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Archive for the ‘Sarah Hill’ Category

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


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.”

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

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 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

Asking All the Right Questions: Emily Leproust (’01), Top Global Thinker

Posted on: March 7th, 2016

emily leproust

What if crops could self-fertilize? What if gene therapy could cure some of our deadliest diseases? What if data from our hard drives could be stored in DNA? These are some of the questions asked by Dr. Emily Leproust (’01), named one of Foreign Policy magazines Top 100 Global Thinkers and Fast Company’s 100 Most Creative People of 2015. With her illustrious work and growing company, Dr. Leproust is one of the top female executives in the world. She is the CEO and founder of Twist Bioscience, a company that manufactures DNA more quickly and cheaply than ever before. Despite the complicated, and sometimes controversial, nature of her work, she maintains a humble attitude, claiming that it is while on walks with her dog at the beach, near her home in San Francisco, that she gets her inspiration.

Leproust specialized in DNA chemistry as a student at the University of Houston (UH); now, she is a loyal donor who helps students to study at UH with their own chemistry fellowships. During her time at UH, under the professorship of Dr. Xiaolian Gao, she helped to create microarray technology that enabled thousands of small oligos (short pieces of DNA) to be synthesized in parallel. This was eventually patented. Born in France, her major epiphany while at UH was, “I’m not going back to France — I’m staying here!” The reason? She discovered just how receptive America was to the idea of one starting a company, as long as one worked hard enough. It was a spark she already had, as her parents had started their very own company when she was young. It seemed like the natural thing to do once she identified the need for DNA to be created more quickly and at a lesser cost than it was being manufactured. Soon, Twist Bioscience was born, and began manufacturing synthetic DNA using silicon instead of plastic.

Twist Bioscience has four major types of customers. The first group is made up of academics who need DNA to conduct research; the second group are medical researchers who use DNA at the beginning of experiments and use it to develop vaccines and drugs; the third group are those who make industrial chemicals; and the fourth are agricultural biologists who need DNA to increase crop yield.

The most important contributions to society that Twist Bioscience makes, in Leproust’s estimation, are threefold. First, she maintains that products, like plastics, can be manufactured in a sustainable way — without using oil — since her company’s customers use a yeast fermentation process which pulls carbon from the air. The second contribution is that Twist Bioscience contributes to human health through the development of new gene therapies that will cure many diseases. Thirdly, since these years are the golden era of biology by many scientists’ standards, Twist Bioscience is adding to the economic growth of the country. Genes are big business and as outlined earlier, there are many different uses and customers for this type of material.

So where does Leproust see her company in ten years? “I foresee a future where data is stored in DNA, as one of the market applications of our DNA synthesis.” Since data is a series of numbers, 0s and 1s, they can be sequenced in such a way that a building block of DNA corresponds with each number. That way, you would never have to be worried about your hard drive crashing. DNA stored data would always be accessible and could never be lost. “I also expect that we will integrate vertically within multiple market segments including industrial chemicals, pharmaceuticals and antibodies, among others.” she says. Leproust counts herself lucky to be able to make the world a better place. “DNA has a great potential to have a positive impact on humanity,” she says. She also believes in giving back, and has contributed to chemistry fellowship graduate students in the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics at UH. “You help your family,” she explains graciously. “I received a fellowship while at UH and I want to encourage others to be their best.”

Her advice for current UH students is: “Try to be your best every day. Strive to be the best at whatever it is you do.” Leproust certainly takes this sentiment to heart as she attempts to better the living conditions of the planet with her work in synthetic DNA.

To keep up with the exciting work of Dr. Leproust and Twist Bioscience, please feel free to follow them at @emilyleproust or @twistbioscience. Or you can visit

Dean Earl Smith and Dr. Glenn Ellisor Named Among OM’s Most Influential Optometrists in the Country

Posted on: January 11th, 2016

By Sarah F. Hill

Dean Earl Smith

Dean Earl Smith

The University of Houston College of Optometry’s (UHCO) dean, Earl Smith, O.D., Ph.D., F.A.A.O. (’72, O.D. ’72), is no stranger to honors and accolades. In 2010, he won the most prestigious award the American Academy of Optometry bestows — the Charles F. Prentice Medal. This past year, Dean Smith received a congratulatory email from one of his friends letting him know that he had also been named one of the forty-five most influential optometrists in the country by Optometric Management magazine. This recognition came from Optometric Management’s 50th anniversary celebration. The magazine, known as the leading practice management resource for optometry, also listed UH alumnus Glenn Ellisor (’82, O.D. ’84), the founder of Vision Source, as one of the most influential personalities in the field of eye care. Brien Holden, Ph.D. — an influential donor to the UHCO who named two large, state-of-the-art classrooms on the second floor within the Molly and Doug Barnes Vision Institute — was also recognized. Sadly, Holden passed away before the list was published.

Optometric Management’s methodology for compiling the list consisted of contacting key opinion leaders (KOLs) and asking for nominations for eye care professionals who “have contributed, are contributing or are likely to contribute to the betterment and/or advancement of eye care.” With more than 400 nominations, narrowing down the list to a mere 45 was no easy feat — and a minimum of three nominations were needed in order to appear on the list.

It is interesting to note that the UHCO has one of the highest “capture” rates in the UH System, with more than 75 percent of those receiving letters of acceptance deciding to attend UH. This can be attributed, in part, to the exceptional leadership of Dean Smith. When asked how he felt about receiving the OM nomination, Smith recounted: “Of course it is a great honor to be among this diverse group of eye care professionals. It’s also very good to see that OM recognizes contributions from all parts of the profession — many academics were named to the list, in addition to those in private practice.”

Dean Smith currently holds the Greeman-Petty Professorship in Vision Development, in addition to acting as the dean of the UHCO. He has spent his career focusing on how peripheral vision plays a part in central refractive development of the eye. This research has contributed to strategies that have slowed myopia, or nearsightedness, progression in children. At the Brien Holden Lecture Series in 2010, Smith discussed his experiments that included peripheral vision as well as central-based vision techniques to combat myopia.

dr glenn ellisor

Dr. Glenn Ellisor

Glenn Ellisor founded Vision Source in 1991 to encourage independent private practices to compete and thrive. Today, Vision Source cites 3,200 locations and nearly 4,000 optometrists. His model has inspired other independent optometrists to form alliances and strengthen their forces, as well. Vision Source has achieved the second highest ranking in Vision Monday’s exclusive listing of the Top 50 U.S Optical Retailers, published in May, 2015. The Vision Monday annual report highlights the industry’s leading organizations, and Vision Source appeared for the second year in a row on this list with a collective $2.21 billion in members’ revenues spanning its more than 3,000 locations in the 2014 calendar year. In addition, Dr. Ellisor has served on numerous advisory panels, industry and charity boards. Currently, he serves as Executive Chairman on the Vision Source and Smile Source boards, is a member of Global Optometry Giving Sight and Sight Ministries International boards, and a member of the optometric advisory board for United Healthcare.

Dean Smith and Dr. Ellisor have much more in common than just the illustrious award they were given this past year. For instance, they both work with their family members. Dean Smith’s wife, Dr. Janice Wensveen, is also a professor in the UHCO. Dean Smith says it is “fantastic” to work with his spouse, and that they often get to travel to conferences together and speak the same “language” since their research often coincides. Dr. Ellisor recently “hooded” his son, Wade (O.D.’15), at his UH graduation ceremony May. Now he works alongside his son and says it’s amazing to see how much Wade cares for his patients. His youngest daughter is a second year optometry student and his eldest daughter works in health care, as well. Vision Source essentially began as a family empire that Ellisor founded in 1991, with his wife helping with various aspects of both the Vison Source network, as well as the practice. The similarities between the two men don’t stop there: Dean Smith and Dr. Ellisor also give back to their alma mater. Both are substantial donors who, in their free time, love to scuba dive.

Despite advances in optometric research, there is still plenty of work to be done. Dean Smith says that between 1970 and the year 2000, myopic disorders in Americans increased by 60 percent. We are well on our way to being in contest with East Asia, where 90 percent of high schoolers identify as nearsighted. Trials are being conducted currently in Australia and China with lenses that Dean Smith has developed and he has hopes that this trend of worsening eyesight in the U.S. will not continue. Interestingly, one of the things we can do to slow the myopia in children is have them be outside in nature. “Not being outdoors enough is contributing to poor eyesight in children,” said Dean Smith. He urges parents to get those young people outside more often!

As far as helping the younger generation, Ellisor has some advice for UHCO students, who work a rigorous schedule to become doctors of optometry: “Keep your head down and work hard. I promise it’s worth it. You will be the best trained optometrists once you’ve graduated.” Both Dr. Ellisor’s and Dean Smith’s careers in optometry are evidence of that fact.

Tommy Lott (’59): A “Helping Hand” for UH Students

Posted on: October 8th, 2015

Tommy Lott

Giving back to his alma mater of the University of Houston (UH) is important to Tommy Lott (’59) — and for good reason. He was the first of his family to attend college and he used his degree from Bauer to become a well-respected business leader. “A great deal of people helped me do what I’m doing today. I was given a lot of opportunities,” he says. “I didn’t do anything without help and now I’m trying to give back.”

Lott and his family left East Texas when he was a junior in high school. He arrived in the diverse, intimidating town of Houston, a self-proclaimed “country boy.” He enrolled at the University of Houston, paying his way through what was then a “commuter school” by working at a grocery store. He immediately found kinship as a part of Tau Kappa Epsilon (TKE), a fraternity on campus. “The fraternity life was a tremendous asset to people like me, who were living off campus,” he says, “It introduced me to friends I still have today.” And he remembers coming from a small town to the city as an “enlightening” experience — “I met and went on to develop meaningful relationships with people from all over the country,” he remembers.

Lott graduated from UH and married his wife, June, three years later. He has worked in a variety of different positions throughout his life; during his newlywed years, he was working for a manufacturer. He was able to create a network of business mentors and partners — they gave him a “hand up” by guiding his decisions until he eventually founded his own food brokerage company with the help of a retail broker who he had worked for back during college. The company, Lott Marketing Company, opened seven offices across three states. When the industry consolidated in 2012, he sold, but he remains on retainer as a consultant to this day.

In light of his successful career, he has a key piece of advice for students at UH studying business: “Expose yourself to some sort of business during college.” In other words, real world experience is extremely beneficial to starting one’s career. “Even if you don’t have to work to put yourself through school, find a way to intern or volunteer so that you gain some type of business experience and begin to develop your network of relationships which can be every bit as important in your career as your degree,” he says.

Lott comes back to campus about once a month for a Cougar Lunch with his old buddies from UH, and he has a football suite with one of his fraternity brothers. He’s not sorry to admit that he believes that the better we are in Athletics, the more people come to appreciate a coach like Coach Herman, and the better UH’s national presence will be. It’s already gaining momentum: “I’m proud of our President’s vision,” he states.

That vision is what inspires him to give back — and he does so in a multitude of ways. The reason is simple: people once helped him. Lott contributes to Athletics, to the Pathways to Success Scholarship and to the Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management. “I want to help train the next generation of food service professionals,” he says. He also gives to Bauer, the Annual Fund and his TKE fraternity. Having a tie to the campus at the University inspires his giving. “Come back and take tours!” he encourages other alumni. He believes that there is no better way to stay connected to what is going on at the University and to want to support such an energetic expansion.

Aside from his penchant for investments and developing apartment complexes, Lott sits on the board of directors of the Community Bank, Enviro Water Minerals Company (EWM) and the Hermann Park Conservancy. He is proud of the work the Conservancy has done to improve the environment at Hermann Park. He loves the city of Houston and says it is a “well-balanced” place, with oil, real estate and the medical sectors all booming. He also enjoys golf, traveling and spending time with his two children, Ron Lott and Sandra Lewis, and his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He may be busy, but has no plans to slow down anytime soon. Conference calls, emails and meetings keep every day an exciting new adventure — just like the one he started many years ago, as a fresh-from-the-country, eager student at UH.

-Sarah F. Hill

Natalie Powell (M.S.W. ’14): Presidential Management Fellow and Social Justice Champion

Posted on: September 8th, 2015

natalie powell

by Sarah F. Hill

Applying for the Presidential Management Fellowship (PMF) Program is not for the faint of heart. The first requirement is a graduate degree. Then, one takes a personality test with a writing portion that requires the applicant to complete multiple essays. It goes on to include hours of in-person interviews and, eventually, the number of applicants is whittled down from 7800 to 600. This past year, one of those 600 was Natalie Powell (M.S.W. ’14). Only then was she able to apply for a job as an analyst, making policy and budgetary recommendations for the federal executive branch of the U.S. government. For Powell, that included another exhaustive online application process followed by several interviews, some on the phone and some via Skype. She was finally awarded a two-year fellowship with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in Washington D.C. This program fast-tracks young professionals and allows them to work, not at the entry level, but as advanced degree-holding experts in their respective fields.

It is uncommon for the PMF program to accept social workers, yet so important. “The federal government is acknowledging that social workers have a unique perspective and are apt to understand how policies impact real people, every day,” says Powell. The rich experience she garnered at the UH Graduate College of Social Work (GCSW) made her a perfect candidate for this challenging work in a specialty known as macro social work. Macro social workers focus on changing larger systems and deal in a variety of areas, such as policy, administration, and community organizing, instead of working in clinical settings. “I knew coming into the GCSW what I wanted to do (macro social work) and UH gave me the skills to achieve my goals.”

During her first year in the M.S.W. program Dr. Suzanne Pritzker helped Powell attain an internship with the Texas House of Representatives. This internship gave her the skills necessary to advocate for real policy changes. At the GCSW, Powell’s projects and research centered on immigration reform and advocacy for undocumented families. Her passion for this issue stems from her family who immigrated from Guatemala and El Salvador seeking to provide a better future for her family. “This issue is very personal to me,” Natalie admits.

powell texas house rep

You may have read one of Powell’s op-ed pieces on immigration, either for the Houston Chronicle or The Hill, out of Washington, D. C. Both were written during her tenure at the GCSW. When not advocating for those less fortunate, she is literally helping out at the ground-level, volunteering at shelters and hearing immigrants’ stories. “Families from Central America come to the U.S. with nothing – but they have no other choice. The other choice is certain death from violence,” she explains. And around campus, she found a way to give back, as well – by working for the Center for Student Involvement. “The most important thing I learned during my time at UH is that one individual can make a difference and my dedication to social justice wasn’t a distant dream, but an achievable goal,” says Powell. “This theme was present in every course and internship provided to me. Each small triumph towards this goal was celebrated and recognized.”

While her career is on an upward trajectory, this “triumph” she feels is sometimes overshadowed by the needs and the vulnerability of populations in U.S. cities and throughout the world. “Globally and in the U.S., access to basic rights are withheld daily. As a social worker, I see the struggle to uphold and equally provide these rights as the most important issue in our society. In my work I’ve witnessed the violation of these rights in many forms, including human trafficking, homelessness, and lack of access to drinking water, affordable healthcare and a fundamental education. I’ve also witnessed a broken immigration and justice system,” she explains. “I believe if each person takes a small step towards establishing these rights we can make a big difference. What you do matters.”

With the same intensity she approaches her important social justice work, Powell enjoys the outdoors. Powell moved to Alaska after her husband, who is also a PMF, received an appointment in 2014. She loved hiking Mt. Alyeska and being out and about in nature. She also enjoys all matter of creative endeavors, such as drawing and painting. She is now on her way to Washington, D.C. for the next chapter in her busy life. That’s not to say she doesn’t miss some aspects of Houston. She called Humble home for the majority of her life, and, after joking that she misses the food in Houston most of all, she says of the city: “It’s such a dynamic place. People in Houston come together as a community and support each other.”