Here are three of the latest updates on new hires and promotions from these Houston organizations. Photos courtesy

It's been a busy year so far for Houston organizations — three of which have made new appointments to their leadership.

In this round up of movers and shakers in Houston innovation, a venture capital firm names its newest principal, an astronaut gets a leadership role here at ground control, and a VR studio snags a leader to steer its growth.

Joe Acaba, chief of NASA's Astronaut Office at Johnson Space Center

Joe Acaba was promoted to a new role and will be responsible for crew assignments for future spaceflight missions. Photo via NASA

NASA tapped Joe Acaba as its chief of the Astronaut Office based in Johnson Space Center in Houston. He's served on multiple spaceflights and is a former U.S. Marine and former educator. According to NASA, he's the first person of Hispanic heritage selected to lead the office.

Acaba replaces Drew Feustel, who spent two years as deputy chief and has been acting chief of the office since NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman left the post late last year.

"Joe is an experienced space flyer and a proven leader, and he will undoubtedly inspire the next generation of NASA astronauts," says NASA Administrator Bill Nelson in a news release. " As we build on the International Space Station’s unparalleled success in low-Earth orbit with our eyes on the Moon and then Mars, Joe will play an integral role in ensuring our NASA astronauts are prepared for the challenges ahead."

Acaba, who spent a total of 306 days in space, has already supported the astronaut office in a few of roles, including director of operations in Russia and chief of the Vehicle Integration Test Office. In this new role, he will be oversee astronaut resources and operations and help develop astronaut flight crew operation concepts. Additionally, Acaba will make crew assignments for future spaceflight missions, including astronauts assigned to fly on Artemis missions.

“Our Johnson Space Center team congratulates Joe Acaba on his selection to chief of the Astronaut Office. We wish him well as he takes on this new and exciting leadership role,” says NASA Johnson Space Center Director Vanessa Wyche.

Samantha Lewis, partner at Mercury Fund

Samantha Lewis was promoted to partner at Mercury Fund. Photo courtesy of Mercury Fund

Samantha Lewis was promoted to partner from principal at Houston-based venture capital firm Mercury, per her LinkedIn. She previously was the investment director of investor network GOOSE Capital before joining the Mercury team just over two years ago.

Last year, Lewis — who also served on the board of two Houston-founded startups, Syzygy and Topl — was named a member of the Class 27 of the Kauffman Fellows Program, a group of global innovation investors.

Lewis is focused on what she calls the "power theme" at Mercury, which includes fintech, blockchain, web3, and more. She told InnovationMap on a recent episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast that these industries have been hit in particular within market uncertainty.

Bob Kleinhample, senior vice president of growth at HTX Labs

Bob Kleinhample joins HTX Labs at a time of strategic growth. Photo courtesy of HTX Labs

Virtual reality studio HTX Labs has named Bob Kleinhample as the company’s senior vice president of growth. He has more than 15 years leading business efforts in the tech space. A 20-year Army veteran, Kleinhample will oversee all aspects of HTX Labs' growth — including business development, product strategy, and marketing.

“Bob brings the right balance of market knowledge and product strategy, in combination with the commitment to bring immersive training and simulation to the warfighter, to really drive our EMPACT offering into the market,” says Scott Schneider, CEO and co-founder of HTX Labs. "We’re very excited to be adding this incredibly important role to our organization and having Bob lead these efforts as we expand the usage and adoption of EMPACT across the Department of Defense."

The appointment comes after the startup raised $3.2 million in its first outside capital round.

“Last year we secured funding from Cypress Growth Capital for the sole purpose of accelerating the growth of our EMPACT platform and our customer base, and we immediately began a search for the right person to lead these growth efforts," Schneider continues. "After performing an extensive search, we are fortunate to have connected with Bob Kleinhample who is coming on board to lead our company’s growth efforts“.

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Samantha Lewis of Mercury, Lydia Davies of Teamates, and Karen Leal of Insperity. Photos courtesy

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — from sportstech to venture capital — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Samantha Lewis, principal at Mercury Fund

Samantha Lewis, principal at Mercury Fund, joins this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo courtesy of Mercury Fund

It's not an easy time to be a startup founder, and Samantha Lewis, principal at Houston-based venture capital firm Mercury, knows that best. She joined the Houston Innovators Podcast to share what she's observed from the market — and how to navigate these uncertain times.

“We all know it’s turbulent market times. We’re unsure where the market is going, and when there’s uncertainty in the public markets, that puts uncertainty in the private markets,” Lewis says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. “What I’ve been spending the past two quarters doing is working with our portfolio companies to just make sure our balance sheets are bulked up for what’s to come in 2023.” Read more.

Karen Leal, performance specialist at Insperity

Time to think ahead, business owners. Here's what this expert thinks you need to prioritize. Photo courtesy

It's that time of year — the time to plan ahead for the next calendar year. Karen Leal, an expert at HR solutions company Insperity, wrote in a guest column her tips for small businesses and startups navigating the current market and planning ahead.

"While it is uncertain what lies ahead for businesses in 2023, leaders can prepare to face staffing challenges by choosing the best talent and creating a culture that shows employees that they are valued," she writes. Read more.

Lydia Davies, founder of TeeMates Golf and Teamates

Calling all sports fans. Image via LinkedIn

Lydia Davies, who launched TeeMates Golf last year, is back with another way for the athletically inclined to find likeminded individuals. Teamates, a new, Houston-based, multi-sport meetup app, connects like-minded sporty types who want to connect and run, hike, surf, or play golf, pickleball, and more.

“I have noticed more and more over the years that it is hard for adults to find friends, especially to find friends to play sports with,” said Davies in a press release. “Why not get active and use it as an icebreaker? Let us come out of the last few years healthier and happier by linking together to get outside and get active. Teamates makes it so easy to join a meetup with just one click.” Read more.

The future of Web3, investing in Houston, and how founders need to be prepared for 2023 — Samantha Lewis of Mercury joins the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo courtesy of Mercury

Houston investor shares what startup founders need to prioritize in 2023

houston innovators podcast Episode 165

Heading into the new year, startup founders in Houston and beyond need to focus on conserving and raising cash, says Samantha Lewis, principal of Houston-based venture capital firm Mercury.

“We all know it’s turbulent market times. We’re unsure where the market is going, and when there’s uncertainty in the public markets, that puts uncertainty in the private markets,” Lewis says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. “What I’ve been spending the past two quarters doing is working with our portfolio companies to just make sure our balance sheets are bulked up for what’s to come in 2023.”

She says Mercury's startup portfolio has focused on extending each company's runway financially through 2024 — and she recommends all startups to try to do the same. She advises on the show that even if a company raised funding within the past year, open on the same terms and valuation just to bridge the gap.

“In 2023, if things start to look up, great. But if things continue to be volatile, then we need to be prepared for it,” she says. “What we’re advising all of our startups to do is to get as much cash in the door right now as you can.”

She outlined a lot of this analysis in a report for Mercury looking back at the market in 2022. Lewis, who was named a member of the Class 27 of the Kauffman Fellows Program, a group of global innovation investors, factors in what she's experienced through the program at an international level.

Lewis is focused on what she calls the "power theme" at Mercury, which includes fintech, blockchain, web3, and more. She says these industries have been hit in particular within market uncertainty.

"Ultimately the companies that are now getting investment and see capital flow through them within Web3 are the ones that have been building a sustainable business from the beginning," she says. "And thinking about what are the real use cases that blockchain unlocks and how it adds economic value."

When it comes to VC activity, Lewis says 2023 has been plagued with "FOMO investing" — the fear of missing out on a buzzy new technology — and "hype projects." Investors were throwing money into Web3 technology that hadn't yet been vetted in a real way.

Mercury didn't do that, Lewis says. "We've been very disciplined about where we put dollars within Web3. We've done mostly infrastructure Web3, and the only thing we'll continue to do is infrastructure." She cites Topl, a Houston-founded blockchain network company, as an example.

On the podcast, she shares more about the tumultuous ride blockchain has had in 2022, and why she's still bullish on Web3 despite the bad actors within cryptocurrency. She also shares some of the things Mercury has been up to with its Houston-based portfolio and what's next for them.

Listen to the episode below, or wherever you get your podcasts — just search "Houston Innovators Podcast."


Topl's latest fundraising round includes participation from a Houston investor as well as international partners. Image via Getty Images

Houston-founded blockchain startup raises $15M series A to increase international impact

money moves

A blockchain technology company that was founded out of Rice University has closed its latest round of funding.

Founded in 2017, Topl is a blockchain-as-a-service company that's developing a purpose-built blockchain ecosystem to empower impact and sustainability within its userbase of businesses. The company's $15 million series A round was co-led by Houston-based Mercury, Republic Asia, and Malta-based Cryptology Asset Group.

“Topl’s blockchain was purpose built to power the next wave of supply chains and markets, that are more sustainable and inclusive,” says Chris Georgen, founder and managing director of Topl, in a news release. “Every decision we’ve made has been relentlessly focused on this problem and it’s exciting to see this approach yielding results with more than 30 different impact-forward use cases already live or approaching launch. Through this latest fundraise and with the strong network we’ve built, we’re looking to accelerate the growth of our ecosystem and setting a goal of at least 100 applications launched by next year.”

The company, which is now headquartered in Austin but still has a presence in Houston, has raised over $20 million in investment to date. Topl announced its $3 million seed round of funding — also led by Mercury — in 2020.

“Despite broader market dynamics across the Web3 sector, Topl’s strategic and early focus on users allowed the team to build an incredibly strong foundation that can weather cycles by providing an increasingly in-demand service to companies implementing various sustainable initiatives,” says Samantha Lewis, principal at Mercury, in the release. “We are excited to support Topl in this pivotal growth period.”

The round included two new international investors in Topl. Republic Asia is a newly launched arm of private investing platform Republic that is focused on fintech and web3 solutions. Houstonian Youngro Lee leads the division as executive vice president at Republic and head of Republic Asia and will join Topl's board to assist with international expansion.

“Sustainability and climate considerations are no longer mere luxuries, but an absolute necessity for companies to contribute to global finance and commerce,” Lee says in the release. “Topl will make it easier than ever for any organization around the world to harness the power of blockchain to track and monetize their positive environmental impact.”

Cryptology, with its European operations, also brings Topl key international presence.

"It's been an honor to see Topl progress from when it first entered Iconic Lab's accelerator program back in 2018 to where it is today," says Patrick Lowry, CEO of Cryptology, in the release. "Cryptology is hyper-focused on driving crypto adoption in an impact-focused, sustainable manner. We are proud to add Topl to our portfolio of companies and excitedly await Topl's network decentralization."

In addition to increasing its international impact, Topl will reportedly continue to build out its blockchain and technology. Per the release, Topl expects to launch a traceability platform for ethically and sustainably sourced products later this year.

Topl, which launched a grant program to fund Web3 startups and developers with inclusive and sustainable solutions, plans to announce its first 20 grant awards early next year. The grant recipients will also receive development, go-to-market, and fundraising support from Topl's team and network.

A new report finds that the Lone Star State isn't prime for innovation jobs — and more Houston innovation news. Photo via Getty Images

Houston hospital doles out DEI funds, investors join prestigious programs, and more local innovation news

short stories

Houston's summer has been heating up in terms of innovation news, and there might be some headlines you may have missed.

In this roundup of short stories within Houston startups and tech, Houston investors were tapped for impressive roles, a local hospital system has invested in the city's diversity and inclusion, and more.

Houston Methodist awards more than $4.6 million for 2022 DEI Grant program

Ryane Jackson, vice-president, community benefits at Houston Methodist, oversees the grant program. Photo courtesy of Houston Methodist

Houston Methodist announced grants to 59 Houston-area nonprofit organizations totalling more than $4.6 million thanks to the Houston Methodist Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Grant Program. The program supports "community initiatives focused on addressing the social determinants of health that lead to health inequities within racial, ethnic and social minorities, including women, people experiencing homelessness, older adults, the LGBTQ+ community, immigrants and more," per a news release.

It's the second year for the DEI Grant Program, and the latest donations will support more than 100,000 people in the Houston area through 29 healthy neighborhood programs, 16 economic empowerment programs, and 17 educational empowerment programs.

“It’s incredibly encouraging to see so many local non-profit organizations working to close the health and social disparity gaps that exist among minority groups in the Houston area,” says Ryane Jackson, vice-president, community benefits at Houston Methodist, in the release. “The goal of the Houston Methodist DEI grant program is to enact meaningful change. For us, that change entails working together with local charity agencies in our collective pursuit to build a healthier Houston that reaffirms the value and worth of everyone. Entering our second year of funding, we’re pleased to support even more local organizations this year who are critical in shaping our community.”

The program has two types of grant funding — the Social Equity Grant for health equity programs targeting racial and ethnic minorities, and the DEI Grant, which provides resources for operating growing agencies serving broader minority communities.

Some examples of the grants are:

  • DEI Grant to the The Montrose Center, which empowers the LGBTQ+ community and their families to live healthier, more fulfilling lives. DEI grant funds will benefit LGBTQ+ seniors and African American seniors from Third Ward in need of affordable and affirmative housing and will enable the hiring of a case manager to support the initiative.
  • DEI Grant tp the Santa Maria Hostel, which offers a comprehensive continuum of care for women and their families including residential detoxification, substance use disorder treatment for women, and emergency and transitional housing. DEI Grant funding will support the Recovery Support Services Program that assists formerly incarcerated women with housing and economic stability through salary support for Peer Recovery Coaches. This agency is the only recovery agency that allows women to keep their children with them while going through the program.
  • Social Equity Grant to Boat People SOS - Houston, a nonprofit social and legal services provider whose purpose is to empower, organize, and equip immigrant communities in their pursuit of liberty and dignity. The Houston Methodist Social Equity grant funding will support their senior services program designed to address social support needs and provide resources to Vietnamese seniors.

2 Mercury investors named to prestigious programs

Samantha Lewis and Aziz Gilani of Mercury have each received exciting appointments. Photos via Mercury

Houston-based venture capital firm has two employees to celebrate. Samantha Lewis, principal at Mercury, was announced as a member of the Class 27 of the Kauffman Fellows Program, a group of global innovation investors, just after Aziz Gilani, managing director at the firm, was appointed to the National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship, a Federal advisory committee that advises the United States Secretary of Commerce.

For Lewis, the appointment enrolls her in the two-year program, which is described as "a United Nations of venture investing," in a news release. She joins a network of 765 fellows — including 59 in the current cohort — spanning six continents and representing over 670 VC firms around the globe.

At NACIE, Gilani was one of 32 leaders appointed by U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina M. Raimondo last month. The group, according to a news release, will be tasked with "developing a National Entrepreneurship Strategy that strengthens America’s ability to compete and win as the world’s leading startup nation and as the world’s leading innovator in critical emerging technologies."

Texas ranks as middle of the pack when it comes to innovative states

Texas ranks in the lower half of the nation when it comes to innovation jobs. Chart via Smartest Dollar

The Lone Star State was named the 30th most innovative state, according to a new report from Smartest Dollar. The report evaluated data from 350 metros and all 50 states and sought to identify the locations with the most innovative workers. Researchers calculated a composite innovation index for each location and ranked states accordingly.

Here is a summary of the data for Texas, according to the report:

  • Composite innovation index: 59.30
  • Share of workers in the most innovative jobs: 2.6 percent
  • Total workers in the most innovative jobs: 322,910
  • Average annual wage for all workers: $54,230
  • Average annual wage for workers in the most innovative jobs: $77,098

Here are the statistics for the entire United States:

  • Composite innovation index: 59.53
  • Share of workers in the most innovative jobs: 3.1 percent
  • Total workers in the most innovative jobs: 4,428,790
  • Average annual wage for all workers: $58,260
  • Average annual wage for workers in the most innovative jobs: $86,562

Applications are open for pitch competition

A new pitch competition is looking for finalists. Photo via Getty Images

Applications are now open for the Black Girl Ventures x Omaze Houston pitch competition. The deadline to submit is July 1.

This fall, seven finalists will pitch their businesses to a panel of judges, and the first place winner will win $10,000. Second and third place winners will receive $6,000 and $2,000, respectively. Capital One will match funds, effectively doubling the prize money for the top three finalists.

Eligibility includes Black and Brown woman-identifying founders with revenue-generating (under $1 million) businesses. Founders can submit their applications online. Finalists will be notified on July 18.

Black Girl Ventures has been active in Houston since 2020. According to the organization, the region has six Change Agents, or fellows, who work to strengthen and expand the local entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Houston startup joins national 5G accelerator cohort

Houston startup joins a cohort of companies changing the future of 5G. Photo via Getty Images

A Houston company has been named to a new 5G-focused accelerator program. The gBETA 5G Technology Spring 2022 cohort includes Houston-based Ohana. Using advertising revenue, the company brings free access to information and connectivity to the world and is planning to roll out a 5G smartphone and data plan free to users across the globe later this year.

gBETA, which has an industry agnostic cohort ongoing in Houston, also has this 5G-focuset version that follows a similar structure. The five companies will go through the free, seven-week accelerator — that kicked off May 5 — and receive intensive and individualized coaching and access to gener8tor’s national network of mentors, customers, corporate partners, and investors.

The program will culminate with the gener8tor Showcase Day in the fall, which will highlight each of the five companies.

“We’re so fortunate to have such a diverse set of founders from across the country, with expertise across the internet technology and communications continuum,” says Doug Applegate, gBETA director for the 5G Technology program. “They highlight the capabilities and possibilities of what 5G Technology can bring to the world, and we’re excited to see how the companies grow.”

The other companies include Chicago-based Socian Technologies, Fishers, Indiana-based Qumulex Boston-based Mentore, and Dallas-based Taubyte.

Health care innovators joined Houston Methodist and Texas A&M University's ENMED program to discuss women in health care innovation and venture capital investment. Photo courtesy of Houston Methodist

Overheard: Houston experts discuss women in med tech, insight from investors, and more

Eavesdropping in Houston

Houston's health innovation community is making strides every day toward greater quality of care and technology adoption — but what challenges is the industry facing these days?

Through a partnership between Houston Methodist and Texas A&M University's ENMED program at Houston Tech Rodeo, health innovators weighed in on topics surrounding the industry, including biases and investment opportunities.

Missed the conversation? Here are seven key moments from the panels that took place at A&M's new ENMED building in the Texas Medical Center on Thursday, March 3.

“When I look at learning and understanding the priorities — how to take care of patients and also enable those who are doing that work, that’s part of understanding the culture and learning because in the 40 years that I’ve been in the industry, it’s never been the same. There are always things that continue to present challenges from unexpected places.”

​— Ayse McCracken, founder of Ignite Healthcare Network, says on the "Four Fierce Females" panel, referencing the rate of tech disruption and how new technologies, medicine, etc. can change the health care industry and practitioners need to find ways to keep up and stay ahead of the curve.

“Whenever you experience biases, what can you do? You can lean into the fact that we are in a position to help educate and make a change. And that’s going to look different for every one of us, but lean into that instead of feeling down by it.”

— Samantha Lewis, principal at Mercury Fund, says on the "Four Fierce Females" panel, explaining that women across industries should lean into being a change agent when met with bias in the workplace.

“The reason I feel so passionate is (I’m always thinking,) ‘What more can we be doing for our community? What’s working well and what’s not working well,' so I can take that back and make positive changes in our organization.”

— Michelle Stansbury, vice president of innovation and IT applications at Houston Methodist, says on the "Four Fierce Females" panel, explaining that when she's on the other side of the equation as a patient, she really considers her experience and how it could be better.

“Every time you raise money you’re telling a story. You have to figure out what adds value to that story. … I think health care is tricky too because people getting into it aren’t necessarily aware of how complex it is.”

— Dan Watkins, venture partner and co-founder at Mercury Fund, says on the "Where’s My Money At?" investor panel, adding how important it is to investors that founders have specific information — market potential, road map, etc. — when pitching to VCs.

“As a health care startup founder and CEO, you have to wear so many different hats — especially if you’re talking about diagnostics and medical devices. It starts in the science, moves to engineering, and then winds up being commercial. To expect someone to be an expert at all those fields is very difficult.”

— Tim Marx, venture partner at Baird Capital, says on the "Where’s My Money At?" investor panel, adding that, “That’s why we look for the CEOs who really understand where they are, where they’re going, and what they need.”

“One of the things we really appreciate when we engage with founders, it’s not about ‘here’s why my company is great.’ It’s more about understanding the questions your business needs to answer. … If you think about that, that’s what we want to fund. We want to invest in the vision, opportunity, and the people, but we want to fund the — the roadmap — that usually comes with being thoughtful about the questions you’re trying to answer.”

— John Reale, venture lead at TMC Venture Fund, says on the "Where’s My Money At?" investor panel, adding "That's where we get energized."

“The idea to attract talent that’s already built great companies across the US and the world to come here, hire here, and grow here — that’s starting to actually pay off. One of the things that’s big about Houston is it’s really gritty — it’s very ‘show me the data and prove it to me first.’ … We’re having those proven points.”

— Emily Reiser, associate director of innovation at the Texas Medical Center , says on the "Where’s My Money At?" investor panel about the work TMC is doing with its accelerator program.

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Report: Houston secures spot on list of top 50 startup cities

by the numbers

A new ranking signals great promise for the growth of Houston’s startup network.

Houston ranks among the world’s top 50 startup cities on a new list from PitchBook, a provider of data and research about capital markets. In fact, Houston comes in at No. 50 in the ranking. But if you dig deeper into the data, Houston comes out on top in one key category.

The city earns a growth score of 63.8 out of 100 — the highest growth score of any U.S. city and the seventh highest growth score in the world. In the growth bucket, Houston sits between between Paris (64.4) and Washington, D.C. (61.7).

The PitchBook growth score reflects short-term, midterm, and long-term growth momentum for activity surrounding venture capital deals, exits, and fundraising for the past six years.

PitchBook’s highest growth score (86.5) goes to Hefei, a Chinese manufacturing hub for electric vehicles, solar panels, liquid crystal displays, home appliances, and Lenovo computers.

The overall ranking is based on a scoring system that relies on proprietary PitchBook data about private companies. The system’s growth and development scores are based on data related to deals, exits, fundraising and other factors.

Houston earns a development score of 34.1 out of 100, which puts it in 50th place globally in that regard. This score measures the size and maturity of a city’s startup network.

Topping the overall list is San Francisco, followed by New York City and Beijing. Elsewhere in Texas, Austin appears at No. 16 and Dallas at No. 36.

The ranking “helps founders, operators, and investors assess locations when deciding where to expand or invest,” says PitchBook.

“Network effects matter in venture capital: Investors get more than half of their deals through referrals, according to research led by Harvard professor Paul Gompers,” PitchBook goes on to say. “So it stands to reason that dealmakers should seek these networks out when deciding where to do business.”

4 Houston universities earn top spots for graduate programs in Texas

top schools

Houston's top-tier universities have done it again. U.S. News and World Report has four Houston-area universities among the best grad schools in the state, with some departments landing among the top 100 in the country.

U.S. News publishes its annual national "Best Graduate Schools" rankings, which look at several programs including business, education, engineering, fine arts, health, and many others. For the 2024 report, the publication decided to withhold its rankings for engineering and medical schools. It also changed the methodology for ranking business schools by adding a new "salary indicator" based on a graduate's profession.

U.S. News also added new rankings for doctoral and master's programs in several medical fields for the first time in four years, or even longer in some cases. New specialty program rankings include audiology, occupational therapy, physical therapy, pharmacy, nurse midwifery, speech-language pathology, nurse anesthesia, and social work.

"Depending on the job or field, earning a graduate degree may lead to higher earnings, career advancement and specialized skill development," wrote Sarah Wood, a U.S. News Education reporter. "But with several types of degrees and hundreds of graduate schools, it can be difficult to narrow down the options."

Without further ado, here's how the local schools ranked:

Rice University's Jesse H. Jones Graduate School of Business maintained its position as No. 2 in Texas, but slipped from its former No. 24 spot in the 2023 report to No. 29 overall in the nation in 2024. Its entrepreneurship program tied for No. 8 in the U.S, while its part-time MBA program ranked No. 15 overall.

Houston's University of Texas Health Science Centerearned the No. 3 spots in Texas for its masters and doctorate nursing programs, with the programs earning the No. 31 and No. 45 spots overall in the nation. The school ranked No. 25 nationally in the ranking of Best Public Health schools, and No. 36 for its nursing-anesthesia program.

Prairie View A&M University's Northwest Houston Center ranked No. 5 in Texas and No. 117 in the nation for its master's nursing program. Its Doctor of Nursing Practice program ranked No. 8 statewide, and No. 139 nationally.

The University of Houstonmoved up one spot to claim No. 4 spot in Texas for its graduate education program, and improved by seven spots to claim No. 63 nationally. Its graduate business school also performed better than last year to claim No. 56 in the nation, according to the report. The University of Houston Law Center is the fifth best in Texas, and 68th best in the U.S. Most notably, its health care law program earned top nods for being the seventh best in the country.

Among the new specialty program rankings, UH's pharmacy school ranked No. 41 nationally, while the speech-language pathology program earned No. 44 overall. The graduate social work and public affairs programs ranked No. 67 and No. 76, respectively, in the nation.

The full list of best graduate schools can be found on usnews.com.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Op-Ed: Removing barriers is critical for the future of Houston's health care workforce

guest column

Houston houses one of the most renowned medical communities in the world. However, Texas' current health care workforce shortage has severely impacted the city, with large swaths of the Gulf Coast Region deemed medically underserved. Thousands of Houstonians are impacted year after year due to the lack of access to life-saving medical care.

The obvious solution to this problem is to form a pipeline of health care workers by equipping students with the necessary skills and education to fill this gap. Sadly, many individuals who lack opportunity yet aspire to pursue a career in the health care industry face barriers related to childcare, transportation, mentorship gaps and life's unexpected circumstances.

Dwyer Workforce Development (DWD), a national health care training nonprofit, has recently expanded its footprint to Texas and has joined Houston Community College (HCC), one of the largest community colleges in the country, to provide life-changing support and create a pipeline of new health care workers, many who come from underserved areas.

Last year, our organizations launched the Dwyer Scholar Apprenticeship program, which is actively enrolling to combat the health care shortage and bring opportunities to those lacking. Working together, we are supporting apprentices each year to earn their Certified Nurse Aide (CNA) certificates, where students can choose a Phlebotomy or EKG specialization, helping our city meet the demand for one of the most essential and in-demand jobs in health care each year. Our program will help address Texas' loss of 36 percent of its CNAs over the past decade while providing gateways for highly motivated students—Dwyer Scholars—to thrive in long-term health care careers.

We know financial barriers prevent many potential health care workers from obtaining the certifications needed to enter the workforce. That's why we are bringing our innovative programs together, enabling Scholars to earn while they learn and opening doors for those who do not have the financial luxury of completing their training in a traditional educational atmosphere.

After enrollment, DWD continues to provide case management and additional financial support for pressures like housing, childcare, and transportation so Scholars don't have to put their work before their education. Scholars are placed with employers during the program, where they complete their apprenticeships and begin full-time employment following graduation.

The Texas Workforce Commission has identified apprenticeship programs as a key area for expansion to meet employer demand for skilled workers. Through our partnership, we are doing just that – and the model is proven. More than 85 percent of DWD Scholars in Maryland, where the program was established, have earned their certificates and are now employed or on track to begin their careers.

Our work doesn't end here. Over the next decade, Texas will face a shortage of 57,000 skilled nurses. Texas must continue to expand awareness and access to key workforce training programs to improve outcomes for diverse needs. Our organizations are working to vastly expand our reach, making the unattainable attainable and helping to improve the lives and health of our community.

No one's past or present should dictate their future. Everyone deserves access to health care, the ability to further their education and the chance to set and achieve life goals. The opportunities to reach and empower underserved populations to participate in the health care workforce are limitless.

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Barb Clapp is CEO of Dwyer Workforce Development, a nonprofit that supports individuals who aspire to pursue a career in the health care industry. Christina Robinson is the executive director for work-based learning and industry partnerships at Houston Community College.