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New School of Human Ecology Established, Will Enable Growth of Education and Research Programs

The new School of Human Ecology has been established at The University of Texas at Austin, a change in status for a long-standing department at the university.

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The new School of Human Ecology has been established at The University of Texas at Austin, a change in status for a long-standing department at the university.

The conversion to school status brings human ecology to a competitive level with other stand-alone colleges and schools of human ecology across the nation, says Cathy Surra, director of the school.

The change comes as a result of three years of extensive fundraising efforts.

“This was truly a community effort, with many of our alumni and friends coming together to raise the funds necessary for us to become a school,” says Surra. “We couldn’t have done it without them and are deeply grateful for their ongoing support.”

Two of the divisions within the former Department of Human Ecology–nutritional sciences, and human development and family sciences–will now be classified as departments. Textiles and Apparel will remain a division.

Deborah Jacobvitz is the new chairperson of the Department of Human Development and Family Sciences. Stephen Hursting chairs the Department of Nutritional Sciences. Bugao Xu leads the Division of Textiles and Apparel.

Surra says the reclassification will give these internationally recognized programs greater visibility and the ability to govern their unique growth and programmatic development.

“The school will be better poised in the competition for top-notch faculty and students,” she says.

The new school will continue to reside administratively within the College of Natural Sciences.

The mission of the School of Human Ecology is to study and foster the healthy development of individuals and their families. The school serves more than 1,200 undergraduate majors and about 75 graduate students. Its teaching programs continue to increase in size and popularity. Research focuses on such topics as the role of diet and nutrition in disease and its prevention; the development of bio-based fibers, protective clothing, and digital apparel technologies; and the development of positive child development and family relationships.

The school began as the School of Domestic Science 97 years ago. It was reorganized as the Department of Human Ecology during the 1970s and placed within the larger College of Natural Sciences.

To enable the conversion to school status, human ecology boosters–alumni, friends and a visitor’s committee–raised more than $5 million. Funds raised will be used to provide further faculty and student support, including leadership for the new departments, student career advising and curriculum enhancements.