Dipping a Toe Into Rice? Immerse Yourself in Rice.

For most Rice students, their Rice careers begin during O-Week. For mine, it was a hot and sweaty week in the middle of July, filled with sleepless nights and some of the best memories I’ve ever made. Elated after my admission into Rice, it wasn’t long until I got an email about a cryptic summer program called “Urban Immersion”. Coincidentally, my birthday fell on the last day of the program- and I was initially just excited to spend my birthday with people from school for once.

I won’t give away too much about Urban Immersion- after all, so much of the fun was because we had virtually no idea what was going on until the night before- but I will say that it made me develop so much as an individual. For a general overview, Urban Immersion was a six day summer program that requires an application. 24 incoming freshmen are selected, and the experience is led by 3 current Rice students who have been planning and training for Urban Immersion for months. Over the course of the six days, we worked with various non-profit organizations and explore Houston, staying at a location off of Rice’s campus. From dawn (literally getting up at 6 AM) to the time we slept (usually 2 AM), there was hardly a single moment of down time. As grueling as it sounds, each activity provided indispensible knowledge. Even though I’ve lived in Houston for the past five years, I learned the most about my home in that one week.

The takeaways from Urban Immersion go so far beyond just the friends I made. Sure, it was great coming into Rice with a whopping 26 other students I trusted and had great memories with, but when I came to Urban Immersion, I thought I knew everything about civic engagement and being an ally to communities. It turns out that I only knew the tip of the iceberg. Urban Immersion didn’t just prove to me that I had so much left to learn, but also that becoming more civically engaged with your community is an ongoing progress. It’s just as possible to regress in the path to active citizenry, which is totally okay! What’s more important is the continual and conscious effort to grow and address social issues in life.

Urban Immersion acquainted me with not only some of the most selfless student leaders I have ever had the privilege of meeting, but also instilled in me a determination to take my experiences from the summer even further. Upon encouragement from my Urban Immersion coordinator, I applied and got accepted into an Alternative Spring Break. Though my journey into civic leadership has just begun, these past few months as a Rice student have already challenged my previous knowledge and spurred on growth in leaps and bounds.

When they talk about going outside of Rice’s hedges, let me tell you that each and every day here prepares me to maximize my impact on wherever I go.

A Very Rice Spring Break

The ins-and-outs of Rice life are kind of what you’d expect: on weekdays, we go to class, on weekends, we don’t go to class, and at times when we’re not in class, you can find us hanging out and studying – or hanging-out-and-studying, which is also very popular. But what do us Rice students do outside of school days? In other words, what do we do over spring break? The answer is: a ton of things. Surprise, surprise.

I personally had a grand time on a trip planned entirely on my own. I spent about half the break in Houston getting some work done on my long-term projects, and about half in Austin, not-really attending SXSW and reading a whopper of a book a fellow English major challenged me to read over break: Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace (if you don’t know, the book is about 1100 pages long and includes almost 400 endnotes scattered throughout the text that require a bunch of flipping back and forth). While visiting independent bookstores, jamming along to custom-made mixtapes, and completely failing to make crepes was all riveting, the past week of my life was totally different from my friends’ breaks.

My friend Jessica went on an Alternative Spring Break (ASB), which is Rice lingo for a spring break trip that accomplishes something beyond just vacation, but builds leadership skills and provides further educational opportunities. She traveled with a group to San Francisco to learn more about stigmas associated with HIV/AIDS, homelessness, and poverty. “We bonded over meaningful discussions and home made food,” says Jessica – tired from the week, but filled with stories to tell about visits from different speakers, experiences in San Francisco, and a better understanding of prejudice in health and poverty crises in American cities.

Photos from Jessica’s trip in San Francisco, taken at the Golden Gate Bridge and the Maitri Hospital for those affected with AIDS.

On a completely different note, my friend Matthew traveled with Rice Outdoor Programs and Education (ROPE) on a backpacking trip in Arizona. I remember being somewhat surprised but intrigued hearing about the trip, which sounds to me both a little hellish and a little bit captivating. He describes it as “40 miles of hiking through canyons and over mountains carrying everything we needed on our backs and sleeping under the stars.” That’s time for thought, getting to know the few people on the trip, and challenging yourself.

A photo of Matthew’s trip in Arizona, with his group.

A photo taken on Matthew’s trip in Arizona, backpacking their way across the mountains.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A favorite question among prospective students and their parents tends to be, “Well, what does your average Rice student look like?” This little post answers that question pretty well: it completely and totally varies, but you can guarantee that people are doing something. Whether it’s exploring a new city, taking some time for inner reflection, a personal challenge, or looking hard at a problem in the world, I think we can all agree that spring break was definitely an experience that wasn’t school. Meaning, we’re all a bit bummed that today is Monday, and that we’re not still taking part in the world outside (or inside, in a new way) Rice’s hedges.

Rice in South Carolina!

I’ve had a whirlwind end of school year and summer!

At the end of the school year I participated in a fundraising event for an organization called St. Baldricks focused on raising money to support research towards the cure to children’s cancer. In order to raise money, I pledged to shaved my head on April 24th. Over the course of 3 weeks, I raised almost $2,000 and raised awareness for children’s cancer around Rice’s campus! The day of the shave ended up being a huge success and helped bring the Rice community together for a good cause.

A few weeks later, I flew down to Charleston, South Carolina for a summer research experience (Research Experience Undergraduates funded by the National Science Foundation – Minorities in Marine and Environmental Sciences) and had been having an amazing summer so far. Not only am I getting valuable research experience, learning how to structure and write my own research paper, but I am also getting to explore Charleston for the entire summer. While working here, I even had the great opportunity to meet a Rice Graduate School Alum working on my project with me. Dr. Dan Bearden got his Masters in 1983 and PhD in 1987 in Physics from Rice University and is now working here in the Hollings Marine Lab using nuclear magnetic resonance to discover metabolic trends in marine animals. We’ve been able to chat about all things Rice as well as marine and environmental sciences over the course of the summer

All in all, I’ve had some wonderful learning experiences this summer but I’m still very excited to get started back at Rice in the next couple of weeks!

Me in Winyah Bay, South Carolina holding a wild Red drum (my focal species for the summer)

Me in Winyah Bay, South Carolina holding a wild Red drum (my focal species for the summer)

Me and Dr. Dan Bearden, a Rice alum and current student

Me and Dr. Dan Bearden, a Rice alum and current student

Owls + Chemistry = Owlchemy!

One of the best things I’ve gotten to do at Rice is volunteer with Owlchemy. What is Owlchemy, you ask? Owlchemy is a club for people who like chemistry and/or doing demonstrations. We do demos at various campus events and at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. I was first introduced to Owlchemy at the activities fair my freshman year when I saw them freezing flowers with liquid nitrogen and smashing them against a table. I decided to join them because I love chemistry, and doing demos seemed like fun. It was a great decision.

I’ve had the chance to work with an awesome group of people who love chemistry as much as I do. We have a lot of fun making bubbles with dry ice and dish soap, freezing ice cream with liquid nitrogen, and combusting gummy bears with potassium chlorate and talking about the chemistry behind the demos. Aside from getting to play around with really cool stuff like dry ice and liquid nitrogen (See what I did there?), doing chemistry demos for kids is a lot of fun. Kids get really amazed by the phenomena we show them, but more importantly, they really become interested in what we show them. Some of the older students who have had some chemistry in school even ask about how our demos relate to something they learned in school. As a chemical engineering major, I really love seeing young kids interested in and curious about science, and Owlchemy was the perfect place to channel my own passion for chemistry into getting kids interested in chemistry.

An elementary school student assists with a liquid nitrogen demo

Dry ice bubbles!

Growing Farms, not Food Deserts Alternative Spring Break! Featuring: Pizza night

This past week was an amazing experience for me. During our (early) spring break, I co-led an Alternative Spring Break trip (ASB) that stayed in Houston focused on the issue of food sustainability and food accessibility. Rice has been named one of the healthiest colleges in America—a fitting title given that our serveries make 90% of what’s served from scratch, have a fully stocked salad bar, and recently even feature more locally-sourced ingredients. However, this is a jarring contrast to the city in which Rice belongs—Houston has been deemed ‘America’s Fattest City.’ Our ASB looked at some of the factors that contributed to this, since it can hardly be all attributed to the lack of healthy eating choices. More specifically, one such factor is the presence of food deserts, or areas in which residents lack access to healthy, fresh, affordable food. For our trip, we worked at the Last Organic Outpost, a 2 acre urban farm in Fifth Ward, one of Houston’s prominent food deserts. The Outpost was a food oasis—with fresh herbs, vegetables, and even fruits growing in abundance. During our week there, we created more raised beds for planting later, planted a lot of seeds, and also reclaimed a neglected herb garden. We observed that while the farm was a rich resource to the surrounding community, it was under-harvested due to a relatively low community involvement. We’re hoping to help change that by planting more fruit trees as part of our reorientation project!

Of course—our trip wasn’t all work and no play. During the week, we divided ourselves into cooking teams to take turns making dinner. The group I was in covered Tuesday dinner—we made pizza featuring fresh produce from the farm and from the organic vegetable share we’d bought at the start of the week from a co-op! Pictures are included below—needless to say they were delicious! For more information about ASBs–click here! 

Beet and fennel on one half, cheese on the other

Mango curry pizza

Dessert pizza!

And, last but not least–a picture of our group with the founder of the Last Organic Outpost–Joe Icet! A shout-out to a most incredible team!!

Group picture at the Outpost!

 

Volunteering and Academics Make a Great PAIR

So you’re a first-year student at Rice University. You’ve gone to the clubs expo and you’ve talked to upperclassmen about all of their extracurricular activities. But you don’t know what you really want to do — there are so many options and so many things you can/want to join. That was exactly how I felt my first semester freshmen year. I basically wanted to join every club, but I knew that wasn’t possible, so I decided to narrow my choices to two clubs: Student Admission Council (which I am happily writing this blog post for!) and PAIR (Partnership for the Advancement and Immersion of Refugees), which is what I’m going to dabble about today.

PAIR is a volunteer program where you mentor refugee students with schoolwork, culture, and career and leadership skills. I was first exposed to PAIR from my sister. She loved it and urged me to join. I was initially very dubious — spending 2-3 hours every week mentoring refugees seemed like a lot to me (it’s really not) in the beginning. I was just learning how to deal with classes, but I decided to give it a try; it was possibly the best decision I ever made.

There are three programs of PAIR at Rice: The Global Explorers (elementary students), Learners (middle-schoolers), and Leaders (high schoolers) programs. I signed up for the Global Leaders program at Lee High School because I wanted to try out working with older students.

It was awesome. I got to know the other fellow Rice students (and other volunteers from Houston) really well through PAIR. And more importantly, I got to know the high schoolers and their background stories. Some of them very recently arrived in Houston, and I learned about their life (language, culture, family) back home. Many of the students where I volunteered were from Africa and spoke all of these cool languages. Some of the refugees’ English weren’t the best, but their embarrassment for speaking proper English made up for my inability to pronounce their language. We played games with them, had design competitions, taught them about interpersonal skills, and always managed to have a fun time every session. Sometimes we would even go on field trips to the Houston Zoo or go volunteering at a food bank. Yes, sometimes the kids needed disciplining, but I was able to learn how to balance being an older authority figure and a peer friend.

I’m not doing the Global Leaders Program anymore (you can blame my spring schedule for that); instead, I’m doing the Learners Program. I just went to my first session last week, and it was honestly such a blast meeting the new students. Of course, I miss my high schoolers a lot, but that just goes to show what great relationships you can form with them in just a couple of months.

There are so many volunteering opportunities out here at Rice, and you just have to find the one that makes you happiest. I’ve definitely found mine 🙂

If you want more information about Rice’s PAIR chapter, feel free to visit their website here: http://pair.rice.edu/

To celebrate the end of the Global Leaders fall program, the coordinator, students, and mentors got together to celebrate Thanksgiving-- we each brought food from our family's culture to share.