Architecture Students Design Portable Ebola Treatment Clinics

From left, graduate students Celso Rojas, Soheil Hamideh and Tian Wang examine a model of their concept for a rapidly deployable Ebola virus treatment clinic.

From left, graduate students Celso Rojas, Soheil Hamideh and Tian Wang examine a model of their concept for a rapidly deployable Ebola virus treatment clinic.

Design concepts for portable, rapidly deployable Ebola virus treatment clinics created by Texas A&M Master of Architecture students will be unveiled at a 2 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 24 presentation on the fourth floor of the Langford Architecture Center’s Building A on the Texas A&M campus.

“The current pandemic in western Africa underscores the need for these inexpensive, easily erected modular facilities where patients inflicted with the Ebola virus or other infectious diseases can be treated while isolated from the general population,” said George J. Mann, holder of the Skaggs Professorship in Health Facilities Design and director of the graduate architecture studio that undertook the project.

Such modules, he said, could be dismantled and strategically stored at transportation hubs for rapid deployment and assembly in crisis areas. To that end, students’ designed the modules, to fit comfortably in shipping containers and airplane cargo holds, and light enough to be transported by helicopter to more remote locations.

The designs also minimize the tools required for constructing the modules onsite. One student, Mann said, used an accordion concept, in which modules could be expanded for use and compressed for storage or transport. Another design was held together with Velcro fasteners strengthened by straps.

The region’s hot, rainy weather is addressed in another student’s design that employs a double shell exterior to minimize interior heat and a pitched roof for channeling heavy rainfall.

Health care professionals who advised the students included P.K. Carlton, Jr., former surgeon general of the U.S. Air Force; Dr. Eric Wilke, health authority for the Brazos County Health Department; Mike Paulas, emergency preparedness and response coordinator for the BCHD and retired Air Force Major General Annette Sobel, a specialist in global disease surveillance.

This article was originally published in the College of Architecture’s newsletter ArchOne.

You can support the College of Architecture’s Ebola treatment clinic design project with a gift of endowment to the Texas A&M Foundation. 

Larry Zuber

Assistant Vice President for Development
College of Architecture
(979) 845-0939


Texas A&M Researcher Uses Genes to Map Evolution of Species

COLLEGE STATION – Genes, whether from apes or the trees they live in, are the storytellers of the origins of a species, according to a Texas A&M University ecosystem science and management assistant professor in College Station.

Dr. Claudio Casola, in his first year at Texas A&M as a forest genomicist, analyzes large molecular data sets — mainly DNA sequences of genomes — to determine patterns of gene evolution.

Casola said genes are DNA strings containing the basic information to build and maintain cells, tissues and essentially the whole organism. And, his interest is in understanding the specific role of each gene and how the genes in different species originated and function – regardless of species.

Recently, his research on DNA was included in articles being published in two different journals, Nature and Nature Genetics.

Dr. Claudio Casola, a Texas A&M University ecosystem science and management assistant professor

Dr. Claudio Casola is a Texas A&M University ecosystem science and management assistant professor.

The two articles describe the sequencing and analysis of several primate genomes. The Nature paper concerns gibbons, while the Nature Genetics paper is about the common marmoset, a small South American monkey important to biomedical research.

While he has published and presented research focused on a variety of genomic analyses of animals, plants and fungi genomes, Casola’s current position is specifically aimed at understanding the genetics and genomics of pine trees and other economically and ecologically relevant tree species, especially in the U.S. and Texas.

While not directly related to his current work, the research Casola conducted for these papers is very similar to what he is doing now in relation to forest trees.

“In fact, my work for these two studies was aimed at finding gene duplications and gene losses across these and other primates, including humans,” he said.

Casola said ‘gene duplication’ is the process that makes genes more abundant and is a major driver of evolution and species diversity.

“I take advantage of public databases of DNA information in genome sequences or the complete DNA information of a species, which is currently available for a number of organisms. I also generate my own genomic data sets whenever possible or needed.

“A key aspect of my work is the comparative analysis of gene data,” he said. “By looking at what genes have become more abundant or have been lost in a species compared to another species, I can infer the molecular basis of some biological differences between these species.”

Cover page of Nature magazine featuring the "Gibbon genome and the fast karyotype evolution of small apes" article

Dr. Casola’s research on DNA was featured in Nature magazine, describing the sequencing and analysis of several primate genomes.

The studies on the gibbons and marmoset genomes are the result of large collaborations involving several labs in the U.S. and other countries, Casola said. The main goals of both works include improving the general knowledge of these primate genetics and genomics to better understand human evolution, human biology and the molecular causes of human diseases.

“Improving our knowledge of the biology of these animals and providing better molecular tools for conservation purposes of endangered species are other fundamental aims of these projects,” he said.

Gibbons, also known as lesser apes, evolved a combination of anatomical features that allow them to swing at high speed from branch to branch for distances up to 50 feet. They also have experienced a uniquely high level of chromosomal breaks and fusions among primates that possibly accelerated the speciation process in this group.

Casola said 19 known gibbon species represent three-quarters of all ape species.

In the Nature article, the team presents the genome assembly for a female northern white-cheeked gibbon, he said. They uncovered a group of gibbon-specific retrotransposons—short DNA sequences able to make many copies of themselves that eventually ‘attach’ somewhere in the genome—that could be implicated in chromosomal reshuffling experienced by gibbons.

The genome of primates, including humans, host millions of retrotransposon copies. However, the gibbon-specific retrotransposons known as LAVA elements might have disrupted the activity of some genes involved in chromosomal organization, he explained.

“Interestingly, my comparative analysis of primate genomes shows that in contrast to the high chromosomal rearrangement levels, gene duplications and gene losses have not been particularly elevated in gibbons,” Casola added. “This finding suggests that whatever process is responsible for the chromosomal rearrangements, it did not speed up gene turnover.”

He performed a similar analysis in the common marmoset, a species in which females often give birth to dizygotic twins.

“In my work on the common marmoset genome, I identified hundreds of gene duplication and loss events that have occurred in the past 40 million years. At the same time, studying this genome allowed me to find several genes that have been lost during the evolution of humans, but are still present in this monkey and other mammals,” Casola said.

Dissecting the genome organization and gene evolution of pine trees will be more challenging than in primates, he said.

“Pine tree genomes contain between 20-35 billion bases, or ‘letters,’ which is seven to 11 times the size of our own genome. In other words, they are much more difficult to decode,” Casola said. “However, several pine tree and spruce genomes have already been sequenced, including the loblolly pine tree, which is the primary commercial forest species in the Southeastern United States. This will have a great impact on the genetics research in these species.”

Casola said his research is already taking advantage of these resources, and is also focusing on improving the sequence of the loblolly pine genome.

“Even after sequencing a genome you always end up having lots of short sequences that are very hard to put together,” he said. “One of my goals is to find better ways to join these pieces by working with other researchers at Texas A&M University, the Texas A&M Forest Service and the USDAForest Service Southern Research Station,” he said.

This effort will be important to develop genetic tools that can help improve the wood quality of commercial pine trees, and potentially obtain trees more resistant to drought and pests through breeding, Casola said.

“I’ve always enjoyed digging into genomic data to find out how genes and species evolved,” he said. “Now I can apply this information to understand how pine trees adapted to their environment, and hopefully this will translate into tools that can help contain the effects of climate change on some of our forests.”

Links to both of the journal articles can be found on Casola’s website under the Publications tab.

This article was originally published in AgriLife Today.

You can support faculty research in Texas A&M University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences with a gift of endowment to the Texas A&M Foundation.

Steve Blomstedt ’83
Senior Director of Development

College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
(979) 845-9582

Texas A&M-Galveston Researchers Tackle Seaweed Problem

GALVESTON – Researchers at Texas A&M University at Galveston have a use for the hundreds of tons of stinky seaweed that have washed up on the Louisiana – Texas beaches. They have devised a way to bale the stuff like common hay and have even found a way to make it edible.

Dr. Thomas Linton is a marine ecology and wetlands management professor at Texas A&M University at Galveston

Dr. Thomas Linton is a marine ecology and wetlands management professor at Texas A&M University at Galveston

Tom Linton and Robert Webster, researchers who have been studying the seaweed problem for years, have adapted a farm

compactor to bale the seaweed, technically called sargassum, that floats atop the Gulf of Mexico waters in huge clumps that can be miles long and packed into blocks similar to hay.

Once baled, the sargassum can be used to mix with sand and then the beach grass take root to form an ideal method to stop beach erosion that has plagued the area for decades, the researchers say.

In addition, they have yet another twist to the seaweed problem: a way has been found to take out iodine that is found in much of the sargassum and thereby making it edible and opening up some additional opportunities for its use.

Linton, who has been working on seaweed projects for more than 10 years, says that sargassum “comes in waves and hits the beaches, every few years. It’s a natural process that happens, but this year has been different.

“We’ve had at least nine strong cold fronts this spring and early summer that kept the sargassum out into the Gulf, but in recent months the currents have washed all of it up on the beaches. We now think we have developed ways to bale it up like hay, remove the iodine and use it safely. In addition, it makes an ideal way cover some beach areas with vegetation and makes a very nice ground cover.”

State officials are so excited about the idea that the Texas General Land Office and the Galveston Park Board of Trustees have awarded the researchers a $150,000 grant to fund the project.

This article was originally published by Texas A&M University at Galveston.

You can support faculty research at Texas A&M University at Galveston with a gift of endowment to the Texas A&M Foundation. 

Richard Kline
Director of Development
Texas A&M University at Galveston

(409) 741-4030

Texas A&M College of Medicine Awards Scholarship in Recognition of Medal of Honor Recipient

January 10, 1968, in South Vietnam: Specialist fifth class Clarence Sasser and his battalion are conducting an air assault while on reconnaissance in Dinh Tuong Province. Without warning, they begin to take heavy enemy fire and one of their helicopters goes down. In minutes, 30 men are killed and several more are wounded. Without hesitation, Sasser, a medical aidman, runs across an open rice field through a hail of enemy fire to aid his fallen countrymen. After moving one man to safety, an exploding mortar shoots shrapnel into Sasser’s left shoulder and two additional shots from enemy soldiers immobilize both his legs. Despite these agonizing wounds, he drags himself through the mud, calling orders for others to move to safety as he aids more wounded soldiers.

It took several months of rehabilitation in Japan before Sasser regained use of his legs. Upon his return to the United States in 1969, Sasser received the Medal of Honor from President Richard Nixon for his life-saving acts of valor, which were deemed above and beyond the call of duty. He was later recruited to attend Texas A&M University on a scholarship personally offered by the late Gen. Earl Rudder, who was then president of the university. While life circumstances prevented Sasser from graduating, he remained an Aggie at heart, and in 2014, he was presented with an honorary degree from Texas A&M.

From left: John Espinoza, first year medical student and first ever Clarence Sasser Scholarship recipient; Clarence Sasser, Medal of Honor recipient; Brett Giroir, M.D., CEO of Texas A&M Health Science Center

From left: John Espinoza, first year medical student and first ever Clarence Sasser Scholarship recipient; Clarence Sasser, Medal of Honor recipient; Brett Giroir, M.D., CEO of Texas A&M Health Science Center

In recognition of his selfless service – a quality that those in the health care professions demonstrate on a daily basis – the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine created the Clarence Sasser Scholarship this year, a $25,000 scholarship initially made possible by the generous contribution of an anonymous donor and slated to be awarded annually to entering medical students who demonstrate the same dedication that Mr. Sasser personified on the battlefield.

“Excellence, integrity, leadership, loyalty, respect and selfless service – these are the values that define Texas A&M, and we seek to instill each of these in the physicians we educate,” said Paul Ogden, M.D., interim dean of the Texas A&M College of Medicine. “Clarence Sasser embodies all of these traits, as witnessed in his courageous acts in Vietnam and throughout his life. I cannot think of a better example of the type of physician we’re striving to produce.”

“As an army medic with aspirations of becoming a doctor, this is truly an honor to be recognized in this manner,” Sasser said. “I hope the scholarship will be a ticket for future medical student hopefuls to achieve their goals of becoming Aggie physicians.”

One of those hopefuls, Johnny Espinoza, is now well on his way to becoming an Aggie physician thanks to the generous scholarship.

Espinoza, the first-ever Sasser Scholar, began classes at the Texas A&M College of Medicine in July. Prior to joining the ranks of future Aggie doctors, he served for more than eight years as an Army veterinary food inspection specialist, while he earned dual bachelor’s degrees in chemistry and biology from the University of Mary Hardin Baylor in Belton, Texas. During those eight years he served a tour in Iraq, a decision he made so one of his soldiers wouldn’t have to go alone.

“Another unit was deployed, but they had one soldier who was unable to go, so they pulled a soldier from my unit. I was a higher rank, so they didn’t need me, but I didn’t want her to go alone, so I volunteered,” he said.

After the military, Espinoza worked for a pharmaceutical company and then began applying for medical school. When he interviewed at Texas A&M, he says it just felt right.

“The students at Texas A&M seemed like they had really close relationships with their professors and could always ask them for help when they needed them. The atmosphere felt very genuine,” he said.

After completing medical school and residency, Espinoza plans to work in medically underserved areas in rural regions of the U.S., but says he would ideally like to serve as a Navy surgeon so he can travel and help those in third-world nations where access to medical care is scarce at best.

Espinoza had the privilege of meeting Clarence Sasser at a scholarship award ceremony held on the Texas A&M Health Science Center Bryan campus this summer.

“It was a real honor to meet a living recipient of the Medal of Honor,” he said. “I hope if I am ever in Mr. Sasser’s situation that I will have the courage and fortitude to press forward and assist my patients as he assisted those with whom he served.”

This article was originally published by the Health Science Center.

You can support scholarships in Texas A&M University’s Health Science Center with a gift of endowment to the Texas A&M Foundation. 

Andrew Robison ’04
Director of Development

Health Science Center
(979) 862-6423

Texas A&M Engineering Complex Moving Forward with Support from Dow

Shared-use laboratories, flexible classrooms and a state-of-the-art educational environment will soon be the new academic learning ground for engineering students at Texas A&M University thanks to a $2 million contribution from The Dow Chemical Company (NYSE: DOW).Future EEC

The nearly 550,000 sq. ft. Engineering Education Complex (ECC), part of Texas A&M’s Dwight Look College of Engineering, will become the hub of the university’s undergraduate engineering program. It will be built adjacent to the existing Zachry Engineering Center, which will be renovated during the construction project.

“This generous donation from Dow is more than just a contribution to a building, it is support for our vision to provide a unique learning environment for our students,” said Dr. M. Katherine Banks, vice chancellor and dean of engineering. “This new facility will change the way we deliver our engineering education and thus help us to produce the next engineering leaders.”

With more than 350 tenured/tenure-track faculty members and more than 12,000 students, the Look College is one of the largest engineering schools in the country, ranking third in undergraduate enrollment and ninth in graduate enrollment. The college is ranked by U.S. News & World Report seventh in graduate studies, eighth in undergraduate programs, and second in research expenditures among public institutions, with seven of the college’s 13 departments ranked in the Top 10.

Dow has a history of supporting higher education and invests in universities all over the world. In addition to this $2 million contribution, Dow hopes to see a paradigm shift in the value generated from relationships with academic partners through its multi-faceted support of faculty and students, research, academic programs and infrastructure.

“Texas A&M is one of Dow’s top universities for recruitment of engineers and scientists, and Aggie engineers have played a huge part in Dow’s success globally for many decades,” said Jeff Garry, manufacturing and technology director for the Microbial Control and Performance Monomers businesses at Dow. “We are thrilled to continue our long-time relationship with Texas A&M and look forward to seeing the students thrive in their new surroundings.”

This article was originally published by the Dwight Look College of Engineering.

You can support educational facilities at Texas A&M University’s Dwight Look College of Engineering with a gift of endowment to the Texas A&M Foundation.

Andrew Acker
Assistant Vice President for Development
Dwight Look College of Engineering
(979) 845-5113

Texas A&M Prof Helps To Develop New Device That Detects Radiation Better Than Ever

In a move that could have huge implications for national security, researchers have created a very sensitive and tiny detector that is capable of detecting radiation from various sources at room temperature. The detector is eight to nine orders of magnitude –100 million to as high as 1 billion — times faster than the existing technology, and a Texas A&M University at Galveston professor is a key player in the discovery.

Texas A&M professor Luke Nyakiti has helped invent new process to detect radiation that could be a huge benefit to Homeland Security

Texas A&M professor Luke Nyakiti has helped invent new process to detect radiation that could be a huge benefit to Homeland Security

Luke Nyakiti, assistant professor in marine engineering technology and Materials Science and Engineering at Texas A&M University at Galveston, is part of the research team that has had its work published in the current issue of Nature Nanotechnology.

Nyakiti and colleagues from the University of Maryland, the University of Massachusetts, the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory and Monash University in Australia fabricated the tiny photothermoelectric detector following successful growth of graphene at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C. The project was funded by the office of Naval Research and the National Science Foundation.

The team’s goal was to utilize the exceptional electronic carrier properties of graphene to create a photo detector device that could detect radiation at room temperature with the fastest response, which previously has been extremely difficult to do. The researchers used a two-dimensional material called graphene that is made of carbon atoms that are arranged in a honeycomb-like geometrical structure (the diameter of a human hair is 300,000 times thicker than a two-dimensional sheet of graphene).

Graphene was chosen because it conducts electricity with ease, it is nearly transparent, and it is remarkably strong (100 times stronger than steel). Also, it is very sensitive to energy absorbance.

Luke Nyakiti

Luke Nyakiti

“The problem before is that there has always been a ‘slow response’ when it came to detecting radiation in the terahertz frequency range, especially at room temperature, and the technology that currently exists operated at very cold temperatures, subsequently requiring supportive electronic systems that adds to the cost,” Nyakiti explains.

He says the benefit of using this detector is that its signals do not pose a health hazard to the people using it. Also, besides the extremely high sensing speeds reported by the device, the team anticipates further improvements in sensing ability.

“We are very excited that our detector system provides a unique answer to fast, subtle detection capabilities that are a million to a billion times faster in its detection capability, without posing short-term or long term health hazards to those who are operating it,” Nyakiti reports .

“It was indeed an exciting time for all of us when this happened. Because it is much more effective in detecting radiation, the device could be very promising for homeland security purposes. It also might have applications in mobile devices, medical imaging and other uses.

“This has the potential to open up other device possibilities in medical applications. This is a huge first step.”

This article was originally published by the TAMU Times.

You can support faculty research at Texas A&M University at Galveston with a gift of endowment to the Texas A&M Foundation.

Richard Kline
Senior Director of Development

Texas A&M University at Galveston
(409) 741-4030


New Research Reveals How Wild Rabbits Genetically Transformed Into Tame Rabbits

COLLEGE STATION, Texas – The genetic changes that transformed wild animals into domesticated forms have long been a mystery. However, an international team of scientists has made a breakthrough by showing that many genes controlling the development of the brain and the nervous system were particularly important for rabbit domestication, according to a study published today in the journal Science.

Wild European Rabbits

Wild European Rabbits

The domestication of animals and plants, a prerequisite for the development of agriculture, is one of the most important technological revolutions during human history. Domestication of animals started as early as 9,000 to 15,000 years ago and initially involved dogs, cattle, sheep, goats, and pigs. The rabbit was domesticated much later, about 1,400 years ago, at monasteries in southern France. When domestication occurred, the wild ancestor, the European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus), was confined to the Iberian Peninsula and southern France.

“There are several reasons why the rabbit is an outstanding model for genetic studies of domestication,” said Miguel Carneiro, from CIBIO/Inbio-University of Porto, one of the leading authors on the paper. “Its domestication was relatively recent, we know where it happened, and this region is still densely populated with wild rabbits.”

The scientists first sequenced the entire genome of one domestic rabbit to develop a reference genome assembly. Then they re-sequenced entire genomes of domestic rabbits representing six different breeds and wild rabbits sampled at 14 different places across the Iberian Peninsula and southern France.

“No previous study on animal domestication has involved such a careful examination of genetic variation in the wild ancestral species,” said Leif Andersson of Uppsala University, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, and Texas A&M University. “This allowed us to pinpoint the genetic changes that have occurred during rabbit domestication.”

This domestication has primarily occurred by altering the frequencies of gene variants that were already present in the wild ancestor. “Our data shows that domestication primarily involved small changes in many genes, and not drastic changes in a few genes,” continued Andersson.

The team observed very few examples where a gene variant common in domestic rabbits had completely replaced the gene variant present in wild rabbits; it was rather shifts in frequencies of those variants that were favored in domestic rabbits.

“The results we have are very clear,” Carneiro said. “The difference between a wild and a tame rabbit is not which genes they carry but how their genes are regulated—when and how much of each gene is used in different cells.”

The study also revealed which genes have been altered during domestication, most noticeably strong enrichment in domestic rabbits of genes involved in the development of the brain and the nervous system.

The study shows that the wild rabbit is a highly polymorphic species that carries gene variants that were favorable during domestication, and that the accumulation of many small changes led to the inhibition of the strong flight response—one of the most prominent phenotypic changes in the evolution of the domestic rabbit.

“We predict that a similar process has occurred in other domestic animals and that we will not find a few specific ‘domestication genes’ that were critical for domestication,” Andersson said. “It is very likely that a similar diversity of gene variants affecting the brain and the nervous system occurs in the human population and that contributes to differences in personality and behavior.

This article was originally published by the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

You can support faculty research at Texas A&M University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences with a gift of endowment to the Texas A&M Foundation.

O.J. Bubba Woytek ’64
Assistant Vice President for Development
(979) 845-9043


Sharma Developing Portable Water Purifying Device for Military

Providing a reliable source of purified drinking water for our U.S. military as they serve our nation in the field is the focus of a research grant awarded to Virender K. Sharma, Ph.D., M.Tech, M.Sc., professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health.

The Battelle Memorial Institute has awarded a subcontract to the Texas A&M School of Public Health to develop a portable water treatment device using naturally occurring iron in the environment. According to Sharma, this iron is easily converted to an environmentally friendly chemical compound called ferrate that can be used as a water treatment disinfectant to purify water.

As our troops serve our nation all around the world, it is important to provide a way for them to obtain pure drinking water.

As our troops serve our nation all around the world, it is important to provide a way for them to obtain pure drinking water.

“In a matter of minutes polluted water contaminated with pesticides and other toxins can be purified using ferrate without possibly leaving harmful by-products currently left behind with traditional water treatment chemicals, such as free chlorine, choramines and ozone,” says Sharma.

A research group led by Sharma is conducting laboratory studies to demonstrate the efficacy of ferrate to remove a wide range of contaminants. Results of the research will contribute to the development of the device. Additional Texas A&M School of Public Health researchers working on the project are Natalie Johnson, Ph.D., Thomas McDonald, Ph.D., and Ranjana Mehta, Ph.D.

Sharma, an environmental chemist, was recently named interim department head of the Environmental and Occupational Health Department at the Texas A&M School of Public Health.

This article was originally published by the Texas A&M Health Science Center.

You can support faculty research at Texas A&M University’s Health Science Center with a gift of endowment to the Texas A&M Foundation.

Andrew Robison ’04
Director of Development
(979) 862-6423

A Letter on College Diversity

Former College of Education and Human Development dean comments on the education reform movement of the 1980s

A letter on college diversity from Dean Corrigan

A letter on college diversity from Dean Corrigan

I enjoyed the stories about diversity at Texas A&M University in the fall 2013 issue of Spirit and would like to add my perspective on the integration of minorities in Texas A&M’s College of Education, which I believe led the way in integrating the faculty at Texas A&M.

The decision that our faculty made to take the lead in seeking minority faculty and students was the action that I will always remember as the most important and most satisfying in my 50 years in the field of education. When I was hired as the second dean of the College of Education in 1980, there was only one minority member of our faculty, Jesus Garcia. There were only two African-American faculty members in the entire university. The college’s special concern regarding diversity began shortly after I arrived and specific action took place at our first faculty retreat.

The theme for the retreat was: What do we want the college to look like five years from now? One of five concept papers that was prepared for discussion outlined a rationale and plan for changing the ethnic makeup of our college. The paper did not mention quotas or federal mandates. The major thrust of the discussion that followed was that we were all hypocrites unless we took action to ensure that our faculty reflected the kind of ethnic makeup of the people whom our graduates would later teach, counsel and administer.

Demographer Steve Murdock had just produced his first study that spelled out the socioeconomic implications of the disparities among Whites, African-Americans and Hispanics. His data showed that since minority families were having more children, minorities were becoming the majority in the school population faster than the general population. He reported that about 30 percent of the students in Texas schools were Hispanic and about 20 percent were African-American. Because of the location of different ethnic groups and the shortage of minority teachers, unless things changed, some students, including minority students, would not experience having a minority teacher or attending an integrated classroom. As faculty in one of the state’s land-grant universities, we agreed that integration of our college was not just a necessity, it was an obligation of professional leadership. Professionally and morally as educators we could not say one thing and do another.

At the conclusion of our retreat, we identified the cultural diversity mission as one of the most important. To sustain this mission and provide ongoing oversight, we created a special Multicultural Education Inquiry Group. Within five years we had hired African-American and Hispanic faculty in every department of the college. In the first five years we hired 14 minorities. Some are still working at Texas A&M. Others went on to take positions in other institutions, such as Viola Florez, who became dean of the College of Education at the University of New Mexico, and Ruben Donato, who became a leader in the National Education Policy Center and Department of Educational Foundations at the University of Colorado. Over the years all of the minority faculty members who left continued their association with their Aggie colleagues and carried the Aggie spirit with them.

The key to our success in recruiting minority faculty was that it was a faculty effort. As you know, deans do not hire faculty. Faculty members are hired on the recommendation of faculty search committees. One of the key elements of our success was that early in the process, instead of hiring minority faculty who had just finished their doctorates, we hired two full professors who had already established themselves with excellent reputations in major universities. The most important result of this approach was to open lines of communication with a wider pool of minority candidates.

Oversight of the recruitment process by the Multicultural Education Inquiry Group assured that we would identify minority candidates for every opening. The faculty recognized that the number of minorities in the potential pool of candidates was small in comparison, and coming to live in College Station to work at a university with so few minorities would be a recruiting challenge. Members of the faculty knew that they had to convince minority candidates that the college community needed and wanted them as colleagues. They had to make their commitment clear. One of the ways they did this was to express their willingness to match the competition even if it meant that the salary offered by the competition was higher than they were making at their rank and experience level. The fact that our faculty was willing to go to such lengths to accomplish its mission made a difference. I don’t know of a clearer indication of commitment than that. Needless to say, I was proud to lead such a dedicated group.

Our minority faculty recruitment effort was accompanied by a variety of programs to attract minority students. For example, under Dr. Doug Palmer’s leadership, the college was awarded grants from the U.S. Office of Special Education. On a year-to-year basis, more Hispanic graduate students completed a doctorate in special education in our Department of Educational Psychology than the total number from all of the graduate institutions in the United States. Also important in increasing the number of minority graduate students was the creation by Steve Stark and Cliff Whetten of an off-campus center in San Antonio where faculty would travel to teach graduate courses and serve as advisors to provide easier access for minority students to enroll and study at Texas A&M.

With leadership and support from President Frank Vandiver, President Bill Mobley, Provost Mack Prescott, Provost Gordon Eaton and Associate Provost Clint Phillips, the College of Education led the way in seeking minority faculty, staff and students. It was important in our recruitment efforts to inform candidates that other Texas A&M faculty were actively supporting minority recruiting. For example, the central role of John McDermott and Ruth Schaeffer, who chaired the University Minority Recruitment Committee, cannot be overstated. They were the driving force throughout the campus in these early days. Their committee, on which I was pleased to serve, spearheaded the process of multicultural diversity by conducting interviews with every department head to get reports of action or inaction on minority recruitment. They also brought the issue to the Faculty Senate in a way that demanded action. Someday I hope the university will do something to honor them for their leadership on this issue, as well as many other human rights causes.

In addition to strong support from Texas A&M’s central administration and the university faculty committee, it is important to remember the crucial role our college development council played in making the integration effort successful. With the leadership of the College of Education’s first council chair, Peggy Coghlan, and council member Sylvia Fernandez and her husband Raul, the group connected the college to the diverse communities it served and gained crucial financial and moral support from former students for our multicultural education mission. In fact, Sylvia reported on the special role of the development council in her doctoral dissertation titled, The College of Education at Texas A&M University 1969 to 1988—the Transition Years.

The context in which the college decided to meet the challenge of cultural diversity is important to consider. As the college was developing a reputation for reform and innovation it was expected to undertake this important mission just like other leading colleges of education in the country were doing at the time. If we were going to lead nationally as well as locally, we had to lead in this important area of education reform. That was also true for the other colleges on campus, as well. The four new deans of other Texas A&M colleges who were appointed the same year I arrived recognized this fact and were more than willing to work together on multicultural education. For example, in 1983 we enrolled more math and science teaching majors than any university in the

country. This achievement was accomplished with the collaboration of John Fackler, dean of the College of Science, his faculty and June and Dick Scobee. (June was a doctoral student in educational psychology at Texas A&M; Dick was commander of the Challenger space shuttle.)

In conclusion, as former dean of the college, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention another important part of the story. It will come as no surprise to you that not all Aggies were pleased with our decision to place the recruitment of minorities at the top of our agenda. I kept a folder that contained letters from people who called us every name in the book. These letters were a vivid reminder of the challenge we faced. Since half of the new minority recruits were women, it is interesting to note that the women’s equity issue was of particular concern in these letters as well as the minority issue. You will recall that in those days, equity for women was part of the debate that was taking place. Making the search for minority faculty a top priority was quite a change, and the fact that half of the new minority faculty members that we hired were women was quite a change as well.  However, once integration happened, Aggies accepted it and were proud to be participants in it. The stories in the fall 2013 issue of Spirit attest to that.

Suffice it to say, we have many people to thank for the courage and commitment it took to make diversity a success at Texas A&M, not the least of which are the minority faculty who were the first to come to Texas A&M. They helped Texas A&M to become the great university it is today. As I read the fall 2013 issue of Spirit, I feel good about the tremendous progress made regarding diversity. It was not easy, but that is what made it so rewarding. It was such a pleasure to work with people who did what the right thing at a critical time. Dr. Ed Davis, president of the Texas A&M Foundation, is one of these people. As a graduate of the College of Education, former professor in the Educational Administration and Human Resources Department, our story of diversity is not new to him. He lived it with the rest of us.

I loved every minutes of the 20 years of my professional life that I devoted to Texas A&M and dealing with challenging issues like diversity. As each day goes by, the moments I shared with Aggie colleagues and students become more precious.

Congratulations to you and your staff for an excellent issue of Spirit.




 This article was originally posted in the Letters section of the summer 2014 issue of Spirit magazine. Read the full publication here

You can support the College of Education and Human Development at Texas A&M University with a gift of endowment to the Texas A&M Foundation.

Jody Ford ’99
Director of Development
(979) 847-8655


Texas A&M Chemist Pursues Natural Approach to Hydrogen Energy

Marcetta Darensbourg (right) with chemistry graduate student Randara Pulukkody

Marcetta Darensbourg with chemistry graduate student Randara Pulukkody

With worldwide energy demand projected to rise anywhere from 35 to 40 percent between now and 2040, the hunt is on for viable sources and solutions. Texas A&M University chemist Marcetta Darensbourg is exploring lessons provided in nature and focusing on the simplest of all molecules, hydrogen, to open related doors to inexpensive, eco-friendly, hydrogen-based energy alternatives.

Specifically, Darensbourg, an internationally respected expert in synthetic and mechanistic inorganic chemistry, is developing methods to perfect the high-stakes technology of hydrogen-powered fuel cells. Her lab is taking the novel approach of introducing Earth-abundant elements — iron, nickel and sulfur — into hydrogen-producing molecular catalysts intended to replace platinum as the kick starter in these fuel cells.

Darensbourg, a distinguished professor of chemistry since 2010, first began exploring the inorganic biocatalysts within hydrogen-controlling microorganisms for use in clean-energy initiatives nearly two decades ago. A pioneer in many areas of chemistry, she became the first-ever female recipient in 1995 of the American Chemical Society’s Distinguished Service in the Advancement of Inorganic Chemistry Award, the ACS’s top annual honor for inorganic accomplishment. (Kim Dunbar, fellow Texas A&M distinguished professor of chemistry, became the second earlier this month.)

“It will be momentous for renewable energy if we can find the most effective way of doing this, and we — by that, I mean a community of scientists dedicated to this area — are very close,” Darensbourg said. “There’s still much to be done, but I think everyone is aware enough that we can figure this out.”

How It Works
Fuel cells have been heralded by the U.S. Department of Energy for their potential to provide a reliable source of heat and electricity for American homes and automobiles as well as to dramatically reduce reliance on fossil fuels. Somewhat related to batteries, they work by electrochemically combining hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity, heat and water in a process that is both highly efficient and virtually emission-free, making them an attractive commodity in green-energy sectors and industries from automobile manufacturing to power generation. But whereas batteries have limitations — namely a fixed energy supply or, at best, a time constraint required for recharging — fuel cells can generate energy continuously, so long as they have a fuel supply.

Darensbourg believes the best such fuel supply is hydrogen. The technology, however, still faces a number of environmental and economic obstacles that she and her team are working to address.

One issue is platinum, the catalyst currently used in fuel cells to convert hydrogen and oxygen into electricity. While platinum is ideal because it can easily shuttle between oxidation states, it is expensive and resource-limited, rendering it ineffective for large-scale, global use. Further, although hydrogen is the most abundant of all elements, it is expensive to acquire from water, and generating it from non-renewable resources such as oil or natural gas places a significant burden on fossil-fuel resources while also potentially creating an undesirable byproduct: pollutants.

Darensbourg (with senior chemistry major Kristina Goldstein) is focusing on nature and the simplest of all molecules, hydrogen, in her laboratory's search for inexpensive, eco-friendly, alternative energy options.

Darensbourg with senior chemistry major Kristina Goldstein

Harnessing Mother Nature’s Resources
The Darensbourg lab’s goal of utilizing Earth-abundant transition metals, such as iron and nickel, in these reactions as an alternative to platinum could open doors to a more cost-effective, readily available source of hydrogen energy.

“We hope our work will be able two answer two things: how to make hydrogen, ultimately harvesting energy from the Sun, and how to use hydrogen,” she said.

Darensbourg’s inspiration comes from Mother Nature herself — specifically, lessons in the form of hydrogenase enzymes, which are biological catalysts found in bacteria and other microorganisms that use hydrogen as an energy vector. A chemical reaction similar to what fuel cells undergo to produce energy occurs naturally in such microorganisms that exploit hydrogenase enzymes. While fuel cells use platinum to regulate the hydrogen-oxygen reaction, which creates a huge amount of energy per reaction, hydrogenase enzymes do it more efficiently, thanks to the properties of sophisticated arrangements of iron and nickel.

Piecing Together the Puzzle
Although the discovery of the role of hydrogenases in methane-producing microorganisms occurred some eight decades ago, active research into the role of metals and their catalytically active sites — the small pockets within an enzyme where molecules have the potential to undergo a chemical reaction — has taken flight only in the last 15 to 20 years following structure determinations by X-ray crystallography. Darensbourg, who is trained as an organometallic chemist, found that she could create molecular mimics of the active sites of hydrogenase enzymes and then measure their ability to produce dihydrogen and, on the other side, extract energy from the hydrogen-hydrogen bond.

The takeaway for Darensbourg is to observe how active sites operate and understand how to create better molecular models — fundamental chemistry work in which each stage and new discovery will bring the international community of scientists in this area that much closer to utilizing those compounds as viable catalytic alternatives to platinum.

“These hydrogenase enzyme active sites give us an idea of how to make hydrogen and extract electrons,” Darensbourg said. “Each step of understanding is a step forward to using synthetic analogues as catalyst materials.”

If Darensbourg can perfect this approach, the next big question will be how to store the hydrogen. Because it has a low-energy density, hydrogen must be stored and transported under high pressure, making it a highly cumbersome and volatile resource. Other chemists, including several in the Texas A&M Department of Chemistry, are working to address these problems.

The hydrogen economy has been a national priority since 2003 when then-President George W. Bush announced a $1.2 billion initiative to make it competitive for reducing dependence on foreign oil and providing a cleaner supply of energy.

Marcetta Y. Darensbourg, Texas A&M chemist

Marcetta Y. Darensbourg, Texas A&M chemist

While plenty of work remains, Darensbourg and her group of graduate and undergraduate students and postdoctoral fellow coworkers are optimistic about the future of a hydrogen economy.

“If we could do this effectively — take the energy of the Sun, make hydrogen, store it and use it in a fuel cell to generate electricity — that’s huge,” Darensbourg said.

A member of the Texas A&M Chemistry faculty since 1982, Darensbourg is an inaugural fellow of the American Chemical Society (2009) and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2011), one the country’s oldest and most prestigious honorary learned societies. In addition, she received the Distinguished Scientist Award for 2011 from the Texas A&M chapter of Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society.

For more information on Darensbourg’s work, visit http://www.chem.tamu.edu/rgroup/marcetta.

This article was originally published by the College of Science.

You can support faculty research at Texas A&M University’s College of Science with a gift of endowment to the Texas A&M Foundation.

Michael Morelius ’98
Director of Development
(979) 847-9218