UH Chancellor Renu Khator and JSC Director Vanessa Wyche made a program expansion official. Photo via UH.edu

The University of Houston System has doubled down on a partnership with NASA’s Johnson Space Center that involves advancing human spaceflight research, technology development, and more.

The deal was officiated on June 10 with UH Chancellor Renu Khator and JSC Director Vanessa Wyche. According to a UH news release, the expanded partnership includes joint research, technology development, technology transfer, training and educational, and outreach initiatives at the four UH System universities: University of Houston, University of Houston-Downtown, University of Houston-Clear Lake and University of Houston-Victoria.

“Houston is ‘Space City,’ so it’s important for students and faculty in relevant disciplines across the UH System to have opportunities to engage in and be exposed to real world space flight-related research and technology development with NASA,” says Khator in the release. “These are the kinds of projects that shape lives and create innovations for the greater good.”

Some of the noted research and outreach topics include robotics, data analytics, cybersecurity, and other emerging technologies. Business and entrepreneurship students, for example, ar working to commercialized technology coming out of NASA. Expanding on the 50-plus-year partnership with UH will allow the JSC to further develop technologies for future human spaceflight missions, as well as inspire and engage the next generation of scientists, according to Wyche.

“NASA’s Johnson Space Center has a long history of working with colleges and universities since the early days of Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs to help us achieve our human spaceflight missions,” says Wyche in the release. “We are eager to partner and collaborate with the University of Houston system 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.”

Loren Blanchard, president of UH-Downtown, and Richard Walker, president of UH-Clear Lake, were also in attendance at the signing event. The NASA Office of STEM Engagement will work with UH-Downtown to target students to identify learning opportunities and provide connections to NASA’s missions. Additionally, UH-Clear Lake and NASA since the JSC's founding in 1961. Collaboration on academic programming and research will only expand under the new system-wide agreement, per the release.

UH and NASA leaders joined for the partnership signing. Photo via UH.edu

The University of Houston Cougars are seeing green with this news. Photo via UH.edu

Shell commits $10M to UH for new Energy Transition Institute

seeing green

A new clean energy-focused institute emerging on the University of Houston campus has been buoyed by funding from an energy behemoth.

Shell USA Inc. and Shell Global Solutions (US) Inc. has granted UH a $10 million gift to establish the Energy Transition Institute. According to a news release, the institute — focused on three core areas: hydrogen, carbon management, and circular plastics — is expected to receive financial support that will likely exceed $52 million across donations from all parties.

With UH as one of the most ethnically diverse research universities in the country and its founding partner Shell, the initiative will focus on serving vulnerable communities and leading the energy transition in an equitable way.

“Houston is poised, like no other city, to lead the energy transition and the Energy Transition Institute will be essential in pursuit of that goal,” says UH Chancellor and President Renu Khator in the release. “Along with advancing energy equity and social impacts in our communities, Shell’s generous gift will help UH maintain its leadership role in the energy transition.”

Khator says this initiative will work in collaboration with Houston's energy industry and welcomes more partners like Shell to join in on the project.

“Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our lifetime — and it’s partnerships like this, along with other key drivers such as policy and technology, that together can help the US make progress on its net-zero goals,” says Shell USA President Gretchen Watkins in the release. “When you put brilliant minds together with the resources they need to do the work, amazing things can happen.”

Within the three clean tech verticals, the new institute will target four disciplines, according to the university:

  • Science, engineering, and technology: Recruit faculty energy transition research and technology expertise and drive new on-campus collaborations.
  • Policy and regulation: Develop new public-private partnerships and infrastructure for measuring success, as well as recruit new faculty in policy and regulation.
  • Equity, diversity, and justice: Drive stakeholder engagement across communities, including minority serving institutions universities, as well as research programs across disciplines focused on energy equity and environmental justice.
  • Workforce and talent: Upskill the existing workforce on topics related to sustainable energy development and work closely with Shell and other industrial partners

Shell is no stranger to UH and is founding member of the University of Houston’s Center for Carbon Management in Energy, which is expected to collaborate with the new Energy Transition Institute to innovate all things carbon capture, storage, and utilization — as well as hydrogen commercialization and circular plastics.

“These are important building blocks to transition society to a net zero future while still providing the products and services that people have come to expect and demand in their daily lives,” says Selda Gunsel, president of Shell Global Solutions, in the release. “The Shell technology community looks forward to working with the institute to co-develop crucial technology in these areas, as well as nurturing the diverse talent needed to drive the energy transition into the future.”

Lisa and Nicky Holdeman are ensuring a bright future of UH med students. Photo courtesy of University of Houston

University of Houston power couple prescribes major gift for college of medicine

funding future doctors

University of Houston medical students and staff will receive a gift that's just what the doctor ordered.

A prestigious and longtime UH power couple has bequeathed two major gifts a major gift to the school's burgeoning College of Medicine. Dr. Nicky and Lisa Holdeman — who together boast more than 45 years at the university — have established an endowed and chair/professorship and a scholarship for medical students, the school announced.

In their will/trust the Holdemans have established, per UH:

  • The Nicky R. and Lisa K. Holdeman Endowed Professorship/Chair, which will support a clinical teaching faculty member responsible for the oversight and strategic direction of the College of Medicine's clinics, as well as enhancing the student and patient experience.
  • The Nicky R. and Lisa K. Holdeman Endowed Scholarship, which will support students in the College of Medicine, which was founded in 2020 on a social mission to improve health and health care in underserved communities in Houston and across Texas.

The Holdemans say that they were inspired by the UH College of Medicine's mission to address a significant statewide primary care physician shortage and how social determinants of health, such as income, housing, food supply and transportation, contribute to health outcomes.

"I have a true admiration for the comprehensive physician, someone comfortable addressing multiple health issues," Nicky Holdeman relays in a statement. "The physicians being trained at the University of Houston will be well prepared to manage most of the patients, with most conditions, most of the time. That's really what primary care medicine is all about."

As previously reported, UH's medical school will welcome its second class of 30 students this summer and will have 480 students at full enrollment, within the decade.

More on the duo, who have been married for 38 years: A UH biography notes that Nicky, physician and professor emeritus at the UH College of Optometry, served as associate dean for clinical education and executive director of the University Eye Institute during his 30 years at the college. He retired in 2019.

Meanwhile, Lisa joined UH in 2006 and serves as vice chancellor for the UH System and vice president for UH marketing and communications. She works directly with UH System Chancellor and UH President Renu Khator and school leadership.

"This gift is especially gratifying because it comes from two dedicated UH leaders whose professional careers have already contributed so much to our University's success," said Renu Khator. "That kind of enlightened commitment on their part sets an admirable example. I know I speak for many when I express our deep appreciation for their generous support of the College of Medicine and the important work it is undertaking in our community."

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

The Coogs have scored some serious cash. Photo courtesy of University of Houston

University of Houston roars with massive $1.2 billion raised in new campaign

Cougar cash

The University of Houston Cougars have a reason to roar this fall. The school has announced a massive fundraising feat of $1.2 billion for scholarships, professorships, facilities, and programs as part of the "Here, We Go" initiative that closed on August 31.

Specifically, the campaign raised $1,235,427,334. The final tally was announced by UH System Chancellor and UH president Renu Khator during her 12th annual fall address on October 28., where she thanked high-profile donors and volunteer campaign co-chairs Tilman J. Fertitta ('78), Beth Madison ('72), John L. Nau III, and Marvin E. Odum III (M.B.A. '95).

The campaign, which surpassed the $1 billion milestone in 2019, some 18 months ahead of schedule, was designed to strategically transform UH System universities with priorities to support student scholarships and fellowships, build state-of-the-art facilities, attract and retain top faculty, advance academic programs, workforce training and research, and build a nationally relevant athletics program, according to a press release. It began in 2012 and launched publicly in January 2017, before concluding in August of this year.

More than 187,000 donors, including 133,000 new donors contributed to the campaign, highlighting the pride felt by alumni and friends. Donations came from all 50 states and 46 countries, according to the school.

Donation highlights include:

  • $50 million gift from an anonymous donor — the campaign's single largest contribution to hire faculty and establish four new institutes in the areas of energy, infrastructure, precision medicine, and global engagement.
  • $20 million from Tilman J. Fertitta for renovation and construction of the Fertitta Center, a 7,100-seat multi-purpose arena that is home to the Houston Cougars men's and women's basketball teams and the women's volleyball team.
  • $20 million from the John P. McGovern Foundation benefitting arts students and faculty. The Kathrine G. McGovern College of the Arts was named in honor of the gift.
  • $17 million from Andy and Andrea Diamond to create the Diamond Family Scholars program which offers financial, academic and mentoring support for students aging out of the foster care system.
  • $16 million from the John M. O'Quinn Foundation to support the UH Law Center and construction of its new state-of-the-art building, the John M. O'Quinn Law Building.
  • $15 million thanks to Humana Inc. to launch the Humana Integrated Health System Sciences Institute and help defray start-up and operational costs for the UH College of Medicine, as well as fund endowed chairs at several UH colleges.
  • $13 million from the Cyvia and Melvyn Wolff Family Foundation to the nation's No. 1 undergraduate entrepreneurship program at the C.T. Bauer College of Business with a total expected impact of $15 million with matching gift.

"You inspired us to dream big, challenged us to be relevant and forced us to stay focused," said Khator, in a statement. "You led us from all directions, often making calls for us and introducing us to people who cared about Houston and our role in Houston's future."

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Students from certain backgrounds can attend UH for free this fall. Photo courtesy of University of Houston

University of Houston announces free tuition program for lower-income students

go coogs

A major Houston hall of higher education is making national news for its goodwill towards students from low-and-middle-class backgrounds.

The University of Houston announced a new initiative, Cougar Promise, that guarantees tuition and mandatory fees will be covered for eligible freshmen from families with adjusted gross incomes up to $65,000. Students admitted by January 15 who are starting in the fall and who demonstrate financial need are eligible for the program. The program has been covered by CNN and Yahoo News.

As an added effort to assist more students, eligible freshmen from families with adjusted gross incomes between $65,001 and $125,000 will be eligible for tuition support ranging from $500 to $2,000 per year. The assistance is significant, as UH tuition can range from $5,000 to $7,000 per term. Some 74 percent of UH undergraduate students receive some form of financial assistance, according to the university.

The Cougar Promise income threshold has more than doubled since the program started in 2008 when only students with family incomes up to $30,000 were eligible.

"Making college education affordable and accessible is at the foundation of our mission and critical for so many aspiring students across the income spectrum," says Renu Khator, University of Houston president, in a statement. "By expanding our financial support program to reduce financial barriers, we will help more students fulfill their dreams of earning a college degree."

UH's famous booster and benefactor, billionaire Tilman Fertitta, voiced his support of the program. "Your family's income bracket shouldn't limit your ability to achieve a college degree," said Fertitta, UH's chairman of the UHS Board of Regents. "Talented people come from all socioeconomic backgrounds, so I'm thrilled there will be more financial aid available for those UH students who need it most."

This isn't the first time a Houston university has made a bold move to help students in need. In 2018, Rice University made headlines for a program offering free and low-cost tuition to students from middle-class families.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

The University of Houston College of Medicine can now enroll its inaugural class. Photo courtesy of University of Houston

University of Houston's medical school gets accreditation, plans to start first class in July

now enrolling future doctors

The University of Houston has received the green light to move forward with its recruiting and enrolling its first class of 30 medical students for the first new medical school in Houston in over 50 years.

The University of Houston College of Medicine has received its preliminary accreditation from the Liaison Committee on Medical Education, the authority on medical education in the United States and Canada that is sponsored by the American Medical Association and the American Association of Medical Colleges.

This accreditation means the school can begin enrolling its inaugural class of 30 students and begin classes on July 20. Each of these new students will receive a $100,000 four-year scholarship thanks to an anonymous donor.

"Today is a historic day for the University of Houston, city of Houston, and the state of Texas because we are building this dream together," says Renu Khator, president and chancellor of the university, in a news release. "By training the next generation of compassionate physicians who understand how to provide quality health care at a reasonable cost, we are expanding our capabilities to serve the people and neighborhoods too often left behind."

Khator announced her plans to create the new school in 2014, with the goal being to address the shortage of 4,800-plus primary care physicians in Texas, according to the release.

For now, the school will operate out of UH's Health 2 Building, but the university plans to break ground this summer a new $80 million College of Medicine building. Completion is expected in 2022.

The school will focus its curriculum on primary care, behavioral and mental health, and preventive care, per the release, and create a household-centered care program that involves connecting a student with a family in an underserved community. According to the release, UH med students will be required to spend four weeks in a clinic in a rural part of the state.

"At full staffing we will have 65 full-time faculty teaching on campus, but there will be also be a large number of community-based faculty teaching in the outpatient and inpatient clinical settings," says Dr. Stephen Spann, founding dean of the medical school, in the release. "It is imperative that we place our medical students and faculty directly in the communities with the most need."

The school will still need fill accreditation from LCME, and, according to the release, this level of approval is usually granted within the fourth year of operation as long as the school meets the standards set by the organization.

"We are extremely grateful to receive LCME accreditation, but now the real work begins because we want to be accountable for improving the overall health and health care of the region," Spann says in the release.

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Looking back: Top 5 most-read Houston research-focused stories of 2021

2022 in review

Editor's note: As 2022 comes to a close, InnovationMap is looking back at the year's top stories in Houston innovation. In many cases, innovative startups originate from meticulous research deep within institutions. This past year, InnovationMap featured stories on these research institutions — from their breakthrough innovations to funding fueling it all. Here are five Houston research-focused articles that stood out to readers this year — be sure to click through to read the full story.


Texas nonprofit cancer research funder doles out millions to health professionals moving to Houston

These cancer research professionals just got fresh funding from a statewide organization. Photo by Dwight C. Andrews/Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau

Thanks in part to multimillion-dollar grants from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, two top-flight cancer researchers are taking key positions at Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine.

Dr. Pavan Reddy and Dr. Michael Taylor each recently received a grant of $6 million from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.

Reddy is leaving his position as chief of hematology-oncology and deputy director at the University of Michigan’s Rogel Cancer Center to become director of the Baylor College of Medicine’s Dan L. Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center. Dr. C. Kent Osborne stepped down as the center’s director in 2020; Dr. Helen Heslop has been the interim director. Continue reading.

Rice University deploys grant funding to 9 innovative Houston research projects

Nine research projects at Rice University have been granted $25,000 to advance their innovative solutions. Photo courtesy of Rice

Over a dozen Houston researchers wrapped up 2021 with the news of fresh funding thanks to an initiative and investment fund from Rice University.

The Technology Development Fund is a part of the university’s Creative Ventures initiative, which has awarded more than $4 million in grants since its inception in 2016. Rice's Office of Technology Transfer orchestrated the $25,000 grants across nine projects. Submissions were accepted through October and the winners were announced a few weeks ago. Continue reading.

Houston researchers create unprecedented solar energy technology that improves on efficiency

Two researchers out of the University of Houston have ideated a way to efficiently harvest carbon-free energy 24 hours a day. Photo via Getty Images

Two Houstonians have developed a new system of harvesting solar energy more efficiently.

Bo Zhao, the Kalsi Assistant Professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Houston, along with his doctoral student Sina Jafari Ghalekohneh, have created a technology that theoretically allows solar energy to be harvested to the thermodynamic limit, which is the absolute maximum rate sunlight can be converted into electricity, as reported in a September article for Physical Review Applied.

Traditional solar thermophotovoltaics (STPVs), or the engines used to extract electrical power from thermal radiation, run at an efficiency limit of 85.4 percent, according to a statement from UH. Zhao and Ghalekohneh's system was able to reach a rate of 93.3 percent, also known as the Landsberg Limit. Continue reading.

Texas A&M receives $10M to create cybersecurity research program

Texas A&M University has announced a new cybersecurity-focused initiative. Photo via tamu.edu

Texas A&M University has launched an institute for research and education regarding cybersecurity.

The Texas A&M Global Cyber Research Institute is a collaboration between the university and a Texas A&M University System engineering research agency, the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station. The research agency and Texas A&M are also home to the Texas A&M Cybersecurity Center.

The institute is funded by $10 million in gifts from former Texas A&M student Ray Rothrock, a venture capitalist and cybersecurity expert, and other donors. Continue reading.

Houston research organization doles out $28M in grants to innovators across Texas

Houston-based Welch Foundation has awarded almost $28 million in chemical research grants throughout Texas this year. Photo via Getty Images

Chemical researchers at seven institutions in the Houston area are receiving nearly $12.9 million grants from the Houston-based Welch Foundation.

In the Houston area, 43 grants are going to seven institutions:

  • Baylor College of Medicine
  • Rice University
  • Texas A&M University
  • Texas A&M University Health Science Center
  • University of Houston
  • University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston
  • University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston

The Welch Foundation is awarding almost $28 million in chemical research grants throughout Texas this year. The money will be allocated over a three-year period. Continue reading.

University of Houston powers up first robot food server in a U.S. restaurant

order up

The University of Houston is taking a bold step — or, in this case, roll — in foodservice delivery. UH's Conrad N. Hilton College of Global Hospitality Leadership is now deploying a robot server in Eric’s Restaurant at its Hilton College.

Booting up this new service is major bragging rights for the Coogs, as UH is now the only college in the country — and the only restaurant facility in Houston — to utilize a robotic food delivery.

These rolling delivery bots come from the state-of-the-art food service robot called Servi. The bots, created by Bear Robotics, are armed with LiDar sensors, cameras, and trays, and automatically return to their posts when internal weight sensors detect a delivery has been completed.

Not surprisingly, these futuristic food staffers are booting up plenty of buzz at UH.

“People are excited about it,” says Dennis Reynolds, who is dean of the Conrad N. Hilton College of Global Hospitality Leadership and oversees the only hospitality program in the world where students work and take classes in an internationally branded, full-service hotel. Launching robot waitstaff at UH as a test market makes sense, he notes, for practical use and larger implications.

The Servi robots deliver food from the kitchen to the table. Photo courtesy of the University of Houston

“Robotics and the general fear of technology we see today are really untested in the restaurant industry,” he says in an announcement. “At Hilton College, it’s not just about using tomorrow’s technology today. We always want to be the leader in learning how that technology impacts the industry.”

Bear Robotics, a tech company founded by restaurant experts and tech entrepreneurs, hosted a Servi showcase at the National Restaurant Show in Chicago earlier this year. After seeing the demo, Reynolds was hooked. UH's Servi robot arrived at Eric’s Restaurant in October.

Before sending the bot to diners' tables, the bot was prepped by Tanner Lucas, the executive chef and foodservice director at Eric’s. That meant weeks of mapping, programming, and — not surprisingly — “test driving” around the restaurant.

Tanner even created a digital map of the restaurant to teach the Servi its pathways and designated service points, such as table numbers. “Then, we sent it back and forth to all of those points from the kitchen with food to make sure it wouldn’t run into anything," he adds.

But does having a robot deliver food create friction between human and automated staff? Not at Eric's. “The robot helps my workflow,” Joel Tatum, a server at Eric’s says. “It lets me spend more time with my customers instead of just chasing and running food.”

Once loaded, the kitchen staff can tell the Servi robots where to take the dishes. Photo courtesy of the University of Houston

Reynolds believes robots will complement their human counterparts and actually enhance the customer experience, even in unlikely settings.

“Studies have been conducted in senior living facilities where you might think a robot wouldn’t be well received, but it’s been just the opposite,” Reynolds says. “Those residents saw the change in their lives and loved it.”

To that end, he plans to use Servi bots in other UH venues. “The ballroom would be a fantastic place to showcase Servi – not as a labor-saving device, but as an excitement generator,” Reynolds notes. “To have it rotating through a big event delivering appetizers would be really fun.”

Critics who denounce robot servers and suggest they will soon displace humans are missing the point, Reynolds adds. “This isn’t about cutting our labor costs. It’s about building our top-line revenues and expanding our brand as a global hospitality innovator,” Reynolds says. “People will come to expect more robotics, more artificial intelligence in all segments of hospitality, and our students will be right there at the forefront.”

Servi bots come at a time of dynamic growth for Hilton College. A recent rebrand to “Global Hospitality Leadership” comes as the college hotel is undergoing a $30 million expansion and renovation, which includes a new five-story, 70-room guest tower. The student-run Cougar Grounds coffeehouse reopened this semester in a larger space with plenty of updates. The neighboring Eric’s Club Center for Student Success helps with recruitment and enrollment, undergraduate academic services, and career development.

“To be the first university in the country to introduce robotics in the dining room is remarkable,” Reynolds adds. “There are a lot of unique things we’re doing at Hilton College.”

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Houston innovator on seeing a greener future on built environment

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 162

An architect by trade, Anas Al Kassas says he was used to solving problems in his line of work. Each project architects take on requires building designers to be innovative and creative. A few years ago, Kassas took his problem-solving background into the entrepreneurship world to scale a process that allows for retrofitting window facades for energy efficiency.

“If you look at buildings today, they are the largest energy-consuming sector — more than industrial and more than transportation,” Kassas, founder and CEO of INOVUES, says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. “They account for up to 40 percent of energy consumption and carbon emissions.”

To meet their climate goals, companies within the built environment are making moves to transition to electric systems. This has to be done with energy efficiency in mind, otherwise it will result in grid instability.

"Energy efficiency goes hand in hand with energy transition," he explains.

Kassas says that he first had the idea for his company when he was living in Boston. He chose to start the business in Houston, attracted to the city by its central location, affordable labor market, and manufacturing opportunities here.

Last year, INOVUES raised its first round of funding — a $2.75 million seed round — to scale up the team and identify the best markets to target customers. Kassas says he was looking for regions with rising energy rates and sizable incentives for companies making energy efficient changes.

"We were able to now implement our technology in over 4 million square feet of building space — from Boston, Seattle, Los Angeles, New York City, Portland, and very soon in Canada," he says.

Notably missing from that list is any Texas cities. Kassas says that he believes Houston is a great city for startups and he has his operations and manufacturing is based here, but he's not yet seen the right opportunity and adaption

"Unfortunately most of our customers are not in Texas," "A lot of work can be done here to incentivize building owners. There are a lot of existing buildings and construction happening here, but there has to be more incentives."

Kassas shares more about his growth over the past year, as well as what he has planned for 2023 on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.