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Professor Encourages Openness to Vulnerability

Posted on: November 20th, 2013

brene brown

When she needs a reminder of why she has spent so much of her career on topics such as vulnerability and living wholeheartedly, UH social work professor Brené Brown looks no further than a favorite sculpture on campus.

The piece, titled “Sandy in Defined Space,” features a bronze woman, curled tightly in a box – an image Brown says reminds her of society’s need to categorize people in easy ways, not the most authentic ones.

“I think I used to live like that for a long time,” Brown said. “I used to want to have a really easy answer for what it is that I do … But I don’t really have a box anymore.”

Brown, an author and noted speaker who recently was featured at both the Houston and Kansas City TEDx conferences, says she likes to describe herself as a researcher, a writer, a teacher, a storyteller, a mother, a budding photographer, a sister and a daughter.

“I am a lot of different things,” she said. “It all comes down to trying to live and work and be who I am and learn more about people and why it is that we are so afraid to see and be seen as who we are.”

Brown sees being a teacher as one of her defining characteristics, in part because she incorporates elements of teaching in many aspects of her life, and in part because she has known since her junior college days that she wanted to take on that role.

“I had incredible teachers in junior college and professors in college,” she said. “I was so inspired that I always knew that was what I wanted to do – to be in a classroom and to teach at the university level.”

She found her academic home at the Graduate College of Social Work at UH.

“I went to visit the social work program, and it just felt like home,” Brown said. “I couldn’t believe it was a place where everything I wanted to do came together.”

She earned her master’s and doctoral degrees from the department, where she encountered “incredible teachers – the kinds of teachers that changed my life, they changed everything about me.”

Now, as a professor herself, Brown said she is thrilled to remain a part of the social work community.

“The Graduate College of Social Work is still a community,” she said. “That I get to be a part of it on the other end, as a professor, is incredible.”

Brown is one of only a handful of scholars who have taken on the complex subjects of shame, vulnerability and authenticity.

“The thing that I have learned is that vulnerability is at the center of fear and shame, but it is also at the center of joy and gratitude and love and belonging,” she said. “If we continue to wake up every day and put our game faces on and think that invulnerability is the way to be … then we pay the price, because I don’t know that we would ever fully experience joy and love and belonging.”

In her years of research, Brown has found that defining shame helps to dispel it.

“Shame hates to have words wrapped around it. If we talk about it, it loses its grip on us,” she said. “A lot of my work is about helping give people language to understand, to make meaning out of their own experiences.”

Because shame affects everyone, it is a topic of universal interest, and many people outside of academic circles are interested in Brown’s research. Her books, including “I thought It Was Just Me” and her forthcoming “The Gifts of Imperfection,” are geared to a wider audience.

“While a lot of my colleagues are pursuing grants and doing different things with their research, my commitment is absolutely about democratizing the information that I find,” she said. “I write books and speak a lot in public. So it has been very important for me to get my research out to a much broader audience than an academic audience.”

But even as she reaches out beyond academia, Brown still enjoys her role as an educator.

“When I try to figure out what is at the heart of what I do, I think the bottom line is that I am a teacher,” she said. “That is where I am the most comfortable. That is where I am the happiest. That is where I feel the most alive and connected.”

She enjoys engaging her students in discussions about “race, about class, about the things that make us human, the things that make us vulnerable.”

She also enjoys the relationship between the college of social work and the community.

“A lot of what I do is keeping very close connections with the people in this community,” Brown said. “I think our dean does that, and our faculty does that. That is what we are teaching in our program.”

The university’s Tier One push has only enlivened efforts at the college.

“One of the things I’m proudest about our college is that while the research is happening, while the grants are happening and the federal funding is happening, we are solidly committed to community engagement and teaching. That is at the heart of what we do,” Brown said. “In many ways, I think we are the ambassadors for the Tier One push, and I love that.”

In addition to being a part of the community, Brown said she loves that the university is also a reflection of the community, with students from different cultural, social and ethnic backgrounds.

“To be able to teach at a university that is so diverse, and that honors differences, and that tells people their stories matter because they matter is one of the greatest gifts of my career,” she said.

Honors College Inspires Young Musician

Posted on: November 20th, 2013

Catrina Kim, a University of Houston Honors College graduate, credits the college’s Human Situation course with shaping her academic career. “The Human Situation courses were by far the most important, exciting and personally challenging classes I took as an undergraduate. It’s because of Human Situation that I added the Honors minor, Phronesis, and wrote a senior Honors Thesis on political philosophy.”

Catrina, who graduated UH with a Bachelor of Music in Piano Performance in May 2013, grew up in a Chicago suburb as one of four daughters. Her older sister is completing the second year of medical school while the next youngest sister plans to follow in Catrina’s footsteps and attend UH next year as a Creative Writing and Linguistics double major. The youngest sister is in high school “still figuring it all out!” Catrina feels she and her siblings were very fortunate to have parents who supported each daughter’s abilities and passions, with one stipulation: pursue your dream with discipline and hard work. Catrina’s love of music was deepened and honed on her instrument of choice: the piano. She sent her audition tape and application to UH’s Moores School of Music, ranked nationally as a leading music college by World Ranking Guide.

“I received a letter in response inviting me to apply to the Honors College. I didn’t really know what I was getting into, but I was intrigued by The Human Situation and attracted by the promise of smaller class sizes,” she says. Her decision to attend UH came to a crescendo when she discovered the scholarship opportunities. Although she was already a recipient of the National Merit Scholarship, that award did not cover all her living expenses. Through the Honors College, she received the Jane Cizik Scholarship and the University Community Scholarship, allowing her to pursue a stellar academic career. During her undergraduate years, Catrina performed three piano recitals, completed an Honors minor and Senior Honors Thesis, secured a UH Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship and presented an original paper at a professional conference for music theory scholarship.

“It is because of generous UH alumni that I have been able to focus 100% on my academic goals,” she says. “Honors College scholarships have been critical to my success.”

Today, Catrina Kim is in the combined M.A. /Ph.D. program in Music Theory at the University of Rochester’s Eastman School of Music. She has been awarded the University of Rochester’s prestigious Sproull Fellowship, which will fund her studies for the next five years.

“I plan to give back to the Honors College, so that it can award scholarship assistance to deserving students,” she explains. “It is my obligation now to help the next generation of talented students.”

Professor Michael A. Olivas Writes Law Book

Posted on: September 5th, 2013

Michael Olivas

Pioneering Mexican-American Lawyer Inspires Book, Scholarship

May 6, 2013- Alonso. S. Perales, one of the first Mexican-American lawyers in Texas and the founder of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), spent his life defending the civil rights of Mexican-Americans.

Now, a renowned University of Houston law scholar who edited a collection of essays about Perales’ life and work will donate royalties to create a scholarship for a law student whose commitment to the Latino community is reflective of Perales’.

Michael A. Olivas, professor and scholar from the UH Law Center, edited “In Defense of My People: Alonso S. Perales and the Development of Mexican-American Public Intellectuals” (Arte Público Press, 2013). The book features essays from U.S. and Mexican scholars on the trailblazing Perales.

“One of the longstanding canards against Mexican-Americans is that we have passively accepted our fate as victims and not resisted racism directed at our communities, even today,” Olivas said. “There is overwhelming evidence that this has never been true, and Alonso Perales is Exhibit A.”

Perales was a civil rights activist before there was such a thing. Born in 1898, Perales graduated from George Washington University School of Law, becoming one of the earliest Mexican-American attorneys to practice law in Texas. The essays feature insights and commentary from scholars on such issues as education, religion and race, Texas politics and law.

The essays first were presented at a 2012 UH conference titled “In Defense of My People: Alonso S. Perales and the Development of Mexican-American Public Intellectuals.” The UH Special Collection unveiled an exhibit of Perales’ personal correspondence, images and archival material donated by Perales’ family to the UH Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage Project. Scholars have had access to these materials in their pursuit of scholarly works.

“At long last, a forgotten chapter of American civil rights history is being restored with this important volume that begins to place Perales in his rightful role as visionary and intrepid leader,” said Professor Nicolas Kanellos, director of Arte Público Press, which houses the project. “In addition to the assessment by some of the finest scholars from around the country and Mexico, the Perales archives will provide researchers, teachers and students with material that will broaden the curriculum and expand our knowledge of history and democracy.”

Olivas and Arte Público Press are donating royalties from book purchases to a scholarship benefitting “a member in good standing of the UH Law Center’s Hispanic Law Student Association who has academic merit and a record of involvement in the Houston Latino community.” The first recipient will be awarded in 2014 at the annual UH Law Center Dean’s Awards Ceremony.

This donation marks the 15th scholarship created by Olivas and his wife, Professor Augustina Reyes of the UH College of Education.

For more information on Olivas, visit

GE Oil & Gas Gives College $100k for Scholarships

Posted on: September 5th, 2013

Pradeep Sharma

The Mechanical Engineering Depeartment at the Cullen College is grateful.

GE Oil & Gas will donate $100,000 to the University of Houston Cullen College of Engineering for undergraduate student scholarships.

The gift will support students in the college’s mechanical engineering department. For five academic years starting in the fall of 2013, two undergraduates will each receive a one-year scholarship valued at $10,000, along with the title of GE Oil & Gas Scholar. The scholarships can be renewed, provided that the recipients meet specific academic benchmarks.

These students will receive more than financial support, though. As GE Oil & Gas Scholars, they will also get an early look at the world of professional engineering. They will be invited to visit GE Oil & Gas facilities in the Houston area, where they can meet with company executives and members of its engineering team. The winners will also have the opportunity to work with the company on research projects and through internships.

According to Pradeep Sharma, mechanical engineering department chairman, this donation is a boon for the department in more ways than one.

“The relationships we have with the professional engineering world are extremely important to the college. This gift is going to provide support to some truly outstanding students while also strengthening those relationships, giving us deeper insight into the challenges businesses face in terms of employee skills as well as technical and scientific obstacles,” Sharma explained. “We’re extremely grateful to GE Oil & Gas for this generous donation and the impact it will have on our department.”

Funding for Multidisciplinary Research and Engineering Building (MREB) Is Underway

Posted on: September 5th, 2013

Multidisciplinary Research and Engineering Building

The MREB will support both academic and research programs at UH.

The University of Houston plans to design and construct a new Multidisciplinary Research and Engineering Building (MREB) that will support the University’s mission to provide Tier One research facilities, and corporate partners are being asked to help fund this exciting project. It will brand a company as an employer of choice for the next generation of interdisciplinary, global and entrepreneurial engineers and demonstrate that company’s commitment to STEM education and training. The new facilities will allow UH to add more than 250 talented graduate students and to hire new National Academy faculty. Additionally, it will elevate the Cullen College of Engineering’s current national ranking (#74) to a Top 50 Graduate Engineering School.

The proposed four-story Multidisciplinary Research and Engineering Building will support both academic and research programs. The new facility will provide a state-of-the-art infrastructure needed to increase student enrollment, associated faculty, and research funding. The facility will foster collaboration across the campus by minimizing investments in multiple and redundant instrumentation facilities by housing core facilities in a neutral location while sustaining and enhancing research growth. The new facility will include a research core that houses major core facilities that serve the critical needs of the University’s research foci, both in energy and health.

Beyond the benefits of the MREB to both the Cullen College of Engineering and the University of Houston, the MREB will also benefit our local industry, community, and the entire city of Houston. With this new facility, we will be able to increase our annual research expenditures by $30 million, which should in turn promote approximately $510 million worth of economic activity in Houston alone. The deadline for the Cullen College of Engineering’s fundraising efforts for the MREB is December 2013. For more information about the MREB building project, please visit:

Local musician supports the Moores School of Music at UH.

Posted on: September 5th, 2013

sybal roos

Sybil Roos has always been a musician at heart, so it was natural for her to help make it possible for numerous students to attend the Moores School of Music through her gift of need-based scholarships. From vocalists who have gone on to perform with the Houston Grand Opera, to instrumentalists who now play with the Houston Symphony, Roos has encouraged and supported their endeavors with much-needed financial backing. Roos has served on the Moores School’s board of trustees and is involved currently with the Moores Society, a group that allows contributors like Roos to enjoy priority access to Moores School events while also providing recurring financial support to the UH music school through their annual membership gifts.

Roos’s mother was a talented musician who started her daughter in piano lessons at an early age. As a high school student in 1940s-era Beverly Hills, Roos joined a group of classmates to launch a small music and theater company, where she composed piano pieces to complement lyrics penned by other group members. Her creative collaborators – many the sons and daughters of iconic movie stars and Hollywood heavyweights – often gathered and invented songs with names like “Anything Your Little Heart Desires” and “Chin Up.” “The Young Footlighters Guild,” as they called themselves, was often invited to perform for audiences such as the British War Relief Society and the American Red Cross. Their burgeoning popularity allowed them to shop their songs out to Warner Brothers Studios and Irving Berlin, who described their uniquely catchy ditties as “pleasant and tinkling.”

Despite her heartfelt love for music, she ultimately decided to pursue another passion – education. Upon completion of her undergraduate degree, Roos relocated to Texas and promptly registered for the state’s teacher certification exam. The test was administered at the University of Houston; this was Roos’s first introduction to UH. [Over the coming years, her musical interests were largely relegated to watching her three daughters take piano lessons and listening to her husband – an amateur vocalist – delight crowds at the couple’s favorite local hangout with his rendition of “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling.” Soon the Moores School of Music beckoned, and Roos found herself becoming reacquainted with her old love – music – and, once again, back at the University of Houston.]

Nowadays, Roos is a prominent figure at Moores School of Music events, including the Texas Music Festival. “It’s a wonderful experience,” she said, “to see such talented young people from around the world come together to perform on the same stage.” Dr. David Ashley White, Director of the Moores School, calls Roos “an enthusiastic supporter of the program” who never misses a Dinner Concert Gala or the opportunity to provide scholarship support for deserving students who might otherwise be unable to study at the University. Roos’s generosity, compassion and steadfast friendship to the Moores School embody the very spirit of UH pride – and that, Coogs, is why Sybil Roos is music to our ears!

Phil Swanson Supports the Cougar Graduation Challenge

Posted on: September 5th, 2013

the swansons

The Cougar Graduation Challenge is an exciting way for University of Houston students to give back before they even graduate.

The Cougar Graduation Challenge is an exciting way for University of Houston students to give back before they even graduate. It also helps create a sense of community among students. The Challenge has two components—the Cougar Spirit Cord and the Cougar Graduation Survey. By making a minimum $15 donation to the University of Houston, graduates receive a red and white Cougar Spirit Cord to wear at commencement. This shows a student’s pride in their school and their support for those who will be returning the next semester. But if that donation seems too daunting, Phil Swanson (’86) has agreed to let every student who completes a Cougar Graduation Survey direct one dollar to the UH program of their choice. Swanson understands that the pressures of life and the costs of living can outweigh the desire to give back—especially for new graduates. One dollar, directed to any college or program in the University, is what he considers a “launch pad” for giving. His wife, Mindy, adds: “Once you’re in your thirties and forties, a pattern has been established–you need to start students out giving back while they are young!”

Annual giving ensures support for student scholarships, recruitment and retention of key faculty, research, technology and more. “The academics at UH are what really inspire me to give,” Swanson maintains. “You want to be proud of your education. I thought the University of Houston provided a great education for me.” Mindy adds, “Education is something that’s important to both Phil and me. We’ve made Houston our home, and in my point of view, having a thriving university is critical to having a great place to live.” Also, he says the University’s tireless aim at expansion and construction excites him about giving back. There are currently more than four new buildings being constructed around campus and 10 recently built or renovated facilities. The Energy Research Park is an impressive 70-acre structure, which he believes is going to be a huge part of establishing UH as the nation’s “energy university.” “Other folks can’t help but notice these things,” he maintains about the recent expansion. “Things that are happening now—these things are what inspire me to give.”

He knew that philanthropy would be an important part of his alumni experience ever since he pledged Sigma Chi during his freshman year. Whether it was the brotherhood that ultimately determined his sense of belonging on campus or the time he spent traveling as a Cougar cheerleader, he always knew that it was up to alumni to give back because he saw other alumni giving when he was a student. “I always figured I would be contributing myself one day—I learned about giving on the job,” he admits. The alarming reality is that, despite rising costs for higher education, tuition covers less than half the funds needed to educate a student. Educating a student at UH relies on 36 percent of contributions from sources other than tuition. Generous donations like those from Phil and Mindy bridge the gap, making it possible to continue providing an affordable, Tier One education.

Creating a habit of giving is important. No matter what the amount is, an annual gift is ultimately, a transformative one. For instance, twenty gifts of $20 each can purchase a guest lecture from a visiting professor. Charitable donations affect every student when they use library resources and technology on campus. In total, the 2012-2013 Cougar Graduation Challenge raised more than $30,000 for UH students and programs from more than 29% of graduating seniors!

The Treasurer of the Society of Women Engineers and President of Cougar Waterpolo, Catherine Finley, is an example of a May 2013 graduate who will be wearing a Cougar Spirit Cord at graduation. When asked what motivates her to give to the University, she answers, “Knowing that you’re helping others.” In addition to her donation, she also helped raise an extra dollar for her favorite college on campus, the Cullen College of Engineering, by completing a Graduation Survey. Because of yearly scholarships, including the Honors Scholarship and the Engineering Alumni Scholarship, Finley is able to graduate debt-free from University of Houston. “I really understand how donations from alumni relieve stress and let you just focus on school,” she says. And, after all, focusing on education is the most important job the University accomplishes.

Super Cougars Drive UH

Posted on: September 4th, 2013

Art Car Parade
By day, they are business owners, CPAs, marketing and energy managers, and controllers across Houston. By night and on weekends, they are the creators and driving force behind the University of Houston Art Car Parade Ford van, officially known as the “Super Cougar GT SS 500 Unlimited Limited Edition.” What’s that spell? Cougar Alumni Pride.

“The best part was buying the van,” says Jarrett Henderson (BBA 2006, MBA, 2012). “There were about 12 of us looking to provide a serious upgrade to our tailgating during the 2012 UH football season. The best part has been seeing our tailgate and UH season ticket crew grow from just three of us back in 2003 to the group we have today.”

Houston native Seth Showalter, who is not a UH alum but is an “adopted” Cougar, puts the story in gear.

“Most of my friends are UH alumni, so we got together and thought about the best way to improve the tailgate parties that we religiously host before the UH games. We found a 1999 van on Craigslist in Kemah, and a few hours later we were back home with a $1,000 investment in the best tailgating football season ever!”

The crew revamped the van with an A-Team inspired custom paint job, laid astro turf across the rear interior and installed a Snap-on kegerator donated by Mike Green, UH alum and owner of a Snap-on Tool franchise. Ryan Wehmeyer (BBA, 2004) hopes a future upgrade will include a tap pull that growls like a cougar every time a beer is poured.

After the final season in Robertson Stadium, Seth Showalter entered the Super Cougar van in the Art Car Parade in May 2013.

“I mostly love what the van stands for – friendship, teamwork, camaraderie and great times,” he says. “It was a natural for the parade.”

The Super Cougar does not have a sponsor, and the group is open to one. The friends have covered the costs of transforming the UH van out of their own pockets, and they have dreams for the future.

“A spoiler, a PA system, a swing out grill,” lists Kris Kehlenbach, (BBA, 2010, MBA, 2012). “It’s an ever-evolving project that lacks no imagination.”

Cougar pride runs deep throughout the crew.

“My grandfather was an active alum, and every time we drive this van on the streets of the UH campus, I know we make him proud,” says Wehmeyer.

That pride is being passed on to the next generation. Mike Green, who attended UH for two years before he became a single dad, agrees. “My son is now 12 and he dreams of playing basketball for UH.”

Richie Baskharone (BBA, 2005) sums it up. “Great campus, great university; it’s on the rise.”

The next wave of UH achievers

Posted on: August 28th, 2013


by Marsha Carter

Nick Brown, an Honors College student majoring in Political Science and Government, describes the University of Houston’s red spirit in three words: loyal professors, diversity and pride.

Nick, who will graduate in May 2013 with a Bachelor of Science degree, worked to build close relationships with his professors through the years, which he says added to his insight of the subject matter and expanded his network.

Growing up in a single-parent household in Spring, Nick learned that hard work, and a commitment to leadership can forge an amazing path. He serves as President of UH’s Pi Sigma Alpha, the National Political Science Honor Society and President of UH’s Phi Theta Kappa Alumni Association. He has interned for two years with Texas Senator Dan Patrick through the Hobby Center for Public Policy. “Working closely with constituents, researching specific bills and networking with prominent political contacts has been life-changing,” he says.

Nick’s goal is to attend the UH Law Center in fall of 2013 to prepare for a career in law and politics. “The combination suits my passion for people and satisfied my constant thirst for justice in society.” Nick aspires to a Doctor of Jurisprudence with special emphasis on Constitutional Law. During his last semesters in law school, he plans to pursue an externship with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Southern District of Texas.

Nick’s future plans reflect the deep partnership between UH and the city of Houston. He would like to see top scholars and presidents of student organizations visit elementary and high schools, hold workshops for students and mentor the next wave of UH achievers. “A program like this would help recruit top high school students to UH, and connect our student body with the greater Houston area.”

Professor Carp Boosts Political Science Department with a Planned Gift

Posted on: August 27th, 2013

robert carp

Professor Robert Carp, Ph.D. taught more than Constitutional Law to Patrick Hanley while the latter was an undergraduate student at the University of Houston. Carp also taught Hanley how to think and discuss just as a lawyer does. Reading case studies instead of a text book, students found Carp’s class to be exponentially more difficult than any other course—and more enlightening. Reading texts directed at seasoned lawyers as an undergraduate was challenging, but it prepared Hanley for his Law School career at Rutgers University in New Jersey. Looking back, Carp’s teaching focused more on “robust discussions than argument,” discussion being an element Hanley felt was often overlooked in Law School. It is a skill that has served him well in the years since, working as an analyst in hospital regulatory compliance for medical research at University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

Carp is a seasoned professional academician, as Professor Kenneth Manning, his long-time collaborator knows. Professor Manning has co-investigated a database on federal district court decision-making and co-authored the quintessential textbook, “Judicial Process in America” with Carp and Ronald Stidham. Manning was a hard-working, 27- year-old graduate student of Carp’s nearly 20 years ago, and he eventually followed in his mentor’s footsteps to become a Professor of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth. Neither Manning nor Hanley were surprised at the news that Carp had funded an endowed chair in the Political Science Department at University of Houston. Through a planned gift, Carp will empower UH’s Political Science Department to attract or retain a professor with a national reputation. According to Professor Susan Scarrow, also in the Political Science department at UH, this allows the endowed chair to travel to conferences to present research, to purchase computer software and hardware, to hire a research assistant and may be used to provide a summer research stipend for the person who holds the chair. This gift will effectively underwrite a professor and, as Manning puts it, “will raise the overall reputation of the Political Science department, and in turn, the whole of UH.”

“His generous gift is entirely keeping with his extraordinary character,” says Manning. And above all, there is an overwhelming feeling that professor Carp is sensible. “He’s going to do something good with it,” he says simply of Carp’s gift. And with planned gifts, an individual can leave a percentage of their estate—1 to 100 percent—so that no matter how the size of their estate changes over the years, gifts to family and charities remain proportionate.

Manning says it will be a prestigious honor for anyone who can say, “I was hired to fulfill the Carp Endowed Professorship.” The message of this particular gift, adds Hanley, is that “there is a belief that to be a philanthropist, you must be part of the 1 percent. Professor Carp’s gift shows that we all have the opportunity to invest in things that are important to us.”