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Archive for the ‘Jeff Sutton’ Category

Philanthropy brings top minds in engineering to UH faculty

Posted on: September 28th, 2016


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.”

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.”

From the Army to the Classroom, One Cougar Alumnus Serves His Community

Posted on: July 6th, 2015

By Jeff Sutton

Kirk Chargois

Kirk Chargois (‘03) has always been one to chase, and achieve, his goals. Those goals have led him to join the United States Army, to earn multiple college degrees, practice law and teach middle school in the neighborhood where he grew up. Through all of that, a desire to serve has been a constant.

When Chargois was 18, he made the decision to join the army. “I was sick and tired of school and I didn’t feel like I was ready for college,” he said. “I just didn’t feel prepared. My goal was to jump out of airplanes, so I went airborne.” He spent four years as a member of the 82nd Airborne Division.

After his time in the army, he returned to his hometown ready for school and he enrolled at the University of Houston. During the ensuing 12 years his education at UH would start and stop multiple times while a member of the US Army Active Reserve, working for the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, getting married and welcoming two children to his family.

After earning his bachelor of arts in History in 2003, it was time to take on the next goal: becoming a lawyer. He resigned from the Sheriff’s department and devoted himself full-time to earning his J.D. from the Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University. He recalled, “I clocked in and I worked all day studying. Friday afternoons were family time, Saturday morning I was right back at it.”

His hard work and dedication paid off when he took the Texas Bar Exam in February while still in school. He received word a few days prior to his commencement ceremony that he would graduate a licensed, practicing attorney. Chargois mused, “I graduated on a Saturday and on Monday I started working. I haven’t taken a vacation since.”

After seven years as a licensed lawyer, Chargois was ready for his next challenge. “I always wanted to teach,” he said. “I went to Teach for America because that was the fastest avenue I could get to a school I would want to work in.” With the knowledge that he wanted to work in an urban school, he jumped at the opportunity to return to the Sunnyside neighborhood where he grew up, accepting a position at Woodson Middle School teaching eighth graders.

Aside from crediting a family history of service, Chargois added, “I have a big heart for kids. I love teaching. It satisfies something in me that’s always been there, to make a difference in kids’ lives. I feel pride when some of the kids who people would have normally cast aside see potential in themselves. If I can be a part of that, and I see that I am for some already, that’s my real motivation.”

Chargois cited a 2013 study that ranked Sunnyside, where he spent his youth, the sixth most dangerous neighborhood in the nation. He sees a neighborhood that mostly resembles the one he remembers, albeit with some real differences. “It’s still quiet, during the daytime. At nighttime, it’s a different story.” He uses that familiarity to relate to the students he teaches, giving him the ability to say “Look, everything you have to say as far as excuses, I’m not going to listen. I grew up two blocks from Worthing High School, and I saw the same things you see.”

He notices how students react to their experiences, explaining that “they really appreciate doing things, anything. Field trips? They are totally engrossed in a field trip, because they haven’t been exposed to a lot. They appreciate when you show true involvement, and they reciprocate.”


When talking with Chargois, it’s clear his time at UH played a strong role in how he approaches teaching. He spoke fondly of the impact his professors had on him, adding, “I had great professors. I really enjoyed my experience at UH because I saw professors like Dr. Philip Howard and Dr. Sarah Fishman who were there to challenge students and not just be there for the sake of it. Once a professor or teacher sees your interest in learning, they’ll make the effort to push you and help you. I had that experience at UH.”

While spending the last two years teaching, he has also maintained the law practice he built. He has continued doing transactional work, including estate planning, probate, business transactions and contracts while teaching full time, saying, “I don’t sleep a lot.”

With plans to take on teaching beyond the two-year term with Teach for America, Chargois wants to remain involved with AmeriCorps even after he finishes teaching. Whatever this dedicated Cougar decides to add to a list that includes army veteran, peace officer, student, lawyer, teacher, and father, it’s sure to involve being of service to his community.