Houston is a good place for creators of digital content, such as podcasters, bloggers, writers, and strategists. Photo by Laurence Dutton/Getty Images

The Greater Houston area ranks as one of the hot spots in the country for an in-demand area of tech expertise.

A new report from career website LinkedIn looks at an array of career categories exhibiting the highest year-over-year growth rates in hiring (based on the period from last April to October).

The report pinpoints Houston as one of the hottest U.S. markets for creators of digital content, such as podcasters, bloggers, writers, and strategists. For those looking to transition, the majority of these digital content creators have a bachelor of arts degree, while some 25 percent have a masters, the report notes. Top skills for these positions include editing, writing, public speaking.

Meanwhile, DFW is listed as a "top region" for UX specialists, including UX consultants, designers, and researchers along with the San Francisco Bay area and Greater Chicago area. (What, exactly, is UX? While the field and job can have many facets, one industry site puts it this succinctly: "UX design is the process of designing (digital or physical) products that are useful, easy to use, and delightful to interact with.")

The Austin area ranks as one of the hottest spots in the U.S. for artificial intelligence (AI). The report says jobs like artificial intelligence specialist, machine learning researcher, and machine learning engineer are in particularly high demand in the Austin area, as well as Denver and San Francisco Bay.

In 2019, the tech sector in Texas wielded an economic impact of $141.7 billion and employed more than 1 million people (including AI engineers, UX designers, and digital content creators), according to CompTIA, a trade association for the IT industry.

"Technology powered job growth and economic gains in the past decade in Texas and across the country while delivering countless benefits in how we work, communicate, create, and share," Todd Thibodeaux, president and CEO of CompTIA, said in a 2020 release.

U.S. News & World Report ranks the University of Texas at Austin among the country's top five schools for undergraduate students studying AI, an arm of computer science that simulates human intelligence.

Globally, AI is a fast-growing specialty among employers. A 2020 report from the World Economic Forum identified AI and machine learning positions as the No. 1 emerging category of jobs. Ninety-three percent of U.S. companies surveyed by the organization indicated they had adopted AI technology.

In 2019, job website Indeed reported that average salaries for the highest-paid AI jobs in the U.S. ranged from $109,314 to $142,859.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Rice has risen to the top again. Photo courtesy of Rice University

Rice University rises to top of Texas schools in prestigious U.S. News & World Report ranking

Head of class

Rice University continues to rise in national surveys. The latest: U.S. News & World Report's 2021 Best Colleges, released September 14, anoints Rice as the best university in Texas. The prestigious Houston school — dubbed the "Ivy League of the South" — ranks No. 16 among national universities, up one spot from last year.

This is in step with last year's U.S. News & World Report's Best Colleges list, which also named Rice the best university in Texas.

The trusted report compared more than 1,400 undergraduate institutions across 17 measures of "academic quality" this year. Acknowledging the ongoing impact of the coronavirus pandemic on students and schools, the publication made several updates to its methodology, notes a release.

For 2021, U.S. News added two new metrics to measure student debt. It also increased the weight of the outcome category, which measures graduation rates, retention rates, and social mobility, and reduced the weights for standardized test scores, high school class standing, and alumni giving. And, for the very first time, the report ranks test-blind schools (those that don't require an SAT or ACT score for admission).

"The pandemic has affected students across the country, canceling commencement ceremonies and switching classes from in person to remote," said Kim Castro, editor and chief content officer, in a release. "Whether students have slightly altered their college plans or changed them entirely, it remains our mission to continue providing students and their families with the tools they need to help find the right school for them."

Now, on to the rankings. Here's how Rice scores in the prestigious report:

  • No. 6 in Best Undergraduate Teaching
  • No. 8 in Best Value Schools
  • No. 18 in Most Innovative Schools (tie)
  • No. 224 in Top Performers on Social Mobility (tie)
  • No. 19 in Best Undergraduate Engineering Programs (tie)

For 2021, the University of Texas at Austin ranks No. 42 nationally, up a significant six spots from 2020. It's also the school's highest ranking on the report since 1985, touts a news release from the university. Among the country's public universities, UT Austin climbed four spots from the previous year, landing at No. 13.

As for Texas' other top schools, Southern Methodist University and Texas A&M University are tied at No. 66 nationwide, while Baylor University and Texas Christian University rank No. 76 and No. 80, respectively.

The lofty U.S. News & World Report ranking is just the latest in accolades for the Owls. Rice was recently named the seventh best college in the U.S. and the best college in Texas by Niche.com.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Three Houston schools crack the top 10 high schools in Texas. Photo by Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images

Here's what Houston high schools shine brightest in the state, according to a new report

A+ education

A couple of Texas schools have been working hard on extra credit, or so says the latest ranking by U.S. News & World Report. Its list of the Best U.S. High Schools, released April 21, includes two Dallas public schools in the national top 10, with several other Texas learning institutions popping up further down.

The School for the Talented and Gifted earns a coveted No. 6 spot, followed by Irma Lerma Rangel Young Women's Leadership School at No. 10. Last year's No. 12, Science and Engineering Magnet School, slips slightly to No. 17 this year. All three are in the Dallas ISD.

On a state level, this trio takes the top three spots. Houston's DeBakey High School for Health Professions is No. 4 in Texas, with Carnegie Vanguard High School at No. 6 and Eastwood Academy at No. 10.

This is the most expansive edition yet, with the consumer advice outlet evaluating more than 17,700 public high schools on how well they serve all of their students, regardless of economic or ethnic background.

The methodology focuses on six factors: college readiness, reading and math proficiency, reading and math performance, underserved student performance, college curriculum breadth, and graduation rates. College readiness measures participation and performance on AP and IB exams.

"The Best High Schools rankings provide the most comprehensive, data-based information on nearly every public high school in the country," says Anita Narayan, managing editor of education at U.S. News. "Families can use this information to see how their local schools compare on graduation rates and state assessments, as well as academic performance by students who are traditionally underserved — those who are black, Hispanic, or from low-income households."

Also appearing on the national list are six more Texas schools within the top 100:

  • No. 29, DeBakey High School for Health Professions, Houston ISD
  • No. 34, Liberal Arts and Science Academy, Austin ISD
  • No. 44, Carnegie Vanguard High School, Houston ISD
  • No. 61, Early College High School, Laredo ISD
  • No. 82, Young Women's Leadership Academy, Fort Worth ISD
  • No. 91 Basis San Antonio- Shavano Campus, Basis Texas Castle Hills

The report also shows that the highest-ranked schools are scattered throughout the country, showing that the best schools are not concentrated in any one geographic area. Nine different states are represented among the top 10 schools. More broadly, the top 100 schools span 29 states.

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UT's grad schools earn top marks. University of Texas at Austin/Facebook

Texas school excels in ranking of country’s best graduate schools while Houston schools lag behind

Go longhorns

When it comes to the country's top graduate school programs, the University of Texas at Austin is at the head of the class.

A new ranking, released March 17 by U.S. News & World Report, shows UT Austin tied for third place among public universities for the most graduate schools and specialties (48) ranked in the top 10. Only the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Michigan have more.

UT's top five graduate schools for 2021, according to U.S. News: School of Information (No. 5), Jackson School of Geosciences (No. 7), LBJ School of Public Affairs (No. 8), Steve Hicks School of Social Work (No. 8), and Cockrell School of Engineering (No. 10).

U.S. News, bases its annual rankings of on two types of data: expert opinions about program excellence, and statistical indicators that measure the quality of a school's faculty, research, and students.

Also making the grade is UT's prestigious law school, tied for 16th in the nation, and School of Nursing, which placed No. 24.

Meanwhile, UT's McCombs School of Business' full-time MBA program claimed the No. 17 spot, up one spot from last year. The school's part-time MBA program landed at No. 7, up from No. 8 in 2019, and the executive MBA program jumped from two spots to No. 12 this year.

For all three types of MBA programs, UT Austin leads the rankings for Texas schools.

A few Houston schools do make a few of the lists, but the universities from the Bayou City fall far down the ranking. Here are the schools that made it into the top 100 of the engineering, nursing, law, business, and medical lists.

  • Rice University's Jones School of Business ties at No. 25 on the best business graduate schools list
  • University of Houston's Bauer College of Business ties at No. 95 on the best business graduate schools list
  • The Law Center at University of Houston ties at No. 56 on the best law schools list
  • Baylor College of Medicine ranks No. 22 on the best medical schools list
  • Rice University's George R. Brown School of Engineering ties at No. 33 on the best engineering graduate schools list
  • The Cullen College of Engineering at University of Houston ties at No. 67 on the best engineering graduate schools list
  • University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston ties at No. 27 on the best nursing schools list for master's
  • The College of Education at University of Houston ties for No. 91 on the best education graduate schools list
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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

U.S. News & World Report's 2020 Best Colleges ranking puts Rice University in first place for the state. Courtesy of Rice University

Houston university named the best in the state and among the top schools in the country

Report card

It's not breaking news, but it's always fun to hear: Rice University isn't just the best college in Texas, it stands above most in the nation, according to U.S. News & World Report's latest ranking.

On September 9, the publication released its annual 2020 Best Colleges report, comparing nearly 1,400 schools around the country.

Rice University is once again tops in Texas and No. 17 in the nation, tying with Cornell University and slipping one spot on the national ranking from 2018. The University of Texas at Austin ranks No. 2 in Texas, behind Rice for the second year in a row, and No. 48 in the nation.

U.S. News broke down ranking metrics like a classic syllabus. Each school was graded across six categories, weighing outcomes (graduation and retention rates, social mobility, etc.) the heaviest at 35 percent. Faculty resources and expert opinion of schools each accounted for 20 percent of scores, followed by financial resources and student excellence at 10 percent each and alumni giving at 5 percent.

The publication also brought some new rankings to the table this year, including Top Performers on Social Mobility, which analyzes schools based on which ones best serve underrepresented students, looking at Pell Grants and enrollment and graduation rates of students from low-income backgrounds. Rice ranks No. 204 on that list.

Rice placed highly on some of U.S. News' new rankings for programs students should look out for, including learning communities (No. 13), senior capstone (No. 20), and undergraduate research/creative projects (No. 34).

Nationwide, the Ivies continue their dominance atop the list. Princeton University is the best university in America, followed by Harvard University (No. 2) and Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Yale University, which tied for third.

In Texas, Southern Methodist University (No. 64), Texas A&M University (No. 70), and Baylor University (No. 79), round out the top five schools in Texas.

Locally, the University of Houston ranks 185th nationally. In the Regional Universities West ranking, the University of St. Thomas comes in 19th, the University of Houston—Clear Lake takes the 43rd spot, and Houston Baptist University lands at No. 61.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

DeBakey High School for Health Professions is at the top of the class. Photo by skynesher/Getty Images

Houston STEM high school declared top of the class by U.S. News & World Report

A-plus

Three Houston high schools deserve a tip of the cap (or mortarboard) after earning marks for excellence. On June 12, U.S. News & World Report released its annual Best U.S. High Schools by metro area, ranking the top public schools in each major city.

DeBakey High School for Health Professions is at the top of the class in the Bayou City. In addition to earning top marks for academics, the school is notably comprised of mostly minority students — 89 percent.

To determine the country's best schools, U.S. News ranked each school using six metrics, applying different weights to each category:

  • College readiness (30 percent)
  • Math and reading proficiency (20 percent)
  • Math and reading performance (20 percent)
  • Underserved service (10 percent)
  • College curriculum breadth (10 percent)
  • Graduation rate (10 percent)

Based on the above, the school has an overall score of 99.9 (or an A-plus in high school lingo), complete with 100 percent graduation and reading and mathematics proficiency rates. Also, 100 percent of students took and passed at least one AP exam.

Located on the prestigious Texas Medical Center Campus, DeBakey offers students unparalleled access to on-site research facilities, as well as future academic opportunities, U.S. News notes.

"Graduates are eligible for the Houston Premedical Academy, an undergraduate program at the University of Houston designed specifically for DeBakey High School students," the report says. "Those selected for the premedical academy receive provisional acceptance to the Baylor College of Medicine."

DeBakey ranks first in Houston and No. 17 nationally. The school is also rated No. 10 in the U.S. among magnet schools and No. 11 among STEM schools.

Carnegie Vanguard High School earned the No. 2 spot in Houston, 24th in the nation, followed by Eastwood Academy at No. 3 locally and 97th nationally.

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A version of this story, with information on Texas' other metros, originally was published on CultureMap.

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Photos: Here's a sneak peek at The Ion Houston's construction progress

eye on the ion

The Ion Houston is expected to open its doors this year, and the building's exterior is close to completion. Now, the construction team is focusing on interiors and then tenant build outs.

The 270,000-square-foot coworking and innovation hub owned and managed by Rice Management Co. is slated to be a convening building for startups, corporations, academic partners, investors, and more. The building is organized as follows:

  • The underground Lower Level will act as academic flex space with a few classrooms and open-concept desks for The Ion's accelerators, including: The Ion Smart and Resilient Cities Accelerator, DivInc, the Rice Alliance's Clean Energy Accelerator, and the Aerospace Innovation Hub and Accelerator. There will also be an event space and The Ion's own programming.
  • On the first, street-level floor, The Ion's restaurant tenants will reside with access from both the greenspace as well as into the building. The Ion's first three restaurant tenants include: Late August, Common Bond, and STUFF'd Wings.
  • Additionally, the first floor will be home to a venture studio and the prototyping lab. There is additional space available for other tenants.
  • On the second floor, there will be 58,000 square feet of coworking space managed by Common Desk. Note: For floors 2 and up of the Ion, tenants will have access cards that allow them entrance. The first and lower floors will not require access cards.
  • The third floor of the building will house eight to 10 tenants each with 5,000 to 10,000 square feet of space. Chevron was announced as the first tenant and will reside on this floor.
  • On the fourth and fifth floors, The Ion will house one to two larger tenants on each level. These levels of the building were added on to the existing structure. The fourth floor features two balconies that tenants will have access to. Microsoft is signed on to have its space on half of the fifth floor.
The Ion is still planning on an open date in late spring or summer. For leasing information, click here. Scroll through the slideshow of construction images and renderings to see the progress of the building.

Exterior nears completion

Photo by Natalie Harms

The building's exterior is almost complete and kept much of the original building's facade. The new materials brought in match the existing color scheme.

Texas winery taps Houston tech company for innovative AR experience

cheers

The Lone Star State is home to a vibrant and innovative wine scene, but, just like most hospitality businesses, winemakers missed the opportunity to engage with their patrons amid the pandemic. With a new idea of how to engage its customers, Messina Hof, an award-winning Texas winery, rolled out a new tech-optimized, at-home experience.

The winery partnered with VISION, a Houston-based production group, to create an augmented reality app. Combining the efforts of Messina Hof's in-house label design team and the animation capabilities of VISION, the app took four months to design.

"It was a labor of love for both parties to be able to experiment with this; it was uncharted territory," says Karen Bonarrigo, owner and chief administrative officer of Messina Hof.

The three wines released — Emblaze (Sweet Red), Vitality (Dry White), and Abounding (Dry Red) — each tells a story through the AR experience.

"We wanted to try not only and push the technology as far as we can push it, but also try to really incorporate some heavy storytelling," says Dan Pratt, VISION Creative Director.

The idea to incorporate technology felt like a natural one to Bonariggo.

"The earth, water, and sunshine all go into developing what the profile is for each wine," explains Bonarrigo.

Each of the three wines have scannable labels that bring up a VR experience for app users. Photo courtesy of Messina Hof

VISION, who worked alongside Messina Hof to develop the project, blended the winery's rich family ties with the Old World history of winemaking.

When customers download the app and hold their camera over the label, a trailing vine emerges onto the screen and wraps around the bottle. As vines grow around each bottle, the three each visually signify a different natural element of winemaking — earth, water and the sun. As a rustic sign emerges, it prompts users to then click for recipe pairing recommendations.

Rather than a single-use experience, Messina Hof and VISION wanted to create an app that users could both engage with and learn from. The AR app allows users to view recipes and browse wines in one place.

"We knew we wanted the app to be functional for people to be able to interact with both when they're doing the AR experience, but then also to be able to continue to come back to it later," shares Bonarrigo. While AR wine labels have emerged in some California vineyards, she says, "it's definitely uncharted territory for the Texas industry."

Overseeing the food and wine pairing at Messina Hof is one of Bonarrigo's passions, so it was a natural choice to include recipes in the app. Messina Hof offers a concept called Vineyard Cuisine, coined from the Bonarrigo family cookbook, and incorporates wine in every meal at the vineyard.

"The idea of tying [the wine] to a recipe gave us the opportunity to be able to share new ways [our customers] could use wines in their everyday cooking," she explains.

She hopes the app's recipe feature will help families connect together.

"So often we get used to sitting down at the table, eating really quickly, and then moving on to the next thing, but there's so much connection that can happen with each other when we can slow down a little bit and have a conversation," she continues.

To Pratt, AR was the perfect way to emphasize and expand on the shared experience of wine.

"We wanted this to be an extension of that experience for people. You know, based on the love of wine and laughter with friends," he says.

For those who can't currently gather in a room together, Bonarrigo has hopes that Messina Hof can bring people together from afar.

"I think now more than ever the ability for our regular customers, even within Texas, to then share those wines with family members or friends that are outside the state seems more intuitive," she explains.

"We are so used to being creatures of habit in sharing our wine face-to-face with people that when we had the unexpected opportunity to not do that, we realized that we still have ways to be able to connect with customers through technology," says Bonarrigo.

She finds the "ease of access of being able to connect with them through the online web store" has kept Messina Hof in touch with customers throughout the pandemic, as well as digital happy hours and tasting events.

Messina Hof Harvest Green Winery & Kitchen, the newest location, opened in February, becoming the Greater Houston-area's largest winery. The space features an expansive tasting room and 83-foot wine bar, full-service restaurant, covered patio, two private tasting rooms, a wine production, barrel room, and wine warehouse.

"We knew that when we launched that location that we wanted to be able to have a series of wines at that location that was special, but also out of the box," says Bonarrigo.

Bonarrigo and her husband Paul have ushered in the expansion of Messina Hof over the last nine years. The family business began in 1977 when Paul's parents, Paul Vincent and Merrill, started an experimental vineyard. Messina Hof has locations in Bryan, Grapevine, Fredericksburg, and Richmond.

"This is our largest winery expansion endeavor that we've done," she says. "We wanted the wines to be extra special."

Similar to Messina Hof, companies across industries are seeking to explore interactive technologies to reach their customer base. "A number of our clients, and also new clients that we may not have been able to reach before, have certainly reached out to us to figure out new ways to reach an audience," shares Pratt.

Winemaking may be an Old World skill, but Messina Hof is excited to bring Texas wine into the future.

"So much of winemaking is science, and so much of it is art. There's always this push and pull as to which is more of a majority in the end product," explains Bonarrigo, who notes that Messina Hof has been using technology to innovate and optimize the growing process. The new AR app is a push toward bringing the experience her family loves into the homes of customers.

"This definitely gives a new talking point to wine," she says.