Prolific University of Houston professor wins prestigious $650,000 'genius' grant

UH's Cristina Rivera Garza is a 2020 MacArthur Fellowship winner. Photo courtesy of John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

A prolific fiction writer and award-winning University of Houston academic has just received a major accolade. Distinguished professor Cristina Rivera Garza has been awarded a 2020 MacArthur Fellowship — dubbed more casually as a "genius" grant of a hefty $625,000 — the university announced.

The grant is a no-strings-attached gift "to extraordinarily talented and creative individuals as an investment in their potential," according to the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, which awards the grants each year. Rivera Garza is one of just 21 nationwide individuals to receive the fellowship grant.

Rivera Garza is founder and director of the UH doctoral program in Hispanic Studies with a concentration in creative writing in Spanish.

"This is an incredible — and quite unexpected — honor. I am suddenly short of words," said Rivera Garza in a statement. Amusingly, Rivera Garza told Andrew Dansby of the Houston Chronicle that she didn't take the MacArthur call at first Tuesday morning because she didn't recognize the number. She received an email asking for information about another candidate. "So I finally answered, and they delivered the news. It was quite a shock," she said.

She joins Rick Lowe, a UH professor of art who earned the fellowship in 2014, as the two MacArthur Fellows on faculty at UH. MacArthur Fellowships are among the most prestigious and generous awards given to those who have demonstrated extraordinary talent and dedication in academia, writing, music, film, and other creative fields, UH notes.

The majority of Rivera Garza's creative works are in Spanish but were written in the United States, where she has lived for more than 30 years. She earned her doctorate in Latin American history from the University of Houston in 1995 and was awarded an honorary degree from UH in 2012, according to UH. Rivera Garza joined the University of Houston faculty in 2016 and founded UH's Spanish-language creative writing concentration in 2017. She leads the program as its director.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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Dr. Peter Hotez and Dr. Maria Elena Bottazzi have been recognized by Fast Company for their leadership in developing low-cost COVID vaccine. Photo courtesy of Texas Children's

This week, Fast Company announced its 14th annual list of Most Creative People in Business — and two notable Houstonians made the cut.

Dr. Peter Hotez and his fellow dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, Dr. Maria Elena Bottazzi, were named among the list for “open sourcing a COVID-19 Vaccine for the rest of the world.” The list, which recognizes individuals making a cultural impact via bold achievements in their field, is made up of influential leaders in business.

Hotez and Bottazzi are also co-directors for the Texas Children's Hospital's Center for Vaccine Development -one of the most cutting-edge vaccine development centers in the world. For the past two decades it has acquired an international reputation as a non-profit Product Development Partnership (PDP), advancing vaccines for poverty-related neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) and emerging infectious diseases of pandemic importance. One of their most notable achievements is the development of a vaccine technology leading to CORBEVAX, a traditional, recombinant protein-based COVID-19 vaccine.

"It's an honor to be recognized not only for our team's scientific efforts to develop and test low cost-effective vaccines for global health, but also for innovation in sustainable financing that goes beyond the traditional pharma business model," says Hotez in a statement.

The technology was created and engineered by Texas Children's Center for Vaccine Development specifically to combat the worldwide problem of vaccine access and availability. Biological E Limited (BE) developed, produced and tested CORBEVAX in India where over 60 million children have been vaccinated so far.

Earlier this year, the doctors were nominated for the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize for their research and vaccine development of the vaccine. Its low cost, ease of production and distribution, safety, and acceptance make it well suited for addressing global vaccine inequity.

"We appreciate the recognition of our efforts to begin the long road to 'decolonize' the vaccine development ecosystem and make it more equitable. We hope that CORBEVAX becomes one of a pipeline of new vaccines developed against many neglected and emerging infections that adversely affect global public health," says Bottazzi in the news release from Texas Children's.

Fast Company editors and writers research candidates for the list throughout the year, scouting every business sector, including technology, medicine, engineering, marketing, entertainment, design, and social good. You can see the complete list here

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