Juan Herrejon

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.

With the stresses of the last week of class and upcoming finals, students should make time for their personal care, according to the UT Counseling and Mental Health Center.

Center Associate Director Jane Morgan Bost said students often disregard their diets and sleeping patterns because of academic stress when they should be doing the opposite. She said students can focus better while studying if they continue with their normal routine rather than trying to go without sleep and increasing their caffeine intake.

“Sleep tends to be one of those things that goes out the window the fastest when students are stressed, but it’s generally not effective or efficient to pull an all-nighter,” Morgan Bost said. “Students should have a plan that’s broken down day to day so it is not overwhelming. They should try to stick to as regular a sleep routine and diet as they can so they can maximize the time they do spend studying.”

Morgan Bost said the University offers students various resources to combat a stressful week including the center’s MindBody lab, which provides students with a quiet room with calming music to relax; the Healthy Horns Nap Map, an online tool pointing out places to nap on campus; and exercise and massages at RecSports.

Aside from promoting a healthy diet and exercise, the center suggested students make time for themselves at a petting zoo Monday at the East Mall. The event was hosted by the Natural Sciences Council and aimed to give students a relaxing distraction from academic stress.

Council Vice President Juan Herrejon said the event attracted hundreds of students with goats, sheep, bunnies, chickens and pigs from Rachel’s Barnyard, a mobile zoo. Herrejon said the council hosted “Pet Your Stress: Ease Your Stress” to provide students with a fun break during the busy week.

“It was a shock to a lot of people to see animals as they were coming from class and definitely worked as a little distraction getting to see something a little different on campus,” Herrejon said.

Rhonda Cox, RecSports memberships and guest services coordinator, said this week that RecSports is offering two free upgrades on table massages for students because the last week of class comes with added stress. Upgrade options include aroma therapy, hot towel hand or foot treatments and deep tissue massage.

In addition to massages, Cox said students can relieve stress with a quick walk around campus or the Gregory Gym track, or a short cardio work out. The gym will be open with limited hours throughout finals.

“During high-stress times, things like massages and working out regularly can help reduce tension and keep you focused on studying,” Cox said.

Printed on Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012 as: Leaders offer relaxation tips before finals

Dr. Antonio Gonzalez stresses the importance of funding research to promote education at The Importance of Funding Research on Friday afternoon. Gonzalez was one of three panelists at the event put on by Natural Sciences Council.

Photo Credit: Julia Bunch | Daily Texan Staff

As federal research funding faces budget cuts and shifting priorities, some UT faculty have emphasized the importance of maintaining funding for investigative science research.
The National Science Foundation cut its budget almost 1 percent from $6.926 billion in 2010 to $6.859 billion in 2011 but has requested a budget of a $7.767 billion, which would be a 12.1 percent increase from appropriations in 2010.

Such programs have been prioritizing “applied research” to solve specific problems over “basic research” which seeks to investigate phenomena, said biological sciences research educator Antonio Gonzalez. Gonzalez said the USDA has stopped funding research on Arabidopsis plants, which are often used as model organisms in basic plant research, to focus more on crop science research. He said the line typically drawn between basic research and applied research is a false dichotomy.

“It’s very difficult to predict what basic research will yield and when it will yield it,” Gonzalez said. “So you can think of it as some kind of progression or continuum.”

Biology freshman Juan Herrejon, student and faculty chair for the Natural Sciences Council, said the group organized a panel discussion Friday for Natural Sciences Week in response to budget cuts in the past couple of years from federal programs that fund research, such as the USDA and the National Science Foundation.

Herrejon said such cuts threaten the University, which is known for its research.

“At UT, we’re known for being a research institution, and a lot of the stuff that goes on here is basically research-driven,” Herrejon said.

Associate biology professor John Wallingford said basic biological research has helped in past health crises including the emergence of AIDS, SARS and the H1N1 bird flu virus.

“A new epidemic could come along, and there’s going to be a group of people who have been studying this and nobody cared, and Sarah Palin’s mocking them, and they have the answer,” he said.

Wallingford said researchers should make efforts to communicate the potential benefits of their basic research to the public more effectively, especially when taxpayers fund the research.

“Why on earth would you give $100 million of your tax money to me to study frog gastrulation?” Wallingford said. “If instead of saying, ‘I’m very interested in frog gastrulation,’ I say instead, ‘I’m using the animal models [to study] human birth defects,’ then suddenly it makes a little bit more sense.”

Computer science professor Calvin Lin said it’s crucial for government programs and universities to fund basic research because private firms are unlikely to do so because it’s not immediately profitable.

“Short-term research makes money for a company,” Lin said. “Long-term research, if done well, instead will create new companies. It will create new markets. It will create new industries.”

Lin said the creation of new industries, such as the Internet, from long-term research helps create new jobs but that such research can also have psychological benefits.
“Part of what makes us human is this desire to learn more and to make progress,” he said.

Prepharmacy freshman Tania Joakim Jr. said the panel made her think of basic research differently.

“Even though it seems like [basic research] is not doing anything to maybe politicians, it could actually be important in the future,” Joakim said. “It can lead to applied research, so that’s why I disagree with decreasing funds.”

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.

Students walking in front of the Tower on Thursday were treated to a performance by a group of brightly dressed traditional Latin dancers, one of several acts featured in the “Make It Happen” benefit concert.

The UT Ballet Folklórico dancers participated in the event to help raise money for Fernando Villa, an 18-year-old Travis High School graduate who underwent double lung transplant surgery earlier this week.

The organizers of “Make It Happen” wanted to use music and dance to help raise the $26,000 to pay for Villa’s medical bills. In addition to the UT Ballet Folklórico, local Mariachi band Mariachi Corbetas performed during the concert.

Pre-med junior Rodolfo Rodriguez and social work sophomore Juan Benavides co-hosted the concert with Beta Upsilon Chi, known as Brothers Under Christ.

Benavides said he was watching the news when he realized he knew Villa personally and was inspired to help.

“When I saw it, I was like, ‘Wow, I went to high school with him,’ and I just couldn’t believe it,” he said.

Austin businesses have already donated about $7,500, and the benefit concert raised $1,151, making the total $8,651 since “Make It Happen” began.

Rodriguez said he was more than happy to help when Benavides asked him for support.

“We sat down and went through the process of figuring out what we could possibly do to have an impact,” Rodriguez said. “After a couple of weeks, we sent out the word that we’d be having an interest meeting and thankfully people came out.”

Biology freshman Juan Herrejon said he overheard talk about the benefit at a health professions meeting and knew he had to contribute.

“We are trying to save a human life, and there’s no greater reason to want to help out,” he said.

Herrejon said he actively supports cancer awareness because the disease has directly affected people close to him.

“Last year, one of my high school teachers that I was very close to died from breast cancer,” he said. “Ever since then, I’ve paid more attention to how cancer affects people.”