Sheldon Ekland-Olson

In an effort to raise funds for pediatric cancer research, members of the Austin community gathered on the steps of the Main Building on Saturday to shave their heads.

With the slogan “Go bald for a bold cause,” roughly 150 people registered to shave their heads for the Brave the Shave event. This year, Brave the Shave raised more than $50,000.

All of the proceeds of the event go to the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, an organization that promotes fundraising events such as shaving heads to fund cancer and supportive care research for children and upgrading equipment for hospitals.

The organization Students Making Impacts Through Love and Empathy, S.M.I.L.E., hosts the annual event. Sabrina Khwaja, S.M.I.L.E. fundraising chair and sociology senior, said it is inspiring to see individuals be selfless and shave off all of their hair.  

“In essence, they’re kind of going through the process with these children that are affected with cancer,” Khwaja said. “Through chemotherapy your hair tends to fall out, so by volunteering to shave off your hair and show those children that ‘I am going through it with you’ ... it is overwhelming and wonderful to see this.”

Kalie Kubes, applied learning and development sophomore is a three-time cancer survivor. She said she had neuroblastoma at the age of 15 months and again at 2, and thyroid cancer at 18 and is at high risk for relapse. Although she is currently cancer-free, she said she believes everyone should shave their head to support someone enduring cancer at some point in their life.

“It definitely brings up some feelings that are really emotional sometimes,” Hughes said in a speech she gave during Brave the Shave. “You look at yourself in the mirror and you’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, I just don’t have any hair.’ I never thought of myself as being bald, but it’s the best thing you could ever do.”

Sheldon Ekland-Olson, professor and school of human ecology director, said he promised his life and death decisions class — a class Khwaja is enrolled in — he would have his head shaved if it raised money for the cause. The class raised $1,842 and he shaved his head. 

“It’s important for me to see all of us do things for other people, and this is one of those events that does that,” Ekland-Olson said. “What I admire are the women who do this. It’s way harder for the women to get their heads shaved than it is for a man. It is definitely inspiring.”

Pre-nursing student Devon Strickland said she volunteered she decided to participate in Brave the Shave after hearing an American studies lecture on women’s suffrage.

“All at once I realized that throughout history many people have sacrificed themselves mentally and physically to fight battles and win wars they greatly supported.” Strickland said. “I just thought to myself, ‘Who am I?’ and, ‘What do I stand for if I can’t sacrifice beyond my limitations for something I so strongly believe in as finding a cure to cancer, especially childhood cancer?’ I did it because sometimes it may seem that cancer wins the battle but we will win the war.”

Khwaja said many people participated because they have been affected by cancer in one way or another. 

“This form of empathy allows awareness to spread, and most importantly, show those currently suffering from cancer are not alone,” Khwaja said. “By having our speakers share their personal stories battling cancer, and currently suffering from cancer, it gives our attendees a personal story to connect with. It makes cancer that more real, and calls for action to be taken. Those that contributed are making a real difference.” 

Dr. Sheldon Ekland-Olson is the 2013 recipient of the Friar Centennial Teaching Fellowship, a student-nominated award given to an undergraduate professor who has demonstrated excellence in teaching and has contributed to the University community. Ekland-Olson has served in various academic positions in the College of Liberal Arts, Lyndon B Johnson School of Public Affairs and the College of Natural Sciences.

Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

A parade of students and colleagues barged into Sheldon Ekland-Olson’s 10 a.m. class carrying a $25,000 check with his name on it.

Ekland-Olson, a sociology professor and director of the School of Human Ecology, was selected by the Friar Society as the winner of the Friar Centennial Teaching Fellowship Award, a prize granted to professors nominated by UT students for their dedication to the University. Friar Society members, along with university faculty including Christine Williams, professor and chair of the Department of Sociology, met outside the College of Liberal Arts building in preparation for the surprise.

Williams said she thinks Ekland-Olson is well-deserving of the Friar Award.

“I think that he’s a remarkable teacher and he’s somebody who’s really dedicated his whole life to this institution, and more than anything he cares very deeply about the students,” Williams said. “He’s just been an inspiration to all of us on how to live an upright, forthright and dedicated career.”

Ekland-Olson is a former dean of the College of Liberal Arts, a former Provost of the University and an influential author, Williams said. She said Ekland-Olson has written about the death penalty in Texas and his most recent work is called, “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Decides.”

“He’s a specialist in the study of the criminal justice system,” Williams said. 

As the group arrived at Ekland-Olson’s classroom, one Friar member played music on a boombox, while Billy Calve, a government senior and co-chair of the award selection committee, announced their entrance by ringing a cowbell.

Calve said he and his co-chair directed Ekland-Olson’s selection for the award.

“My co-chair and I oversaw the process for the fellowship,” Calve said. “We solicited nominations from students as to who they felt was the most deserving professor, and we distributed that information to the rest of the Friars and then the Friar society as a whole selected Dr. Ekland-Olson for all his years of service to the university.”

After Ekland-Olson received the award, he said he was grateful for the honor.

“This means a lot to me,” Ekland-Olson said. “It’s sort of a lifetime achievement, and it’s very nice to be acknowledged.” 

Calve said the Friar Society has a tradition of surprising the winners of the award.

“Yeah, we think it’s more fun to take the winner by surprise,” Calve said. “So we barge into their class unannounced and we present them with this giant check, and it really is a special moment to see them surprised and so happy.”