Across The University of Texas at Austin every day people are changing the world through discovery, creativity and learning. They are exploring our past, inventing new ways to address social and public health problems, building cultural connections between nations and engaging in problems and issues around the globe.
It’s all in a day’s work for the university’s students, faculty and staff, who are having a significant impact on the world through research and education.
With new feature stories on the university’s home page almost every Monday of the year, 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 2010 to offer to our readers again. If you like these, check out our features archives and read more. And watch most every Monday for new stories in 2011. Even after more than 400 stories, we’ve just scratched the surface in revealing the range of what makes the university a center of discovery, excitement and impact.
The Beginning of a Movement: The arts have long been an effective vehicle for sharing culture and customs. They have also provided platforms for challenging popular culture, thought and customs. This past spring, students and faculty from the Department of Theatre and Dance and Texas Performing Arts collaborated with a contemporary dance company and school based out of Cartagena, Colombia, called El Colegio del Cuerpo (College of the Body) to do a little bit of both: learn from and share with one another, and challenge their own assumptions and expectations regarding the “other.” Dance Professor Lyn Wiltshire and El Colegio’s co-director Álvaro Restrepo created a framework for a cross-cultural exchange between their students. The result was a series of residencies – two in Austin, one in Cartagena – and the performance of a new, collaboratively choreographed dance piece, “Cancion del Cuerpo” (Song of the Body).
Difference or Disorder?: Nearly one-third of Texans ages 5 years and older speak Spanish at home. Upon entering the public school system, many children from a linguistically diverse background are misdiagnosed with a language disorder because they are newly navigating the English language while still mastering their first language. Communication Sciences and Disorders researchers at The University of Texas at Austin have developed tools to help speech-language pathologists distinguish between genuine language disorders, which require intervention, and typical second-language differences that will work themselves out in time.
Digging Up the Past, Close to Home: After Texas Department of Transportation workers stumbled on the remnants of a 19th century African American farmstead south of Austin, University of Texas at Austin archaeologists went to work, helping excavate the site and compiling an oral history of the descendants of freed slaves from that area. Associate Professor of anthropology Maria Franklin, graduate student Nedra Lee and others uncovered artifacts ranging from toys and musical instruments to kitchen utensils and children’s pencils. They interviewed living relatives of the Williams family, which had owned the farmstead. In so doing, they helped community members and scholars better understand the daily lives of African Americans in Texas after the Civil War.
Getting Into Character: Millions of youth in the United States are involved in some form of bullying behavior as the instigator, recipient, bystander or victim, and they sometimes go on to bully others. Dr. Nina Fredland, assistant professor of nursing, is collaborating with community agencies and schools in central Texas to increase understanding of aggressive behaviors, including school age bullying and teen dating violence and how these experiences affect health and school performance. She believes prevention programs must be directed at the very young adolescent. Fredland worked with a local non-profit theater company on a play addressing healthy and unhealthy relationships, including peer teasing and bullying.
Hitting the Mark: The political excitement surrounding the Obama administration’s ‘Race to the Top’ grant program may have waned but education remains an issue of national concern. Assistant Professor Jane Lincove, who recently received a Spencer Foundation/National Academy of Education Postdoctoral Fellowship, continues her research into teacher incentive pay programs, collecting and analyzing data from Texas school districts in the hopes of making solid recommendations on the connection of teacher pay to student performance. Do test scores that measure student achievement also measure teacher effectiveness? Should rural and urban schools be held to the same standards? These are questions Lincove will strive to inform as her research moves forward.
Rapid Response: Within weeks of last January’s Haiti earthquake, one of the five deadliest in human history, scientists and engineers from The University of Texas at Austin were on the ground to help assess the damage, identify future earthquake hazards and make recommendations about how and where to rebuild. Since this feature story ran last summer, Haitians were hit with yet more bad news. A cholera epidemic, which began in mid-October, had already killed more than 2,400 people and sickened more than 100,000 in its first two months. Then in late October, Paul Mann and his colleagues, writing in the journal Nature Geoscience, concluded that the main geologic fault running through the region still has the potential to generate an earthquake near the capital as large or larger than the one last January.
A Towering Mystery Solved: Passers-by may notice the construction zone more than the golden letters at The University of Texas at Austin’s Tower this winter. There are fences and scaffolding. And the north-facing clock is covered in wood thanks to an air conditioning renovation that’s under way until February 2011. But if they look past that, observers will see the gold-leafed letters that first caught the eye of Middle Eastern Studies Professor John Huehnergard. He and a small group of undergraduate researchers sought to solve the mystery of why five ancient alphabets adorn the university’s iconic building, whose idea it was and why the aspirations toward greatness that inspired the letters still hold true today.
Unscrambling Depression: Most people who have one episode of depression will suffer another, but there has been no tool for accurately predicting who’s susceptible. Dr. Stephanie Rude, a College of Education psychologist, discovered that the way patients unscramble select scrambled sentences can signal who’s vulnerable to successive bouts of major depression, even when sufferers aren’t aware that unconscious negative mental scripts are affecting their thinking.
Walk on the Wild Side: At the university’s Texas Memorial Museum, visitors come face to face with displays of roaring mountain lions, snakes on the hunt and 65-million-year-old fossil Mosasaurs. Join the museum’s director, Dr. Ed Theriot, on this tour of the museum with an accompanying slideshow. Learn how the museum and its parent organization, the Texas Natural Science Center, are working to educate Texans about our state’s biodiversity, past, present and future.
Where the Wild Things Were: Camille Parmesan is pushing a radical new idea in conservation biology. She wants to take certain species whose habitats are threatened by climate change and move them to more favorable climates. Although this “assisted colonization” goes against the grain for many conservationists who prefer to preserve rather than alter habitats, Parmesan argues the time is past for such caution. The choice we face, she believes, is between intervening thoughtfully, with preserving biodiversity as the goal, or stepping back and leaving the interventions entirely in the hands of people-developers, governments, farmers-who are changing the landscape already.