With the demand for social workers due to grow by more than 35 percent in West Texas in the next few years, the University of Texas at El Paso will launch a Master of Social Work program in 2010 called Social Work in a Border Region. Though UT Pan American offers a program in Social Work with Hispanic Families, UTEP’s will be the first in the nation to specialize in border issues. Courses will focus on traditional social-worker problems — domestic violence, drug addiction, physical and mental health, unemployment, poverty — but in a binational context, where identity is based on culture and language rather than citizenship. Students will also receive training in how to deal with problems specific to the region, such as human trafficking and life in families which have members dwelling on both sides of the border.

“This environment requires us to adjust our curriculum to deal with these problems specifically; we need more professionals who understand these problems,” says Mark W. Lusk, UTEP professor and chair of the Department of Social Work and associate dean of the College of Health Sciences, who will direct the program. Lusk notes that in El Paso — as in other border cities from San Diego to Tucson to Brownsville — poverty rates are double and triple the national average, more people lack health insurance, salaries are much lower and the risk of health and economic insecurity much higher. “But these problems are increasingly evident elsewhere, in states such as Iowa and Georgia, where the Hispanic populations are also growing rapidly. This program will serve Texas in important ways, and we’ve been getting tremendous support for it from all over the state, but it’s being watched in other places as well.”

In The Number Cruncher, former state demographer Steve Murdoch documents the stunning growth of the Hispanic population in Texas, and explains some of its potential consequences. In Faces of the New Texas, educators from UT El Paso, UT Brownsville, UT Pan American and Texas A&M discuss why it’s essential to all of us that these new Texans have equal access to higher education.

An agreement between Merck & Co., Inc., and both UT San Antonio and the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio sets at least two precedents. The pharmaceutical giant will fund (and work with) scientists at the two UT institutions as they develop a vaccine for the sexually transmitted disease chlaymydia. Merck will then have an exclusive license on that vaccine. Researchers Guangming Zhong, professor of microbiology and immunology at UTHSCSA; Bernard Arulanandam, UTSA professor of microbiology and immunology; and Ashlesh Murthy, a UTSA research assistant professor, have already shown that a vaccine made up of a select group of recombinant Chlaymydia trachomatis (the bacterium that causes the disease) antigens can accelerate bacterial clearance in animal models while preserving female reproductive function. Chlaymydia is the most common STD caused by a bacterium, and its symptoms, especially among females, are often so mild that it’s hard to detect. But there are some 2.3 million infections yearly, and in females they can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, ectopic pregnancy, serious complications for newborns, and infertility.

This represents the first revenue-producing license for any technology developed at UTSA. It’s also the first exclusive license negotiated and executed by South Texas Technology Management, the regional technology transfer office affiliated with UTSA, UTHSCSA, UT Pan American and UT Brownsville. STTM’s mission is to aid the public by facilitating widespread distribution of new discoveries and breakthroughs by the four South Texas UT institutions, while also generating revenues for these intellectual properties.

All of a sudden, algae has become a hot topic in American society in general — and on University of Texas campuses in particular. That’s because the single-celled varieties of this aquatic life are increasingly being touted as an alternative energy source, particularly for transportation fuel. Some forms of algae convert solar energy into an oily substance (called lipids) that can be processed into a biofuel capable of running combustion engines like those in cars, trucks, even airplanes. As long as man can grow algae — in ponds, for example — he can produce more fuel directly from the sun’s energy. Thus, algae are potentially one of the simplest and cheapest sources of energy.

One beneficiary of, and asset to, this growing interest is the Culture Collection of Algae at UT Austin; with nearly 3000 strains growing in a space about the size of an average living room, it’s the largest and most diverse collection in the world. The center sells samples for $75. Until recently, according to director Jerry Brand, their customers were primarily plant and algal research scientists and students working on science projects. But with energy efficiency and “green” fuels at the center of so much current research, “Interest has exploded to the point where it’s hard to keep up with orders,” Brand says. “It’s a largely untapped resource that has only recently received a great deal of attention as a potential source of fuel. Nobody has shown yet that algae can economically produce large volumes of biofuel in a stable way.” But theoretical calculations and small-scale experiments indicate that it can, and many people are out to prove so: more than half the orders Brand now receives, from around the world, are from researchers seeking to create algae-derived biofuels. Brand figures we’re still more than five years away from producing commercial quantities.

Kyle Murray, an assistant professor of geology at UT San Antonio, believes it will happen quicker, and he wants to make the Alamo City a production center for algae-based biofuels. Murray has received funding that will enable him and his students to identify the various local algal organisms and take them to labs where their growth rate can be measured, their nutrient requirements determined and their ability to produced lipids gauged. Then a pilot program could be established whereby the most viable local organisms would be put into a pond system in south San Antonio and grown like a farm product; likewise, a photobiological reactor could be used to cultivate purchased strands of algae (such as those in Brand’s Culture Collection) that are known to produce large amounts of lipids. Murray believes San Antonio is an ideal locale for algae-farming because the area receives considerable sunlight and is relatively humid (which keeps the ponds from evaporating), while land for the ponds is relatively inexpensive there. “The city’s centrally located enough that we can send the product to Corpus Christi and Houston to have it refined,” he points out, and there are also potential customers in San Antonio, namely, the military.”

In The Future of Energy, Scott W. Tinker, director of UT Austin’s Bureau of Economic Geology, and other higher-education experts discuss the world’s impending energy crisis. In “Outliving the Oil Era,” his profile on the State of Tomorrow Web site, Tinker stresses the need for an orderly transition from oil to greener sources of energy including solar, wind and algae.

Using thin sheets of carbon nanotubes, researchers at UT Dallas have developed artificial muscles that are lighter than air yet stiffer than steel and flexible as a rubber band, expanding or contracting when electricity is applied. UTD Nanotech Institute director Ray Baughman, who invented his first artificial muscles some 25 years ago, says the new models have the advantage of operating effectively over a huge temperature range, making it possible to use them in industry and space travel (because their predecessors slowed down dramatically at low temperatures, they could only be employed commercially to perform functions such as controlling the focus of cameras).

In Thinking Small, Dr. Baughman and his UTD colleagues display their artificial muscles, and explain how such nanotechnology can be used in biomedicine and in building prosthetic devices, as well as in the creation of electricity.

Students and staff in the UT San Antonio College of Engineering have created robots that can “think for themselves” and communicate with each other underwater, while performing tasks too dangerous or time-consuming for humans. They will likely be used soon for such duties as underwater inspections, border security, exploration and search and rescue.

UTSA engineering students and staff had previously developed similar robots for use on land against explosives and other tools of terrorism, as demonstrated in High-Tech Warriors.

Two representatives of Texas A&M University join the University of Texas innovators profiled on the State of Tomorrow™ Web site. Chemical physicist Dudley R. Herschbach, 1986 co-winner of the Nobel Prize in chemistry, believes children are the ideal scholars because they’re naturally curious and uninhibited about experimenting; he touts programs that make science more interesting and accessible to students and the general public alike. Before President George W. Bush appointed him Secretary of Defense and President Barack Obama retained him there, Robert M. Gates was the president of A&M; worried about declining enrollment figures for math and science students even as globalization was making these studies more crucial to our economy, he advocated an education push comparable to the nation’s successful 1960s drive to put a man on the moon.

The two Aggies are in good company. Citing the extent to which science students are forced nowadays to memorize information and regurgitate answers, former president of the National Academies of Science and current editor of the journal Science Bruce Alberts recently denounced such science education techniques. Alberts called for a teaching “revolution” that would de-emphasize the need for test-driven memorization in favor of inquiry-based learning. And the University of Houston has initiated an online program allowing middle-school math and science teachers to earn a master’s degree for free. The Integrated Science, Math and Reflective Thinking (iSMART) degree is yet another higher-education program, such as the University of Texas’ UTeach, designed to create better teachers to inspire and develop the scientists, engineers and technologists of tomorrow.

The Innocence Project of Texas is part of a national program that uses newly discovered evidence (primarily DNA) to exonerate people behind bars who have been wrongly convicted of crimes. With the help of students from UT Arlington, more prisoners have been exonerated in Dallas County than in any other county in the nation. Under the supervision of Associate Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice Dr. John Stickels, some 40–60 students are participating in the project at any given time, many of them criminology/criminal justice majors who earn course credits for their roles in attempting to win freedom for the wrongly convicted.

In Shadow of a Doubt we explored how law students on another campus, the University of Houston, research applications to help determine which cases the Innocence Project takes on, and how those cases are then argued in court. The project, in the words of Stickels, “…applies through practice what they’re learning in the classroom.”

Harvard’s Ash Institute for Democratic Governance and Innovation has named UT Austin’s UTeach Natural Sciences program one of the Top 50 Innovations in American Government. UTeach prevailed among some 600 applicants. Six of the 50 finalists will be honored with an Innovations in American Government Award. UTeach, a program to train K–12 math and science teachers, is recognized for the increased size of its graduating class (now up to 70 annually); a superior record of teacher performance and retention (80 percent of its graduates are still teaching after five years, 10 percent higher than the national average); and the national growth of replica programs (13 colleges and universities have received grants to start their own curricula patterned after UTeach).

Using modern learning theories and considerable hands-on classroom experience, UTeach prepares college math and science majors to become K–12 teachers as they themselves are advancing their own math and science educations. In The Best & the Brightest, UTeach creator Dr. Mary Ann Rankin, dean of the College of Natural Sciences at UT Austin, and Austin middle school science teacher and UTeach graduate Elizabeth Abernathy explain the origins of UTeach and how the program works.

State of Tomorrow “takes to the water” for our two newest profiles of university researchers and problem-solvers in Texas. Lee Fuiman, director of the UT Austin Marine Science Institute in Port Aransas, lays out some of the critical issues facing the Gulf of Mexico and what’s being done to overcome them. Meanwhile, at the River Systems Institute at Texas State University-San Marcos, director Andrew Sansom describes how to preserve and protect those waterways from stresses that are inevitable in the future.

We encourage you to check out the profiles of two more higher education innovators who are working diligently to improve our quality of life. Dr. Stanley M. Lemon of UT Medical Branch – Galveston explains why the prestigious new Galveston National Laboratory is a crucial factor in the fight against emerging infectious diseases. And Dr. Roger Rosenberg of UT Southwestern Medical Center – Dallas reveals why he is optimistic that neurologists are closing in on viable treatments for Alzheimer’s disease.

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