College of Natural Sciences

Photo Credit: Sian Rips | Daily Texan Staff

Improv plays a lead role in helping some young scientists communicate.

Last spring semester, College of Natural Sciences lecturer Amira Pollock taught an honors seminar centered around practicing improv theater to help young scientists improve their skills in teamwork, awareness, positivity, spontaneity and adaptation to failure.

The class, called “Improvisation Foundations for the Science Student,” centers around games and activities that engages student participation and teaches basic improv principles, Pollock said. Due to the time-consuming nature of the games, the seminar was offered in six two-hour sessions, as opposed to the typical twelve one-hour classes.

“At the beginning, we watched a few TED Talks (about the benefits of improv) and (Pollock) told us to go to an improv show,” seminar student Vivian Tat said. “Then (in later classes) we would play the (improv) games.”

The games were designed to eliminate hesitation and promote quick thinking, active listening and attention to detail, Pollock said. One of the greatest tools taught by improv is the “yes and” technique, through which one player both accepts a suggestion and adds to it.

“In the brainstorming process (and) in critiquing journal articles, it can become so negative that there’s nothing positive left, and that’s very limiting,” Pollock said. “How can we build on (scientific) ideas instead of just rejecting them all?”

The improv activities also emphasized clear presentational skills, Pollock said. This can help scientists better communicate with the general public as well as other researchers or teammates.

“If you’re talking to a patient and they don’t understand the procedure, sometimes the doctor will explain it to them in the same way again,” Pollock said. “How can you present your ideas as though you’re presenting to a 10 year old and have it be clear as a bell?”

Each improv game has a set of rules but allows students to direct the outcome of the game in imaginative ways, encouraging students to pay close attention to detail while still channeling their creativity, Pollock added. For instance, a game called “alphabet” requires each player to begin a sentence with each successive letter of the alphabet.

“There’s so many activities centered around constraint,” Pollock said. “If you’re being forced to do a game like alphabet … you’re so focused on (following the rules) that you’re not worried anymore about your inner critic. … The more you’re committing to your ideas, the better you can connect to others and think on your feet.”

Pollock added that skills taught in the seminar, such as adapting quickly to change and actively listening to others, can also help participants in their personal lives. Careful listening can facilitate communication with friends and loved ones, and the ability to think quickly is crucial when adapting to unexpected changes, she said.

“When things aren’t going well, we sometimes try to continue as though we can make it work,” Pollock said. “But you have to be able to pivot and try something else.”

Having confidence and ignoring one’s inner critic has also had positive effects on students’ lives, according to Tat. For instance, speaking up in class even when she is uncertain about her suggestions has become much easier.

“I’m still applying improv principles to my life now,” Tat said. “I’m really seeing it right now in my (visual and performing arts) class.”

The seminar concluded with a live graduation improv show put on by the students, Tat said. This event allowed students to exercise their new skills and help expand their comfort zones.

“The difference between a successful science professional and one who’s unsuccessful is how you respond to stress and discomfort,” Pollock said.

Apart from stepping outside of their comfort zones, Tat said the seminar also allowed the students to experience different viewpoints.

“I felt like this seminar was a really good example of stepping outside into a different field and looking at science in a different perspective,” Tat said.

Photo courtesy of Kim Willis.

Editor’s Note: This interview is part of a series of Q-and-A’s with the University’s deans. Linda Hicke has been dean of the College of Natural Sciences, which has the largest enrollment of any college on campus, since 2012. This interview has been edited and condensed. 

DT: Could you start by telling us about the college generally... what sort of students it attracts and what sorts of projects it has going on? 

Linda Hicke: One of the things we’ve done recently is start the CNS Cornerstone, and that’s built on some of the other small communities that we had already happening in the college. Right now all incoming freshmen are part of a 20-person Cornerstone unit where they have faculty or an adviser working with every unit and also a peer advisor. They break down into communities of about 20 students and take a lot of the same classes with them, and we think that’s going to start to provide a strong sense of community and help the success of those students, particularly those who come from smaller, more rural backgrounds.     

One of the things I’m always very excited about is the Freshman Research Initiative. I always say that when I am reincarnated, I want to come back to UT as a freshman and be a part of the Freshman Research Initiative because it’s something that gets freshmen involved in exploring in the sciences and investigating independent research problems right off the bat before they have to memorize or learn a lot of content. It tends to get students really engaged in the sciences and keep them interested. 

DT:  Last semester there were a lot of concerns, especially among physics graduate students, about TA positions being cut. What’s happened since then? 

Hicke: Finances are tight across the University. Having said that, we are looking very carefully at the courses we offer so that the undergraduates are getting the courses they need to graduate… That’s our highest priority in terms of offering courses. The graduate support, the TA support has to align with what we need in our undergraduate education courses. What we’ve been doing is trying to again, look at the TA allocations not from the perspective of, “This is a good way to finance the graduate program,” but “This is what we need to support our undergraduate classes.” We have been working with graduate programs to find different ways of providing the financial support that graduate students need so that we can decouple the graduate students as this body that we need for teaching and supporting TAs from the optimal graduate student training experience.

DT: Could you say more about how you’re achieving these changes for graduate students? 

Hicke: There have been new sources of money that have been put into graduate student support. A lot of our programs are looking at how they can raise the stipends for their graduate students and keep the TAing so that graduate students have some semesters where they don’t need to TA and can concentrate on their research. In some cases that means that graduate programs are deciding to somewhat shrink the size of their graduate programs so that they can have fewer students but students that are supported at a higher level and in a better way. 

DT: How important do you find fundraising to be? And how much is that a part of your job? 

Hicke: Super important, obviously. I would say I spend 20 to 25 percent of my time doing that, and we have a very robust and active development and external relations office in our college that has been doing great … It’s a very important part of being a dean, and it’s great not just for raising funds, but to have people understand and appreciate what is happening at the University of Texas. 

DT: What does an average day look like for you?  

Hicke: Today, for instance, I came in and composed an email letting everyone know we are raising our TA stipend, which is part of our initiative to support graduate students. I then went to the Women in Natural Sciences Group about what it’s like to be a woman and have a career in the sciences and how did I get where I am. I’m visiting you guys … Being dean, you have to pivot about once every hour to focus on something different. There isn’t an average day. On any day, I would say I interact with students, faculty, external friends and donors, president, provost, other deans. 

DT: How do you balance the competing interests of all the different stakeholders in the college? 

Hicke: The hardest part is saying no, not because there are programs here that aren’t of good quality or good ideas, it’s that there are too many good ideas and too many great programs and we can’t do them all… In terms of balancing, when we did strategic planning, we got together as a college and decided what our priorities would be. I have a copy of that on my desk and it’s very well thumbed. When I’m deciding how to allocated resources, where to put time and attention, I pretty much go back to that and refer to that … I try to stick pretty closely to what the college believes it’s mission and values are for the next couple of years. 

The three things we consider to be our prime objectives are: providing optimal training for future scientists and mathematicians, making sure we are discovering new knowledge that is high-impact and ensuring that we are communicating the impact of what we are doing. Part of our strategic plan has a large communication component to it because it’s really important for us to make sure that Texas, the nation and the world understand not only how cool science is but why what we are doing is important. 

DT: The college has had trouble in the past attracting a diverse faculty. Why?

Hicke: The biggest problem is there aren’t very many folks who are coming through with Ph.D.s in the sciences who, for instance, are of African-American or Hispanic descent. It’s possible to hire people with diverse backgrounds, but it’s hard to identify them as part of the candidate pool — they’re  such a small, tiny fraction. It requires the work of search committees and faculties tobe out calling their colleagues…You can’t just sit there and wait for the applications to come in. You have to actively go out and identify candidates…It’s mostly getting people behind the fact that this is something that’s a good thing to do and we need to do and be willing to do the extra work.  

Editor’s Note: The candidates for Student Government college representatives were judged based on their responses to the Daily Texan Student Government Candidate Questionnaire. The response rate for each college is included below. Only those candidates who completed the questionnaire were considered. Candidates’ responses can be found in our candidate database here. Voting takes place Wednesday and Thursday at

Architecture —  No responses

Business — 3 spots, 100 percent responded

Micky Wolf is a business and Plan II freshman. He has what it takes to be an excellent McCombs representative. His language for change is strong and demonstrates a strong desire to be proactive and take initiative in his role as a college representative. He’s looking to further civic engagement in SG and listen to the voices of the students he represents by means of open forum. We strongly recommend Wolf.

Ben Norton is a business honors freshman. If elected, Norton promises to throw himself in the “trenches,” so to speak. A supporter of the title “servant leader,” Norton promises to be a face in the business school as opposed to a name only a select few know. We recommend Norton.

Communication — No responses

Education — No responses

Engineering — 3 spots, 50 percent responded

Gregory Ross is an engineering and Plan II sophomore. He stresses the importance of dependability, communication and cooperation in a student leader. Ross has met with faculty members in a variety of fields to discuss expanding the Freshman Research Initiative (popular within CNS) to allow Cockrell freshmen to get involved in research. We strongly recommend Ross.

Fine Arts — No responses 

Geosciences — 1 spot, 33 percent responded, no endorsement

Graduate School — No responses

Law School — 1 spot, 50 percent responded

Daniel Hung is a first-year law student and Daily Texan columnist. Hung served in Student Government as the director of the Students with Disabilities Agency from 2011 to 2012 and served on the Parking & Traffic Appeals Committee from 2013 to 2014. He feels strongly about amplifying law students’ voice and increasing their involvement with the rest of the campus. His previous experience in Student Government and concern for an often-ignored population on campus would make him a good Law representative. We recommend Hung.

Liberal Arts — 4 spots, 100 percent responded 

Tanner Long is a government junior running for re-election who has already proven himself as a dedicated workhorse for student interests. When all too often, students with big ambitions in SG will say lots but do little, Long is a breath of fresh air that follows through on his promises. On issues as diverse as the sound ordinance, campus carry and voter ID, Long has consistently stood up to the city and the state on behalf of his fellow students. He has also shown initiative in campus issues, such as a recent proposal to limit Friday classes.  We strongly recommend Long.

Jenny McGinty is a Plan II freshman. She possesses a valuable mixture of a positive reputation around campus and clear, succinct goals if elected. Specifically, we were wowed by McGinty’s dedication to and seriousness about creating a greater sense of community within the College of Liberal Arts. All too often, the college is seen as the “other” school in this University, where the entire miscellany is lumped together. McGinty, more than any other candidate, appeared to understand this and be willing to work hard to address it. Her proposals regarding transparency were also positive. We recommend McGinty.

Connor Madden is a Plan II and business freshman. He impressed this editorial board with his unmatched attention to detail in his platform and candidate questionnaire. Madden undoubtedly understands the complex nuances of the position he is running for, but we also found ourselves very supportive of his campaign goals. If elected, Madden pledges to shy away from the petty bickering, reminiscent of a junior high school cafeteria, that SG devolved into a few times this past year. He also has a novel plan to increase public visibility of SG and improve their relations with other organizations on campus. We recommend Madden. 

Natural Sciences — 5 spots, 75 percent responded

Cameron Crane is a human biology senior running for re-election and has many lofty yet attainable goals for the College of Natural Sciences. The specificity of his initiatives is what makes him an excellent candidate. He seeks to expand upper-division class offerings to include a Monday/Wednesday sequence instead of solely MWF and TTH sequences. He also wants to partner with McCombs’ Alumni Relations to increase CNS Alumni gifts in order to improve facilities, provide scholarships and increase the number of classes that are video recorded. He hopes to create a liaison program between the Dell Medical Center and our pre-med students, as well as explore dual enrollment possibilities for CNS students and establish joint research opportunities. We strongly recommend Crane.

Laura Zhang is a neuroscience sophomore who is actively involved in the College of Natural Sciences as well as UT at large. We like her goal of promoting more funding for technology and lab equipment, more scholarships for underrepresented minorities (as well as all students), and more opportunities to utilize student passions to inspire others — especially female students — to get involved in STEM. As an advocate for collaboration, she told us she “constantly want[s] to see progress and find ways to mediate differing opinions to form the best idea.” We recommend Zhang.

Rebecca Sostek is a neuroscience freshman who may be young, but is certainly ready and able to take on the role of a Natural Science representative. While experience may not be her strong suit, she is motivated and cites her desire to learn as the catalyst for running. She wants to increase the sense of community at UT. She believes if the “students at UT or the Natural Sciences came together and worked hard to make a sea [of] orange into a group of people with varying strengths, an unlimited amount of good and improvement could come out of it.” We recommend Sostek.

Mukund Rathi is a computer science junior who has written numerous op-eds for the Texan. He believes that communication between students and official organizations are disconnected and his goal is to resolve this issue by making the SG Assembly more vigilant and engaged. He includes in his platform a pledge to stop budget cuts and tuition hikes, prevent sexual assault and end racism. While we do not agree with the substance or tone of all of Rathi’s positions, he has worked tirelessly for student interests since he arrived on campus and would not hesitate to challenge administrators when they needed it. We recommend Rathi.

Social Work — No responses

Undergraduate Studies — No responses

Every semester, the Department of Computer Science offers a three-hour seminar on mobile computing. It is considered to be one of the best and most interesting classes to take while at UT by aspiring computer science students.

As a result, it has become one of the most difficult classes in which to secure a seat. It’s not the only popular class in the department, either. By the end of the first week of registration for this semester, 25 out of 31 classes, many of which had multiple sections to accommodate higher levels of student interest, were either completely filled or waitlisted, including multiple classes required for graduation. If you were unlucky enough to have second-week registration, getting into an upper-division computer science class was close to impossible.

According to the UT Statistical Handbook, the department currently houses close to 1,900 computer science majors, a number that has jumped by 128 percent in the last eight years.

This surge in enrollment reflects a significant change in the nature of the global economy; the Labor Department estimates that nearly 140,000 new software engineering jobs will be added by 2018. More tellingly, the student-to-faculty ratio has jumped from 14.1 in 2006 to 26.7 this year. The College of Natural Sciences, under which the department is housed, has maintained a roughly constant ratio over the same period (24.6 in 2006 to 23.8 this year). Meanwhile, the department has gone from awarding degrees to close to 27 percent of its enrolled population (252 out of 935 students) in 2005 to awarding degrees to just 14.5 percent (255 out of 1762 students) last year.

The University of Texas is a world-class institution. Its department of computer science has been consistently ranked in the top 10 programs for graduate study and is sought after for the quality of its faculty and the caliber of its students. The University must both accommodate the increasing number of students who are interested in computer science and simultaneously maintain a standard of excellence. However, given the current resources made available to the Department of Computer Science, it has become virtually impossible for the department to accomplish its mission.

One of two things must happen. One option is for the department to reduce enrollment, and given the current student-to-faculty ratio, the department must cut 500 students to continue to deliver the quality for which it is known. However, reducing enrollment in computer science discourages applicants from trying to study computer science in the first place and would affect growth of a discipline that is becoming increasingly important in the marketplace.

There is another solution. UT took an unusual route in marrying computer science with mathematics in the very early years of its existence. This environment was perfect for researchers like Edsger Dijkstra and Alan Emerson, both of whom ended up winning the Turing Award, the Nobel Prize of computer science. Now, however, the department is branching out into new fields, such as computer vision and natural language processing, as it continues to make theoretical advances in algorithms and formal verification.

This is the perfect storm in which the University must rise to create a new college: the College of Computer Sciences. We have the intellectual rigor, we have the student interest, but above all, we have a mission to serve the people of the state of Texas.

There are some immediate advantages of such a solution. As it stands right now, there are five programs at UT whose missions are related to computer science: the Department of Computer Science, which is within the College of Natural Sciences; the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, which is within the College of Engineering; the Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences and the Texas Advanced Computing Center, both of which are under the Office of the Vice President for Research; and the School of Information, which is a separate school altogether. It makes little sense to keep these programs separate when there is much to be gained from joining forces to achieve the goals they share. Moreover, whereas currently the department receives funding through the college, an independent college would support itself.

Such a transition is not without precedent. The Jackson School of Geosciences, which for more than a century was a department in the College of Natural Sciences, split off in 2005 to become a separate college. As a result of its strategic plan, Jackson has, since 2007, been able to hire more than 25 new faculty members. Just as the prospects of a specialized school like Jackson attracted philanthropy — the School was created by a $322 million gift — a clear plan for a college of computer science could have the same effect. Even in the field, the department would not stand alone: In 1968, realizing that computer science would help define the following century of science, Carnegie Mellon University elected to create its School of Computer Sciences from existing programs in its natural sciences division. Today, the SCS is consistently ranked among the top five computer science programs in the world and has attracted funding from the likes of Bill Gates and businessman Henry Hillman.

It is time for the University to ask itself a fundamental question: whether it wants to respond to trends and wait for other schools to elevate computer science before following suit, or whether it wants to take the lead in investing in what is quickly becoming a highly sought-after area of study around the world. We cannot allow ourselves to fall behind in an area in which we have demonstrated ourselves to be so clearly and undeniably capable of greatness. To do anything less is to sacrifice the incredible progress the University has made in the field of computer science. It is time for us, as we have so many times in the past, to take the lead and define the next era of scientific progress. We must act as we believe: that what starts here changes the world.

Ramchand is a computer science and mathematics sophomore. He is a Turing scholar in the Department of Computer Science.

The College of Natural Sciences will be offering about one-third fewer courses in summer 2015, according to the college's dean, Linda Hicke.

Last week, the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost announced that it is cutting the Summer Enhancement Program, which was designed to expand and improve summer course offerings of colleges at the University.

“After several years it became clear that the program did not have the desired campus-wide impact and it has been discontinued,” Gregory Fenves, executive vice president and provost, said in a statement. “We are looking into alternative solutions to enhancing the instructional budget that better meet the needs of our students and achieving our goals for graduation rates.”

Fenves said colleges may still continue to fund their own summer courses necessary to support their degree plans, but budget constraints may make this a challenge. Hicke said enrollment in the College of Natural Sciences has increased about 25 percent over the last six or seven years, while the amount of money in the college’s budget has remained the same.

“It is a challenge to change those budgets when enrollment increases significantly,” Hicke said.

She said shifts in college budgets usually occur when there are significant changes in population, but it takes time to receive more funding to reflect the population growth. Hicke said cutting the amount of summer courses should not impact graduation rates.

“We are being as efficient as possible across the entire college; we make every effort to have classes available for students to graduate on time,” Hicke said.

Arturo De Lozanne, molecular biosciences associate professor, said he thinks decreasing the number of courses offered during the summer semester will make it harder for students to graduate on time.

“Some students have to take courses in the summer in order to be able to complete their degrees,” De Lozanne said. “That means, if a student cannot take those courses, they will have to wait and register for the long semester and therefore delay their graduation.”

Biochemistry senior Kathryn McElhinney said she thinks many students use the summer as an opportunity to take fewer, more difficult courses.

“A lot of students take those more difficult courses over the summer so they don’t have to try and balance five courses along with this really hard subject,” McElhinney said. “Instead, they can dedicate all their time trying to study it.”

The cuts could potentially decrease the number of teaching assistant positions, according to De Lozanne.

“I was very puzzled by it because it seems very clear that it will affect many students — not only undergraduate students but also graduate students — because that means fewer graduate students will have TA positions in the summer,” De Lozanne said.

Photo Credit: Albert Lee | Daily Texan Staff

The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and the College of Natural Sciences are working toward their goal of landscape sustainability with the use of a new landscape construction rating system that prioritizes the environment.

SITES v2, developed by the Sustainable Sites Initiative, is a collaboration between the center, the United States Botanical Garden and the American Society of Landscape Architects for implementation in building projects that allows engineers, architects and landscapers to work efficiently without sacrificing the sustainability of the environment.

The program is completely voluntary, and so far more than 100 sites across the nation have taken up the initiative, 30 of which have qualified for a rating, including a site at UT Arlington.

“If projects follow and implement SITES v2, these built landscapes create ecologically resilient communities better able to withstand and recover from episodic floods, droughts, wildfires and other catastrophic events,” said Danielle Pieranunzi, Sustainable Sites Initiative program director. “They benefit the environment, property owners, and local and regional communities and economies.”

SITES offers a reference guide, which provides information about environmentally friendly building practices, to project developers who wish to qualify for a SITES rating. The provided guide includes tips on water resources, soil and vegetation, building materials and human health.

SITES consulted technical experts in fields such as hydrology, botany, engineering and landscaping to design the v2 rating system, said Susan Rieff, Wildflower Center executive director.

Modeled after LEED, a rating system used for the construction of environmentally safe buildings, SITES v2 is intended to ensure that landscapes — in places such as natural parks, corporate campuses, residences and waterways — are environmentally sound as well.  This is done by first evaluating the natural ecosystem of a particular site, to check for the presence of local flora and fauna, sources of naturally occurring water and possible soil erosion, Rieff said.

“[After evaluating the site,] you can design, so nature’s working with you and not against you,” Rieff said.

Under the SITES v2 system, projects receive points based on the sustainability and ability to protect and restore ecosystems, Pieranunzi said. If the project reaches the minimum number of points and meets specific prerequisites, SITES will give it a “Certified,” “Silver,” “Gold” or “Platinum” certification based on the number of points received. The Sustainability Sites Initiative is currently negotiating with the Green Building Certification Institute to provide SITES v2 certifications.

Aesthetic form and beauty are no longer the only criteria that are considered in the construction of landscapes, said architecture professor Steven Moore.  Environmental and social conditions have played an increasingly important role for architects and landscape designers in recent years as well, according to Moore.

“SITES v2 is enormously important in helping our ‘building culture’ to transform design and construction practices that do harm to those that might actually contribute to the urban ecosystem,” Moore said in an email.

Photo Credit: Jenna VonHofe | Daily Texan Staff

Turtles were returned to the turtle pond Monday after being moved to Brackenridge Field Lab while their home was cleaned.

Integrative biology professor David Hillis, assistant curator Travis Laduc, and student volunteers retrieved the turtles from their trip at the field lab on Lake Austin Boulevard. Marc Airhart, College of Natural Sciences spokesman, said only 40 of the turtles arrived back at the pond Monday. 

“The rest will stay at their new home at the Brackenridge Field Lab,” Airhart said.

On June 9, volunteers from the College of Natural Sciences and the Texas Natural History Collections captured and transported the turtles. The sizes of the turtles ranged from the size of silver dollar to a foot in length.

While the turtles were gone, the University’s cleaning crew drained and cleaned the lower of the three ponds, removing debris that had accumulated at the bottom over the past decade. Cleaning the pond’s water pumps, the crew eradicated built up algae and mud. Rocks and logs were then arranged to provide more areas for the turtles to soak up the summer sun.

Phillips 66 donated $500,000 to the University to support programs within the Cockrell School of Engineering, McCombs School of Business and College of Natural Sciences, the University announced Friday.

A large portion of the gift, which will be split between the three schools, will help fund the Phillips 66 SHIELD Scholar program, which provides a number of resources, including scholarships, professional development and community service opportunities, for students pursuing careers in the energy industry.

According to Donnell Roy, corporate and foundation relations director at McCombs, the business school received $156,000. Roy said Phillips 66, which is an energy and manufacturing company, has been involved in many key programs within the school, and the two help each other succeed in different ways.

“It’s very symbiotic — these relationships with these companies are definitely two-way streets,” Roy said. “They also support programs such as information management that is strategic to building a talented pipeline of students that can be potentially recruited into Phillips 66.”

Phillips 66 works with different methods of refining gasoline and oil and has approximately 13,500 employees. Rex Bennett, Phillips 66 president of specialties and business development, said the company is constantly looking for new, young employees.

“Phillips 66 is always looking for new voices with unique thoughts and different perspectives to help our company succeed,” Bennett said. “We’ve built a strong pipeline at the University of Texas that will enable us to recruit those who will help us all prosper — both now and in the future.”

According to Kelsey Evans, College of Natural Sciences spokeswoman, Phillips 66 donated between $5,000 and $10,000 to the computer science department. Evans said the University and Phillips 66 have developed a connection over the years as the company has become more involved with different schools within the University.

“Since Phillips 66 split off from ConocoPhillips and became a separate company [in 2012], they’ve done a remarkable job investing in our students and in building a relationship with UT-Austin,” Evans said.

Evans said, while these companies do recruit students through these programs, they also donate to the University for more generous reasons.

“Across the board, all the companies that support UT … do it because they’re philanthropic,” Evans said.

So, basically Hall asked for public records. People didn’t like it. They are making him look like a criminal. Shame on them, not Hall. He may be a jerk, but he appears to be the only one concerned about corruption at UT. 

— Online commenter Delahaya in response to the editorial “In fight over UT Regent Wallace Hall, students were forgotten”


In effect, this Horns Down waves a flag that says, “we can’t trust our law enforcement with TASER weapons in schools but we can trust them with OC spray, batons AND firearms.”

Law enforcement in schools isn’t there to enforce punishment - that would be a civil rights violation. They are there to enforce law, serve and protect students and staff from outside threats. Sometimes that does include juveniles -- some more than 6 feet, 200+ pounds fighting students and even police. You are also not mentioning the success that SROs have had in stopping these very same threats in schools -- not just “children.” When TASER controversy strikes, it’s easy to focus on an individual event instead of the totality. It’s akin to banning planes because they crash and not realizing that 10,000 planes land safely every hour. Is there a problem? Perhaps. So you address the problem in a thoughtful manner -- not a moratorium. Moratoriums based on individual incidents are bad precedents. You correct it with enhanced and well understood policies and procedures, strict oversight, and recurrent extensive training. 

— Online commenter stevetuttle in response to the April 17 horns down against the use of a Taser on another local high school student


Thanks for covering the town hall meeting of students in the College of Natural Sciences which introduced CNS101, a new small community cohort initiative for students in CNS. A couple of clarifications and elaborations seemed useful.  

While the program will be new, UT has had Freshman Interest Group (FIG) programs for many years, and the College of Natural Sciences in particular has long worked to include many of our students in small learning communities such as TIP, FIGs, ESP, BSP, FRI, etc. We view CNS101 as our college’s effort to make a meaningful contribution to the provost office’s 360 Connections challenge to include every incoming freshman in a small academic community.  

CNS101 will borrow from some of the best practices found in our current programs and translate that best practice to all sections for all students. Our initiative was spurred by student comments that not all of our current communities offered the same opportunities for students. What we learned from students is that there are many great ideas already out there, but we needed to get that set of ideas in front of every community.

What is pleasing to me about CNS101 is that it is anchored in what students told us is most important. We heard that students want to be supported in a community of peers when they first arrive on campus, and they want academic support and advice on how to be successful. These are themes addressed in FIGs now. But what we also heard is that students wanted greater connection with academic and faculty advisers, and they wanted opportunity to talk about careers and majors. So we extended CNS101 to be a full year and built on the existing ideas of small communities to include these new considerations. Other universities have also found that community building, academic success, advising and careers/majors really helped their students.

Your article rightly points out that there is much to be done, and this program is new. Our hope is that with a solid foundation of student input, as well as continued advice and participation by the student body, CNS101 will provide a valuable service to new students in the College of Natural Sciences.

— Sacha Kopp, associate dean of the College of Natural Sciences, submitted via email in response to Francisco Dominguez’s column “CNS101 program will unite College of Natural Sciences” 



College of Natural Sciences Associate Dean Sacha Kopp addresses students at a town hall meeting on April 7. 

Photo Credit: Jamie Lee | Daily Texan Staff

On April 7, College of Natural Sciences Associate Dean Sacha Kopp unveiled a new initiative meant to promote diversity, improve pedagogy and ensure overall success for incoming freshmen. 

After months of gathering student input, Kopp understood there was a resounding issue with how students were acclimating to the college. At a town hall meeting, students gave similar testimonials of isolation and frustration their freshman year that persist years thereafter. Many of the students also shared ways they overcame their feelings of desperation. Kopp aggregated these different solutions into an all-access program called CNS101. 

CNS101 is a non-credit course that will divide the incoming Fall 2014 freshman class into 100 cohorts of 25 students for a year. It is intended to help CNS students form a sense of community, build relationships with faculty and achieve academic success in the college. As a transfer student, I’ve realized that these essentials were missing from my personal experience during my first year on the 40 Acres. I could only wish this was implemented sooner. 

According to Kopp, “These small learning communities are observed to increase rates of graduation by 40-70 percent relative to other students in the college even when controlling for all other factors. … In some sense, this is not a new initiative. This is a scale-up of an existing collection of ideas and adding some features which we heard from students as important.”

Natural Sciences Council President Juan Herrejon highlighted some of the problems addressed in CNS101 a year-and-a-half ago during a meeting with the Minority Student Advisory Council.  A lack of community within the college, low graduation rates and underrepresentation of minority students alarmed the council. That there should be a system in place to smooth, and standardize, the transition to the University no matter the student’s background was the impetus for CNS101.

Unfortunately, because CNS101 will be a non-credit course — like First-Year Interest Groups — retention rates may continue to present a problem. Herrejon believes a mechanism must be in place to assure accountability of it’s members. One way he believes CNS101 could better incentivize students is by making it a course that students may receive credit in. “Putting in a system that works on modules would help,” Herrejon said. “For example, if students have an assignment to network with ‘x’ number of faculty, which will enrich their university experience while earning a grade in the class, they are earning double the reward.”

It is not a perfect system and hasn’t even been proven to work yet. But, like in science, a constant effort to push the boundaries is what CNS101 will attempt to accomplish.  

The effort for Kopp, and all those supporting him, is far from over, although this is a step in the right direction. A bright future undoubtedly awaits the College of Natural Sciences. 

Dominguez is a biology sophomore from San Antonio.