The Young Ones: The 2015 Outstanding Young Texas Exes

The Outstanding Young Texas Ex Award, initiated in 1980, recognizes consummate professionals whose career achievements are matched only by their service to the university. What unifies the recipients is that they are all extremely accomplished before turning 40. This year’s winners include experts in fields as diverse as nanotechnology and university admissions, plus two journalists—one in newspapers and one in magazines.


Kedra Ishop
BA ’97, MEd ’00, PhD ’08, Life Member

WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW: Was a member of UT’s first varsity softball team. Avid reader (next on her list is Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman) “I’m trying to reinvigorate my triathlon bug. I went hardcore for a couple of years and then I got really busy at work.”

THE FUTURE OF HIGHER EDUCATION: “Education will be accessed differently, through digital mediums instead of by sitting in a lecture hall. There will be more MOOCs and more interdisciplinary classes. What I hope is that we don’t lose sight of some of the aspects of the college experience that we call traditional—engaging with other students not like themselves, the non-academic parts of college life.”

Many people take decades to find the right career. Not so for Kedra Ishop, who started volunteering in UT’s Office of Admissions her freshman year and has been working in college admissions ever since (with the brief exception of a six-month stint in the corporate world in 1997).

Ishop spent more than 20 years on the Forty Acres, rising steadily through the ranks of the admissions office while simultaneously earning three degrees and becoming a parent. In 2009 she became UT’s vice provost and director of admissions, and last year she left her home state for an even bigger role as associate vice president for enrollment management at the University of Michigan. She’s stayed in admissions, she says, because of the chance to shape students’ futures.

“The most rewarding part and the toughest part is knowing that you’re making decisions that affect students’ and families’ lives,” she says. “I take that really seriously.”

Ishop tempers that sentiment by noting how tough it can be for parents and students to stay grounded when playing the college admissions game these days. “My own experience applying to school was nothing like the experience that students have now,” she says, recalling that as a 17-year-old she applied to the University of Zurich in Switzerland because it sounded cool. “The political nature of admissions, the investment, the anxiety from a student and school perspective, the end-of-the-worldness that comes with this process—it’s changed.”

She’s no stranger to the political nature of admissions. Ishop’s tenure at UT included the contentious Hopwood v. Texas and Fisher v. Texas lawsuits over race in admissions (the Supreme Court has signaled it may take up the Fisher case again later this year). Michigan banned the use of race in admissions in 2006. “We have to think differently within the bounds of the law,” she says. “We adjust and keep moving forward.” —Rose Cahalan


Jake Silverstein
MFA ’06

WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW: First published piece in Harper’s was “The Devil and Ambrose Bierce,” a story about searching for the American writer who mysteriously disappeared in Mexico circa 1914.

THE FUTURE OF PRINT JOURNALISM: “I have no doubt that there is going to be contraction over next 10-15 years in the industry. It’s a trying time but I also think it’s an exciting time because it’s a chance to be a part of redefining how these stories are being told and how readers are interacting with these media brands.”

Jake Silverstein traveled an indirect route on his journalism journey. Born in Oakland, California, Silverstein attended college at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. After graduation, he worked for Harper’s Magazine in New York City as a fact checker before taking a job in Marfa as a reporter with the Big Bend Sentinel. It would appear that he was headed for a career in journalism.

Not quite yet. He quit his job and moved to New Orleans to work as a carpenter and in the service industry. Then he switched courses again and attended Hollins University in Virginia, earning an MA in English, before heading Southwest once more for a Fulbright Scholarship in Zacatecas, Mexico.

Then once more, he changed directions, and that’s how he ended up in the MFA program at UT’s Michener Center for Writers in 2003.

“I came into UT with a vague sense of what I wanted to do,” Silverstein says, “and came out with a really clear sense of what I wanted to do and how to do it.”

During his time on the Forty Acres, Silverstein wrote what would become his debut novel, Nothing Happened and Then It Did, a blend of fact and fiction based on his life as a reporter in Marfa. He dove headfirst into journalism, accepting a senior editor position at Texas Monthly in 2006, shortly before becoming the magazine’s editor-in-chief. During his tenure, the magazine was nominated for 12 National Magazine Awards and won four. In March 2014, he was hired as the new editor-in-chief of The New York Times Magazine, where he initiated an almost yearlong complete redesign of the 118-year-old publication.

“I wanted to take a magazine that has always been one the great magazines in the country, but by all accounts was in need of a fresh jolt of energy,” Silverstein says. “The chance to do [that] with The New York Times Magazine, where you’re operating on global platform, is really exciting.”

Inheriting a magazine in the “print is dead” era is no easy task, however, and Silverstein has met his challenges head-on, not only through the print product, but on video, digital, and social platforms. One piece he commissioned, “Small Plates,” in which six second graders were treated to a seven-course tasting menu at the world-famous Daniel restaurant, is the most viewed video in the history of The New York Times.

“What I see as the role of The New York Times Magazine in the next 10 years is twofold. Almost in a proud and somewhat defiant way, it’s continuing to make a great print magazine after the skeptics said print wouldn’t be around,” Silverstein says. “And at the same time, be an engine of innovation as far as how the larger New York Times company is figuring out what the digital future looks like.”—Chris O’Connell


Muhammad Mustafa Hussain
MS ’04, PhD ’05

WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW: An avid film lover (Gladiator, Apollo 13, Braveheart, Speed, and Forrest Gump are among his favorites)

FAVORITE SPOT ON THE UT CAMPUS: Bass Concert Hall and the Texas Exes Cowboy Pavilion

HOW HE BECAME INTERESTED IN NANOTECHNOLOGY: “I wanted to be an astronaut. When I went to USC, one day I saw the cleanroom where chips were being built. Everyone inside the cleanroom was wearing a bunny suit. It kind of resembled the astronaut suit.”

THE FUTURE OF ELECTRICAL ENGINEERING: “I think our main challenge and opportunity is to take engineering to the masses. How can we make it simpler, make it more accessible, make it more cost effective?”

A good engineer, especially a researcher, is a lot like a good detective. Both are driven by curiosity, both must organize and put in order complex information, and both must be able to see a logical process in the smallest details. Growing up in Bangladesh, the youngest son of a physician father and a mother with a master’s degree in literature, Muhammad Mustafa Hussain was a curious problem-solver and a hard worker interested in math. His hero was a detective, naturally: Sherlock Holmes.

As an associate professor at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Thuwal, Saudi Arabia, and principal investigator of its Integrated Nanotechnology Lab, Hussain is solving mysteries he hopes will lead to better electronic devices.

“I have always wanted to build new things,” he says, “and the academy provides the best possible environment to be creative. We can try anything wildly imaginative.”

His career began in Austin, pursuing advanced degrees at UT. While studying electrical engineering, he was invited to join a research project at the nonprofit chip-manufacturing research consortium SEMATECH. The project was expected to take nine months. Hussain started just after Labor Day and finished by the end of November. Discoveries from his PhD research eventually made their way into Intel, Samsung, and Panasonic microprocessors. “That experience inspired me so much that I did everything I could to think inventively, to work harder,” he says.

After a remarkable career at SEMATECH, he now gets to dig into even bigger mysteries, ones he hopes will unlock the next generation of mobile devices. Today’s electronics work well, he notes, but “they are not physically flexible, stretchable and reconfigurable in shape and size. If we can add this ‘fifth dimension,’ then we can use them for purposes which are not possible today.”—Andrew Roush


Jamie Stockwell
BJ ’99, Life Member

WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW: Hates sitting still. To beat job stress, she runs, does yoga, and hikes. Loves live music.

PET PEEVES: When writers say someone “fled” from the scene. “No, they just ran away.”

THE FUTURE OF PRINT JOURNALISM: Stockwell acknowledges that print will eventually die out, though not for five, 10, or even 20 years. “We’re very focused on having great digital stories right now, interactive stories and engaging stories. We have to tell stories that are relevant and important. What do you do to make people want to pay for your content? Nobody knows the answer yet, but I’m confident we’ll solve that puzzle.”

Jamie Stockwell tackles the question with a resoluteness that reveals she’s answered it many times before: “Newspapers are not dying.”

“There will always be a need for news,” Stockwell says. “People have an innate need to know what’s going on in their community, their country, and the world. What’s changing is the medium.”

Graduating into the dot-com bubble, Stockwell has seen journalism change rapidly in less than two decades.

Stockwell got her dream job after college as a crime reporter for the Washington Post. “I knew I really wanted to do crime reporting,” she says. “As a kid, my two biggest heroes were Nancy Drew and Edna Buchanan, a Pulitzer Prize-winning crime reporter.”

Stockwell says crime reporting provides the best literary material. “It has all the elements of a great story: a protagonist, antagonist, a climax.”

At 24, Stockwell covered the 2001 attack on the Pentagon. She recalls watching body bags being loaded from the Pentagon onto trucks. “It was surreal,” she says. “But as a young reporter, I was proud to be there. I knew it was going to change our nation.” A year later, Stockwell was a lead member of a team of reporters on the 2002 Beltway Sniper case.

After eight years with the Washington Post, Stockwell was ready to return to her home state. She took a crime editor position with the San Antonio Express-News.

“Being closer to family was my main reason,” Stockwell says. “But I also wanted a chance to give back to Texas journalists.”

In 2011 she became the newspaper’s managing editor and now tries to invest in other young journalists. “I had so many great mentors while I was at UT, I wanted to bring in young graduates and give them a chance too.”

The first thing she tells students? News will aways be here, and she has no intention of doing anything else.

“A lot of industries are having to evolve, and ours is one of them,” she says. “We have to evolve, adapt, and change. I like to be challenged though. I don’t want it to stay the same forever. I’d get bored.”—Anna Daugherty

Photos, from top: University of Michigan Photo Services; Kristina Loggia; Anna Donlan (2).


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