Natural Sciences Council

Photo Credit: Mel Westfall | Daily Texan Staff

Registration starts this week for the 2018 spring semester, and a program offered by UT’s Natural Sciences Council, NSC, serves as a comprehensive tool to help ease the registration process for UT students.

This semester, NSC has updated their grade distribution program, which shows the letter grades students received in courses, so students considering that course know what to expect.

Located on their news website, Catalyst, the update makes it easier for users to navigate grade distributions among different courses available or previously available at UT. In the past few days, NSC’s grade distribution page, which now includes distributions from fall 2013 to spring 2017, has reached about 4,000 views, according to NSC technology coordinator Shishir Jessu. 

“Sometimes professors teach new courses, but they have taught other courses before, so you can look at (these) grades to kind of get a proxy for how they might grade,” said Jessu, a computer science and Plan
II sophomore. 

Jessu said compared to last year’s version, in which students could only use drop-down menus to search distributions, the updated search engine lets users manually search by course title, course number and professor name. The grade distribution program serves as a supplement to other online services that mainly rely on subjective student responses such as and UT’s Course Instructor Surveys, Jessu said. 

NSC issued FOIA requests to UT’s Office of the Vice President in order to obtain official semester grade distributions for the University.

Senate of College Councils’ Academic Policy Committee wants more student feedback about their registration experiences, co-chair Amrutha Sreedharane said. Registration is one of the biggest topics discussed among the academic policy committee, said Sreedharane.  

“Students don’t have access to a lot of the things they need when they’re looking at what classes to register for,” computer science junior Sreedharane said. “It’s really benefiting students, having (this) grade distribution analysis.” 

Radio-television-film junior Emily Dsida said comparing grade distributions for multiple classes taught by the same professor and seeing how many students a professor had in a specific course helps with registration.

“I see it as more of a reinforcement of whether or not I want to take a class,” Dsida said. “If I find a class that fits into my schedule, and people say the professor is interesting, seeing that a lot of people get A’s and B’s in that class is just another thing to push me toward (taking) the class.” 

Next week, the Natural Sciences Council, NSC, is presenting its annual Natural Sciences Week to recognize students, organizations and initiatives within the College of Natural Sciences. Check out these events happening next week and open to students of all majors:

  • Gone to Natural Sciences
  • Oct. 16
  • 6–8 p.m.
  • Main Mall

Gone to Natural Sciences, which is traditionally hosted by CNS, was canceled at the start of the semester due to Hurricane Harvey. It is now going to be hosted by NSC along with CNS and will begin Natural Sciences Week. Different organizations within CNS will showcase exhibits to display their unique talents. The class of 2021 will be welcomed with food, games, prizes, music and a petting zoo provided by Tiny Tails to You! Austin’s Traveling Petting Zoo.

  • CNS Connections
  • Oct. 17
  • 6–8 p.m.
  • Union Santa Rita Suite

This event is the largest networking event for CNS and is a place for students to discover career paths in fields such as biotechnology, textiles and apparel, bioinformatics and public health. Students can speak with a diverse lineup of Austin companies. Dress is business casual, free food is available and resumes are not required.

  • Star Party
  • Oct. 18
  • 8–10 p.m.
  • RLM Auditorium and Rooftop

Attendees are welcome to peer through the RLM telescope, stargaze, view a sci-fi movie in the auditorium and eat space-themed treats provided by the Texas Society of Physics Students. The night will feature glow sticks, giveaways and demos presented by various organizations such as Astronomy Students Association, Undergraduate Women in Physics and Students for the Exploration and Development of Space.

  • Art in Science
  • Oct. 19
  • 3–5 p.m.
  • NHB 1.720

This event will celebrate the progress made by UT research and the beauty of science by exploring visuals in science and nature. Faculty, staff and students will be able to witness the creativity of fusing art and science, win door prizes and participate in activities. The unveiling of the 2017 CNS Outreach Award and 2017 Visualizing Science award recipients will also be announced.

  • Science in Plain English
  • Oct. 19
  • 5–6:30 p.m.
  • PCL Learning Lab 1

This event is for current students to present their research to a panel of judges. The goal is to explain their research in an engaging way that is understandable to a large audience that may not have knowledge about the research topic. Nothing is required to participate but a three-minute presentation. Contestants will battle it out to win paid registration to the 2018 American Association for the Advancement of Science and prize money.

The Natural Sciences Council sponsored a faculty panel Friday highlighting the importance of public funding for investigative research. The group noted that the National Science Foundation, the federal organization responsible for disbursing billions of dollars per year in research grant funding, has seen its budget cut in recent years. The NSF said the reduced funding will manifest itself in reduced grant funding for basic, investigative science research in favor of research with more direct applications.

The panelists included some of the University’s most distinguished faculty members in the College of Natural Sciences. All of them rightly emphasized the value of basic research. A primary function of organizations such as universities and the NSF — that is, government-sponsored, taxpayer-funded groups — is to overcome the private-sector prejudice against investment in projects that bear fruit only over a long-term horizon.

This public funding model is organized to distribute the high costs of conducting this type of high-risk, high-reward research that the private sector is hesitant to engage in because of the uncertain financial ramifications. Basic research is often the starting point for commercial startups and its utility is often recognized only long after it has been completed. Without a way to distribute the cost in the short-term, these long-term benefits may be lost, which would certainly do more harm to society than would refusing to fund scientists adequately in the immediate future.

The value of basic research can be hard to understand. Modeling inheritance patterns in fruit flies may not seem like the most relevant type of research done here, but the principles discovered through basic research have formed the foundation and continue to influence the development of more commercial, applied research.

Although Valentine’s Day might normally be a time for exchanging candy and paper hearts, students also learned about their flesh-and-blood hearts Monday.

Students who wandered to the Spanish Oaks Terrace near Jester learned about the importance of cardiovascular fitness from five student organizations through various carnival games such as “pin the heart on the human” and activities such as jumping rope and Hula-Hooping. New members of the Natural Sciences Council organized the event to promote a healthy heart and raised $725 for the American Heart Association.

“We wanted to raise awareness on campus of heart disease because it’s the No. 1 leading cause of death in the U.S., and lots of people at the collegiate age don’t know that,” said biology freshman and organizer Juan Herrejon.

He said many college students do not normally associate the lack of exercise and heart conditioning with heart disease later in life.

“We think that it’s important for students to know that, so they can start taking steps to prevent it now, so they have a greater chance of living a longer, healthier life,” Herrejon said.

Herrejon said the carnival came at a perfect time to coincide with American Heart Month and Valentine’s Day. The council sold carnations and hot chocolate to go along with the healthy hearts theme and to benefit scientific research and education in communities through the American Heart Association.

UT’s Science Undergraduate Research Group gave away healthy snacks, such as granola bars and raisins, if students answered heart-related trivia correctly. The College of Natural Science’s Dean’s Scholars talked to students about being organ donors.

Rezwana Rahman, psychology and premed junior and Student Health Advisory Committee member, said too much stress can lead to high blood pressure which can lead to heart disease later in life.

“The biggest thing right now is stress and anxiety and how it is so prominent in the college-age group, so we came up with a symbolic thing of writing your stress on magic paper and dissolving it away,” Rahman said.

UT Nursing Students Association members gave blood pressure assessments. Vanessa Castellon, nursing senior and UTNSA vice president, advised students to monitor their blood pressure at an annual checkup.

“It’s easier to manage if you catch it early on than having heart disease later on,” Castellon said.