Egret nameplate   The magazine of University of Houston-Clear Lake
fall 2012 | volume 19 | number 1

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Making the Grade
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Creating Leadership
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For the Record
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Spotlight Story



For the Record

Working Together in Weightlessness

Pictured inside a specially modified 727-200 turbojet operated by NASA’s Reduced-Gravity Program are UHCL students (l to r) Chris Burns, Henry Ascencio and Paul Cusco. Other university teams on the aircraft are in the background.

Pictured inside a specially modified 727-200 turbojet operated by NASA’s Reduced-Gravity Program are UHCL students (l to r) Chris Burns, Henry Ascencio and Paul Cusco. Other university teams on the aircraft are in the background.

Three UHCL and two San Jacinto College North students got the chance of a lifetime this past April when they received the opportunity to test their research on a microgravity aircraft.

The UHCL/SJCN team was one of approximately a dozen student teams from universities throughout the country to participate in NASA’s Microgravity University - Systems Engineering Educational Discovery program. UHCL students in the program included team leader Chris Burns, Henry Ascencio, Paul Cusco and Elizabeth Hewer. Hewer served as ground crew/school outreach director for the project. SJCN students included Ryan Page, Jarrett Lockridge and Michael Norman, with much assistance from SJCN Professor of Mathematics and Engineering Nathanial Wiggins, Burns’ former professor and mentor.

SEED engages selected college and university teams in scientific research, and allows projects to be conducted during a series of parabolic reduced-gravity flights in a modified 727-200 airplane that flies a series of parabolic maneuvers over the Gulf of Mexico. Each parabola provides about 30 seconds of hypergravity as it climbs and about 15-20 seconds of microgravity as it descends.

Burns worked closely with Wiggins while enrolled at SJCN and continued this working relationship at UHCL when he contacted his former professor to build a combined team. His original interest in the program developed while still at SJCN after hearing a dean talk about microgravity. At that time, Burns got his first opportunity to fly in the microgravity aircraft while serving on a SJCN team.

The UHCL/SJCN project “Robotic Control Using Gesture and Voice: Use of Voice Commands and Body Motion to Control Robotic Components in a Microgravity Environment” allowed the students to use XBox 360 Kinect to experiment with a gesture- and voice-controlled robotics application. Their experiment included three components, which Burns and his team hope will eventually be helpful to astronauts in space.

Burns was thrilled to have a second opportunity in the plane, and definitely felt a little more prepared to focus on his experiment in the second flight, simply because he knew what to expect. He’s modest about the term “leader” though because, as he emphatically states, “We depend on each other, whether we are in the air or part of the ground crew. We have to step up and help each other out.”

“It’s hard to describe the experience and the opportunity to test an experiment while weightless,” says Burns. “I definitely urge everyone who has an interest in science, engineering or math to apply to one of the microgravity programs.”

University Geographer Explores Post-Disaster Housing Recovery

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has awarded Assistant Professor of Geography Deanna Schmidt a summer 2012 Research Fellowship through the Science and Technology Directorate Office of University Programs Summer Research Team Program for Minority Serving Institutions Program.

Schmidt and her team will be conducting research titled “Housing Recovery and Resilience: Assessing the Constraints and Facilitators of Post-Disaster Housing Recovery in Vulnerable Coastal Communities.” The research will identify the resources and knowledge that small coastal communities – with relatively limited internal resources – need to more successfully and equitably achieve post-disaster housing recovery. Through a comparative study of soundside coastal communities in North Carolina and Galveston Bay communities in Texas, the research will identify the federal, state and local policies, resources and capabilities that facilitate housing recovery efficiently and justly. Outcomes of the research will provide community leaders, public officials, planners and emergency managers practical suggestions to improve resilience to coastal storms.

This award provides more than $14,000 to Schmidt to conduct research in North Carolina in conjunction with the Department of Homeland Security Coastal Hazards Center of Excellence, affiliated with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The award also provides funding for two UHCL students to join the research team in North Carolina. Henry “Hank” Hodde, graduate student in environmental management, will work with Schmidt in North Carolina and Carlton Porter, an undergraduate student in environmental management, will gather Galveston Bay community data. This award provides the UHCL research team with nearly $30,000 in funding.

The fellowship establishes a long-term coastal hazards collaboration between UHCL and the UNC Coastal Hazards Center of Excellence. The UHCL/UNC team will apply for additional funding up to $50,000 for follow-up collaborative research during the 2012-13 academic year. The research program also will build collaborations with the Houston-Galveston Area Council, Texas Sea Grant, Texas A&M University and several organizations in North Carolina.

$1.5 Million in DOE Support

The School of Education has received a $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to provide professional development activities focusing on improving classroom instruction for English learners with an emphasis in the areas of mathematics and science. The Collaborating in the Academic Success for All grant partners with five area independent school districts including Alvin, Clear Creek, Deer Park, Galena Park and Pasadena to recruit eligible teachers and administrators to participate in the program.

The grant is the work of Professors of Bilingual and Multicultural Education Laurie Weaver and Judith Marquez.

“There’s a shortage of bilingual education, English-as-a-second-language, mathematics and science teachers in Texas,” says Weaver. “This shortage comes at a time when the number of English learners has increased dramatically — 51 percent nationally in the last decade. Today, more than 10 percent of the PK-12 populations in Texas schools are English learners,” she notes.

Clear Creek ISD experienced a 30 percent increase during the last five years, and Pasadena ISD has seen an increase of 300-500 English learners each year. Currently there are more than 26,500 English learners in the five participating school districts.

The CASA grant will provide 30 teachers from within the five collaborating school districts full scholarships to complete a master’s degree in multicultural studies with certification in bilingual education or ESL and with an emphasis in either mathematics or science. Thirty school administrators will receive professional development so they can support bilingual and ESL-certified teachers. UHCL faculty members will also use the grant on integrating instruction in their teacher preparation courses to provide all teacher education candidates with the knowledge and skills to meet the needs of English learners.

Grad Student Goes Global

Graduate student Brittany King

Graduate student Brittany King

Earlier this year, graduate student Brittany King was selected to participate in the Clinton Global Initiative in Washington D.C., after submitting her Commitment to Action that addresses campus, community or world challenges.

King, who will receive her Master of Business Administration degree this fall, joined students from every state in the U.S. and more than 80 other countries for the event held at George Washington University, where nonprofit leaders, entrepreneurs, celebrities and about 1,000 students gathered. Her goal is to empower women in leadership to be agents of social change by launching sustainable social enterprises.

Her plan, called “Project Passionista,” outlines her vision to take young women from fashion-focused knowledge to being passionately focused on making a difference. She earned a full travel scholarship to the event.

While in Washington, she was chosen to participate in the Clinton Global Initiative University Exchange, which afforded her the opportunity to showcase her social change ideas to other attendees. She was also one of approximately six students chosen by co-host Jon Stewart to ask President Bill Clinton a question, which was then aired on C-SPAN.

“It was especially inspiring for me as President Clinton encouraged me as a single mom, and domestic abuse survivor, to continue to be the voice of those whose voices may be silenced by their own struggles,” says King.

King also participated in a service project where she and fellow students visited two inner-city homes to paint doors and windows and remove yard trash for elderly and single parent residents.

Professor of Management Roger Durand championed King’s nonprofit efforts while she was a student in his graduate class, “The Global Environment of Business.”

“She was an exceptional student – talented, studious, thoughtful and intelligent, and she works easily with others,” says Durand. “On a personal level, she is highly motivated and I have complete confidence in her. It’s unusual to see someone so motivated toward nonprofit work.”

Now a motivational speaker, King recently founded the nonprofit organization Foundation for the Future, which offers information and a network for young women seeking social entrepreneurship and personal success.

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Last Updated: October 2012
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