Lori Holleran Steiker Wins UT’s Largest Undergrad Teaching Award



Something fishy was clearly up outside the School of Social Work this afternoon. The trumpet section of the Longhorn Band played arpeggios on the sunny lawn, a grinning student jogged by with a cluster of orange and white balloons, and about 15 professors and students gathered on the steps, talking in hushed voices and glancing around nervously. There was a great deal of giggling.

At 2:15, UT student Kennon Kasischke shepherded everyone inside. “Shh!” someone urged. Then Kasisch and Jordan Metoyer, who together chair the Friar Centennial Teaching Fellowship, held open the doors of the Utopia Room, a large auditorium, and the crowd tiptoed in. When the trumpeters blasted the first notes of “Texas Fight,” the class erupted in cheers and clapping. Students looked up from their notebooks with confusion and surprise that soon turned to laughter. And at the front of the classroom, Lori Holleran Steiker smiled and shook her head in disbelief. [Watch a video of her reaction here.]

“Wow, this is such an honor. It’s the passion and the energy of my students that feeds everything I do,” she said after she’d been handed a giant check. “I’m so thankful and I love you guys so much—oh, my family is here!” Holleran Steiker exclaimed as her husband, son, and father walked down from the back of the auditorium to embrace her.

An associate professor in the School of Social Work, Holleran Steiker is a nationally recognized expert on substance abuse and the prevention and treatment of drug and alcohol addiction in youth. She’s also the winner of a long litany of teaching awards—but none with a presentation quite like this.

In addition to being the only UT teaching award that involves ambushing a professor mid-lecture, the Friar Centennial Teaching Fellowship is the largest undergraduate teaching award at UT. Since 1987, the students in the university’s oldest honor society have been soliciting nominations for the most inspiring, challenging, smart, and fun teachers on the Forty Acres. It’s a major project that involves gathering nearly 200 nominations, visiting classes to observe, and interviewing colleagues and former students of the nominees. Selected entirely by students, the award has gone to campus legends like Jim Vick, Sheldon Eckland-Olson, and Elizabeth Richmond-Garza.

This year, says selection co-chair Metoyer, Holleran Steiker stood out. “We talked to so many former students who said she completely changed their lives,” Metoyer says. “They’d say things like, ‘I’m the person I am today because of her.’”

Holleran Steiker is the first social work professor ever to receive the $25,000 honor.

Kennon Kasischke, left, presents the 2014 Friar Centennial Teaching Fellowship to Lori Holleran Steiker.

Photo by Anna Donlan.



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Jordan Spieth Heads to his First Masters (and Shares Fashion Choices)


Former Longhorn Golfer Jordan Spieth Makes the Presidents Cup

2013 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year and former Longhorn golf standout Jordan Spieth hasn’t made the cut at the upcoming 2014 Masters Tournament yet, but he is locked into a wardrobe for the week.

Set to begin next Thursday, April 10, Spieth will wear a generally toned-down suite of Under Armour gear, culminating with a green shirt on Sunday—odd considering there’s a slight, though not impossible chance for the 20-year-old to sport a green jacket by day’s end if he wins.

Spieth, 20, left UT after his sophomore year to join the PGA Tour and was the youngest American ever selected for the Presidents’ Cup. He’s currently ranked 13 in the world.

While not nearly as gauche as wearing white to a wedding, Spieth’s fashion oversight will surely be overlooked by fans of the former Longhorn if he clashes two shades of green on Sunday, though they may wonder why there isn’t any burnt orange in the mix.

Photo courtesy UT Athletics.


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UT Takes Charlie Strong on Tour



New UT football coach Charlie Strong has stayed out of the spotlight this winter and spring, focusing on building his team and getting to know his staff. That changes on April 19, when he’ll begin a whirlwind tour of the Lone Star State.

The “Texas Comin’ On Strong Tour”—complete with a bus plastered with the coach’s punnable name—will stop in 12 cities over 30 days, UT announced yesterday. In addition to the coach, a slate of other big names—including president Bill Powers, men’s athletics director Steve Patterson, women’s athletics director Chris Plonsky, and several to-be-announced alumni and letterwinners—will make appearances at some of the stops.

Tickets for the tour are $15 for adults and $8 for youth. They officially go on sale tomorrow, but Texas Exes members get first pick at 2 p.m. today (check your email for the members-only promo code).

Photo courtesy Texas Athletics.


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‘Because I’m Happy’: A Longhorn Fan’s Musical Tribute to Austin [Watch]


Dan Ndombe is from the Congo and goes to school at the University of Central Arkansas—but he also bleeds burnt orange.

“The first time I visited Austin was for SXSW in 2009,” he says, “and I’ve been totally in love with the place and the university ever since.”

Ndombe says he’s made a point for the past four years to visit Austin and UT for the South by Southwest festival. But this year work and school interfered and he wasn’t able to make it. So he took to YouTube to create a musical love letter to his favorite city—a cover of Pharrell Williams’ song “Happy,” performed entirely by tapping cooking pans and wine glasses with two pencils.

The result is, well, infectiously happy.

“This is my way of participating even though I couldn’t be there,” Ndombe says. “I wear the colors and horns proudly everywhere I go!”

Ndombe, who studies computer science, tells us he’s hoping to attend UT for grad school. After this video, we’re rooting for him.

Can’t see this video? Click here.


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DISH Deal Doubles Longhorn Network’s Reach


In the latest victory for sports fans frustrated by the Longhorn Network’s limited coverage, the channel announced this week that it will be picked up by DISH Network—putting it in front of some 12 million total viewers.

A partnership between the university, ESPN, and Disney, the network has broadcast burnt-orange content (including, we must shamelessly mention, the Alcalde show) since 2011. The process has come with significant growing pains as the network struggled for space on cable providers, with a major breakthrough coming last August when it was picked up by Time Warner.

“We are excited to have DISH join the growing list of LHN providers,” athletics director Steve Patterson said in a release. “As we have said from day one, this is a long-term commitment and we are very proud of our partnership with ESPN.”

The DISH deal doesn’t take effect until this summer, but when it does, it will more than double the network’s reach to roughly 12 million subscribers, said ESPN spokeswoman Gracie Blackburn.

With reporting by Rose Cahalan


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Report: UT’s Startup Incubator Has Created 6,520 Jobs


Tower, Main Building, students 2012
For the past quarter-century, the Austin Technology Incubator—a startup hub based out of UT’s IC² Institute—has been quietly chugging along at the Pickle Research Campus in North Austin, helping new companies get off to a good start by providing office space, connections to investors, and other forms of support. Now the university has run the numbers to see how the incubator is affecting Austin, and the results are heartening.

According to a report released this week by UT’s Bureau of Business Research, the Austin Technology Incubator has created 6,520 new jobs and generated $880 million in economic benefits for Travis County in the last decade. The report, which relied on company surveys and economic modeling software, also estimated that more than $20 million in local tax revenue has come out of the incubator.

“The impact has been darn high,” says senior research scientist Jim Jarrett, who led the report. “ATI is a tremendous investment for local governments in terms of what they’re getting back.”

Of the 53 companies that have graduated from the tech incubator in the last 10 years, 39 are still in business, according to the report. Jarrett adds that the report may even underestimate the incubator’s benefits: “Of those 14 [defunct] companies, we weren’t able to measure their impact from the years when they were in business,” he says.

Among the incubator’s success stories: Molecular Imprints, a lithography company soon to be acquired by photo giant Canon; Spredfast, a social media marketing company that recently raised $32.5 million; Ideal Power, a clean-energy venture that went public last year; and many more.

Read the report in full here.

Photo by Marsha Miller courtesy The University of Texas at Austin.


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A Look Inside Harry Houdini’s Scrapbooks


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The Longhorn historians over at Not Even Past have a nifty little post up this week on magician Harry Houdini’s scrapbooks, which were made available online last fall by UT’s Harry Ransom Center.

The legendary magician and escape artist, who lived from 1874-1926, captivated the world with his death-defying capers, from wriggling out of a straitjacket underwater to breaking out of a coffin six feet underground.

He was also a scrapbooker. Houdini and his fellow magicians pasted photos of themselves and their peers, descriptions of favorite tricks (like “The Vanishing Horse”), newspaper stories, advertisements, and other miscellanea into books for safekeeping. In 1958, the Ransom Center acquired 10 of Houdini’s scrapbooks, some of which were created by other magicians before they came into Houdini’s possession. And last November, the center put them online for all to see. Visitors can flip through the scrapbooks in high resolution—we could practically smell the musty scent of yellowed pages.

The scrapbooks shed new light on the golden era of magic, when Houdini’s stunts drew audiences numbering in the thousands. As Not Even Past’s Charley Binkow writes:

This collection gives us a comprehensive understanding of what these magicians thought valuable; everything they saw as important or nostalgic or innovative they preserved in these books.  We can track their love of magic across a century and see the dynamic ways in which the field changed, in many instances by the collectors themselves. Almost every page of this collection bleeds an infectious love for the world of the supernatural and is well worth exploring.

Explore the scrapbooks here (and make sure to click on “Page flip view” to seem them in all their glory).

Page from “Magician’s Doings,” a scrapbook created by magician Harry August Jansen, then acquired by Houdini. (Harry Houdini Papers and Magic Collection, Harry Ransom Center).


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Another $5 Million Pledged for New McCombs School Building


Another $5 Million Pledged for New McCombs School Building
The McCombs School of Business knows a thing or two about investments, and so do its benefactors, who have made major investments in the school’s newest building. The University announced a new $5 million commitment today from Bob and Marcie Zlotnik, founders of Houston energy company StarTex Power. The gift will benefit the construction of Robert B. Rowling Hall, the next home of UT’s graduate business program.

Bob, BBA ’75, MBA ’80, and Marcie, BBA ’83, Life Members, are contributors to what administrators hope will be a $58 million total by March. The new building is named after former regent Robert B. Rowling, BBA ’76, Life Member, Distinguished Alumnus, who kicked off the campaign with a $25 million donation last year. Once construction is finished in 2017, the ballroom connecting the AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center and Rowling Hall will be named in the Zlotnik family’s honor. Two of the Zlotnik’s sons, Kevin and Mitchell, are current McCombs students.

The construction of Rowling Hall may spell the end for Players, a burger joint and longtime campus hangout that reached a 10-year deal with the University in 2012 that gave UT the power to terminate the restaurant’s lease with six months’ notice. UT would have to pay $100,000 for each year remaining on the contract.

The existing McCombs School buildings will be renovated with the help of a major donation from Jim Mulva, BBA ’68, MBA ’69, Life Member, and and his wife Miriam Mulva, and will be collectively renamed James J. and Miriam B. Mulva Hall.

Photo via the McCombs School on Twitter.


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Do Soulmates Exist? UT Grads Calculate the Odds [Watch]


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Just as we were steeling ourselves to endure the annual onslaught of pink hearts, saccharine clichés, and Hallmark marketing known as Valentine’s Day, a little something different landed in our inbox.

It’s called “Less Than One,” and it’s a short film and web quiz created by Arturo Perez Jr., BS ’06, with fellow Radio-Television-Film grads Drew Daniels, BA, BS ’08; Joel Sadler, BA ’10; James Tristan Moore, ’08; and Hillary Andujar, BS ’09.

The understated, wistful five-minute film follows a melancholy young couple as they debate the concept of soulmates and calculate the odds of finding theirs. After watching the film, viewers answer a series of questions—from what city you live in to how much physical attractiveness matters to you—before the site produces a value for “the number of people perfect for you” near your city. (Ours, for the record, hovered around a respectable 1.41.)

Perez says the project was inspired by a 2009 This American Life podcast in which a few Harvard physicists try to mathematically calculate the odds of finding a compatible partner. Rights to that specific story have since been optioned by Disney, according to Perez.

“The podcast started my girlfriend and me talking about whether soulmates exist or not,” he says. “She thinks they don’t exist, and I think they do. It’s one of those topics everyone has an opinion about. Is there ‘the one’ out there for each of us or not?”

Soon the question was starting dozens of argument among Perez and his filmmaker friends, who collectively scraped together $5,000 to shoot the short film in San Francisco. Perez’s girlfriend, Samantha Jayne, plays the unnamed woman.

“We didn’t make this film to sell anything or to say that there’s one right answer to the question,” Perez says. “We just wanted to get people thinking. If you believe in soulmates, maybe the statistical side of it will change your perspective a little bit. Or if you’re on the other side and you don’t believe in ‘the one,’ maybe the film will make you rethink your position.”

Perez is now at work on a feature-length film loosely based on the first online dating website.

Watch the movie below, and then take the quiz:

Less Than One from artperezjr on Vimeo.



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Longhorns Raise $30,000 for Junior the Wendy’s Guy—Now What?


Screen shot 2014-02-11 at 2.48.16 PMLast week, we brought you the news that Benjamin McPhaul, BA ’11, was raising money to help Ishmael “Junior” Mohammed Jr., the former cashier who earned a loyal campus following for his sense of humor and speed at the cash register of Wendy’s in the Union. McPhaul started a crowdfunding page after running into Junior near campus and learning that he is homeless.

Over the weekend, Longhorns posted hundreds of comments on the fundraising page wishing Junior well. “Even when it was a hard day at UT, coming across this man really made my day,” wrote one. “One of the best people I met during my college career,” said another.

In just two days, 1,532 people donated just over $30,000. “Our community is unbelievable,” wrote someone on Reddit. Even Wendy’s corporate office pledged to join the effort.

But by this week, all that positive energy had given way to a more cautious optimism as the complexity of the situation set in. McPhaul, who said he has met with Junior several times since Friday, sounded weary when we reached him yesterday. (Through McPhaul, Junior declined a request to be interviewed for this story.)

“Junior is scared for his life right now,” McPhaul said. “All the publicity has been a double-edged sword, because the donations could be a really good thing, but they could also potentially be a really bad thing. Other people in the homeless community are angry with Junior and he isn’t safe on the streets.”

McPhaul also said he doesn’t know whether Junior is ready to accept help. The Daily Texan reported this week that Junior “referenced alcohol multiple times” and said, “I’m trying to figure out what I’m going to do.”

“We keep setting up meetings for him with social workers and other professionals, but then he doesn’t show up,” McPhaul said. “We got him a cell phone and he lost it. At this point I’m not even sure he wants help, but we aren’t giving up yet. As a last resort, I would refund everybody’s money, but hopefully it doesn’t come to that.”

LBJ School of Public Affairs professor Pat Wong, who studies social welfare, poverty, and housing, says the challenges Junior may be facing are not uncommon.

“There are approximately 2,000 or so homeless people in Austin,” Wong said. “I think many people don’t know there are three homeless populations—homeless families, transient young adults, and the chronic homeless, and each has very different needs and circumstances … I think that $30,000 is a significant amount that could make a dramatic difference if Junior is willing.”

Benjamin McPhaul, left, and Ishmael “Junior” Mohammed Jr. Photo courtesy Benjamin McPhaul.


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