AUSTIN, Texas—Graduating with both a bachelor of science (chemistry) degree and a bachelor of arts (Plan II) degree, Jason Vogel still has found time to ballroom dance, speak out on campus issues in The Daily Texan and build homes for the homeless — all while maintaining a near-perfect GPA.
A self-described “nerd since first grade,” the 21-year-old Houston native has always excelled in school, aspiring to someday become “Dr. Vogel.” But balancing the ambition is the compassionate liberal side of Vogel, who helped his dad build homes with Habitat for Humanity during high school and college.
He credits an excellent high school chemistry teacher with igniting his desire to become a chemist. His career at UT Austin pursuing that dream has been stellar: He was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, named the Dean’s Honor Graduate in chemistry, and was awarded a prestigious Barry Goldwater national science scholarship.
For Vogel, UT has offered a chance to hone both his knowledge and his compassion. “I have a lot of appreciation for this school,” Vogel says. He will be one of nearly 6,000 UT Austin students graduating this spring. The University’s evening Commencement ceremonies are scheduled for 7 p.m. Saturday (May 22) on the South Terrace of the Main Building.
He has equal praise for the Plan II program and the chemistry program. “Plan II was fantastic, with small classes that gave us a lot of time to discuss issues.” The camaraderie of the chemistry department is his best memory at UT. “The staff and all the concerned professors became almost like family. It’s a great place — they really care.”
He is especially grateful to Dr. David Laude, chemistry professor and associate dean for undergraduate education “for always having time for students,” and to Dr. Ruth Shear, who “is the best instructor in the chemistry department.” Vogel particularly lauds Shear for setting in motion University internship programs that will give students hands-on experience, lots of feedback and a chance to publish their research.
Vogel offers this bit of advice to his fellow UT students: internships are vital to getting ahead in the sciences. He took advantage of summer internships at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.
He also urges students to “read the student evaluations” of a professor. “Take a professorÃnot a class. Even in large classes, I’ve learned a lot with a good professor,” Vogel explains.
Vogel believes it’s important to get involved in issues. He has been an outspoken advocate for higher staff wages and affirmative action and an equally outspoken opponent of the death penalty, often expressing his views in The Daily Texan.
Finally, his last bit of advice: learn to have fun. For Vogel, that meant taking advantage of some of what the campus has to offer, including dances held in University ballrooms, concerts at Bass Concert Hall and plays produced by Plan II’s Broccoli Project players. His latest love has been cycling with the UT cycling club.
After graduation, he plans to spend a year mountainbiking in the bikers’ mecca of Durango, Colo. He then plans to attend Stanford University to pursue a graduate degree in gas phase physical chemistry.
“In 10 years, I see myself teaching at a small collegeÃand probably continuing to work for Habitat for Humanity,” he says.
Making a difference is important to Vogel, and that’s part of the reason he wants to specialize in environmental chemistry. “Environmentally, there’s a lot of room for improvement. And making things better is the job of people who go to UT. We’re the privileged,” he notes, adding he once worked for minimum wage at an auto lube shop. “Some of those people will work there the rest of their lives. As UT grads, we’re the ones in a position to make things better. It’s our job to…think beyond ‘I just want a good job.'”