Brent Iverson

Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series of Q-and-A’s with the deans of the University’s 18 schools and colleges. Brent Iverson was appointed dean of Undergraduate Studies in Summer 2013.

 

The Daily Texan: How would you define UGS?

 

Brent Iverson: There are a number of ways to come at this. For example, last night I was at an event with a bunch of adults. I do this a lot; I always ask the same question when we’re talking about UGS: I ask the adults to raise their hands if they’re doing now what they went to college to do. You don’t go to school to be a dean. I usually get maybe 10 percent of the adults raise their hands. It’s in fact the rule, not the exception, that you need to find your way a little bit. So what I really like about UGS is if you really do know what you want to do, no one slows you down. You can declare a major, you get that major, you go, and everything’s fine. If you don’t really know what you want to do, you have an option. It’s the only place that raises the fact that you might not know what you want to do. I think that having the best of both worlds is the ideal situation. I think it’s a useful model for the universities, because usually it’s one or the other. You can’t declare a major, or you have to declare a major. This idea of being able to do either of those is, I think, a really good idea.

 

DT: How does UGS prepare its students for the time when they’ll have to choose a major?

 

Iverson: It’s individual, so it all depends on who it is. There’s no one size, nor should there be. It’s based on detailed interactions with not only course advisors, but also career counsel … UT-Austin has a hundred different majors to choose from, and there are a lot of different ways to get to the same place.

 

DT: How did your chemistry background prepare you to be the dean of UGS?

 

Iverson: I don’t think that is the right question. I think “Why am I prepared for this position?” is the right question. And there are three things that are important. Studying chemistry was not one. But it is in the context of teaching very large organic chemistry classes to a very diverse group of students, diverse in every sense of that word: different majors, different backgrounds, going different places. In the chemistry department we refer to it as service teaching, but that in general we’re not teaching to the chemistry majors; we’re teaching to all the other different majors that require chemistry. So I was very used to interacting with a very large number of students from a wide variety of places, and that was kind of a natural part of my teaching. The most important reason I think I’m prepared to be the dean of Undergraduate Studies is because I’ve had three kids who’ve gone through UT. So it actually isn’t my professional experience; it’s my experience as a father. It’s very different to experience the University from my office and the classroom than it is from the dinner table. [My kids] didn’t live at home, but we certainly knew what was going on. So the things that a student confronts, all the things that you’ve had to navigate, I now understand, which I didn’t before … I’ve seen this from multiple points of view, and your experience is not what faculty think your experience is. It’s very different, because you now get the entirety of a person, and as a faculty member we have a domain that’s our domain and we understand that, but we don’t understand what you do when you leave our domain. That’s what you pick up real quick when you’re a parent.

 

DT: All faculty were once students, so where do you think this misunderstanding comes from?

 

Iverson: Things change, so it’s a new experience, everything about your experience in the University, your plans, what you’re thinking about doing. Most of the jobs that you’re thinking about weren’t even created when I was in college. That’s the easiest way to say it. Things just change, and our country, our civilization, has seen unprecedented change … I was on the task force that helped create the school. So I went through the process of understanding where it was coming from, what we were trying to accomplish from that point of view, and that’s critical because I didn’t walk in not knowing what the long-term mission was ... I will say, there is [an] ingredient that’s not a matter of preparation, but that I fundamentally believe in the mission of what we’re doing. I think we’re at the forefront of change in all of higher education. I think UT is way ahead of its time. And the reason that no one knows what UGS is — they don’t know how to put it in a category — is because we are way ahead of our time, and that’s something I’m very excited about.

I have a love-hate relationship with UT’s core curriculum requirements. On the one hand, I’ve learned a lot in all of those classes that I never thought a government major would have to take.  At the very least, when I finally find myself in one of those mythical, real-world adult social situations, hopefully I can come across as well-rounded and educated when I quip about the life cycle of stars or offer insight into the process of language acquisition. But on the other hand, I am a graduating senior and I still haven’t taken English 316K — the dreaded literature requirement. 

Granted, very few graduating seniors would look forward to having to take a freshman class. But the decision to put off that English requirement for so many semesters points to a broader problem: Many students fail to see the value in the core curriculum requirements at UT. In fact, a poll conducted by the Senate of College Councils in 2012 revealed that 77 percent of students think that it is either only slightly important or not important at all to take core curriculum courses on campus instead of testing out or taking them elsewhere. And it’s easy to understand why. College students during their first semester are finally cut free from the limitations of high school curriculums and, for the first time, they can take classes about whatever their interests are. As a result, the problem is particularly serious for students with majors in the College of Natural Sciences who just don’t want to take those pesky humanities classes anymore. According to that same survey, 81 percent of CNS students think that American history courses are either only slightly important or not important at all. For American government, it’s 78 percent, 67 percent for English and 80 percent for visual and performing arts.

But maybe it’s just that UT students aren’t quite ready to understand the value of these classes yet. According to Penne Restad, who teaches core curriculum survey courses in American history, it can be hard for students who are still in school to engage in the courses that aren’t directly relevant to them. “The engagement will show up later on,” she explained. To Restad, graduating seniors have so much on their minds — from paying back student loans to finding a job and a place in the world — that it can be hard to appreciate why, as an engineering student, you would have to take an English class. 

Restad conceded that faculty could probably do more to break it down for students and explain to them exactly why these courses matter.

Brent Iverson, the dean of the School of Undergraduate Studies, had a slightly different take on why the core curriculum matters. “There’s a lot of talk these days about the return of investment for an undergraduate education,” Iverson said. And according to how a student pursues his or her education, that student will get different things out of it. “Some students might have the idea that the easiest thing to do is look for the path of least resistance,” he continued. “But when you get out and start looking for jobs, you realize that it’s all the different things that you’ve learned that help you define which path you’re going to take.” To Iverson, these classes help students figure out exactly what they will become, and for that, they are invaluable.  “When you look at it that way,” Iverson concluded, “the goal would be to see how much you can take … and how you can enrich yourself to the maximum possible.” According to Iverson, this essentially becomes a value question: Are you getting the most enrichment out of your tuition dollars?

The trickiest part of this question of core curriculum engagement, however, is figuring out where the responsibility lies.  Is it up to us, as students, to find some sort of rationale for engaging in a course that seems like it doesn’t matter? Or is it up to the faculty to make their courses seem relevant and to push their students in the right direction?  Interestingly, the same survey that showed how few students valued taking core curriculum courses at UT also showed that 75 percent of students thought that the courses they’ve already taken at UT — in striking contrast to the survey results for classes they haven’t taken — did add some value to their education. So maybe the instructors of these courses are doing something right.

Perhaps, then, there is nothing that we can do. The best solution to this problem might just be to bite the bullet when we’re in these classes, trust that there is a good reason for the core curriculum, and take solace in the fact that we’ll be able to appreciate its value later.

Nikolaides is a government and Spanish senior from Cincinnati.

Brent Iverson, chemistry professor and former chairman of the department of chemistry and biochemistry, currently serves as the Dean of the School of Undergraduate Studies. 

Photo Credit: Jonathan Garza | Daily Texan Staff

The University is set to name Brent Iverson as the new dean of the School of Undergraduate Studies later this week. Iverson currently serves as a chemistry professor and chairman of the department of chemistry and biochemistry.

UT President William Powers Jr. selected Iverson after a search committee interviewed five finalists from across the country, all of whom met with students and faculty on campus in the last few months to present their goals for the position. The committee recommended three candidates to Powers in April.

“As someone who was part of the initial conception of the School of Undergraduate Studies, Brent Iverson is the perfect person to build on the successes of the school, creating pathways for leadership and excellence in undergraduate studies,” Powers said in a statement. “He is a recognized teacher, researcher and scholar, with a proven commitment to providing our undergraduates with the best academic experience possible.”

The appointment will be effective July 1. At a public forum in April, Iverson said the School of Undergraduate Studies must focus on helping students find and explore their passions. 

“Higher education changes and it’s going to continue to change,” Iverson said to The Daily Texan in a separate interview in March. “I fundamentally believe that UGS is going to be the beacon of change on this campus. It’s going to enhance what goes on around it. So I hope the right person gets it, even if that is not me.”

The School of Undergraduate Studies emerged in 2006 to serve as a "home and champion of the core curriculum," as dubbed by the Task Force on Curricular Reform — a task force which Powers chaired and Iverson sat on in 2005. Iverson will take over for Larry Abraham, who has been serving as interim dean since Paul Woodruff, classics and philosophy professor, stepped down last year. 

As dean, Iverson will oversee the core curriculum, advising services, undergraduate research, interdisciplinary programs and first-year programs within the school. According to the search committee criteria, the dean reports to the Provost and through a visionary strategic planning for the school, coordinates with administrators, deans and department chairs to improve undergraduate education and fundraise for new initiatives. 

Iverson has been at UT since 1990 and is a member of the University's Academy of Distinguished Teachers — a collection of the top 5 percent of tenured professors on campus — and a member of the inaugural class of the UT System Academy of Distinguished Teachers. He was originally scheduled to teach organic chemistry in the fall, but his classes have been reassigned to other professors in the department, according to the most recent course schedule.

English professor Dr. James Cox, organic chemistry professor Dr. Brent Iverson, and junior human biology major Camille Alilaen demonstrate a funny dance in order to get out of jail on Speedway on Wednesday afternoon. To fundraise for Camp Kesem, students and faculty were arrested in class and brought to a jail in exchange for donations.

Photo Credit: Emily Ng | Daily Texan Staff

When English professor James Cox and chemistry professor Brent Iverson were arrested Wednesday morning, the only way they could receive bail was by following members of Camp Kesem in a sing-a-long and dance song on Speedway in front of thousands passing by.

Camp Kesem, a college student-run summer camp, free of charge for children whose parents have or had cancer, held a jail-a-thon fundraiser to reach their goal of $40,000. Professors were willingly arrested if their students raised enough money while students were able to donate $5 to arrest anyone.  

After visiting the camp last summer, Iverson, whose twin daughters, Alexandra and Alanna Iverson, cofounded the chapter at UT, said the scene of the children was so moving that he came back a changed person.

“When cancer affects family, it affects more than one person,” Brent Iverson said. “The kids get the brunt of it. It takes a financial toll on the family and this gives them the opportunity to just be a kid which is oftentimes the best thing you can provide for families affected by cancer.”

According to Alanna, Camp Kesem received its grant from the Livestrong Foundation in 2011. While the first week-long session occurred in 2012, Alanna said she could see the transformation unravel from both campers and counselors.

“The camp was more amazing than words can say,” Alanna said. “Getting to see the growth in such a short time was incredible.”

Last summer, 24 kids attended the camp, and this summer the organization expects to double its attendance according to psychology senior Rebecca Torres. With about 19 counselors on site, two nurses and a therapist, Torres said the program corresponds to the needs of the children accordingly by providing a balance between fun and guidance.

“I went to a camp that was similar when I was a young kid, and it meant so much to me, and I remember I loved it, especially all the counselors,” Torres said. “That experience drives me more to make sure they have just as good of an experience as I did and to let them know they have a second family here with Kesem.”

On May 4, Camp Kesem will be hosting a “Share the Magic” fundraising event at The Upper Decks from 4:30 to 7:30. Ten percent of the profits will go directly to funding the camp.

 

A panel of award-winning professors offers insight to students on how to participate in undergraduate research Thursday evening. 

Photo Credit: Gabriella Belzer | Daily Texan Staff

In conjunction with Undergraduate Research Week, the Senate of College Councils sponsored a talk led by UT President William Powers Jr. and a panel of professors on Thursday.

The panelists have conducted research in fields including social work, philosophy, chemistry and communication science disorders. Each panel member discussed his or her experiences with research, both as undergraduates and in his or her current positions.

“What attracts us to being a researcher is you get to work with the best people,” chemistry professor Brent Iverson said. “And it’s great to achieve something that hasn’t been achieved before.” 

The panelists advised students on how to succeed if they decide to participate in undergraduate research. 

“Be persistent,” Iverson said. “Get to know the TAs and convince them you will make their life easier.” 

In Powers’ speech after the panel, he praised the status of undergraduate research on campus.

“It is a great development and bits of progress for the University,” Powers said. “This is a tremendous advance and we cannot rest on our laurels.”

Powers said the purpose of undergraduate education is to learn how to solve problems and the only way to do that is to jump into it.

“If students get into situations where they have to solve problems, you will do better in your field, your classes and beyond,” Powers said. “You learn how to use mental tools ... by being a part of research.” 

Music freshman Kristina Doan, who participated in the Longhorn Research Bazaar on Wednesday, said participating in such an event as a freshman is motivation to continue to explore research topics and look for ways to change the world.

“To do a research project as a freshman is a great boost to myself,” Doan said. “Now I’m anxious to look for ways to solve the problem I chose to research and make my dream a reality.” 

Brent Iverson, chemistry professor and former chairman of the department of chemistry and biochemistry, currently serves as the Dean of the School of Undergraduate Studies. 

Photo Credit: Jonathan Garza | Daily Texan Staff

Shooting underwater photography, running marathons and binding molecules to DNA are just a few of Brent Iverson’s interests.

Iverson is chairman of the department of chemistry and biochemistry and a chemistry professor. He is also one of five finalists for the deanship of the School of Undergraduate Studies, and the only one from UT.

Iverson, who has been chairman for two years, said he continues to teach chemistry because of his passion for the science and the excitement of seeing students connect scientific fundamentals to the world around them.

“We’re in the process of updating our undergraduate curriculum and I think we’re creating the kind of learning environment that going to be just want the students need especially at the undergraduate level,” Iverson said. “The demands on students after they leave are changing and the though process of what students want are changing.”

Iverson said although he is involved in administration, teaching and research, all three areas have a common goal of inspiring and connecting students to world-class researchers.

“They don’t work for me, I work for them,” Iverson said. “We have top-tier researchers in this department. Really, they are the best of the best, and those are the people students are getting to connect with.”

In December, President Barack Obama awarded chemistry professor Allen Bard the National Medal of Science. In January, chemistry professor Grant Wilson won the Japan Prize, which is a prestigious international chemistry award.

Amy Rhoden Smith, a graduate research assistant, worked with Iverson to develop a molecule that binds to DNA.

“He is so able to encapsulate a good idea and communicate something very complex in a way people can understand, even if you’re not a scientist,” Rhoden Smith said.

Iverson said although the bond does not have a current practical use, it could potentially be a step toward developing a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease.

“That is just really cool,” Iverson said. “It not as though tomorrow we’re going do something with it, but it’s a big step forward.”

Biology senior Patrick Hunt, who has Iverson as a faculty mentor and as a professor in a seminar class, said Iverson is an inspiring role model who is constantly encouraging students.

“He’s very good at giving positive advice,” Hunt said. “He’s full of experience. He just knows a lot about a lot. We try to talk about academics but its hard not to mention hobbies, and he has a lot.”

Chemistry professor Eric Anslyn has known Iverson since they were both in graduate school at the California Institute of Technology, and they have even published an organic chemistry textbook together. Anslyn said Iverson is leading the department to better students’ chemistry education.

“He has empathy and understanding for the students and dedication to the educational process, making sure students achieve their very best,” Anslyn said. “He sees how decisions have short run and long reaching implications and is able to bring together coalitions of people who will make wise decision about the direction of the department.”

As one of five candidates for the undergraduate studies deanship, he will give a presentation to students and faculty April 5. Currently, Lawrence Abraham is serving as interim dean.

“Higher education changes and it’s going to continue to change,” Iverson said. “I fundamentally believe that UGS is going to be the beacon of change on this campus. It’s going to enhance what goes on around it. So I hope the right person gets it, even if that is not me.”

The candidates include Bernard Mair, the provost of undergraduate affairs and mathematics professor at the University of Florida, who visited campus Thursday; Selmer Bringsjord, chairman of the department of cognitive science at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, who will visit Tuesday; Paul Diehl, a political science and law professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who will visit Thursday and Friday; and Steven Brint, the vice provost for undergraduate education and a sociology professor at the University of California at Riverside, who will visit April 1 and 2.

Chemists from the University have developed a DNA-targeting molecule that could change the future of treating genetic conditions such as HIV.

The molecule is able to bind to specific DNA sequences by threading itself through the DNA double helix and was reported to have the longest dissociation half-life recorded to date, according to the report. The study outlining the process of developing the molecule was released Sept. 25, 2011. Interest in finding a molecule that targets DNA has been a subject of interest in the scientific community for many years, said Amy Rhoden Smith, chemistry graduate student and contributing author to the study.

“It started quite a few years ago,” Rhoden Smith said. “Basically we’ve made a molecule that can wind itself around the DNA the way a snake might climb a ladder. The thing that made the paper so interesting was once the molecule finds its binding site, it takes an incredibly long time for it to be able to come back out.”

The molecule was reported to have a dissociation half-life of 16 days, she said. Development of a molecule with the capability to target DNA sequences and bind to them for such a long period of time is a significant achievement, Rhoden Smith said.

“With this type of study we showed that we can make a molecule that will sit and stay there tightly in biological time frames that are very significant,” Rhoden Smith said. “A lot can happen in 16 days with cell reproduction, etcetera. This type of therapy can work in the future.”

The long-term goal of the molecule is to find potential cures for genetic disorders, including HIV, she said. The ability to combat these disorders at the DNA level is an important step in finding such a cure, said contributing author Brent Iverson, professor and chair in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

“The AIDS genetic information is encoded into the cells of the patient,” Iverson said. “To be able to truly attack that, you have to go after the DNA itself. Long term, you’re trying to create therapies that modulate what happens with DNA. You’re basically attacking the problem at its source.”

The next step is to continue trying to extend the amount of time the molecule is bonded to the DNA, Iverson said.

“Sixteen days isn’t enough,” Iverson said. “The important thing is to be able to interact with the DNA for a long period of time. You don’t want to treat people for an hour. You have to treat them over a long period of time.”

Biochemistry senior Joshua Hays said he believes the development of the molecule will help treat some disorders faster than other vaccines.

“I’ve heard about the research targeting HIV DNA, and how it activates the replication of the virus,” Hays said. “It seems like good research.”

Iverson said although the development of the molecule is a positive accomplishment, there is still much to be done.

“It’s really premature to really talk about its impact,” Iverson said. “It’s one milestone among many. There are a whole lot of things that have to fall into place before this has a significant effect. We’re not even almost there, but we have taken an important step.”

Printed on Tuesday, February 28, 2012 as: Molecule's discovery could lead to HIV cure

As part of an initiative to increase undergraduate interest in research, the School of Undergraduate Studies hosted a lecture series called Research That Changes The World on Tuesday evening.

The lectures took place in a packed Bass Concert Hall, where three teams of researchers — representing the social sciences, natural sciences and humanities — took the stage to present their work. Each research team was composed of a student and professor who worked together to develop a project.

The presentations began with a short introduction by Dean Paul Woodruff, who acted as a moderator in the series and urged students to take advantage of the chance to impact their environment.

“These presentations were designed to be a common experience — almost a football game in a way, but academic,” Woodruff said. “We give you opportunities to change, and that gives you the chance to change the world.”

The lecture series kicked off with a presentation by sociology and psychology professor Robert Crosnoe and UT sociology alumna Natalie Raff about their work on the National Institute of Child Health and Human Developments’ case study of the effects of parental involvement in 1,364 children observed from birth to about 20 years of age.

“This was really a great time for me, and I was able to become part of research and work on a different variety of projects and research skills,” Raff said. “I urge all of you to explore what UT has in terms of research.”

Brent Iverson, chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, and Jennifer Maynard, assistant professor of chemical engineering, described their development of a successful cure for anthrax, which they claim is 20 times more powerful than the antibiotic developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. As opposed to research done by large corporations that involve billions of dollars, huge teams and decades of research, this project utilized a small cash amount and only about three researchers, Iverson said.

“It’s hard to imagine working in a lab,” Iverson said. “It’s sort of like an apprenticeship. You’re mixing things, stirring things, heating things — most of the time, it doesn’t work out, and you’re going back to your professor and asking for ideas. You’re thinking about all of these factors, and in these failures is where you learn.”

The last presentation was given by English professor James Loehlin and senior English major Isto Barton, who presented their research on the effect of performance in learning Shakespeare. As Barton acted out scenes from “Richard III”, Loehlin described the psychology of Barton’s character and how watching the performance resulted in a different understanding of the play than simply reading it.

Finally, the floor was open to questions from a select group of honors students. The night ended on a question from Woodruff, who asked if the heavy lifting of work was done by undergraduate students. The answer from Iverson was “an emphatic yes.”

Printed on Wednesday, September 14, 2011 as: Lectures encourage student research.

DT Spotlight: Role of Research

Editor’s note: In recent months, research at the University has come under the critical eye of individuals and groups, Texans and non-Texans, and in- and outsiders of the higher education community. This is the first part of a five part series to explore different the impact of UT research in a range of disciplines.

UT’s research and new discoveries set it apart as a tier one research university, but that mission has come under attack from groups and individuals including the Texas Public Policy Foundation and Gov. Rick Perry.

According to the University’s website, research brought $644 million to the University and $2.8 billion and 16,000 jobs to the state of Texas.

“Our scientists and scholars, from many disciplines but united in the common purpose of advancing knowledge, made strides toward the future with discoveries in energy, biomedicine, supercomputing and the humanities,” said Juan Sanchez, vice president for research on the website.

Brent Iverson, professor and Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry chair, said his research encompasses chemistry and biology. Iverson and his colleagues are working to create proteins that are used to fight cancer and autoimmune disorders.

“We are working on ways of making new treatments more effective and thus less expensive,” Iverson said.

During his freshman year as an undergraduate, Iverson was inspired to become a scientist by his professor who was a renowned researcher. It is not accurate to talk about research and teaching as separate subjects, Iverson said.

“In fact, research at UT is conducted largely by students at all levels and serves as the most important element of their scientific educations,” he added.

The research experience students receive, in addition to classroom instruction, helps them be more prepared to enter the workforce, Iverson said.

Natural sciences junior Radhika Kumar said she has been working to identify properties and potential applications of nanoparticles to replace more expensive metals in industrial applications.

The experiments teach students to get out of their comfort zone and rely on their observations rather than instructions from a piece of paper, Kumar said.

“You use information you have learned in class and interpret it in order to have the best technique for your experiment,” Kumar said.

Richard Vedder, economist from Ohio State University, said in an interview with The Daily Texan last week that some types of research, particularly those in humanities, do not serve society in any meaningful way.

“People [are] writing hundreds of articles about self-esteem,” Vedder said. “[It has] sort of an anti-intellectual quality to it.”

The College of Liberal Arts does research that examines a wide variety of cultures and human behavior, said Dean Randy Diehl.

“Without that, we wouldn’t be a tier one University,” he said.

Esther Raizen, the college’s associate dean for research, said research in humanities is not different from scientific research in its fundamental goal of advancing human knowledge.

“Like in other disciplines, the impact of humanities research is not immediately observable, not guaranteed,” Raizen said.

Professors in the College are engaged in research that spans different cultures, languages and political and social areas, she said.

Associate sociology professor Andres Villarreal is researching the impact skin color bias in Mexico has on a person’s socioeconomic circumstances, educational attainment, occupational status and income, Raizen said.

She said students also develop great academic and research skills by becoming involved in field work. According to a 2010 survey of the student body, students with research experience generally have higher grade point average.

“Students who enter college with lower SAT scores or class rankings show significantly marked improvement if they engage in research,” she said.

Printed on 07/07/2011 as: Faculty emphasizes research as necessity for academic growth