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Mentorship, Prestige and Health Innovations: Endowed Professorships Make It Happen

Posted on: December 8th, 2016

jeff rimer

By Joelle Carson

One may not immediately associate the importance of crystal engineering in the treatment of kidney stones. But in 2016, researchers in the lab of Dr. Jeffrey Rimer, Ernest J. and Barbara M. Henley Associate Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the Cullen College of Engineering, found evidence that a natural fruit extract is capable of dissolving calcium oxalate crystals, the most common component of human kidney stones. This finding could lead to the first advance in the treatment of calcium oxalate stones in 30 years.

Rimer, who started teaching at UH in September 2009, was granted the Henley endowed professorship in 2012, and the unrestricted research funding it provides has been invaluable to his research. “The funds from the professorship help support existing projects, and give me the freedom to explore new topics that otherwise would not be funded by other agencies,” he explains. “To this end, we have the ability to be creative.”

However, the freedom to be creative is only part of the advantage of the named position; the prestige associated with the title not only benefits Dr. Rimer and his research, but the reputation of UH as a whole. “There are few named positions, so it is an honor to have the Henley Professorship,” he says. “When I give talks at conferences or seminars, I am always introduced as the Henley Professor, which makes a strong impression.”

Crystallization is a common process with many different applications, from medicine to energy: with Houston being the energy capital of the United States and home to the world’s largest medical center, his research group — which comprises post-doctoral, graduate and undergraduate students — has many opportunities for collaboration and translational research.

Students benefit from that type of hands-on industry experience, and from Rimer’s dedicated instruction and mentorship. “As a professor, you get to witness the impact of your mentorship firsthand,” he reflects. “It is a very satisfying feeling to, in some small way, help students succeed. I love having the opportunity to have a positive impact on people’s lives.”

For more information about creating or contributing to an endowed chair or professorship, click HERE.


UH Libraries: Preserving the Power of Women’s Experience

Posted on: November 15th, 2016
carey shuart

Carey Shuart

The Carey Shuart Women’s Collection and Research Archive at UH Libraries began as a dress box full of old papers collected by and about Carey Shuart’s grandmother, Blanche Espy Chenoweth. Chenoweth was an advice columnist, radio personality and lecturer during the early 20th century. Preserving her legacy was the impetus behind Shuart’s gift to name the Women’s Collection, the very first Special Collection within UH Libraries to become a named collection.

The vision of UH Libraries in forming these Special Collections is to foster a campus community nurtured by curiosity and creativity that emphasizes lifelong learning and scholarship. These archives allow all Houstonians to identify and respond to the social and cultural challenges affecting our community’s quality of life. The Carey Shuart Women’s Collection and Research Archive in particular serves as a beacon that inspires us to celebrate and explore women’s diverse experiences and accomplishments.

Inside the collection, topics range from the 1977 National Women’s Conference in Houston to various minority women’s groups’ minutes and materials; they embody the personal journeys and stories of local women. “Endowments like Carey’s not only help to get Houston’s women’s histories into classrooms on campus, but they can also bring students and scholars from around the country to Houston to learn from those unique histories,” explains Christian Kelleher, Head of UH Libraries Special Collections.

Many of the documents housed in the Collection are extremely rare, and researchers from far beyond Houston benefit from the Shuart Women’s Collection. “You won’t find these items anywhere else or in any other archives,” remarks Vince Lee, archivist of the Shuart Women’s Collection. He also points out that these documents are relevant to current-day policy, not just as historical artifacts: “For instance, the Texas Council on Family Violence was started by Debby Tucker, and her papers are now in the collection. Many of these organizations and models that were started by local women have been adopted by government at the national level.”

One popular resource is the Minnie Fisher Cunningham Papers. Cunningham was an early 20th century suffragist who worked with national figures to campaign for the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, which allowed women the right to vote. Her papers include a congratulatory telegram from President Woodrow Wilson on her accomplishments. Faculty and students have used the collection for researching women’s suffrage in Texas, and its intersection with present day minority voting rights.

A primary source bridge between UH’s interdisciplinary Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies Program and the Houston community, the Shuart Women’s Collection is a truly incomparable resource that continues to thrive because of an insightful endowment gift.

There are several other Special Collections at UH Libraries that are not endowed as of yet — but in the future one lucky person or entity will be able to create an endowment and name the Houston & Texas History Collection, the Houston Hip Hop Collection, the Hispanic Collection, the LGBT Collection, the Energy & Sustainability Collection, and the University of Houston Archives. All of them are treasures inside the University’s libraries.

-Sarah F. Hill


Salute! A Toast to the University of Houston with John and Elena Zaccaria

Posted on: October 19th, 2016

John and Elena Zaccaria

The couple is proud of their Italian heritage, it is very clear. “The chef here at the restaurant is actually from Amalfi!” says John Zaccaria, his voice booming. Elena speaks of being named for the queen of Italy, Elena Margaretta, and of the Italian dialect that was spoken in her house as she grew up. While ordering, John pronounces “gnocchi” with a certain flair. “Salute!” he toasts as the food is served.

John has a lot to be happy about these days. His portfolio is doing well and a recent federal law creating a permanent tax break gave him the ability to plan a very special gift for the University of Houston (UH). His advice for those just starting their careers? “Invest wisely during your 40- year working career, and you, too, can establish scholarship foundations to assist young students in their chosen path of study.” For those who have been saving for retirement and are ready to give back, John advises, “Educate your broker about the IRA Charitable Rollover as a way to give.” This unique opportunity gives an IRA owner who is age 70 ½ or older the right to transfer up to $100,000 yearly, free of tax, to the charitable 501(c)(3) organization of their choice. This transfer also counts toward their yearly Required Minimum Distribution.

Since 2006, it has been a painstaking ordeal for John and other donors to watch and wait to see if Congress would approve the IRA Charitable Rollover each year. In December 2015, just before the end-of-year tax documents were due, the permanent IRA Charitable Rollover was signed into law. “You’ve followed the IRA Charitable Rollover law and its progress since the beginning,” says an appreciative Robert E. King, J.D., Director of Gift Planning at the University of Houston. “This is a wonderful way to give a non-taxable amount to the causes you want to support the most.”

“Why take out the IRA money and be taxed at a higher rate, when I can transfer the full amount to the University of Houston?” Zaccaria asks. UH is the Zaccarias’ “university-away-from-home.” Tending to see UH as the cultural center of Houston, they both love to take in theater, dance and opera at the University. They give generously to Houston Public Media and the Moores School of Music, but their deferred gift to a permanent endowment is the one they are the most excited about. “Managed properly, the University will get more out of this gift in years to come,” John says. In his view, the possibilities are endless.

The Zaccarias grew up across the street from each other as children and went to the University of Pittsburgh together. They began their family and began careers: he, as a marketing and salesperson for engineering and construction services, although his degree was in Chemical Engineering, and she, as a Microbiologist. In fact, Elena worked as the Director of Infection Control for a Houston-area private hospital when she identified three cholera specimens back in the eighties. She reported her findings to the local health department and saved Houston from a cholera outbreak — caused, it turns out, by tainted oysters. The result was that she ultimately changed the oyster industry’s method of harvesting and handling oysters, thereby delivering a safer product to the dining public.

Houston has been their home for such a long time. “What I love about Houston and Texas is the can-do attitude of its people!” says Elena enthusiastically. “And the arts in the city really fit our needs,” adds John. Their love of opera was a natural lead-off to their love of puppetry. They fell in love with the art while traveling in Europe, where they witnessed a portrayal of “The Magic Flute” with marionettes. “Pittsburgh also had some of the best puppetry. It had The Lovelace Marionette Theatre,” he reminisces. “The children watch in the store fronts and there’s not a sound, they are hypnotized,” says Elena. The Zaccarias are delighted whenever Houston hosts a puppetry show that they can attend.

They have spent a considerable amount of time traveling the world, too. Their days are filled with many hobbies. Elena enjoys crafting, painting, pottery and making stained glass — and, she says, she has the smartest cat in the world. Singha, which means “lion” in Thai, fetches and carries objects for her!

Despite being retired, John is happiest when he is working on brokerage projects for friends and family. He is confident that his stock portfolio is working for him, whether he follows it closely or not. “People who watch things tend not to act!” he warns. And John is a man of action.

This new way of giving excites them both, but what really motivates them to give, as well, is the University of Houston’s Chancellor and President, Renu Khator. “She is wonderful!” says John. Elena agrees: “It doesn’t take someone being in the field, like I was for many years, to understand that our medical system needs a lot of help. Renu Khator is moving forward with a medical school, and that is just fantastic,” she shares.

Grateful that John did watch for the federal law that made the IRA Charitable Rollover a possibility, the University can thank the Zaccarias for acting immediately and making their charitable gift without losing any time. Neither one of them are alumni, yet their charitable giving to the University of Houston, the university of their city, is compelling in every way. A toast of “Salute!” is in order for the Zaccarias, for their generous natures and dedication to excellence in the city of Houston.

-Sarah F. Hill


Frank (’60, M.Ed. ’64) and Betty Lemmon: Lifetime Cougars

Posted on: October 18th, 2016

Frank (’60, M.Ed. ’64) and Betty Lemmon

It’s not just the University of Houston birdhouse hanging in their front yard tree, or the Cougar Red Betty sports as she opens the door. It’s a pervasive attitude that includes calling Coach Yeoman a “hero” and President Renu Khator “remarkable.” It’s a love of UH that Frank and Betty Lemmon have that can hardly be equaled.

“I wouldn’t have a college degree without UH and the night classes it offered back in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s,” says Frank. “Hugh Roy Cullen envisioned the University as a ‘working man’s college’, and it was that. I worked fulltime during my bachelor’s degree and for years while I earned my master’s degree in education,” he reflects. “University of Houston is such a different school now. There have been so many positive achievements and the number of kids living on campus now is so high—it’s great to see!” He was not surprised to hear that UH is among one of the most residential campuses in Texas, with the second most beds in the state.

Frank’s gratefulness for his degree is palpable. He went on to become a teacher, then a respected administrator in the Klein school district. “The first week of the semester at night school, the parking lot would be so full,” he remembers. “In two weeks, you wouldn’t have that problem because students were missing class. It was tough, sticking it out and going to school at night after working all day as a draftsman at Transcontinental Gas Pipeline Corporation.” Frank looked longingly at the students playing cards in the Cougar Den on his way to evening classes, and knew he didn’t have time to join them. But that didn’t stop him. Besides, he had Betty getting his dinner ready before class, and she was helping him type essays, as Frank’s typing skills were less than stellar.

He got engaged to Betty at their high school senior prom, and they were married the following year. They’ve been together ever since. One of the things they have in common is that both are Life Members of the University of Houston Alumni Association, even though Betty didn’t attend school at UH. They are also members of the In Tempore Legacy Society (formerly known as the 1927 Society). “I’m glad they always made me feel like I was a part of the University,” smiles Betty.

The Lemmons have donated many gifts over the years. They have given to the College of Education, The Spirit of Houston Cougar Marching Band, the UH Alumni Association, The Honors College, the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics (NSM) and are even season ticketholders for Cougar football. “We park right across the street from the new TDECU Stadium and tailgate!” says Betty. They donated a tree, in honor of both of their respective parents, to the esplanade on Cullen Boulevard and received a brick with their names on it from the old stadium before it was torn down. But the IRA Charitable Rollover is what is driving their giving right now.

Director of Gift Planning, Robert E. King, J.D., says, “The best part of the IRA Charitable Rollover is that it’s now a permanent option for donors. It takes the guesswork out of using your IRA for making gifts each year — that puts a lot of power in your hands as a donor.” He goes on to explain, “Many people who are coming up on their 50th UH reunion also are coming up on the 70 ½ year old minimum age requirement when the charitable rollover is allowed. This is a wonderful time for Golden Cougars, those who have been graduated for 50 years, to make a gift in commemoration of their milestone. What better way to show your support for the newly graduating class than to help other Cougars attain their dreams, or to honor a special professor or program?”

The fact that he is not taxed on his charitable donation to the University is a big selling point for Frank, who also gives this way to his church and other community organizations.

They are parents to two children and grandparents to three young people. Additionally, Frank enjoys reading and walking around his beautiful neighborhood in Spring, Texas. Betty loves to cook and to attend neighborhood block parties and functions. And amazingly, Frank still works! He retired in 2000 after forty years as a teacher and administrator, but still acts as a substitute administrator in Klein ISD.

The Lemmons certainly make a great team and are always rooting for UH. The permanent IRA Charitable Rollover is allowing them to give to the causes that matter to them most — and UH couldn’t be happier to have this couple among its Golden Cougars.

-Sarah F. Hill


Exxon’s 3:1 Matching Gifts Make an Impact

Posted on: September 30th, 2016

exxons-matching-gifts

The University of Houston continues to garner national recognition in academics, campus life and athletics. In the past year alone, UH has added a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, defeated some of the nation’s best football teams, and been recognized — again — as one of the nation’s most diverse campuses. And President Renu Khator has her eyes set on another leadership position for UH: the top spot for universities that receive matching contributions from ExxonMobil.

President Khator has identified an annual goal of $1 million to University of Houston from ExxonMobil Foundation’s Educational Matching Gift Program. That dream is more attainable than ever, as Exxon Mobil employees and retirees — along with the ExxonMobil Foundation — contributed nearly $931,000 in gifts and matches this past year. Such a substantial contribution is possible only through ExxonMobil’s industry-leading matching program, one which matches gifts three-to-one. The gifts must be made to an educational institution with which the donor has an affiliation and must be made for academic purposes.

In 2012, ExxonMobil contributed more than $650,000 to UH and the gift amount has increased every year. In 2015, seven donors maximized their match by giving $7,500, the largest amount that is eligible for the match. These gifts received a match of $22,500 for a total gift of $30,000. Together, these seven donors accounted for nearly 25 percent of the total received for the 2015 calendar year.

One such donor is Mr. Alfredo (Al) Vela (’62). Vela received his degree in communications and advertising from the School of Communications (now the Valenti School of Communications). He started a successful career in corporate communications that culminated with responsibility for Exxon’s public affairs operations. He and his wife, Mary Ann (’75), became extremely involved in their alma mater during the early nineties. He served as President of the Houston Alumni Organization from 1999 to 2000, acted as President of the Dallas-Ft. Worth Alumni Club and was a member of the National Advisory Council under former Chancellor Art Smith.

Over the years, Vela and his wife have given to numerous areas across campus utilizing their ExxonMobil match. One such program was the Scholars Community Program, which encouraged commuting students to feel more like they were a part of the campus community. “It has been remarkable to watch the progress of UH as a Tier One institution and all of its many achievements,” he says.

UH has consistently ranked among the top five universities for total dollars received from ExxonMobil’s matching program each year — out of the nearly 900 universities that receive funds from the program.

“The progress that has been made has been measurable and positive,” says Vela. “I’m just happy that Mary Ann and I are able to contribute in some small part by taking advantage of the ExxonMobil’s generous matching gift program.”


Philanthropy brings top minds in engineering to UH faculty

Posted on: September 28th, 2016

kostarelos-and-team

For potential graduate students in the field of engineering, the prospect of working closely with members of the National Academy of Engineering is particularly enticing. For Joseph Tedesco, dean of the Cullen College of Engineering, attracting additional NAE members to the college’s faculty is an integral part of his strategic plan. The Cullen College currently boasts 13 NAE members as part of its faculty with the intention of reaching 22 by the year 2020.

“Whether it’s hiring NAE members from outside the school or ‘growing’ them from within, it is undeniable that the best engineering schools have the most faculty members in NAE,” said Quan Do, a second-year Ph.D. student in chemical engineering. “As our NAE numbers increase, our global reputation rises, which attracts more elite graduate students. As a result, our research output will grow, and the current students will reap the benefits because industry and academia will take our work that much more seriously.”

While the caliber of students, faculty and staff within the Cullen College of Engineering are a tremendous recruiting tool, alumni and friends of the University can do their part, as well. One of the most enticing things the college can do to recruit additional NAE faculty and reach its ambitious goal of 22 NAE members on faculty is through private philanthropy allowing for the creation of endowed chairs.

Increasing the number of endowed faculty positions accomplishes a number of goals, including recognition of the tremendous work being accomplished by individuals in their respective fields of expertise. Furthermore, the funds provided to faculty members in these positions gives them the agency to develop research projects, advance instructional programs and disseminate the scholarly work they have undertaken.

“NAE faculty bring not only a vision gained from years of success in their field, but they also have the networks and funding that enable dedication to that vision,” said Kian Torabian, a Ph.D. student in biomedical engineering who received his undergraduate degree at Stanford University. “Any influence, direct or indirect, that they may have on students, whether through connecting us to their networks or by directing innovative research and teaching programs, help those students follow in their footsteps.”


The Empire That Trash Built: Maria Rios (’97) and Nation Waste, Inc.

Posted on: June 6th, 2016

Maria Rios

The difference between outdoors and indoors couldn’t be more stark. Outside, a fleet of portable toilets stands, along with industrial dumpsters bearing the name Nation Waste, Inc. Inside, Maria Rios reclines in an elegant, sweet-smelling office, wearing a designer dress and heels. This is her empire, an empire of trash to be exact. “When I see waste, I see opportunity,” says Rios, excitedly.

The University of Houston put Rios on this path to becoming one of Fortune Magazine’s “Most Powerful Women Entrepreneurs” in 2013. Once bullied for her accent in school, she now accepts awards with great humility and constant awe. “It is utterly amazing that this girl who came from El Salvador without knowledge of English is now recognized in this light. Truly a gift from heaven!” she says, always punctuating the end of her sentences with exclamation marks.

Hard to forget by her own admission, other business owners, including Warren Buffet, have called on her to discuss her business strategies. “Just as I have paved the way to becoming the first Latina in the waste removal industry, there are many opportunities still for Latinas to be the first in many sectors.” This dedication to minority needs has served Rios well. She sits on the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and Greater Houston Women Chamber of Commerce boards and was appointed by the mayor to the City of Houston Office of Business Opportunity Board. This is in addition to the many awards, accolades and feature stories she has inspired as of late.

Her studies at UH allowed her to apply her business management and marketing skills as far as negotiating new contracts and expanding operations by diversifying her product line. In addition to resulting in a multi-million dollar contract with the City of Houston, where Nation Waste, Inc. is the preferred provider of portable toilets for both airports and waste removal from the prison system, this diversification has led Rios to getting involved with recycling aspect of waste removal.

“We need to do this,” Rios emphatically states when asked about recycling. “We need to make the waste removal system of this country cleaner, greener and more sustainable.” The technology to sterilize medical waste and to create bioenergy and organic fertilizers is available. “Working for our environment” is Nation Waste’s motto, and they are at work making it more of a reality every day.

Rios’ story began as a 13 year old immigrant from El Salvador. Her parents were afraid for their three young daughters during the civil unrest and brought them to America. “But my mother always taught me to be bold and to take risks. My dad encouraged me to dream big,” she remembers. She began her education at Houston Community College, then transferred to UH for her final two years, which only increased her work ethic. She still recalls the UH mission to “Learn, Discover and Engage.” “I still learn, discover and engage, and that has made all the difference!” she shares.

One of her favorite professors remains, to this day, Dr. Martin Golubitsky, a mathematics professor in the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics. He taught her to work with forecasting models and financial statements. A senior project during her degree required her to design a business model. Since she was very young, she had been working, saving her money and establishing great credit. She decided to take out a loan after graduation and put her senior project into reality. Since one of her many jobs as a young woman was at a large waste removal company, she thought to herself, “Waste is not going anywhere — there will always be a niche for trash removal, and I can cater to clients with special needs.” This includes medical waste, high rise construction waste and construction site portable toilets.

With that very first loan, she hired a full-time and a part-time driver. Her husband was wary of the loan process and the dream of becoming a business owner; one year later, she had hired her husband on at Nation Waste, Inc., and was already well on her way to the mogul she is today. She currently has more than 29 trucks performing round-the-clock waste disposal, as well as on-site welders, mechanics and recyclers at her Nation Waste, Inc. compound off of West Mount Houston Drive in Houston.

Rios gives back to the community in many ways, supporting Aldine Little League and the Girl Scouts of America. But she is most proud of the many talks she is asked to give to graduating students. She always tells them “Be bold!” She also serves as a UH C. T. Bauer College of Business Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship mentor, teaching the bright, driven students there, through word and action, to take “managed risks.”

These very calculated risks are what put Rios on the road to a wildly successful career — just recently, she was featured on the television program “Blue Collar Millionaires” on CNBC. Her Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Initiative award committee and the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, including other outlets, recommended her for an interview on the television show. Her larger than life personality and enthusiasm for her work — “I love waste!” she is heard oftentimes saying — made her an unforgettable guest.

-Sarah F. Hill


A Commitment to Lifelong Learning: Dean Dana and Dr. Charles “Mickey” Rooks

Posted on: May 12th, 2016

Dean Dana and Dr. Charles "Mickey" Rooks

By Joelle Carson

Dean Dana and Dr. Charles “Mickey” Rooks have proven, both through their gifts and as faculty, that dedicated individuals can truly change a University’s course. As Dean of Libraries, Dana created a development ecosystem that facilitated the library and Honors renovation. Mickey brought his industry experience into the classroom as a chemical engineering professor, and was a vital part of the new research taking place on campus.

It’s hard to believe that they only planned to stay in Houston for three years, and harder to believe that they almost didn’t get married.

“I was very career-oriented before you were supposed to be,” Dana says, noting the cultural climate of women in the workplace in the 1960’s. While they were working at the University of Oklahoma, she as a librarian and he as a Ph.D. student, Dana told Mickey her goal was to be the dean of a library that was a member of the elite Association of Research Libraries (ARL), warning him that there had only been two women ARL deans in the country previously. “I think the reason I decided to marry him is because he looked at me, and very sincerely said: that is so great, you can be number three!”

The Rooks’ moved to Houston in 1979 for Mickey’s career in research and development at Monsanto on the condition that they would only stay for three years. But, all that changed after Dana started working in the University of Houston libraries. “I just fell in love with this place,” she says. “This University is so unique in so many ways. And for all of its excellence, it hasn’t even begun to make a dent in its potential.”

A Culture of Philanthropy

When she became Dean of Libraries, Dana had a clear vision for how to reach that potential. “My first act as dean was to hire a development director and start fundraising,” she recalls. “I recognized that the library was never going to be excellent if we had to totally rely on state funding. That margin that moves you from adequate to excellent is external funding.”

Having graduated from land-grant universities, both Dana and Mickey were accustomed to a solid fundraising system within an institution. “They’d had a hundred years to figure out that system,” she points out. “We were learning how to do things, which is part of what made it so exciting. It was very entrepreneurial.” For Dana, this included spearheading a telefund campaign, a first for the library. With the support of the other deans and colleges, the libraries achieved the highest telefund results of that year.

The library renovation fund was also the impetus for UH’s very first faculty-staff campaign, although gift designation was not limited to the libraries. The high participation rate, from deans to staff to regents, was a new and highly effective way to see the fruits of the University’s efforts. “During that campaign, I received an envelope with two one-dollar bills in it, and it was from a custodian,” Dana recalls. “The note said, ‘I think the library is so important.’ They’d used it to help their kids with their homework, or something like that.”

One aspect of Houston that has evolved since the Rooks’ settled here is the city’s recognition of UH’s importance, and they name President Renu Khator as a major instrument of that change. “This is a major city. It deserves a top-quality Tier One research university,” Dana says, “and she is helping everyone realize that a strong UH makes the economy strong; the new knowledge, technologies and disciplines create new jobs and provide invaluable services, from social services to policy reform to countless other educational programming.”

And, she reiterates, philanthropy is key to that evolution. “In Houston especially, individuals, businesses and foundations give for the same reason; they do want that margin of excellence, and they see that philanthropy is how we’re going to achieve it.”

Student and Faculty Success

Sometimes it only takes one person to change someone’s path for the better. “One person from my little hometown was a chemical engineer. He worked for the CIA,” Mickey explains. After talking to him about his profession during a visit, Mickey’s career path was clear. After a long career in research and development at Monsanto — during which he won their international company-wide achievement award three times — he joined UH’s chemical engineering faculty in 2001, and began making that same difference in the lives of his students — not just through teaching, but with monetary gifts as well. “By giving, we want to help young people be successful,” he says. “Their success was really my goal in teaching.”

His career in research brought valuable experience into the classroom, and led to him co-founding the Diesel Center (now Texas Center for Clean Emissions, Engines & Fuels) and bringing the undergraduate laboratory up to speed. “I thoroughly, totally and completely enjoyed teaching,” he says, “22-year-olds keep you on your toes! We have an incredibly diverse student body, and a lot of first-generation college students. I’m so proud of them all.”

Some first-generation students often never considered graduate school, “even with a 4.0 GPA,” he says. He actively encouraged them to apply, sometimes enlisting Dana to mentor them as well so they could realize all their opportunities — particularly the young women in his classes, a number which increased by “500 percent” during his time at UH. In that same vein, Dana saw the need for a support system among women deans and faculty, which led to women deans (or “WDs”) lunches every month. That spawned an annual newly hired women tenure-track faculty luncheon, a highly popular event whose guest list always includes President Renu Khator and Provost Paula Short.

While the research that takes place at UH libraries is integral to student and faculty success, the Rooks’ giving has gone beyond that mark — and that support plays a strategic role in supporting and recruiting top faculty. “Funding is needed to get the top faculty here, whether through endowed chairs or startup funds to colleges that need resources,” Dana explains. The Rooks’ Early-Career Librarian Fellowship, for example, attracts innovative younger librarians who may not be eligible for endowed chairs. “Bright, dynamic, innovative young librarians who started their careers here are now taking leadership roles all over the country,” Dana reports, mentioning that the recently named Dean of Libraries, Ann Thornton, at Columbia University NY started her career at UH. “I want those top leaders saying they got their start at UH, and that we did a lot to support our future leaders. They will tell people — they do, all the time — that they got such a great start here. That adds to our recruiting efforts, and the University’s reputation.”

Another important piece of UH’s growing reputation is our capacity for research, another of Dana’s priorities as dean. “People have long been predicting the demise of libraries, but it’s just the opposite,” she explains. “A University education gives you foundational knowledge, no matter your discipline — but all disciplines are changing so fast, and the knowledge is evolving and developing ten times faster than when I went to school.” One evolution of the library during Dana’s time as dean is the Learning Commons, a vast area with computers with access to myriad specialized software and databases, with classes and librarians on hand to provide invaluable instruction. “Supporting the library is such a major part of students’ education not only while they’re here, but for life-long learning.” Throughout their careers, the Rooks’ haven’t just witnessed this in students and faculty; they’ve lived it themselves.

Looking to the Future

Now that they’re retired as Dean and Professor — although Dana continues to work at UH as Assistant Provost for Strategic Initiatives — the Rooks have had a moment to reflect upon the changes at the University, and what will happen next. “I think the University is headed in the right direction,” Mickey says. He adds that an increase in research funds will lead to more Ph.D. students, and create more of a pull toward campus. “That’s where the future lies. The more that people are aware of UH, the more philanthropy can do — because they can see that it makes a difference.”

Dana continues to encourage donors to gift flexible gifts. “I was in libraries for over 40 years, and I had no way of knowing the kind of things we’re doing now,” she says. “Two years from now, we’re probably going to be checking out holograms.” That’s not an exaggeration — she’s referring to 3-D holographic models that are becoming more prevalent in health care research, architecture, and other tactile fields.

The Rooks have created more than one endowment for UH over the years, which will continue to fuel innovation at the University for years to come. “That’s the importance of an endowment; it’s still there 40 years later. And who knows what will be happening 40 years from now, using my own career line as a basis,” Dana says. “We both believe that you have to give back. You have to make society better. To achieve excellence, you need to be a part of the process to make excellence a continuing endeavor for future generations.”


Talking With A Specialist: Paul Likhari, Philanthropist

Posted on: May 10th, 2016

Paul and Manmeet Likhari

Paul Likhari has a key piece of advice for UH students: “Take every challenge that comes your way.” That is certainly what he has done in his own life. He is inspired by trajectory and it is the momentum — of the students, the faculty and the capital campaigns — at the University of Houston that encourages Likhari to give of his resources, time and again. With the help of Paul and his wife, Manmeet, UH just is poised to clear the myriad health care hurdles that our nation faces with stealth and grace.

After earning his B.S.in Pharmacy and M.S. in Pharmaceutical Chemistry at Punjab University in India and immigrating to the United States, Likhari began his own pharmaceutical contract research laboratory in 1990. This company helped pharmaceutical companies get approval for their drugs from the FDA more expediently. His life work has been to help consumers get the medicine they need in a more efficient and inexpensive way. Soon after realizing the potential of his expertise, he lent it to the University of Houston by joining the UH College of Pharmacy’s Dean’s Advisory Council. His main goal: to help UH make money by doing clinical research.

When you ask him what the greatest problem facing health care today is, he will answer you: “Today’s health care comes piecemeal. Some get it from employers, some get it from Obamacare — but there is really no guarantee that everyone is getting it.” But he has some solutions: affordable prescription drugs, more community — based care centers, and primary health care for all under a universal health care system.

He began inviting Ph.D. students from UH to do drug discovery research and other clinical research in his specialized facilities in the 1990s using Mass Spectrometers. He always felt that the UHCOP needed a well-equipped laboratory to conduct cutting edge research.

The Likharis are supporting the new Health and Biomedical Sciences Building 2, the future home of the UH College of Pharmacy, with a $1 million leadership gift to create the Likhari Pharmaceutical Building Research Core Laboratory. Here, students will participate in discovering cutting-edge drugs that will treat HIV, cancer and Alzheimer’s Disease, as well as conduct clinical research and partner with the Texas Medical Center.

It was important for Likhari and his wife to give philanthropically to the University, despite the fact that neither are alumni. On the Dean’s Advisory Council, he was able to introduce Dean Pritchard to state legislators who were concerned with the disparity in funding for the UHCOP. He is delighted by the high scores of UH pharmacy school students, as well as how they excel in giving personal care to patients — some of whom are homebound, under-insured or not insured at all.

But the initiative to discover new medications and get them to those who need them most needs to expand, in their opinion. The best way to produce these medications cheaply and quickly, the Likharis believe, is by investing in the facilities that will allow UH students to access their true potential. Paul Likhari also speaks excitedly about the need for UH to have a medical school. He is passionate about the expansion of any program at UH that he sees growth potential in, and a medical school is one of those initiatives that will take UH to new heights.

Right around the same time as the groundbreaking ceremony for the HBSB 2, the Likharis embarked on a new adventure in their lives, as they became first-time grandparents. Their joy and generosity is palpable, as they discuss the future of UH, the health care field and the nation.

By Sarah F. Hill


Sarah Cortez: Poet, Cop, Teacher

Posted on: May 6th, 2016

sarah cortez

Some people know where their passion lies and what they want to be when they grow up from the time they’re children. For others, that realization may come during college or even later during their adult years. For poet Sarah Cortez (M.S. ’82), it wasn’t until age 37 that she took her first step toward becoming a writer.

Cortez majored in Psychology & Religion at Rice University before earning her Master of Arts in Classical Studies from the University of Texas at Austin. After spending two years teaching Latin at St. Agnes Academy in Houston, she decided that her roughly $1,000 per month salary wasn’t sustainable for her.

It was at this point that she found her way to the University of Houston, where she earned a Master of Science in Accountancy in 1982. She began what would become a 16-year corporate career in accounting that saw her rise to a high-stress middle-management position. It was during this time that she decided to take her first writing class: an undergraduate beginning writing course at UH.

“I wanted to be a writer, but in that sort of vague, dream world that we all have. You know, the ideal dream world,” she said. “It was a very precious dream to me, therefore I was scared of it.”

“I love working with people who may be scared, or hesitant, to write.” – Sarah Cortez

She credits the first two professors she encountered at UH with being excellent teachers who demonstrated great ethical pedagogy. The first was Thomas Cobb (M.A. ’84, Ph.D. ‘86), the author of the novel “Crazy Heart,” and the second was poet Edward Hirsch, currently the president of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.

Cortez was taking these courses while working her accounting job, eating a quick lunch in her office before walking across the street to a library to spend the rest of her lunch break writing or reading a journal. As she was working toward improvement as a fiction writer, turmoil in her personal life stalled her growth as a writer.

“I got depressed and stopped writing for two years. My marriage was kind of falling apart. I became interested in becoming a police officer and the person I was married to was not happy about that, for the wrong reasons.”

She was losing a husband and making a big career change, entering the world of law enforcement in 1994. It was when asked why she chose law enforcement that Cortez got a bright smile on her face and said, simply, “Ah, it’s the best thing in the world.”

“It’s a way for somebody to stand up for what they believe in. And to stand up in a much more pragmatic way than getting on a soapbox and making speeches, because you can say anything.” Cortez added, “It’s a much quieter way to show, and to live out, that crime is wrong.”

After more than five years as a full-time police officer, working on her writing during that time and moving from fiction to poetry, she decided to work as a reserve officer with one of the Harris County Constable’s offices while taking a visiting scholar position at UH with the Center for Mexican American Studies (CMAS). She created a pair of courses during her nine-year tenure on staff that focused on enabling students who were not English majors or focused on creative writing to learn to write in a genre, then revise and respond to texts as a working writer.

Having returned to where her post-collegiate career started, as a teacher, Cortez said, “Part of the joy and excitement of teaching those courses in creative writing at CMAS was working with people who may not yet be confident with the English language, but who are yearning to express themselves better in English and do so with creative skill. I love working with people who may be scared, or hesitant, to write.”

During this time, Cortez was seeing a number of her poems get published. For her, it seemed natural for her police work to make its presence felt on her poetry. She did note, however, “I policed for several years before I wrote about it.”

She spoke about the concept of “blue-collar poetry,” in which a blue-collar worker channels their experiences into their writing. She lamented the small number of such writers, but did say, “The best poetry is the poetry that will crack open an experience and give the reader or listener something intangible. You know, to help with the understanding, to enlighten, to share. I don’t think it’s natural, necessarily, to take it into the workplace, but I wish more people did.”

Currently, Cortez is still writing, working as a freelance editor, teaching and taking speaking engagements. In June, she will be running a workshop at the West Chester Poetry Conference in West Chester, Pennsylvania. Additionally, she was invited to serve as a Councilor on the Board of the Texas Institute of Letters, an organization devoted to promoting literacy and recognizing literary achievement.

And, of course, she is still working as a reserve deputy with Harris County as a deputy constable. As she so plainly put it, “I probably will serve until the day I die. I just love it.”