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Pratt Beth Olson



Meet the Lence Award winners



Tolliver wins Chinese Debate



Not quite a walk in the park



Do you know this alumna?
She races MINI Coopers


Powell and Khator

Khator on Tier One, Legislature

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CLASS Commencement

Hofheinz Pavilion, once again, served as the site for the CLASS Commencement ceremonies last month, with 925 undergraduate and graduate candidates, along with their friends and family members, attending this great day in the academic life of our students and our college.

Couldn't make it or just want to relive the pomp and circumstance? Not to worry. We have it covered. Below you’ll find links to the entire event, along with the links to the speeches by the undergraduate and graduate student speakers, and the introduction of each candidate by department or school.

The Graffit-e staff, along with all CLASS faculty, staff, and administrators, send our congratulations to our new graduates!

Commencement videos open in stand alone player.

Sarah Fishman   Keel   Indriyati

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Valenti School Update

Screenshot of Powell and Olson

Things are moving pretty quickly over at the Jack J. Valenti School of Communication. Back in February, Lance Funston (’67 Political Science) made the first major gift to the School. The $1.5-million, 2-to-1 matching contribution from Funston, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Telamerica, Inc. of Pittsburgh, Pa., was added to existing gifts and pledges to fund a Media Technology computer lab, a student television production studio lab, a new entry to the school, and a new lobby and study area. Funston challenged the University to raise additional private funds to match his gift to accomplish this ambitious makeover of the Valenti School.
(Read more about the gift and watch an interview with Funston in the February 2009 issue of Graffit-e.)

The Valenti School has more than 1,500 communication majors each year, making it one of the largest academic units at UH. It offers degrees in Journalism, Media Studies, Public Relations and Advertising, Media Production, Interpersonal Communication, Corporate Communication, and Health Communication.

Beth Olson, Director of the Valenti School, sat down recently with Graffit-e editor John David Powell to talk about the School’s plans.


Hecker, Wen, and Leasure, Lence Award recipients

Each year, CLASS honors three outstanding faculty with the coveted Ross. M. Lence Teaching Excellence Award. This year’s class breaks down the normal boundaries of the classroom and each considers herself a mentor and a partner in her students’ academic success. Their students tell us these faculty members transformed and enriched their lives. As Associate Dean Sarah Frishman said in making the announcements at last month’s CLASS Commencement, “We are extremely fortunate to have such talented, dedicated and inspirational colleagues and I am honored to present this award, which comes with a plaque and a $3000 prize.”



Rachel Hecker, Visual and Performing Arts

Rachel Hecker, Associate Professor of Painting and Associate Director of the School of Art, has enhanced the school’s curriculum and developed strong relationships with the Houston art community to increase funding for scholarships. But her primary mission is to teach painting to studio art majors. So you might be surprised at the opening statement in a letter from one of her colleagues who wrote, “Rachel doesn't’t try to teach Art.”

The colleague explains, “You can teach techniques, but you can’t teach art. What Rachel does is put students in situations where they are provoked into an understanding of the possibilities of their creative energies and passions.” Hecker has incredible talent, combined with profound knowledge of art and art history. But she never tries to force a student into a particular medium or technique. Instead, she “searches for the passion within a student and develops that.” As one student explains, Hecker’s teaching “allowed me to grow in ways I never dreamed of.” Another student writes that Rachel encourages students to ‘grow and think for themselves as they arrive at their own solutions and conclusions in their personal journey.”



Xiaohong Wen, Humanities

Xiaohong (Sharon) Wen, Associate Professor of Modern and Classical Languages and Director of Chinese Studies, teaches one of the most difficult languages for those of us coming from western language traditions to learn. And yet, her students love learning to reads, write, and speak Chinese. Wen’s innovative curriculum incorporates technology, online learning, popular songs, and videos. Her students regularly win the annual speech competition sponsored by the People’s Republic of China Consulate in Houston. Students pressed CLASS to create a major in Chinese Studies and Wen shepherded that proposal. Although approved just two years ago, our program has more Chinese majors than any other university in Texas. An MBA student who had no Chinese language training took part, with Wen’s enthusiastic support, in the Beijing Study Abroad program. After completing her MBA, she went to live and work in China. She explains: “Dr. Wen’s courses helped me to be able to speak to Chinese people ABOUT Chinese things, not just speak “American with Chinese words.” On her student course evaluations, one student called her the “greatest language instructor in the world.” Another student simply drew a picture of a heart.



J. Leigh Leasure, Social Sciences

J. Leigh Leasure, assistant professor of Psychology, teaches a class that fills most Psychology majors with dread: Physiological Psychology, a scientifically rigorous examination of human physiology and the biological basis of human behavior. As Leasure admits, most students register for the class with the enthusiasm of a visit to the dentist. The student who nominated Leasure experienced that dread, but Leasure has a gift for making what the student labeled “difficult and tedious coursework” relevant and understandable. In the end, for this student, the course became her favorite part of the week. Leasure believes curiosity is essential to learning. To spark her students’ enthusiasm for the brain, she encourages questions and uses her ‘nerdy enthusiasm’ for all things neural. One student who returned to college after 25 years, took Leasure’s course. Twelve students signed a letter attesting that not only did they all love her class and met regularly after class to continue their discussions of important issues, but they also continued meeting to talk about the material after the semester ended. One student wrote, “I’m planning on going to grad school just to learn more from her.”

Hobby received award



Former Texas Lt. Governor and former UH System Chancellor Bill Hobby, a Research Associate in the Center for Public Policy and a CPP Advisory Board member, received the 2009 History-Making Texan Award from the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin at the fifth annual Texas Independence Day Dinner in March. You can learn more about the award and watch his acceptance speech by clicking here.

BBC features Moores professor



Check your local listings for the British Broadcasting Corporation’s documentary Mendelssohn, the Nazis and Me, which premieres June 26 as part of the observance of the 200th birthday of composer Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy. Jeffrey Sposato, Associate Professor of Musicology in the Rebecca and John J. Moores School of Music, is a featured expert in the film directed by Sheila Hayman, a descendant of Mendelssohn’s sister.

“Ever since I was a child, I've had a strong affection for his music. In fact, the first vocal solo I ever performed was a section from Mendelssohn’s Elijah,” Sposato says. “I later became very interested in theology, and his unique religious background intrigued me. He was born into a Jewish family, but was raised as a devout Lutheran.”

Sposato has written several articles on Mendelssohn, and the book The Price of Assimilation: Felix Mendelssohn and the Nineteenth-Century Anti-Semitic Tradition (Oxford, 2006). The book, which was also released as a paperback this year, examines how Mendelssohn’s Jewish roots threatened his reputation as a Christian composer. Such controversy caused him to distance himself from his heritage by aligning his early works with 19th century anti-Semitic musical traditions.

“This documentary brings the Mendelssohn story that I researched for my book to the 20th century,” he says. “For me, it was astonishing that Mendelssohn was still viewed as Jewish during his lifetime, despite the fact that he was baptized and had written a tremendous amount of Christian sacred music. Even more astounding is that the film depicts how Mendelssohn's descendents, who were Christians, continued to be viewed as ‘tainted' even in the 1930s.” (Mike Emery)

Smith on Houston’s economy



Barton Smith, Professor of Economics and Director of the Institute for Regional Forecasting, recently wrote a commentary asking Is the Federal Government Too Big. Smith looks at the emotional question of whether government is too big, and if so, in what way. He points out that we need to understand what appears on the surface to be a rather subtle distinction between government expenditures and government spending; but, in reality, it’s a distinction crucial in sorting out whether the stimulus plan was bad or good and whether the huge federal deficits we face this year can be controlled. Read the full commentary here.

Hernandez receives $375K NIH grant



Arturo Hernandez, Associate Professor of Psychology and Director of the Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience Initiative, received a two-year, $375,000 National Institutes of Health exploratory grant to examine how brain activity changes in children learning a second language. Hernandez’s Laboratory for the Neural Bases of Bilingualism in the Department of Psychology will look at how expertise in a second language, and the age at which this learning begins, affect brain activity in 8-12 year olds. The grant will allow Hernandez to expand his research and to recruit more bilingual children to participate in the studies.

“This population is of great societal importance because of the large number of bilingual children entering the school systems,” Hernandez explains. “Bilingual children’s brain activity is incredibly sensitive to the amount and type of language exposure. The most interesting part of this is that unlike adults, children show much more flexibility in the language that has been used in the last few months or years. This flexibility can lead them to become better at their second language in a relatively short period of time.”

The Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development’s Child Development and Behavior Branch funded the grant, which could extend to a third year. (Brandon Moeller, ’03 Journalism)

Phillips retiring, leaving Creative Writing program



Robert Phillips, Professor of English and a John and Rebecca Moores Scholar, leaves UH after 18 years with the Creative Writing Program. Phillips left a successful career in advertising to move from New York City to direct the program from 1991 to 1996. He has published 10 books of poetry, three books of fiction and numerous essays, criticisms, interviews, and editions. His writing has been featured in dozens of anthologies and is often heard on public radio's Writer's Almanac with Garrison Keillor. His honors include a 1996 ENRON Teaching Excellence Award, a Pushcart Prize, an American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Award in Literature, a New York State Council on the Arts CAPS Grant in Poetry, MacDowell Colony and Yaddo Fellowships, a National Public Radio Syndicated Fiction Project Award, a Syracuse University Arents Pioneer Medal, and Texas Institute of Letters membership.

Brenner on Kafka’s kitsch

Brenner book cover

David A. Brenner, visiting Assistant Professor in German and Humanities, looks at how Jews in Central Europe developed one of the first ethnic or minority cultures in modernity in his new book, German-Jewish Popular Culture Before the Holocaust: Kafka’s Kitsch (Routledge, 2008, 128 pages). Despite recent scholarship, the misconception persists that Jewish Germans were bent on assimilation. Although subject to compulsion, they did not become solely German, much less European. Yet their behavior and values were by no means exclusively Jewish; rather, the German Jews achieved a peculiar synthesis between 1890 and 1933, developing a culture that was not only middle-class, but also ethnic. Brenner also teaches courses in English and comparative literature in the Honors College.

From the Jack J. Valenti School of Communication. . .

Michael Berryhill, Assistant Professor, has started a blog called Journalism at University of Houston to keep up with trends and stories. Says Berryhill: “I hope some of you will post comments, ideas and links to make it better. I'm particularly interested in how we as teachers can help students in understanding and preparing for change. I would love to hear from professionals out in the work world about how to do this. Bloggers often write about having conversations with their readers. That’s my ambition.”

Martha J. Haun, Associate Professor, has been selected by Medical Education On-Line as a reviewer for Students’ Perception of Problem-Based Learning: Experience of Qassim Medical College, Saudi Arabia. She also is judging the Advanced Biomedical Debate at the Health Organizations Student Association conference in Nashville, Tenn., June 25-27. In a separate division of the competition she will be cheering on her own parliamentary debate teams from DeBakey High School in Houston who recently won the state championship.

Brian Smith, soon-to-be Assistant Professor of Integrated Communication, received the Charles Richardson Award, presented to the most outstanding Ph.D. student in the Department of Communication at the University of Maryland.

The Valenti School of Communication Alumni raised more than $5,000 at its Third Annual Cougar Saltwater Open fishing tournament. Between 40-50 anglers participated; Amy Harwick (’03, Public Relations/Advertising) won the heaviest redfish division (7.15 pounds) and the heaviest stringer division (9.40) pounds.

Special thanks to Kim Maraldo(’03, Public Relations, Advertising), Cheyenna Brehm (’97, Journalism), Natalie Camarata (’06 Journalism), Katie Moyer (’08, Public Relations/Advertising), Kim Stoilis (’03, Journalism), Rachelle Dismukes (’07, Public Relations/Advertising), Chris Pinon (’01 Media Production), Emilee Fontenot (’05 Public Relations), Sandra Zamora (’07 Media Production), Tempest Solcich (’05, Media Production) and a special volunteer - Linda Maraldo. Her hard work and dedication to our organization led to some great auction items.

We also have two dedicated fishermen who work at UH, Ken Oliver and Mark Aycock. They secured $2,500 in sponsorships. Money raised provides scholarships to one graduate student and one undergraduate student studying communication.

Oberg and Milanesio Join UH History Faculty

The History Department has announced that Michael L. Oberg and Natalia Milanesio will join the faculty in the fall. Oberg, who comes as a tenored professor of History, earned his Ph.D. at Syracuse University. He is the author of several articles and books, including the recently published, The Head in Edward Nugent's Hand: Roanoke's Forgotten Indians (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 2007). Milanesio, who joins us as an assistant professor, recently completed her Ph.D. at Indiana University, Bloomington. Her dissertation is titled, Mass Consumption and Popular Material Culture in Peronist Argentina, 1946-1955. Her study explores the profound changes in Argentinean commercial culture both in symbolic and material terms, the redefinition of class and regional identities, and the transformation of the role of the state.

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Tolliver takes Chinese prize


Jiayou Pang; Siqi Dong; Marshall McArthur, Consul Guohua
Yan, Director of Education Office, Consulate General of the
People’s Republic of China in Houston; Jing Zhang, Consul
Jun Tang; Meng Yeh; Xiaohong Wen, Director of Chinese Studies

This spring, the Chinese Studies Program, the only such program in the Lone Star State, held its annual Chinese Language Debate Contest for Chinese-speaking students from around Texas. Anthony Tolliver took the top prize, the Chinese Ministry of Education Study Abroad Award that provides a pretty-much all-expenses paid year of study to any university in the People’s Republic of China. So, don’t look for him around campus next semester. Stacey Robbins, a first-year Chinese Studies student, took second place.

Below is a slide show of some of this year’s participants and guests.


Anthony Tolliver


Stacey Robbins

Calaquian and Nguyen

Loy Calaquian and Hansen Nguyen

Rogers and Denniston

Juliane Rogers and Charles Denniston


Guohua Yan

Hinton and Maadonio

Michael Hinton and Andrew Madonio


Issac Medina


Interim Dean Joe Pratt


Hildegard Glass

Herrera first CPP Legislative Intern



Mirel Herrera, a junior majoring in Political Science, is the first University of Houston Center for Public Policy Legislative Intern. Herrera worked as a full-time legislative intern in the Austin office of State Senator Mario Gallegos during the recently concluded legislative session. Mirel is actively involved in numerous issues ranging from higher education to voter identification. She first gained experience as a CPP government intern on the Rick Noriega for U.S. Senate campaign. She also worked as an intern with the Obama for America campaign in New Hampshire and Pennsylvania, and as a field organizer for the Harris County Democratic Party Coordinated Campaign. She plans to pursue a graduate degree in public policy and make public service and politics a central focus of her career.

Blevins interns in D.C.



Natali Blevins, a senior with a double major in Psychology and Political Science, works in the office of U.S. Rep. Gene Green (’77 Law). She’s been heavily involved in grassroots politics, and has become passionate about environmental and child advocacy issues. She worked as a Center for Public Policy intern for Houston Council Member Melissa Noriega (’83 Education). She became actively involved in helping Hurricane Ike victims. She also worked with Rebuilding Together Houston. Blevins will graduate upon her return from Washington D.C., and wants to get a law degree.

Alexander best Texas flutist



Daniel Alexander topped 73 entrants at the 24th Annual Texas Flute Society's Myrna W. Brown Artist Competition in Denton last month. Alexander is a doctoral candidate from the studio of Aralee Dorough in the Rebecca and John J. Moores School of Music. Alexander can soon be heard on a CD of chamber works by Christopher Rouse with the Calder Quartet for imminent release on Koch, and organizes the Cambridge Flute Masterclass in England with his former teacher Ransom Wilson. He also teaches two undergraduates at the Moores School of Music, and has performed live on Houston's KUHF radio. A semi-finalist of the New World Symphony, Daniel also won the University of Houston Concerto Competition in 2008 and will perform Steve Reich's Vermont Counterpoint as part of a group of alumni from the Yale School of Music at the National Flute Association convention this summer.

Creative Writing students receive fellowships

Lauren Berry received the Diane Middlebrook Poetry Fellowship from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which offers one-year fellowships to poets and writers who have completed an M.F.A. or Ph.D., but who have not published a book. She will teach creative writing workshops and work on her manuscript, Mosquito Fever Speeches, which explores ideas about girlhood in the South.

Farnoosh Fathi received a U.S. Student Fulbright Fellowship in Creative Writing. The nine-month grant will allow her to go to Brazil to complete a book of poems.

Edward Porter is the June University of Wisconsin-Madison Fellow. Porter’s getting his Ph.D. in Creative Writing and Literature, hoping for completion in May 2012. He will use his time at La Muse to finish revisions on the short story collection he has been working on over the past three years titled, The Changing Station. The title story of the collection, published first in the Colorado Review (Spring 2008), was selected for the Best New American Voices 2010. La Muse is a retreat in southern France for writers and artists and UW-M Fellows.

Jaramillo Wins C.W. Moores Fellowship

Alejandra Jaramillo, a Ph.D. candidate in Mexican history working with Prof. Susan Kellogg in the Department of History received the 2009-2010 C.W. Moores Fellowship for advanced female graduate students from CLASS. She will use the fellowship to continue researching and writing her dissertation, Litigious Paupers: Natives and Colonial Demands in Tlaxcala, 1540-1750.

CLASS Cougars receive C-USA honors

Floyd Decathlete Morgan Floyd, a senior Psychology major from Sherman, Texas, made the Conference-USA Track and Field All-Academic Team, and infielder Blake Kelso, a sophomore Economics major from Pflugerville, Texas, made the Conference-USA Baseball second team. Kelso
Floyd   Kelso

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Summer master’s without a thesis

OK, so it’s not quite as easy as a walk in the park, but it’s a pretty good deal, Sparky. The School of Theatre and Dance will offer the start of a three-year thesis-less master’s degree this summer, an affordable and convenient way for busy theatre educators to get their graduate degree in three, short summer sessions.

Classes begin Monday, June 29, and run Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., through Thursday, July 30. Students will have long weekends free to study and to explore Houston’s exciting arts community. Students will spend the last five days taking an off-campus class and seeing productions.

Download the application instructions. For additional information, contact Jackie Demontmollin at

Hitting the boards

We really didn't know where to put the following information, because it’s about our School of Theatre and Dance M.F.A. students and alumni hitting the boards around the country this summer. So, we thought we’d be safe to include it the Academics portion of Graffit-e. After all, theatre is an academic discipline, OK?

Fourteen members of the MFA Acting Ensemble traveled to Memphis, Tenn., and Birmingham, Ala., to audition for theatre companies from across the country. Our actors received 200 callbacks, for an average of 14 per actor, which is pretty gosh-darn good. The whole group received 30 offers of employment, an average of two per actor.

“We’re really proud of these students winning these professional jobs,” said Jack Young, Head of Graduate Acting and Directing. “The Historical Outdoor Dramas play in venues that seat more than a thousand people. The Shakespeare Festivals need actors who can play several roles in dramas and comedies. Getting hired by these companies is a real-world recognition of the skills and discipline these students are gaining in the School of Theatre and Dance. They will spread the word about the University of Houston across the country as audiences see their school listed in their biographies in playbills.”

Theatre fans will see our actors at Shakespeare festivals in Texas, Virginia, and Oklahoma; in a New England summer stock company on Cape Cod; and at Historical Outdoor dramas in Texas, North Carolina, Ohio, and Indiana.

Shakespeare Festivals

Houston Shakespeare Festival—Annie Rubino (M.F.A. ‘09) as Maria in Twelfth Night
Oklahoma Shakespearean Festival in Durant—David Millstone (M.F.A. ‘09) as Malvolio in Twelfth Night
Texas Shakespeare Festival in Kilgore—Aaron White (M.F.A. ‘07) as Mercutio on Romeo & Juliet
Virginia Shakespeare Festival in Williamsburg—Laura Frye (M.F.A. ‘07) as Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing and Hermione in Winter’s Tale; Jessica Wilson (M.F.A. ‘08) as Hero in Much Ado About Nothing and Perdita in Winter’s Tale; Adam Van Wagoner (M.F.A. ‘09) as Claudio in Much Ado About Nothing; Chris Egging as Conrade in Much Ado About Nothing; Luis Gonzalez as an intern

Historical Outdoor Dramas

Lincoln Amphitheatre in Lincoln City, Ind.—Jackie Collier
The Lost Colony in Manteo, N.C.—Jon Sprik
Tecumseh! In Chillicothe, Ohio—Darnell Benjamin (M.F.A. ‘09) and Demetria Thomas
Texas! In Palo Duro Canyon—Russell Daniels and Stephanie Holladay


Monomoy Theatre, Chatham, Cape Cod, Mass.—Patrick Earl doing eight shows in 11 weeks, including playing Romeo in Romeo & Juliet, Dr. Seward in Dracula, Gray Leg in Honk, Henry Dobson in Anything Goes, Agamemnon Buckner in Is He Dead, and Harry Binion in Room Service
Main Street Theater, Houston—Aaron Glover in a world premiere musical featuring the music of Trout Fishing in America [co-writer Keith Grimwood (’75 Music)]
Sea World San Antonio—Leraldo Anzaldua (M.F.A. ‘09) in the Pirate Stunt Show


Free, Free, Free

UH students have the chance to get something FREE from the university. That’s right, free, with an F, with an R, with an E, and an E. The Discovery through Learning Initiative, set up last year as a research-based program, encourages all UH students to pick up the necessary skills to succeed in college and on the job.

CLASS-related workshops still available include:

Logo Writing Center

Writing Effective Research Reports - Part 2:
Results/Discussion, Conclusion, Abstract
Kyung-Hee Bae, Assoc. Director, UH Writing Center
3:00 — 4:30 pm, Wednesday, June 24 | Rm 102 Social Work Bldg

Research Writing: From Academic Journal to Popular Media
Kyung-Hee Bae, Assoc. Director, UH Writing Center
Mike Emery, University Communications and Valenti School of Communications
3:00 — 5:00 pm, Wednesday, July 22 | Kiva, Farish Hall

You can read more about the workshops in The Daily Cougar, and you can get more information by clicking here.

Find out more about the Writing Center.

Gulf Coast launches Web site


Gulf Coast: A Journal of Literature and Fine Arts, the flagship publication of the English department and the Creative Writing Program, launched its revamped Web site this month. The new site provides online content, including web-exclusives. What better way for hard-core Web addicts to spend the summer by the pool or at the beach than connected to the Internet and reading some of the best literary works from established and emerging writers from UH and across the nation? You laugh, but you’re already doing that by reading Graffit-e!

Noche Cultural highlights

Mindiola and CMAS students

Tatcho Mindiola, CMAS director,
and CMAS students

The Center for Mexican American Studies, held its 13th annual Noche Cultural Scholarship Banquet back in March. About 250 folks attended the event at the Hilton University of Houston Hotel to meet CMAS students and to pay tribute to Felix Fraga (’52 Art), vice president for external relations at Neighborhood Centers, Inc., recipient of the Distinguished Alumnus Award. After all was said and done, CMAS raised about $116,000 for the evening. Among the swells attending: UH System Board of Regents Calvin Stephens and Jacob Monty, former CLASS Dean and now Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost, John Antel, Houston City Council members Melissa Noriega (’83 Education) and Peter Brown (’58 French), and former State Representative Rick Noriega (‘84 Journalism).

The slide show below has some of the swells attending the event.

Fraga,Lovell and teammates

Felix Fraga, Houston City Council member Sue Lovell, former Fraga teammates

Max and Rosario Castillo and John Antel

UH-Downtown president Max Castillo, Rosario Castillo, Provost John Antel

Odell,Stephens and Antel

John O’Dell (’69 Bauer), UH System Regent Calvin Stephens (’72 Bauer),
John Antel


UH System Regent Jacob Monty (’93 Law)

M. Noriega, R. Noriega and Brown

Houston City Council member Melissa Noriega (’83 Education), former State Representative Rick Noriega (’84 Journalism), Houston City Council member

Peter Brown (’58 French)


Irma Diaz-Gonzalez

State Farm Insurance

State Farm Insurance

Executive Associate to the President for Community Relations Jim Anderson,
Vice President for Student Affairs Elwyn Lee, Learning Assessment Executive Director Patrick Daniel (’83 Engineering, M.Ed. ’88)

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Colvard wears two crowns and races Mini Coopers



Michelle Colvard (’00 Psychology) wraps up an amazing year next month. Last July, Colvard, the reigning Ms. Wheelchair Texas 2008, became Ms. Wheelchair America 2009, crowned on the 18th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act. (Pop quiz: What CLASS alumnus is considered the Father of the ADA? Answer: the late Justin Dart, Jr. (’53 History, M.A. ’54 History), for whom the UH Justin Dart, Jr. Center for DisAbilities is named.)

Colvard is a Houston native, who was born with spina bifida and has used a wheelchair since the 6th grade. She graduated summa cum laude from UH and went on to earn her master’s degree in health promotions from The University of Texas School of Public Health. Her platform this year as Ms. Wheelchair America 2009 emphasizes the importance for people of all abilities to take responsibility for their health and wellness. Michelle stays active with daily exercise at her gym, and through recreational activity such as snow skiing, basketball, kayaking, and travel. Oh, yeah, and auto racing! She races her MINI Cooper in autocross competitions, even taking the checkered flag in her class. And, this month, Colvard joined Vision Racing as an honorary crew member for the Bombadier Learjet 550K at the Texas Motor Speedway.

She is the Executive Director of Houston’s Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities, past Chairperson of the Houston Commission on Disabilities, and the recipient of a Jefferson Award in recognition of her volunteer service. Among her achievements is her involvement in “Playgrounds without Limits”, Houston’s first inclusive playground for all children. As Ms. Wheelchair America 2009, Colvard helps prove that women who “happen to use wheelchairs” can be every bit as successful, vibrant, and powerful as other women.

Brown-Tatum a Blazing Star



Crystal Brown-Tatum (’96 Radio/Television), CEO of Crystal Clear Communications, this spring received a 2009 Blazing Star Award from the Women’s Chamber of Commerce of Texas. The Blazing Star Award honors Texas women on the success fast track. Brown-Tatum is the only Houstonian and African-American woman among this year’s honorees.

“I am extremely honored to have been recognized by fellow female peers for my hard work and perseverance,” says Brown-Tatum. “This distinction nicely caps out my personal battle with breast cancer over the past two years and serves as a reminder that despite the numerous obstacles one may face, with determination and focus, your dreams can become reality.”

Brown-Tatum also received the 2006 Women on the Move award from Texas Executive Women

Parsons to announce Primetime Emmy Awards nominations



Jim Parsons (’96 Theatre) will join actress and fellow Houstonian Chandra Wilson (Gray’s Anatomy) and Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Chairman and Chief Executive Officer John Shaffner on July 16 to announce the 61st Primetime Emmy Awards nominations. Parson’s just concluded the second season of the CBS comedy series The Big Bang Theory, where he plays Sheldon Cooper.


Fenton U.S.A. cultural ambassador



Frances Fenton (M.M., ’02 Applied Music) became one of the first cultural ambassadors in the Obama administration, singing recitals in Bavaria, Germany, for the U.S. State Department in March. Her accompanist was the Lifetime Turkish National Artist, Mehmet Okonsar. They appeared in various cities, including Munich, and on the Bayerisches Rundfunk (Bavarian Radio) to unanimous critical acclaim.

Falconer receives big writing award



Blas Falconer ( Ph.D. ’02 English), a professor at Austin Peay State University, received the Maureen Egan Writers Exchange Award, which gives emerging writers the opportunity to interact with the literary community in New York City. Falconer has won numerous honors, and he’s the author of A Question of Gravity and Light, a collection of poems published by the University of Arizona Press in 2007.

Conley lands new gig



Tara L. Conley (English ’04) will be the new Associate Editor for, a virtual magazine and social networking venture set to launch this summer. She’s also a blogger for and contributes to The Huffington Post. Besides being a writer and press-hounder, she’s a singer, documentarian, photographer, painter, thinker, basketball player, and runner. She’s produced two mini-documentaries, A Region of Survivors, a 2005 film about hurricane Katrina survivors, and The Foe Within: A Docupoem in Three Parts, a 2008 short about the Jena Six controversy.

Molbeck moves to CEO

HCC Insurance Holdings Inc. named John Molbeck Jr. (’68 Political Science) as chief executive officer. He replaces Frank Bramanti, who is retiring from the Houston insurance group, but will remain on the board. Molbeck keeps his role as president of HCC (NYSE: HCC).

Richards new poetry editor



Jim Richards (Ph.D., ’03 Creative Writing and Literature) is the new poetry editor for Irreantum: a Review of Mormon Literature and Film. For his day job, he’s a member of the Brigham Young University-Idaho English faculty, teaching literature and creative writing. He has served as poetry editor of Meridian Magazine (online) and as a staff editor at our own Gulf Coast, A Journal of Literature and Fine Arts. His poems have appeared in The Texas Review, Perspective, Literature and Belief, and BYU Studies.

Prince on Joy and Sorrow



Not that Prince, but this Prince is just as hip in his own way. Prince Varughese Thomas (M.F.A. ’96 Studio Art/Photography) recently received the Carol Crow Memorial Fellowship from the Houston Center for Photography, and his 2009 Fellowship Exhibition, On Joy, On Sorrow, runs through June 28 at the center. Thomas is a naturalized Indian-American citizen born in Kuwait and raised primarily between India and the United States. Utilizing photography, video and installation, and influenced by his personal observations, Thomas’ artwork poetically questions sensitive global issues. On Joy, On Sorrow is a two-channel video that projects abstracted fluids on opposing walls. He has exhibited at The Alternative Museum, New York; Center for the Visual Arts, Toledo; Contemporary, Atlanta; Gallery of the National Library of Argentina; New Jersey Center for Visual Arts, Summit; The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; The Queens Museum, New York, and the Society for Contemporary Photography, Kansas City. His work is held in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Thomas is an Associate Professor of Art at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas.

Kelley exhibition at G Gallery

Kathy Kelley (M.F.A., ’06 Graphic Communication), is a recipient of a Houston Arts Alliance Emerging Artist Fellowship. Her exhibition, Feet of Shadows Trudge This Space of Absence is showing through June 29 at G. Gallery in Houston.

Halaka’s exhibition closes in D.C.



John Halaka (M.F.A., ’83 Art) just concluded an exhibition at the Jerusalem Fund Gallery in Washington, D.C. Landscapes of Desire was inspired by the ruins of Palestinian villages and homes destroyed by Israel during and after 1948. Halaka is an activist artist whose creative work serves as a vehicle for meditation on personal, cultural and political concerns. The primary focus of his work over the past 25 years can be summarized as an ongoing reflection on the frailty and resilience of the human condition and the persistent search for self-realization in the face of personal and cultural self-delusion. Halaka is of Palestinian descent and was born in El Mansoura, Egypt, in 1957. He is a Professor of Painting and Drawing at the University of San Diego, where he has taught since 1991. He has exhibited in solo and group exhibitions nationally and internationally.

Jay wins Stevens award



Julia Jay (Ph.D. ’90 English), an English professor at San Jacinto College Central, received a Minnie Piper Stevens Award, signifying that she ranks as one of the top college educators in Texas. She also received the award in 1998. She’s been at San Jac Central since 1987. The Minnie Stevens Piper Foundation operates the Piper Professors Program to honor college educators for outstanding scholarly achievements and exceptional dedication. The foundation bestows the state award annually, along with a $5,000 honorarium, to 15 outstanding professors from two- and four-year colleges and universities, public and private.

Bogle keeps writing



Ann Bogle (’94, English and Creative Writing) is rather prolific in her craft, writing letters, journals, poems, prose poems, literary essays, short stories, and short novels. She has written a book of mixed-genre prose (story, aphorism, essay, and diary) called Work On What Has Been Spoiled. Her short stories have appeared in The Quarterly, Fiction International, our own Gulf Coast, and the Washington Review, among other publications. A selection of mixed-genre passages titled This Was Called War at One Time appeared in Neuromantic Fiction. She received a Minnesota State Arts Board grant for mixed-genre writing in 1998. And, she’s been nominated to have a chair at the Minneapolis Public Library named for her and other Minnesota writers.

In memoriam

Janet McKenzie Oerting
(’81 Art)
April 2009


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President Khator Tier One video interview

The 81st session of the Texas Legislature recently adjourned with the passing of two historic higher-education bills that have great significance to the University of Houston and the school’s drive to be the state’s next Tier One research university.

One bill, a Constitutional amendment, creates a fund to finance top-tier research by UH and the state’s other emerging research universities. The other bill, enabling legislation that provides a pathway to access those funds.

Rick Perry signed the enabling legislation into law earlier this week.

Texas voters decide the fate of the constitutional amendment in November. If passed, the amendment establishes the National Research University Fund, a dedicated fund for universities meeting specific national standards, such as the annual amount of federal research expenditures and the number of doctoral degrees award each year.

Here to talk about this is Renu Khator, Chancellor of the University of Houston System and President of the University of Houston.

Videos will open in a separate window

Screenshot of Powell and Khator Screenshot of Renu Khator Screenshot of John Powell

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Arts and More

Blaffer raises $100 Gs

Blaffer Gallery, the Art Museum of the University of Houston, raised just over $100,000 last month at RenGen Remix, its annual benefit gala. Around 225 Blaffer friends and supporters attended the event, inspired by the current Existed: Leonardo Drew exhibition (see next story), held at the New World Museum and catered by Armandos. Swells had their pick from a buffet that included a variety of potent potables, grilled barbecue ribs and chicken, and steak fajitas, sweet fried plantains, shrimp cocktail, nachos topped with chili con queso, cream-filled churros, and other pastries. Houston’s Cuban band Siákara laid down the Caribbean rhythms for those wishing to dance or just needing some Cubano inspiration for their silent-auction bids. The joint really started jumping at 10 p.m. when after-hours ticket holders arrived and DJ Patrick Drew began spinning energetic dance music.

Gala hosts included Judy and Scott Nyquist, Patrick Drew, Karen and Steve Farber, Ryan Gordon, Michelle Aviña, Steven Hempel, and José Solis. Special guests included included former CLASS dean John Antel, senior vice president for academic affairs and provost for the University of Houston, and his wife Susan; honoree Leonardo Drew, exhibiting artist at Blaffer Gallery; honoree Claudia Schmuckli, director and chief curator of the museum, with her husband Matthew Drutt; incoming board chair Gordon Goodman and his wife Gatsonia (M.E. ’91); outgoing board chair Russell Sherrill and his wife Lisa; and a host of other art world luminaries.

“RenGen Remix was extremely successful in terms of both revenue raised and enjoyment had by guests,” said Schmuckli. “It was fresh and fun, and our patrons were charmed by the change in format which included a sprawling buffet dinner, a silent auction, live entertainment, and discounted after-hours tickets for those looking to dance to the tunes of DJ Drew. It was the perfect event for these difficult economic times and we will look back on it as a model for future fundraisers.”

RenGen Remix was sponsored by PaperCity Magazine, Starbucks, and Armandos.

LeDay and Glus           Goodman           Jim and Jo Furr                     

Blaffer exhibition: Existed: Leonardo Drew

Blaffer Gallery, the Art Museum of the University of Houston hosts Leonardo Drew’s first mid-career survey in the United States. Existed: Leonardo Drew, now through Aug. 1, includes a major installation created in the gallery space, 14 major sculptures realized between 1991 and 2005, and 12 works on paper made between 2005 and 2008, which together offer a representative survey of Drew’s artistic development and speak to the relevance of the direction of his work today.

Throughout his career, Drew has been continually engaged with the cyclical nature of existence. Made to resemble the detritus of everyday life, his formally abstract, but emotionally charged, compositions have an aesthetic authority and metaphorical weight that are unique, transcending time and place in a celebration of things eternal. These works range from the intense drama of his sculptures and installations of the 1980s, to the epic sweep of his massive wall-bound tableaux of the 1990s, to the ethereal language of his paper casts of the early 2000s. Add the poetic intimacy of his recent works on paper, and Drew’s practice can be described as a journey toward enlightenment, full of reprises and returns as well as new beginnings.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a comprehensive monograph, the first on this artist, published by Giles Ltd., London, featuring essays by Blaffer Director and chief curator Claudia Schmuckli and Allen S. Weiss, Associate Adjunct Professor of Performance and Cinema Studies at New York University.

Following its Blaffer debut, Existed: Leonardo Drew travels to the Weatherspoon Art Museum in Greensboro, N.C., from February 7 through May 9, 2010.

Find out more about Blaffer Gallery and the exhibition, and watch some video interviews with the artist, by clicking here.

Band camp around the bend

Band Camp Logo

The University of Houston 2009 Cougar Band Camp gets going next month, July 12-17. Camp organizers hope to have about 300 students this year. All students entering the sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth grade, who have completed one year in band, will be in one of four middle school / junior high bands. All students entering the tenth, eleventh, twelfth grade or college will be in either the High School Symphonic Winds or Wind Ensemble. 
Get complete details and registration.

UH awards $50 million housing project

New Dorm

Hardin Construction Company of Atlanta, with a branch office in Austin, starts construction on campus this month of a $50-million, seven-story, 300,000-square-foot residential facility (a.k.a. dorm), with completion scheduled for fall 2010. This new facility will house incoming freshmen as part of UH’s goal to increase the on-campus residential population and, ultimately, to house the entire first-year class on campus.

The facility will have 1,172 beds, resident advisor offices, a social lounge, a computer lab, multi-purpose rooms, a fitness room, and a convenience store. It will be the first time since 1970 that the university has dedicated a residential facility specifically for freshmen.

Women’s Resource Center and UH Libraries Summer Book Club

The Women’s Resource Center and UH Libraries present their Summer Book Club, open to all students, staff, and faculty. Join them Tuesday, June 30, at noon in the WRC, UC Satellite, Room 7.

Their two summer picks are great reads, and very different from each other, so read one or the other, or both! They’ll start with The Sweetness from the Bottom of the Pie, a great new murder mystery by Alan Bradley, a 70-year old Canadian and first-time author. Bradley created a wonderful 11-year-old female protagonist in 1950s England who is forceful, precocious and entertaining.

The second book is Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace, a new memoir by mystery author Ayelet Waldman, who addresses the challenges of being a mother and the often unrealistic demands placed upon mothers today. She writes with unflinching honesty with major doses of humor and insight.

Khator on Tier One legislation and safety and security task force


President Khator

June 1, 2009
Dear Colleagues and Friends,

I want to share some very, very good news with you today. After all of our hard work in letter writing, testifying, visiting legislators in Austin, and earning community support, we can declare victory in our efforts to secure a pathway for the University of Houston to attain Tier One status.

Late last night, the Texas Legislature passed two historic bills - the Constitutional amendment that creates the fund needed to finance top-tier research by UH and all the state's emerging research universities, and the enabling legislation that provides a pathway to access those funds. The enabling legislation still awaits the Governor's signature before it becomes law.

The Constitutional amendment will be put to a state-wide vote in November 2009, and we plan to engage the support of our alumni, our community leaders, and the UH System family in a drive to educate voters on what additional Tier One universities will mean in terms of economic growth for Texas. We are hopeful voters will pass the amendment.

My admiration and gratitude go to members of our UH System Board of Regents, most notably Chairman Welcome W. Wilson, Sr., and Regent Nelda Luce Blair, who devoted many hundreds of hours of their own time to be in Austin at crucial times during the session. I also want to congratulate our legislative team in Austin - Vice Chancellor for Governmental Relations Grover Campbell and Assistant Vice Chancellor Laura Calfee - for their steadfast commitment, brilliant leadership, and considerable talents in presenting our case before our legislators.

And I especially want to thank our legislative delegation. They stood strongly with us and provided invaluable leadership and support that made passage of these two key bills possible.

Building upon this constitutional and legislative foundation, the University of Houston will be in the strongest position ever to complete our Tier One journey.

I want to thank all of you who wrote our legislators, or called them, or helped in any way. I am proud of you and your efforts. Now,  let's set our sights on getting the constitutional amendment passed next November.

While the University of Houston has made considerable efforts to maintain a safe and secure campus, we must always be striving to improve. Indications are that we fare well in our standards and policies when compared with other metropolitan universities, however I would like to further heighten our safety awareness and efforts.

Whether real or perceived, the issue of campus safety demands our attention.

To that end, I am appointing a 13-member task force with members from the campus community, the Houston Police Department, Harris County law enforcement, and neighborhood businesses to ensure that we seek the broadest solutions possible.

Specifically, I am asking this task force to:

1. Conduct a comprehensive examination and evaluation of University of Houston campus safety by reviewing crime on the campus; campus safety and security standards and practices; and campus safety and security standards and practices on similarly situated universities throughout the state and the nation.

2. Investigate alternative means of enhancing safety and security on the campus; and

3. Recommend changes in policies and practices that will accomplish the goal of a safer campus community and environment.

I'm pleased that UH System Board of Regents member Nelda Luce Blair and Chief of Police and UH Assistant Vice President for Public Safety & Security Malcolm C. Davis will serve as co-chairs.

Other members include:

John Antel, UH Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost; Elwyn Lee, Vice President for Student Affairs; Mary Elizabeth Pelz, Dean of the College of Public Service at UH-Downtown; Captain Jay Jones, Houston Police Department South Central Patrol Division; Kenneth Fomunung, President, UH Student Government Association; Dan Wells, President, UH Faculty Senate; Sandy Coltharp, President, UH Staff Council; Apollo Woods, Residential Assistant with UH Residential Life and Housing; Mark Annas, community liaison for Harris County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management; the Rev. Leslie Smith, CEO, Families Under Urban and Social Attack Inc.; and Karen Clarke, Associate Vice President for University Relations.

Campus safety must remain a top priority for us because it cuts across every area of student success and national competitiveness. I'm confident that this task force will provide useful recommendations that will allow us to make our campus even safer and more secure.

Warm Regards,
Renu Khator

Sidewalk repairs continue at the Cullen Family Plaza.

Cullen Plaza

June is break-up month on the UH campus as crews repair the concrete walkways around the Cullen Family Plaza. Although not as bad as Cullen Boulevard (maintained by the City of Houston), wear and tear over the years provided for unwanted opportunities for accidents. The project, the top priority of the Wheelchair Committee, is the result of inspections conducted during last fall’s Walk in the Dark campus tour.

Operas and International Piano Festival headline Moores dates

Spring at the Rebecca and John J. Moores School of Music brings a spectacular line up for our enjoyment.

Tickets and Information: 713-743-3313

Box Office hours: Monday-Friday, 9 am-4 pm
Box Office personnel will confirm phone orders for tickets during business hours only.
View calendar for updated event information.

For all concert information and box office rules, please visit the MSM website!



Saturday, June 27, 7:30 pm
Josep Caballé-Domenech, conductor
Cynthia Woods Mitchell Young Artist
Competition Winner, soloist
Strauss: Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks
Rachmaninoff: Symphony No. 3 in A minor

Saturday, July 3, 7:30 p.m.
Barry Jekowsky, conductor
Elmar Oliveira, violin
Bernstein: Symphonic Dances from West Side Story
Barber: Violin Concerto, Op. 14
Theofanidis: Symphony (commission premiere)


Tuesdays, June 9, 16, 23 and 30, 7:30 pm
Chamber music at its best with TMF faculty artists, guests, and the TMF Jazz Project.

Classical Minds Guitar Festival and Competition

June 26 - July 2
In conjuction with the TMF. Find more information here.

Rocky Horror Show on the slab for 2009-10 UH Theatre season


The University of Houston School of Theatre and Dance is geared up for a season of firsts. Local theater favorites Paul Hope and Leslie Swackhamer will direct productions with the school for the first time. And, in a season first, plays directed by two of our master of fine arts candidates will bookend the season in fall and spring.

Also during the 2009-10 performance season, the school will present the UH debut of cult classic The Rocky Horror Show (Oct. 21- Nov. 1) and the Houston premiere of Charles Mee’s Big Love (Feb. 26 - March 7). The school’s student choreographers will produce, for the first time, their fall dance concert in the 190-seat Jose Quintero Theatre.

The season will also highlight the Theatre for Young Audiences program touring a newly commissioned play to local schools and community centers.

This season will also be the first to offer an affordable Pick 3 subscription option, which offers three shows for $42. Cheap!

“The process of selecting a season for an academic theater is always interesting. Our season is essentially a ‘lab’ to train student actors, designers, dancers, choreographers, dramaturges, technicians, and stage managers,” explains Steve Wallace, SOTD director. “As a result, our audiences get to enjoy a very eclectic and entertaining season ranging from classics to more adventurous, contemporary offerings.”

Among the other highlights of next season are Christopher Hampton’s seductive Dangerous Liaisons (April 16 - 25) and MFA directing projects of Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler and John Guare’s Landscape of the Body.

Season subscriptions will go on sale June 1. Details on pricing options and dates can be found at or by calling 713-743-2929.

Sept. 25 - 27
Hedda Gabler by Henrik Ibsen; directed by Clinton Hopper, second-year MFA director. This production is part of the MFA Studio, which offers free performances of full-length plays.

Oct. 2 - 11
The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde; directed by Jonathan Gonzalez

Oct. 16 - 18
Landscape of the Body by John Guare; directed by Cheramie Howe, second-year MFA director. This production is part of the MFA Studio. Innocent small-town folk move to New York City in the 1970s and quickly find that murder, crime and porn are the standard of life.

Oct. 23 - Nov. 1
The Rocky Horror Show by Richard O'Brien; directed by Paul Hope.
Sex, aliens, and rock ‘n’ roll.

Dec. 4 - 6
Emerging Choreographers Showcase; produced by the UH Center for Choreography. Energy and space, form and beauty. There’s always something dramatic, interesting, and fun to see at this annual concert of up-and-coming choreographers. Performed in the intimate 190-seat Quintero Theatre.

Program:Best Christmas

Theatre For Young Audiences: Nov. 20, Dec. 4
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson. It’s 1972, and the rag-tag kids of the Herdman family are about to discover the true meaning of Christmas. Don’t miss the hilarious mayhem that ensues when they participate in a church play about the birth of Jesus.

Feb. 26 - March 7
Big Love by Charles Mee; directed by Leslie Swackhamer. Not to be confused with the HBO series about sister wives in Utah. This spectacular, inspiring production tells the story of 50 brides who flee to an Italian villa to escape their arranged marriages. Inspired by Aeschylus’ The Suppliant Woman, and fused with Mee’s bold and visceral theatricality, Big Love is a wild celebration of the transcendent power of love and human connection through song, dance, and an unforgettable throw down.

April 16 - 25
Dangerous Liaisons by Christopher Hampton; directed by Samuel Sparks. Not to be confused with, well, never mind. In pre-Revolutionary France, an elegant temptress and her ex-lover conspire to corrupt a recently married woman. When bets are made, intrigue and seductive games follow close behind. This elaborately costumed play brings us through passion, cruelty, innocence and revenge.

April 30 - May 2
Spring Dance Concert; produced by the UH Center for Choreography. Dance aficionados look forward to this annual show featuring contemporary works by faculty and guest artists that is set on the pre-professional dance company, the UH Dance Ensemble.

The School of Theatre and Dance offers bachelor’s and master’s degrees in theater and teacher certifications in dance. Its graduate program consists of a master of arts in theater and masters of fine arts in theater with specializations in acting, directing and design. The school has benefited from notable faculty such as Pulitzer Prize winners Edward Albee and Lanford Wilson, Royal Shakespeare Company founder Sir Peter Hall, and Tony-award winning Broadway legend José Quintero. Among current faculty are Tony Award-winning playwright Mark Medoff, Tony Award-winning producer Stuart Ostrow, and Broadway dramaturg Mark Bly.

More at CLASS

For more information about what’s going on at CLASS, please visit our News & Events page.

Make sure you visit the CLASS home page for more information about our programs, students, faculty, and staff.  Missed an issue of Graffit-e?  Catch up by visiting the online archive.

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