Spring Break at Rice

Spring has finally arrived to the city of Houston. After a rather cold and dreary winter, at least by Texas standards, the sun has finally decided to show its brilliant face. Through the stress of midterms and problem sets, we as a school have collectively survived. This has created bonds between each and every single one of us that are extremely difficult to break. And yes, I know what you’re thinking and the answer is no, not the covalent kinds. Within the eyes of each student, a subtle emotion of excitement exists. The academic year is coming to an end, summer is steadily approaching, and Beer Bike is only weeks away. All is good and all is right at Rice. As these positive thoughts fill our minds, another one begins to form. One that comes at a slow yet sure realization: “What am I going to do for Spring Break?”. The short answer is: there is tons to do both inside and outside of Houston during our break! Of course, I must acknowledge and respect the desire to stay indoors and simply relax for break. Afterall, allergy season is at full force. However, going out and exploring Houston and surrounding areas is a fun activity to do with the amazing individuals you meet at Rice. Here are my top three of the many things you can do during Spring Break:

Houston Rodeo

The Houston Rodeo is both a major fair of the city and the largest livestock exhibition of the world. It runs from the 25th of February to the 17th of March. Between then, be ready to experience near daily artist performances at the NRG stadium located about a 15 minute train-ride or 10 minute car-ride away from Rice. The NRG stadium sits around 70,000  people and can often host major performers like Cardi B and George Strait. This year, Rice’s Passport to Houston program offered free tickets for the Panic! At the Disco concert to selected Rice students.

Houston Rodeo

Visiting Hermann Park

Located a block from Rice, Hermann Park is a perfect place to escape the bustling city life of Houston. If you want to see even more trees and vegetation, this place is perfect for you. Dotted with sculptures and other art, Hermann Park is a 445 acre stretch of well gardened land surrounded by museums, golf courses, and a zoo. Inside the park, you will be able to find the Japanese Tea Gardens of Houston, the Miller Outdoor Theatre perfect for weekend performances, and the McGovern Centennial Gardens.

McGovern Centennial Gardens

Texas Road-trip with Friends

If you have the time, energy, and an amazing group of friends (which I’m sure you’ll make when in Rice), leaving Houston and traveling to cities like San Antonio and Dallas is a perfect week-long getaway that allows students to experience more of the proudly proclaimed “yee-haw” state. Bus companies like Greyhound and Megabus are able to offer cheap alternatives to cars for traveling to these places.

Tower of the Americas in San Antonio, Texas

 

Looking Through A Different Lens

“You know you are more than welcome to come back and shadow anytime. You could even work here over the summer,” Dr. Hopping told me as I walked into the optometry office one Thursday morning.

It was spring break, and I had chosen to spend my time doing an externship in Houston. Through the Owl Edge Externship program pioneered by the Center for Career Development at Rice, I was assigned to a 4-day shadowing externship with optometrist Dr. Desiree Hopping (Rice class of 1976) at her private practice Hopping Eye Associates. I knew nothing about optometry nor had the specialization held any particular interest to me, but I wanted to explore my options.

I arrived at the office on my first day, and Dr. Hopping welcomed me with open arms. She introduced me to the other optometrists in the group practice: her husband, her son, and two other optometrists. As I followed her around for the day, watching eye exams and listening closely to her explanations for her actions, I took great interest in her personality and interaction with her patients. Most of her patients had been visiting Hopping Eye Associates for decades. There was never any need to go to another optometrist. Dr. Hopping was personable, curious about the well-being of each of her patients. She was also a great optometrist, skillful and smart in her diagnoses. I watched many eye exams over the next four days, learning more about eye conditions and how to detect them with eye imaging, the academic course to becoming an optometrist, and the different kinds of cases you could deal with depending on your training. But most of all, I appreciated Dr. Hopping’s hospitality towards me during the week, bringing me to her house to eat lunch, telling me about her grandkids, taking me along to pick up some cupcakes, and inviting me back to shadow and work at Hopping Eye Associates any time.

At Rice, spring break is not the only time that you can go into the field like this. Right across the street in the Texas Medical Center, you can shadow and volunteer all throughout the year. In doing so, you not only gain insight into what goes on behind the scenes, but also get a feel for the clinic environment, learn about the kinds of people you’re caring for, and gain connections amongst many medical professionals – all things that you can’t access by simply going to class and burying your nose in textbooks. Rice fosters both sides of preparing you for the future, offering a top-tier education while making experience and opportunities to get into the field more than accessible.

Dr. Desiree Hopping and her partners in crime

Hopping Eye Associates had a huge office. Besides eight private exam rooms, they had a large vision therapy clinic and their own in-house optical (pictured). I had a lot of fun trying on glasses in my down time.

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!