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

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

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.

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A Rice University scientist will be working on the team for NASA's latest Mars rover. Image courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech

A Rice University Martian geologist has been chosen by NASA as one of the 13 scientists who will be working on a new Mars rover.

Perseverance, the rover that launched in July and is expected to land on Mars in February. It will be scouting for samples to bring back to study for ancient microbial life, and Kirsten Siebach — an assistant professor of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences — will be among the researchers to work on the project. Her proposal was one of 119 submitted to NASA for funding, according to a Rice press release.

"Everybody selected to be on the team is expected to put some time into general operations as well as accomplishing their own research," she says in the release. "My co-investigators here at Rice and I will do research to understand the origin of the rocks Perseverance observes, and I will also participate in operating the rover."

It's Kirsten Siebach's second Mars rover mission to work on. Photo courtesy of Rice University

Perseverance is headed for Jezero Crater, a 28-mile-wide area that once hosted a lake and river delta where, according to scientists, microbial life may have existed over 3 billion years ago. Siebach is particularly excited hopefully find fossils existing in atmospheric carbon dioxide dissolved in water — which usually exists as limestone on Earth.

"There are huge packages of limestone all over Earth, but for some reason it's extremely rare on Mars," she says. "This particular landing site includes one of the few orbital detections of carbonate and it appears to have a couple of different units including carbonates within this lake deposit. The carbonates will be a highlight of we're looking for, but we're interested in basically all types of minerals."

Siebach is familiar with rovers — she was a member of the team for NASA's Curiosity rover, which has been exploring Mars since 2012. For this new rover, Siebach knows what to expect.

"Because there is only one rover, the whole team at NASA has to agree about what to look at, or analyze, or where to drive on any given day," Siebach says in the release. "None of the rovers' actions are unilateral decisions. But it is a privilege to be part of the discussion and to get to argue for observations of rocks that will be important to our understanding of Mars for decades."

Siebach and her team — which includes Rice data scientist Yueyang Jiang and mineralogist Gelu Costin — are planning to tap into computational and machine-learning methods to map out minerals and discover evidence for former life on Mars. They will also be using a Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry, or PIXL, to analyze the materials.

The return mission isn't expected to return until the early 2030s, so it's a long game for the scientists. However, the samples have the potential to revolutionize what we know about life on Mars with more context than before.

"Occasionally, something hits Mars hard enough to knock a meteorite out, and it lands on Earth," she says in the release. "We have a few of those. But we've never been able to select where a sample came from and to understand its geologic context. So these samples will be revolutionary."

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