ ritual performance of marketplace exchanges of goods and services common to many holidays and special events.

Most people would agree that relationship status influences their experiences when it comes to Valentine’s Day. Some consumers, especially women, have escalating expectations from themselves as well as loved ones when it comes to Valentine’s Day.

The escalating expectations are to themselves as givers and also to the partners as givers. Not meeting expectations produces dissatisfaction, which is an opposition to the intention of the day — love of all kinds.

These women perceive a broader gender role that transcends a romantic interest. Women especially feel responsibility and obligation to recognize their female loved ones. Women tend to include mothers, sisters, daughters, grandmothers, girlfriends (especially single ones), and even pets.

Women have often been givers — even on this day traditionally for women to receive. The day has broadened in scope, further heightening the escalated expectations of the self and others.

I found as a way for both to give lavishly, some women share extraordinary lavishness that expands Valentine’s Day into “Valentine’s Weekend.” Lavishness is expected to escalate within a “Valentine’s Day Weekend.”

Furthermore, for some young women who have been in a relatively long-term dating relationship, they expect lavishness to escalate from year to year. Some women perceive the man’s gender role is to plan or create a day that is more lavish each year.

For men, Valentine’s Day may seem puzzling. Men need to be aware of the escalating expectations that some women, especially young women, have expressed to me over the years.

As expectations escalate, it is important for men to recognize this and not take cues from advertisers. Rather, each man should take cues from the unique woman he loves.

If the woman is also in favor of true intimacy minus the heavily advertised marketed suggestions such as greeting cards, chocolates, roses, jewelry or a lavish dinner out, then some men have had success managing expectations both ways with a mutual anti-gift mindset.

Yet some women tend to spend more time on the event and recognize more people than men tend to. Often, women see their role as to overcome mass-commercialized love and romance and find something more meaningful — such as a family bond.

In part to perhaps revalue the role of the woman as a sexual being on this holiday, some women convert the holiday from a celebration of sexual intimacy to a celebration of familial love.

It’s important for all consumers to remember the meaning of the day, or weekend as some believe, is about celebrating love — love that does not need suggested marketplace exchanges to be shown on this one specific day.

Angeline Close Scheinbaum is an associate professor in the Stan Richards School of Advertising & Public Relations at The University of Texas at Austin.

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How to Teach Tolerance Tue, 10 Feb 2015 18:31:07 +0000 Tracy Mueller Opinion: To avoid another Ferguson, we need to start teaching tolerance — in kindergarten

By age 9, children have prejudices that are “highly resistant to change.” So if we want to fight racism and violence (particularly against black men), we need to teach diversity much earlier.

Children develop their sense of empathy between ages 4 and 8. It’s this ability to see and feel something from another’s perspective that helps us choose to treat others equally and to engage rather than to act from fear.

About the Authors

Kathlene Holmes (below, left) is a Ph.D. student in Curriculum and Instruction and has trained elementary school teachers for 10 years. She is a former kindergarten teacher.

Marcus W. Johnson (below, center) is a Ph.D. student and instructor in Curriculum and Instruction and author of “B through Y: The Underdog’s Process of Seizing Opportunity, Control, and Respect.”

Jennifer Keys Adair, Ph.D. (below, right), is a professor of Early Childhood Education, a young scholar fellow with the Foundation for Child Development and a public voices fellow with The OpEd Project.

Jennifer Keys Adair, Kathlene Holmes and Marcus W. Johnson

The best way to promote empathy is to provide children with quality, reciprocal relationships with people from diverse communities. But that can be difficult, as 84 percent of elementary school teachers are white. And in most major cities, the majority of public school children are not.

So, teachers need to get creative. Young children can only normalize what they experience regularly. If they only receive knowledge, insight and comfort from white people, this can have lasting effects on what they assume about people of color. It is this disconnect, as civil rights lawyer Constance Rice said, that can make police officers “kill and do things that don’t make sense to you and me.”

One effective way to help young children is to seek out diverse experts who can speak in schools about weather, food, construction, politics and electricity (all common preK – grade 3 topics).

Another way to influence young children’s racial attitudes early on are picture books. Given the particular fear toward black men, using literature to combat negative assumptions means going through classroom books and thinking carefully about how often and in what ways black boys and men are included in stories. Are there enough books with caring, compassionate and smart, black male characters? Are books in classrooms about black history balanced with those about the everyday lives of black men so that racial diversity becomes normalized for young children?

Having only a handful will not be enough to normalize positive images of black men. But although these kinds of books are still difficult to find, it’s not impossible.

Conversations while reading engaging picture books should be led by the children’s questions. Teachers can follow up with projects to help them learn more about the historical struggles that the books mention. We have seen children learn while creating art projects about protest signs, school integration, bus boycotts or kids having to change schools and being the only one with brown skin.

Stories like “The Snowy Day,” “Whistle for Willie,” “A Letter to Amy,” “Peter’s Chair” and “Goggles” by Ezra Jack Keats present everyday scenarios from the perspective of a young African American boy. “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” and “Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans” by Kadir Nelson offer cultural insights through the use of music. (The Zinn Education ProjectRethinking Schools and Teaching Tolerance have many online resources for teachers looking to improve how they talk about race with young children.)

As educators, we know this work is urgent. We work with education students along with a committed group of colleagues at the University of Texas at Austin to confront students’ often buried or at least unprocessed assumptions about race and privilege. Students take courses that push them to reflect on their own ideas about race and how to teach children to respect and support racial diversity, as well as recognize and act against discrimination.

And yet, it is simply too late in the game for some. As educators, we find too often that white students who don’t have positive, everyday experiences with the black community struggle to discuss or acknowledge their own racial prejudice.

If we’d like to keep what happened in Ferguson from ever happening again, we have to stop the fear and damaging disconnect many white people have when in the presence of black males. Helping young children develop racial empathy will have longer-lasting effects than classes or interventions for teachers and other adults who have already formed ideas about black males.

A version of this op-ed originally appeared in the Washington Post as a result of The OpEd Project-Public Voices Thought Leadership Fellowship Program. The program aims to dramatically increase the influence of women and minority thought leaders to ensure their ideas shape the important conversations of our age. During the 2014-15 academic year, 20 UT Austin faculty members are participating. Learn more.

For more op-eds penned by UT Austin faculty and staff, visit Texas Perspectives, a wire-style service that provides media outlets across the state and country with meaningful and thoughtful opinion columns on a variety of topics and current events.

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Students Should Retain Their Bilingual Heritage For Its Economic Value Mon, 09 Feb 2015 21:32:06 +0000 mp35922 Every spring in Texas and across America, white, middle-class parents value bilingualism enough to line up in the early morning hours to sign up their children for a spot in next fall’s dual-language kindergarten.

This is great because as a nation, we celebrate bilingualism, right? Well, sort of. Just not for those kids who already speak another language at home.

Teachers frequently emphasize the importance of English above all else when they speak with immigrant parents. Even worse, many nonnative English-speaking parents are told not to speak to their children in the language they know best, depriving them of their richest source of social, emotional and linguistic support.

The reality is that these parents who sign up their kids for dual-language kindergarten are onto something. They recognize what many teachers, principals and policymakers do not: Knowing two or more languages puts you at an advantage.

There are certainly significant social, psychological and cognitive benefits to being bilingual: higher test scores, better problem solving skills, sharper mental acuity and greater empathy. Good for the individual, good for society.

But despite all we know, in the age of accountability and English-only laws, school districts across Texas continue to cut bilingual education. Why? Because what matters most in America is the bottom line. It’s almost as if educators and policymakers are blind to the advantages of bilingualism.

Economists find little, if any, benefit to bilinguals’ earning power using census data. However, census data is too blunt and too broad to understand the nuanced relationship between bilingualism and the economy.

We now have better measures of bilingualism and individuals’ ability to read and write in non-English languages. We also have measures of employers’ preferences as they enter the Information Age.

In this era of the Internet and global communications, companies rely more frequently on bilingual and biliterate employees to serve as liaisons with clients both local and global.

Even when being bilingual is not a requirement, employers report a preference for both hiring and retaining bilinguals, all else held equal: buy one, get one free.

Currently, more than 20 percent of the U.S. population and 35 percent of Texans speak a non-English language, and many of these speakers are children.

Our schools have the opportunity to ensure that potential bilinguals grow into bilingual, biliterate adults who are able to contribute to and participate in a stronger American economic base.

Following the horrible events of 9/11, the U.S. government found itself lacking in reliable Pashtun, Farsi and Arabic translators.

Even though many U.S.-born children of immigrants from Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran are educated in our schools, by young adulthood, they will lose their native languages.

Until we change how schools approach languages other than English, the state department will lose the potential of children of immigrants to translate and broker the two worlds for them.

Being bilingual doesn’t just benefit the individual; it benefits the community, the nation and ultimately, the economy.

Not only are bilingual young adults more likely to graduate high school and go to college, they are also more likely to get the job once they interview and remain employed during layoffs.

Ultimately, many of us intuitively grasp the cognitive, social and psychological benefits of knowing two languages. As a nation, we now need to recognize bilingualism’s economic benefits if we expect to remain a global leader into the next century.

Texas schools should help students maintain their home language — whether via bilingual instruction or encouraging the parents to develop their children’s home language skills.

As a K-12 educator, and now as a teacher of teachers, I assure you that immigrant children will learn English. Where we fail these children is in maintaining their greatest resource: their home language. It’s something we should cherish, not eradicate.

Rebecca Callahan is an assistant professor of curriculum and instruction in the College of Education at The University of Texas at Austin.

A version of this op-ed appeared in the Contra Costa Times, Huffington Post, San Antonio Express News, Houston Chronicle, The McAllen Monitor, and the Corpus Christi Caller Times.

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