2020 has been an unusual year, to say the least. Through these challenging times, The University of Texas at Austin has remained a united community. Together, we navigated a new remote learning environment. We supported and took care of one another. And we continued to solve big problems by conducting high-impact research.
Throughout the year, UT has been at the forefront of the fight against COVID-19.
• In early March, a team of Texas scientists led by associate professor of molecular biosciences Jason McLellan were on a journey to help develop a COVID-19 vaccine and treatment.
• The team co-designed a spike protein that is being used in four major coronavirus vaccines, including the first two to be certified in the U.S. as effective.
• The team also assisted in engineering an antibody produced by llamas for use as a potential coronavirus treatment. These remarkable scientific contributions earned McLellan and graduate student Daniel Wrapp the 2020 Golden Goose Award for science that sounded obscure but ended up having a major impact.
• What this team has learned and designed is without a doubt changing the world.
It’s no secret that at UT we have some of the most dedicated students, many who were eager to apply their skills toward joining the fight against COVID-19.
• We launched the UT COVID-19 Modeling Consortium led by a top expert in epidemiology, Lauren Ancel Meyers. Through this initiative, scientists, health professionals and undergraduate researchers tackled challenges as varied as quantifying school reopening risks and simulating and analyzing vaccine trials, informing real-time decisions state- and nationwide.
• Another team of experts and undergraduate researchers has been studying natural therapeutics in hopes of either alleviating the risk of COVID-19 transmission or tackling one of its many symptoms and side effects.
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For many of us, the losses due to the coronavirus have been personal – friends, colleagues and loved ones. We hold them in our hearts.
Through these difficult times, the Longhorn community was inspired to come up with new and urgent ways to lend a helping hand.
• Nursing students Daniel Suárez-Baquero and Oscar Rocha translated and distributed COVID-19 health information for Spanish-speaking communities, bridging a critical information gap during the pandemic.
• Student entrepreneurs Allen Zhou, Aditi Merchant and Anthony Zhou launched a nonprofit called Big & Mini focused on connecting older adults and young people through virtual communication.
• Four student startups stepped up to help vulnerable populations across Texas access food and other supplies.
• And our outstanding staff members kept the university running. We want to especially recognize our Facilities Services team who have demonstrated tremendous service, teamwork and integrity. You make Longhorn Nation stronger.
When the fall semester began, our community made a commitment to Protect Texas Together. We did this by following health guidelines and participating in a quick and efficient way to test asymptomatic individuals called proactive community testing. Because of these efforts, the number of COVID-19 cases at UT dropped significantly throughout the semester.
When protests for racial justice took place across the U.S. this year, UT student-athletes and activists used their voices to inspire change on campus.
These changes included efforts to create a more welcoming and diverse campus and to ensure that we recognize and learn from our history and reflect our values through our campus symbols.
• So far, we’ve renamed the Robert L. Moore Building as the Physics, Math and Astronomy Building;
• Erected a statue for Julius Whittier, UT’s first African American letterman, at DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium; and
• At the suggestion of the Jamail family, renamed Joe Jamail Field at the stadium in honor of Texas’ two great Heisman Trophy winners, Earl Campbell and Ricky Williams.
• Many more efforts are underway, and we look forward to seeing them come to fruition.
Now, we know a lot has happened this year, but we couldn’t end this recap without recognizing the major milestones we reached, the new experiences we welcomed, and the initiatives we kicked off.
• In U.S. News & World Report’s latest undergraduate ranking, we climbed six spots to No. 42 among national universities – our highest ranking in decades.
• We surpassed our goal of a 70% graduation rate.
• And we admitted one of the largest and most diverse freshman classes ever.
• Internationally acclaimed researcher and author Brené Brown delivered a heartwarming message of resilience and hope for 2020 graduates at UT’s Spring Commencement ceremony. And she was appointed as a visiting professor at the McCombs School of Business.
• The National Science Foundation selected UT to lead the NSF AI Institute for Foundations of Machine Learning, bolstering the university’s existing strengths in this emerging field.
• We launched a historic partnership with the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation to close the gap in college graduation rates across income levels.
• And last, but certainly not least, we welcomed a new university president, Jay Hartzell, who will continue to lead Longhorn Nation with focus, confidence and empathy into the new year.
Although this year has been anything but ordinary, we are proud of the strength and resilience Longhorn Nation has shown. We are stronger together. See you in 2021. Hook ’em