owls in space

Rice University boosts NASA's research and new lunar mission with renewed partnership

Vanessa Wyche, director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center and Rice University president Reginald DesRoches expanded upon their partnership. Photo by Jeff Fitlow/Rice University

Nearly 60 years ago, President John F. Kennedy made a bold declaration to the crowd of 40,000 gathered at Rice University’s football stadium — and to the world. America, said the young president, would land a man on the moon before the decade’s end.

“Why does Rice play Texas? We choose to go to the moon,” Kennedy said in the now-iconic speech on September 12, 1962. “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

Indeed, heading back to the moon is hard, but the Ivy League of the South has just formalized a deal to assist NASA in doing so in the agency’s new lunar Artemis program. Rice University and NASA have extended their historic collaboration and partnership in which the two entities share research and develop educational outreach programs and opportunities.

Specifically, the new umbrella Space Act Agreement (SAA) covers participation by Rice and NASA personnel in joint research opportunities, STEM engagement, and educational activities, according to a Rice press announcement. This deal follows a decade of collaboration (starting with the 2012 SAA) and a previous extension in 2017.

And in a nod to the late president, the agreement also makes official NASA’s co-host participation in the upcoming Rice campus celebration that celebrates Kennedy’s legendary “We choose to go to the moon” speech. Rice will host public events from September 10-12.

This partnership invites the university to host and attend presentations at Johnson Space Center, including its Gateway to Space lecture series, and to NASA personnel to present at and attend the Rice Space Institute’s Space Frontiers lecture series, the Professional Science Masters in Space Studies seminar series, and other events, per a release.

The university will also seek ways to involve NASA researchers as visiting scholars, share information that could lead to collaborations, encourage Rice students to seek NASA internships, and pursue opportunities to engage in bioscience and human health and performance research.

Vanessa Wyche presents a special plaque to Rice University. Photo by Jeff Fitlow/Rice University

Rice has collaborated with NASA since the agency’s inception, including donating land for what’s now Johnson Space Center, as well as founding the first space science department in an academic institution. Rice alums in space include Shannon Walker, who holds three Rice degrees; Peggy Whitson, who holds the American record for the most time in space; and Nichole Ayers, who joined the space corps last year, Rice notes.

In July 2019, veterans of the Apollo program reunited at Rice Stadium to toast the anniversary of the first moon landing (Apollo 11) and take part in a NASA video to mark the 50-year milestone.

“NASA’s Johnson Space Center has a long history of working with colleges and universities since the early days of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs to help us achieve our human spaceflight missions,” said Vanessa Wyche, director of Johnson Space Center, in a statement. “We are eager to extend our partnership with Rice University to collaborate in vital research and technology development initiatives that will enable us to meet our nation’s exploration goals and advance human spaceflight as we work to land the first woman and first person of color on the moon under Artemis.”

Earlier this year, NASA also tapped University of Houston and Texas A&M University to expand partnerships at those institutions.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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Building Houston

 
 

Juliana Garaizar is now the chief development and investment officer at Greentown Labs, as well as continuing to be head of the Houston incubator. Image courtesy of Greentown

The new year has brought some big news from Greentown Labs.

The Somerville, Massachusetts-based climatetech incubator with its second location at Greentown Houston named a new member to its C-suite, is seeking new Houston team members, and has officially finished its transition into a nonprofit.

Juliana Garaizar, who originally joined Greentown as launch director ahead of the Houston opening in 2021, has been promoted from vice president of innovation to chief development and investment officer.

"I'm refocusing on the Greentown Labs level in a development role, which means fundraising for both locations and potentially new ones," Garaizar tells InnovationMap. "My role is not only development, but also investment. That's something I'm very glad to be pursuing with my investment hat. Access to capital is key for all our members, and I'm going to be in charge of refining and upgrading our investment program."

While she will also maintain her role as head of the Houston incubator, Greentown Houston is also hiring a general manager position to oversee day-to-day and internal operations of the hub. Garaizar says this role will take some of the internal-facing responsibilities off of her plate.

"Now that we are more than 80 members, we need more internal coordination," she explains. "Considering that the goal for Greentown is to grow to more locations, there's going to be more coordination and, I'd say, more autonomy for the Houston campus."

The promotion follows a recent announcement that Emily Reichert, who served as CEO for the company for a decade, has stepped back to become CEO emeritus. Greentown is searching for its next leader and CFO Kevin Taylor is currently serving as interim CEO. Garaizar says the transition is representative of Greentown's future as it grows to more locations and a larger organization.

"Emily's transition was planned — but, of course, in stealth mode," Garaizar says, adding that Reichert is on the committee that's finding the new CEO. "She thinks scaling is a different animal from putting (Greentown) together, which she did really beautifully."

Garaizar says her new role will include overseeing Greentown's new nonprofit status. She tells InnovationMap that the organization originally was founded as a nonprofit, but converted to a for-profit in order to receive a loan at its first location. Now, with the mission focus Greentown has and the opportunities for grants and funding, it was time to convert back to a nonprofit, Garaizar says.

"When we started fundraising for Houston, everyone was asking why we weren't a nonprofit. That opened the discussion again," she says. "The past year we have been going through that process and we can finally say it has been completed.

"I think it's going to open the door to a lot more collaboration and potential grants," she adds.

Greentown is continuing to grow its team ahead of planned expansion. The organization hasn't yet announced its next location — Garaizar says the primary focus is filling the CEO position first. In Houston, the hub is also looking for an events manager to ensure the incubator is providing key programming for its members, as well as the Houston innovation community as a whole.

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