Ready for a (ASB)reak

Rice students are busy—busy with classes, labs, studying, jobs, volunteering, and friends. After several months here, students are ready for a break!  While many college students look forward to spring break as a week to get away from school and relax, at Rice, one special program gives Rice students the opportunity to engage in communities and keep busy during this week in spring: Alternative Spring Break!

What is an Alternative Spring Break (ASB)?  An ASB is a community-service and experiential learning project that groups of Rice students engage in during their spring break.  This year, the Community Involvement Center at Rice is organizing 17 ASB trips around the United States that deal with a variety of issues ranging from homelessness to wolf conservation.  If you want to read more about the ASB trips this year, click here! Continue reading

Owls, Owls Everywhere! ASB San Francisco

Being a Rice Owl can take you to some exciting places. This Spring Break, instead of staying at home in Houston, I traveled to San Francisco, California on an Alternative Spring Break Trip to focus on the education gap in our nation.

What is an Alternative Spring Break trip? It’s exactly what the name suggests. No misnomer here! It is a service trip sponsored by Rice’s Community Involvement Center that you have to apply to. If chosen, you and the other members of your group go volunteer with the specified organization. There are several ASB trips each year, with various destinations and organizations. You can view a list of the 2012 trips at this link, under “2013 Trip Destinations”: Information Sessions.

In San Francisco, I was paired with a teacher at a middle school. During the school day, I observed and helped out in the classroom, and afterwards, I volunteered at the built-in after school program. Not only did I get to help the kids, but I also got to learn about them, play games with them, and talk to them. I now understand the current state of our public education system better, and I learned that educational inequality involves many complex features. There isn’t an easy solution for educational inequality, but little things, such as telling a kid about your experiences in college, can potentially make a difference.

In addition to volunteering, my ASB group and I also got to tour around San Francisco. Some of the places we went to included Ghirardelli Square (I had the BEST ice cream cone in my LIFE), Fisherman’s Wharf, Coit Tower, and Baker Beach.

I mentioned how being a Rice Owl can take you to some exciting places. My group and I stayed in San Francisco for only a week. But, one night, as we were headed back on the bus to the place we were staying at, we met a Rice alumnus! One of my friends had been wearing a Rice hoodie, and the alumnus noticed it and started talking to our group. He had graduated a few years ago, and told us he now works in San Francisco. Owls, Owls, everywhere!

In short, my ASB experience was amazing, and I would not trade it for anything in the world.

Here we are at Baker Beach. Some of us made an ASB SF light show with our phones! Photo Credit: Soorya Avali.


Centennial Lecture Series

What do a famous biologist, architect, angel investor, physicist, and the Chief Justice of the United States have in common?

During Centennial, they were all at Rice. That’s right – Craig Venter, Rem Koolhaas, Esther Dyson, Shirley Ann Jackson, and John Glover Roberts each gave wonderful, exciting lectures to Rice students, staff, faculty, alumni, and people from the Houston community.

Shirley Ann Jackson begins her Centennial Lecture

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Rice Student Volunteer Program

Rice Student Volunteer Program (known more often as RSVP) is Rice University’s largest undergraduate service organization! The organization was established in the Fall of 1985 by a group of students who wanted to create a community service liaison between Rice University and the Houston community. Since then, RSVP has taken on various roles in promoting community service, such as providing support to campus-based student service groups and informing students about local, national, and international  social service opportunities.

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ASBest Break Ever

My ASB group and our supervisors at the construction site

First things first: Sorry for being so lax in my postings this semester! Even though our spring break was a week ago (we have break a lot earlier than many other schools), for this post I’ll be talking about what I did for spring break, because it was just too good not to share.

For my spring break, I went on an Alternative Spring Break (ASB) trip to Lake Charles, Louisiana. The Community Involvement Center at Rice sends Rice students all over the country in order to do a variety of week-long, intensive service projects. My trip worked with Habitat for Humanity, and since I had never done any type of hard labor before, it was an entirely new experience for me. I absolutely loved the trip and became such good friends with all of the other students who went. I encourage everyone I meet at Rice to go on an ASB at some time during their time here, because they’re such fulfilling experiences in so many ways. You do something good for other people, come back with a tight-knit group of friends from other residential colleges, and are personally motivated to think about ways that you can use your talents to give back to others. In other words, it’s the perfect spring break experience, and I encourage all of you who are reading who end up at Rice to apply for an ASB when the time comes!

They trusted me with a saw!







CAREERs and Such

Despite my insistence on being old, this CAREER actually has nothing to do with my future (well, probably).  And there is a reason I’m being insistent on the all caps and it has nothing to do with expressing teenage anger a la J. K. Rowling.  Instead, lately I’ve been gushing about my research professor getting an awesome grant from the National Science Foundation, which is appropriately called CAREER because its meant to recognize promising young professors who are great teachers and scholars.  Why it’s in all caps when it isn’t an acronym (or initialism [look who remembers their linguistics course work!]) is a mystery to me though.  But fake acronyms aside, it’s really awesome that my research professor got the grant because it means people think the work she is doing is important.

A few of you might ponder why what is ostensibly a research grant cares that someone is a good teacher.  Well, the NSF is big on the so-called “broader impacts” of your research and work, i.e. why is your work important to society and what you have done to educate or help people.  Or you could think of it as “the reason a taxpayer should fund you” clause.  Whatever you call it, it’s part of the reason I’m a science major, since I think it’s amazing to share what you learn with the world.  It’s also part of what I really like about technical fields at Rice; there’s lots of outreach opportunities.  There are now three different student clubs devoted just to science and engineering education in the Houston area.  Every year we host a Sally Ride Science festival.  I enjoy tutoring all the freshman at my residential college in physics.  And our Engineers without Borders chapters is one of the most prolific in the nation.

You also see that lots of our professors do this “outreach” thing too.  Neal Lane was Bill Clinton’s science advisor and a director of National Science Foundation and now he talks about science policy at the Baker Institute.  Richard Tapia just won a National Medal of Science for his work on on optimization and his efforts to encourage more minorities to pursue work in science, mathematics, and engineering.  I could keep going on, but I don’t think I’d ever finish our blog post.