When the state of Texas provided for a university of the first class in the 19th century, its leaders did so with fountain pens by the light of kerosene lanterns. No one at that time could have envisioned the age we are living through, a time of ever-accelerating technology, globalization, economic and social transformation, and sobering questions of sustainability.
But they did know one crucial thing: Knowledge is power. And if democracy was going to succeed here, it would be because systems were put in place and provisions were made to ensure that the public was educated.
In the past few months, we have provided a glimpse at the return on their investment, 22 stories of how UT students, young alumni and faculty members are helping create a healthier, safer, more vibrant Texas.
We heard from Kelsey Mumford, B.S. ’19, a nursing and biology major who wants to turn nursing toward prevention. “How can we prevent people from getting sick in the first place? I want to know in the future that I’ve helped Texas become a healthier state.”
Austin’s Kavya Rajesh, B.S. ’20, a chemistry and pre-med major, wants to prolong the lives of organs by figuring out how to freeze them without damage. Anastasiya Byelousova, ’20, a Plan II Honors student from San Antonio, is traveling to the Republic of Georgia in search of solutions to a surprisingly big problem in Texas — maternal mortality. And Landon Hackley, ’20, of Arlington is studying biomedical engineering in anticipation of becoming a surgeon like the one who saved his father’s life.
Emmalie Berkovsky, B.S. ’17, studied chemical engineering as an undergraduate and now is studying at Dell Medical School to be a doctor. Having grown up in Shiner, she knows small towns are in need of more advanced health care, so she plans to return to Shiner and serve the community she loves. Likewise, Janelle Chavez, B.S. ’19, of Port Isabel ventured to Austin for her education and plans to return to the Rio Grande Valley with her degree in biology to improve health care, especially for women.
We met several Longhorns focused on fostering economic prosperity in Texas. Electrical and computer engineering student Marwan Madi, ’20, wants farmers to be able to more easily make use of drones and reap the benefits of high-tech “precision agriculture.” Ricky Cooks, ’21, a business honors and government student from Texarkana, wants to use his degree to build the economy of Texas and lift local communities. And UT’s McCombs School of Business is helping Vetted, a nonprofit that provides military veterans with business skills they need to scale up and succeed.
Nathaniel Briggs, ’20, in UT’s Air Force ROTC program, will serve our state by flying high in the Air Force and possibly teaching others to fly one day as well. Meanwhile, university faculty members and researchers are helping the Army modernize with advancements in robotics and navigation.
We learned how UT students and faculty members are helping Texas better understand energy production and improve our environment too. Petroleum engineering’s Karan Jerath, B.S. ’19, of Houston is trying to reduce waste, and as a student, he created a way to capture the ideas of other students, the Energy Olympiad. Mirka Mendez, ’20, is studying petroleum engineering to improve society’s everyday needs. Austin’s Zeyi Lin, B.S. ’18, an electrical and computer engineering alumnus, has studied how to improve traffic flow in large cities. Biologists at UT’s Marine Science Institute are trying to increase gamefish along the Gulf Coast, while other UT biologists are working to decrease invasive crazy ants in the state. Meanwhile, our Bureau of Economic Geology has built an array of seismometers called TexNet to better understand earthquakes in Texas.
We met Longhorns passionate about helping Texans recover from injuries or other deficits. El Paso’s Andrea Chee, B.S. ’18, is using her degree in speech communication to help Texans with speech challenges succeed. “Communication is important,” she says. “It’s the foundation of everything we do.” And Abilene’s Jacob Vines, B.S. ’19, wants to continue discovering ways to help people with neurological injuries recover hand function.
We met students who felt called to educate the next generation of Texans, like Alejandra Ortega, B.S. ’15, who in her second year on the job was named Houston’s Secondary Teacher of the Year. Duncanville’s Regan Preston, B.A. ’19, a communications studies major who, as a counselor or teacher, wants to help high school students understand the value of college. And Steven Santoyo, B.A. ’19, of Dallas plans to give back to his community by teaching middle school through the Teach for America program.
But perhaps it is the story of Liam Harlan, B.S. ’19, a chemical engineering major from Abilene, that illustrates one of the most critical ways UT serves the state. When he came to UT, Liam was able to use one of the most powerful computers in the world and saw firsthand how supercomputers can accelerate discoveries. And because the state of Texas has a world-class research university just a few hours away from his hometown, this valedictorian didn’t have to leave Texas to get the experience a top researcher needs to be a leader.
The common denominator in all of these stories is a spirit of public service. We say “What starts here changes the world.” And for us, the world starts here, starts at home. It starts with Texas.