Karen Nyberg

Matthew McConaughey attends the Texas football game Saturday evening in recognition of recent Distinguished Alumnus Awards. UT alumni recipients were awarded for their lifetime achievements and contributions.

Photo Credit: Jenna VonHofe | Daily Texan Staff

For the 56th year, the Texas Exes alumni association recognized the work of UT alumni through its 2014 Distinguished Alumnus Awards. 

The 2014 recipients included former football player Earl Campbell, former regent H. Scott Caven Jr., businessman John Massey, astronaut Karen Nyberg, actor Matthew McConaughey and Dealey Decherd Herndon, former executive director of the State Preservation Board of Texas. Jody Conradt, former UT women’s basketball coach, was recognized with the Distinguished Service Award.

In his acceptance speech, McConaughey said before attending the University, he decided to become a lawyer and thought about applying to Southern Methodist University. McConaughey, who won the Oscar for Best Actor in March, said his brother told him that because their oil business was going bankrupt, it would be cheaper to go to UT. 

“For that, I am happy the oil business went to pot because this was the four best years of my life,” McConaughey said. “When I tell people about this university, I tell them they will have access to a great education but also learn how to compete and engage. While I was here, I made a lot of my closest friends here and at Delta Tau Delta.”        

Remembered for his punishing style of play and becoming UT’s first Heisman winner, Campbell, who received the Heisman Trophy in 1977, said it was hard to initially understand the impact the University had on him.

“It wasn’t until I got to the NFL when I realized what UT gave me,” Campbell said. “I noticed this with teammates with the [Houston] Oilers as they talked to me more about Coach [Darrell K] Royal and the University and things that I went through.”

Caven served on the Board of Regents from 2003-09, including as chairman from 2007-09. In his speech, Caven talked about the significance of the hires he was able to make with the board, such as William Powers Jr. as president, Francisco Cigarroa as chancellor and Bruce Zimmerman as head of UT Investment Management Company.

“Having served on the Board of Regents and UTIMCO, it gave me opportunities to make a difference,” Caven said. “One of our most important duties was choosing our leaders.” 

Nyberg, who completed her doctorate in 1998, has participated in two missions and logged more than 75 million miles in space as a NASA astronaut.

“When I came to UT, I started as a graduate student,” Nyberg said. “It is because of the people I met and the opportunities I was given that I was able to accomplish my dreams.”

This year’s recipients joined a long list of well-known alumni, including Walter Cronkite, Lady Bird Johnson, Ben Crenshaw, Michael Dell and Adm. William McRaven, the next UT System chancellor. 

Horns Up: Theatre and dance reconsiders guest-casting decision

The University’s theatre and dance department reversed its decision to cast guest actors (instead of students) for nine out of 12 of the lead roles in the department’s production of the musical “In the Heights,” according to an article in the Texan Monday. Originally, the department had chosen to contract guest actors for the leads in order to reflect the ethnic background of the roles — a move that received warranted backlash from students. We commend department chair Grant Pope for reversing his original decision and instead recasting the musical with undergraduate students. A successful college theatre department must be committed to providing the best possible experience for its students, and part of that experience includes giving students the opportunity to audition and perform.

Horns Up: Former Longhorn returns to Earth

Karen Nyberg, UT alumna and NASA astronaut on Expedition 37 landed back on Earth this past Sunday. The expedition marked the 37th one to the International Space Station thus far, making the journey a remarkable accomplishment. During her expedition, Nyberg tweeted photos of herself and of the planet from the shuttle, educating those of us on Earth about life in space. This move has been popular worldwide, as the astronaut has over 97,000 followers on Twitter. We congratulate this former Longhorn not only for her accomplishment in space, but also for her innovative use of social media during her journey. After all, for many of us on Earth, traveling in space is a difficult concept to grasp. Through tweeting photos of herself and of the earth from the shuttle, Nyberg has brought outer space to millions of people here on Earth.

UT alumna Karen Nyberg (left) landed in Kazakhstan on Sunday after 166 days in space on Expedition 37.

Photo Credit: NASA

Karen Nyberg, NASA astronaut and UT mechanical engineering alumna, landed back on Earth yesterday with Expedition 37. 

Nyberg was the flight engineer for the expedition, which began as Expedition 36 on May 28. Nyberg, along with fellow crew members Fyodor Yurchikhin and Luca Parmitano, separated from the rest of their crew on Expedition 36 and departed from the International Space Station on Sept. 10 to begin Expedition 37. The capsule containing the remaining portion of the crew from Expedition 36 landed in Kazakhstan on Nov. 5. 

Although a journey in space may seem to be a fairly difficult concept to grasp for most of the general population, many believe that Nyberg has brought the journey to Earth with her unusually frequent social media usage while in space. Nyberg tweeted about her experiences while on the expedition, consistently sharing pictures illustrating her journey, which caused her to gain a significantly large social media following.

Trey Curran, Plan II and aerospace engineering freshman, said he was particularly interested by Nyberg’s success as an astronaut. 

“As an [undergraduate] in aerospace engineering, Nyberg’s story serves an inspiration,” Curran said. “She shows, through hard work and determination, that any person can reach the top of their profession, whether it be in aerospace or any other field.”

Karen Nyberg shows off her Longhorn socks on her first mission, STS-124, in 2008. It was on this mission that Nyberg became the 50th woman in space (Photo courtesy of NASA).

UT alumna Karen Nyberg is set to launch aboard the Soyuz TMA-09M spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 3:31 p.m. CDT today. 

Nyberg attended graduate school at The University of Texas at Austin's Cockrell School of Engineering and received her master's and doctorate degrees in mechanical engineering in 1996 and 1998, respectively. She is a member of the Expedition 36 crew which also includes Soyuz Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) and European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Luca Parmitano.

The Expedition 36 crew will be taking a new one-day route to the International Space Station (ISS), attempted only once before by a manned crew during Expediton 35 in March. What was once a two-day journey, will now take the crew about six hours. The crew will dock to the space station at 9:16 p.m., and they will open the hatch and enter the space station at 10:55 p.m. Both events will also be broadcast live on NASA TV.

Nyberg, Yurchikhin and Parmitano will join NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and Cosmonauts Pavel Vinogradov and Aleksandr Misurkin for a six month stay aboard the ISS.

You can follow Karen Nyberg on Twitter for mission updates at @AstroKarenN.

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UT alumna prepares for six-month space mission

Karen Nyberg shows off her Longhorn socks on her first mission, STS-124, in 2008. It was on this mission that Nyberg became the 50th woman in space (Photo courtesy of NASA).

The 50th woman in space and UT alumna Karen Nyberg is preparing to take off in two months for a six-month mission to the International Space Station

Nyberg will launch for the space station on May 28 with Luca Parmitano of Italy and Fyodor Yurchikhin of Russia for the Expedition 36-37 mission. They will comprise three members of the expedition’s six-member crew. The other three are already on the space station.  

Nyberg studied mechanical engineering as an undergraduate at North Dakota State University and earned her master’s and doctorate degrees from UT in 1996 and 1998, respectively. The resources and faculty available at UT were valuable parts of how her career has taken shape, Nyberg said during a press conference Tuesday at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. 

“I was actually able to work directly with people at NASA while I was in graduate school, and I think that was valuable,” Nyberg said. “I think my advisor at UT was an incredible person and very supportive. I love Austin and I love UT, so it was a great experience.”

During the conference Nyberg talked about her mental and physical preparation for the six-month stay in space and how she will spend her time while she is there. Nyberg said there is no way to truly mentally prepare for this type of journey, but she plans to take trinkets from home as a way to remain close with her husband and son. She also plans to continue several of her hobbies, including sewing and drawing, as leisure activities while aboard the station.

Nyberg said she is considering various forms of social media as a way to share her experiences with those on Earth.

“I haven’t decided yet whether I’ll do Twitter, but I have been using Pinterest for a couple of years and absolutely love it because of my other hobbies,” Nyberg said. “I think it would be neat to add onto that while I’m there, if I can. Definitely we’re going to do as much as we can to share what we’re doing up there with the rest of the world.” 

Nyberg said her previous experience running marathons correlates well to both the physical and mental aspects of taking such a long journey away from her family.

“I think one thing marathons teach you is, invariably, when you’re in the middle of a marathon, somewhere between mile 15 and 25, there comes a point when you just can’t stand it anymore and want to quit really badly,” Nyberg said. “You find a way to power through and at the end you’re so happy you did it.”

Rebekah Sosland, aerospace engineering senior and treasurer for Women In Aerospace for Leadership and Development, said Nyberg is a role model for young women around the world who want to develop their passion for science and engineering.

“Women going into space is an incredible part of history, and I think that having Karen represent that population is really important, especially to young women and girls out there,” Sosland said. “They need to realize that if they love math and science and engineering, they can be a part of it and there’s nothing holding them back from that. The men’s world that it used to be, that’s no longer the case.”

Published on March 20, 2013 as "UT alumna prepare for mission to space station".