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Shale Magazine: UTSA Honors College Prepares Students for the Challenges Ahead

 

SHALE-Website-Featured-Nov-Dec-2018-Tunstall

This fall finds me teaching Honors College freshmen in an introductory course under the rubric of Energy. Other sections address themes such as Sustainability, Media and even Happiness.The Honors Tutorial I is a required course for all Honors College matriculates. Instructors work with aspiring scholars on how to read, write and engage in popular intellectual discourse. As such, the approach is, by definition, highly interdisciplinary in nature. Students identify and evaluate sources of information, and develop a base of knowledge essential for engaging in public policy conversations.Given the acrimonious rhetoric now common in public policy debates, it’s worth dissecting where those exchanges sometimes go off the rails. In many cases, issues are oversimplified — a hammer sees everything as a nail. Alternatively, sometimes experts enter the fray with such a narrow focus that the bigger picture gets lost in the exquisite detail. All too often, the debate merely descends into personal attack.Honors College freshmen have excelled over their academic careers at specialized study in discrete courses: math, physical sciences, biology, selected portions of world history and the like. Rarely, however, are they tasked with bringing the pieces together as public policy discussions require. Their challenge then is to cultivate confidence by linking the individual disciplines with which they have become familiar to create meaningful, coherent and credible narratives.

The facility to discuss public policy issues in a lucid manner benefits from a unifying context to encourage those linkages. The framework employed in my class is a concept called Big History, which David Christian, among other scholars, has developed as a way to paint a very large canvas in broad strokes. In barely 300 pages, Christian lays out an account of events not possible until very recently. Big History elucidates a timeline in rapid-fire succession, from the origin of the universe to present day. This high-level, yet comprehensive view across disciplines allows learners to plug their individual specialization of study into the larger picture.For the theme of energy, I chose to take an expansive definition in order to give students latitude to pursue their own particular research interests. For example, all of the mega-innovations over the course of human history involve releasing new flows of energy — including some that we don’t often stop to consider. With the Agrarian Revolution, which began around 10,000 years ago, humans systematically extracted the energy from photosynthesis — essentially captured sunlight. This caused a big change in lifestyles. Prior to that, human ancestry spent roughly 2 million years wandering the earth as hunter-gatherers — by far the dominant era of human history in terms of duration.Another, more recent mega-innovation involved harnessing fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas, which constitute other forms of captured sunlight. The Industrial Revolution represents a recent and profound transformation of human civilization, activity and lifestyles — first with steam power, then later with more efficient internal combustion engines.The ability to tap these new sources doubled human energy consumption during the 19th century. Then in the 20th century, energy consumption rose by a factor of 10 — much faster than the rate of increase in human populations.

Unleashing such enormous energy flows reverberates widely across regions and continents. According to Christian, diesel pumps remove freshwater from aquifers 10 times faster than natural flows are able to replenish them. We produce minerals, rocks and other forms of matter that have never existed before, such as plastics, pure aluminum, stainless steel and massive amounts of concrete. Intelligent and practical public policy should inform our capacity to harness vast quantities of energy and their associated products.

According to Christian, most modern educational systems don’t spend much time working with students to look at the future in a systematic fashion. Big History presents an opportunity for undergraduates to see the long arc of how we arrived at this precise moment in time and — as future policymakers — to articulate thoughtful scenarios about the path forward.
About the author: Thomas Tunstall, Ph.D., is the Senior Research Director at the University of Texas at San Antonio’s Institute for Economic Development, and was a principal investigator for numerous economic and community development studies. He has published peer-reviewed articles on shale oil and gas, and has written op-ed articles on the topic for the Wall Street Journal. Dr. Tunstall holds a doctorate degree in political economy, a master’s in business administration from The University of Texas at Dallas, and a bachelor of business administration from The University of Texas at Austin.

Annual State Employee Charitable Campaign allows faculty and staff to give back

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The State Employee Charitable Campaign (SECC) is the workplace giving campaign for State of Texas employees, including state universities and colleges. The University of Texas at San Antonio participates in the SECC with the coordination of donations managed by the United Way of San Antonio and Bexar County.

2018 Goal: $175,000

Campaign Dates: October 1 to November 2

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Give Online

SECC Fundraisers

Online Silent Auction
Additional Fundraiser – Donate your art, photos, crafts, etc. and bid on these items! Proceeds benefit Texas charities.

Weekly Drawing
Each week, SECC contributors can win fabulous prizes! Pledge before each Friday to be entered to win.

Kens 5: Butterflies take over San Antonio following heavy rains

The snout butterfly has taken over San Antonio. Scientists say that late summer rains lead to population explosions in South Texas.

Terri Matiella, a lecturer at UTSA’s Department of Environmental Science and Ecology, says the butterflies have a brownish yellow color.

“They also have a long snout, which is why they get their name,” said Matiella, who added that their population booms are annual, but recent rains make conditions just right. “When we get the summer droughts and then heavy rains, it increases their food source, which are hackberry plants and shrubby-looking trees. The caterpillars feed off those shrubs, then turn into butterflies, and then you have massive populations of butterflies everywhere.”

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UTSA and Cibolo Preserve renew research collaboration agreement

(September 17, 2018) — The UTSA Vice President for Research, Economic Development, and Knowledge Enterprise (VPREDKE) and the Cibolo Preserve have renewed their research collaboration master agreement for another five years. Cibolo Preserve, a Texas charitable foundation/nonprofit, allows UTSA faculty, staff and students the controlled access to observe, instruct and conduct research per an application and vetting process managed by the VPREDKE.

The Cibolo Preserve, originally established by philanthropist Bill Lende, is a 644-acre outdoor natural preserve used for research and education purposes, located east of Boerne in south-central Kendall County. The site is known for its geological features, including a narrow canyon through a large exposure of caprinid (an extinct mollusk) rudist reef. The creek (also named Cibolo) provides critical recharge for the Trinity and Edwards Aquifers and connects to the San Antonio River. Slopes around the creek offer special microhabitats for some of the region’s more interesting plant species including Texas mock-orange, big red sage and hairy sycamore-leaf snowbells. It is also one of the only great blue heron rookeries in the county.

“This is the heart of Texas Hill Country. It’s not only beautiful but it is also a vibrant, thriving, natural living laboratory where UTSA can conduct sustainable and responsible research in regards to the flora, fauna, land and water resources of the region,” said Bernard Arulanandam, UTSA interim vice president for VPREDKE.

Most recently in FY 2018, Brian Laub, UTSA assistant professor in the Department of Environment Science and Ecology, was awarded two grants to conduct research on the preserve: one to map the aquatic habitat in Cibolo Creek with the help of two students and the second to evaluate estrogen concentrations in the creek with the assistance of a graduate student. The same year, Jeffrey Hutchison, UTSA assistant professor in environmental science, was funded to study the acoustic bat activity on site. In FY 2017, Vikram Kapoor, UTSA assistant professor in civil and environmental engineering, used molecular tools to track fecal sources. The preliminary data he gathered helped another funding application in which he subsequently secured a sizeable grant from the City of San Antonio to track fecal contamination in the Edwards Aquifer.

“The partnership between UTSA and Cibolo Preserve is key to fostering a greater understanding of central Texas natural resources and the issues that surround them,” said Donna Taylor, environmental research scientist and one of the seven Cibolo Preserve trustees. “The partnership not only encourages high quality multi-disciplinary research, but inter-agency cooperation as well since the Cibolo Preserve invites Texas Parks and Wildlife, San Antonio River Authority, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and Cibolo Nature Center to conduct studies too. Urban pressures on riparian corridors and recharge features, water quality impacts from waste and storm water inputs and habitat availability for wildlife are issues that affect all Texans. The research being conducted is helping the Cibolo Preserve understand these impacts on it specifically, while simultaneously informing the broader region, which is imperative as the area rapidly grows in human population.”

Yongli Gao, UTSA associate professor with the Department of Geological Sciences and the director of the Center for Water Research (CWR), has conducted multi-year research relating to hydrogeology and geomorphology onsite since 2013. Through VPREDKE, CWR has had four prScreen Shot 2018-09-17 at 11.12.40 AMojects funded for more than $45,000, and has had more than a dozen undergraduate and graduate students involved in experiential learning, from collecting samples, conducting field investigations, and running analysis.

“The Cibolo Preserve is a very unique place and it is part of a complex aquifer system; it is a natural Karst lab ideal to conduct long-term research projects and monitoring,” said Gao. “This access and experience have also benefited my students in many ways: they have gained valuable research skills and have also developed materials and data to use in their own research papers and thesis proposals, and to be published in journal articles and conference proceedings. I look forward to continuing my research this year and next.”

Since 2009, 15 UTSA faculty members and their teams have been received funding support from VPREDKE and access to the Cibolo Preserve. These disciplines include Anthropology, Architecture, Biology, Environmental Science & Ecology, Civil and Environmental Engineering and the Texas Sustainable Energy Research Institute (TSERI).

Hydration Stations On-Campus

Screen Shot 2018-07-23 at 12.48.37 PMBusiness Affairs’ efforts touch thousands of campus community members every day. In the spring, members of the UTSA Student Government Association (SGA) approached VPBA about the possibility of installing hydration stations at the MH and MS buildings. They like the convenience of filling up their reusable bottles with cool, filtered water as well as the cost savings and the reduced impact on the environment. This was a job for the Facilities Construction Team, which provides university departments faster, cheaper, flexible options for renovations and repairs. The Facilities Construction Team Manager Roy Garza met with SGA Representative Kate Falconer to identify the number and locations of the hydrations stations. The organization requested that two units be installed on the second floor of MH and two units installed on the second floor of the MS. Facilities managed the installation of four new hydration stations at the desired locations.

Hydration stations on UTSA campuses, first installed in 2014 and now totaling 39, have already prevented the use of tens of thousands of water bottles. Check out their locations on this map.