Archive for: May 2017

UT Plant Center’s Deep Roots

Text By Noelle Darilek

Audio By Armando Maese

Photos By Meredith Knight

One the first floor of the University of Texas Tower tucked around a corner, there is a nearly invisible door which opens up to a small room with low ceilings, file cabinets, stacks of folders and files, and a small kitchen and office areas stuck off to the sides.

This is the UT Plant Resources Center, hardly the herbarium you’d imagine it to be. The space could almost double as a basement.

Bob Jansen, UT Plant Resources director, meets with George Yatskievych, botanist and curator at the resources center, every Wednesday to discuss topics like funding and future plans for the center.

Jansen has been a member of the university faculty since 1991. Fairly soft-spoken, he sits at the round kitchen table in a striped t-shirt next to Yatskievych and describes the resource center as a “hidden treasure.”

The university was founded in 1881 and the herbarium was created shortly after in the early 1890’s when Dr. Frederick W. Simonds came to work at UT. Simonds was interested in plant research and collected various plant specimens in the process, thus the herbarium was created.

However, it wasn’t called the Plant Resources Center until the mid-1980’s when the university took on a second major herbarium that was donated by famous botanist and archaeologist, Cyrus Lundell. Today it houses over a million different specimens, from wildflowers to seaweed, and is the largest herbarium in the Southwestern United States.

“All of our resources are dead,” said Yatskievych. “We are a giant morgue with plant cadavers.”

With specimens that date back to the 1760’s and the most recent being from last month, the resources center has seen a lot of changes in the type plant growth in the world over time. The center collects specimens and documents the plant, which was growing at a specific location and time.

“We take in about 7,000 new specimens each year,” said Yatskievych. “We accept well prepared plant specimen donations from anyone who has a need to have such specimens housed in a publically accessible museum where they can be catalogued, made available for study, and preserved for perpetuity.”

This includes donations from students and faculty, botanists, environmental consultants and even members of the public. The center relies on the person who collected the specimen to supply them with the information on where, when, and by whom it was collected.

The plant specimens are stored in folders in horizontal piles on shelves in specially constructed museum cabinets. These cabinets are tightly sealed to prevent insects, fire and flooding from ruining them. The specimens are then used mainly for scientific purposes, such as genetic testing.

Amalia Diaz, assistant curator, said the valuable plants are more than just plants – the plants have a lot of important data associated with it.

For example, the center has a plant called Eupatorium organense, a member of the sunflower family, from Captain Cook’s first voyage in the South Pacific. It is from 1768 and was found in the Rio de Janeiro, Brazil area. Several other plants from Captain Cook’s first voyage collected by Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander can also be found here.

Being the only plant collection located on the UT campus, students studying a related field also utilize the resources center.

“We’re still finding uses for our collection,” said Yatskievych. “Last semester we had an artist who visited and imaged some of our specimens as inspiration and as raw materials for some of his art projects. So it’s not all science.”

With a staff of three, plus help from 10 undergrads who work part-time as herbarium assistants, the center wants to show that it is an important contribution to the university.

UT has been one of the lucky ones, as natural history collections, such as the one at Northeastern Louisiana University in Monroe, is facing impending closure.

“Natural history collections at public universities are especially vulnerable to loss of support and closure,” said Yatskievych. “Other institutions are scrambling to figure out how to arrange a transfer of the huge volume of materials…fortunately, the collections at UT appear to be stable for the immediate future.”

Jansen notes that universities tend to close resources centers down due primarily to limited funding and changing priorities.

“Collections are an easy thing to cut because at some places it probably doesn’t serve that many people at the university,” said Jansen. “At the Louisiana institution, they’re taking the space to build an athletic facility, so athletics is obviously more important to them than having collections.”

The 13th largest herbarium in the United States, the UT Plant Resources Center has a couple hundred visits annually for those coming to work with the plants, not counting visits from students for class related activities.

In an 80-year-old building, the small room in the UT Tower isn’t quite constructed to double as a plant resources center. Yatskievych said being located in the tower is kind of a trade off. While being centrally located for students, it can be hard to park at and get to for others that are not on campus.

The small staff knows their center can be hard to find, but are currently working on new strategies to get noticed.

The UT Plant Resources Center is currently awaiting the opening of a new biodiversity center to use as an opportunity for outreach. The center will bring together the various biodiversity collections at UT to have all in one place.

“In the past there were scattered collections, but the idea is to have a biodiversity center to have them under an umbrella,” said Diaz. “It’s going to have its own building and it’s going to be more visible to people.”

Jansen said the center would be more convenient and better for interaction, as UT’s collection would be housed with the other related ones.

“We’re on multiple floors of the tower and we’re grateful to have that space, but it isn’t very convenient,” said Jansen. “The curators and staff and directors of those other collections, it would be to their advantage for interactions to be in the same place.”

The center will not be open until the start of the upcoming fall semester and is part of the Integrative Biology Department, directed by Dr. David Hillis.

“Having the center creates opportunities for better communications and potential shared projects among the collections and station staff, even though we are rather spread out in terms of locations,” said Yatskievych. “Having a center also hopefully will lead to a new building in the future where the natural history collections can be housed in a more state of the art museum facility.”

Even when the biodiversity center is created, the goal of the resources center will remain the same – to be as useful as possible to other people, whether it’s helping them with projects or identifying plants.

Although for now most people don’t know the resources center exists, Yatskievych said he and his staff are trying to help as much as they can. They want to continue serving the Texas population more and more.

“We want as many different people excited about plants and nature as we can get in through our door,” Yatskievych said.


Audio Script

Since the 1890’s, the Plant Resources Center has been one of the UT Tower’s hidden treasures. It houses over one million dead plant specimens that have mainly been donated by people outside of the university.


“We wouldn’t be here if we weren’t able to show that we are important for research education and outreach. The university doesn’t just allow things to exist just because they are. Nothing is safe in that sense, everything has to show that it’s part of the community and contributing to the university’s mission.”-George Yatskievych


George Yatskievych  is the head curator at the center and runs it alongside two other officials and a handful of undergraduate assistants. He believes that the plant resources center is a valuable resource for all kinds of projects, such as standard biology projects history dating projects and art collages.  The Center does not receive any money from UT, it solely relies on donations from others and grants from research projects. The Center is not in danger financially, but it is running into some other concerns.


“We’re open to the public so we don’t exclude anyone. We want as many people as possible excited about plants and nature as we can get through our door. It’s a little difficult because first off a lot of people don’t know we exist, we’re still working on marketing ourselves, branding ourselves, but also being at the university, parking is an issue. The university is big so sometimes it’s just a matter of being at the right part of campus and we try to help people with whatever type of questions they have, whether it’s a beginner or whether it’s someone who is very technically advanced.”- George Yatskievych


Bob Jansen, director of the plant resources center, says that another issue is the fact that many UT collections are scattered all over the place.


“A lot of the collections are over at the Pickle Research Center, which is 14 miles from here. That’s not very convenient for the people that are out there. It would be more convenient if everyone was out there or if it was somewhere else together. So that I think is something that we would like to see in the future and there’s certainly been a lot of discussion about it now. So I think there’s a reasonable chance it could happen.”- Bob Jansen


There have been talks of a biodiversity center, which would include the Plant Resources Center. Assistant curator Amalia Diaz believes this is a step in the right direction.


“When we talk about the new Biodiversity Center, this new initiative at UT, it’s giving us that opportunity to reach out to people in a different way, not only the enclosed collections but also different activities and they can see what we do and they can get involved so when it’s time to defend something you know what it is and you can go for it.”- Amalia Diaz


As the Plant Resources Center continues to grow, its variety of uses will also expand, as they are currently trying to reach out to property owners and others that did not know about the center before. Through this, it will be even more beneficial for not just UT, but rather the entire state of Texas and beyond. Armando Maese, multimedia newsroom.



UT Law: Rising in the Ranks

Writing by Katie Keenan

Video by James Grachos

Photos and Captions by Jane Morgan Scott

It’s been a long-held status symbol in the law school community to rank as one of the top 14 legal education institutions in the nation – a feat the University of Texas Law School has managed to accomplish, beating out Georgetown Law in the latest U.S. News & World Report’s ranking for 2018.


“The UT Law school has always been, at least in the time I’ve been here, thought to be in the top group of national law schools. I think that’s true whether it’s 16th or 14th,” said former UT president Bill Powers, who now works as a professor at the law school. He views the U.S. News rankings as important to certain key demographics – such as potential students or employers. In the long-run, however, Powers feels the significance of rankings has ultimately been overblown.


“I think frankly; we’d be better off without them,” said Powers. “If rankings are taken with not just a grain of salt, but a lot of salt, they can be helpful. One of the problems is that they’re very often based on statistical numbers.”


The arbitrary nature of U.S. News’ methodology, which includes assessments from law school deans, judges and other legal officials, in addition to median LSAT scores, GPAs, selectivity, and expenditures per student, can sometimes be overly mechanical, according to Powers.


An additional distinctive characteristic of the law school is its low cost relative to similarly ranked institutions, coming in at $33,995 per year as opposed to number 13, Cornell University, which charges $61,485 a year. Powers said this is a significant factor in the U.S. News ranking methodology, making UT rank lower than its counterparts. Instead of viewing this financial discreetness as a drawback, he sees it as a testament to the University’s ability to outperform schools that possess vast amounts of resources.


“University of Texas tends to do poorly on the per-student expenditure, or per student financial support,” Powers said. “You know, the law school tuition isn’t free, but it’s a lot below the other top 20 schools, at least for in-state students, and that’s something we’re proud of.”


Nonetheless, this wasn’t the first time UT Law had crept into the exclusive cadre of Ivy League law schools, tying for 14th in 2012 with Georgetown. For some students, including English major Anne Jensen, the symbolism of the T-14 ranking has taken a positive turn, with UT Law being the first public school to outrank a top Ivy.


“I think rankings are very important because…people want to hire from certain schools,” said Jensen, who plans on attending UT Law this Fall. “I think that was a nice assurance to know that I don’t have to be in the top 10 percent of my class because I went to a better school; I would still be hired.”


Out of 362 students graduating in 2016, 80 percent obtained employment that required passing the bar exam, supporting the sense of confidence Jensen places in UT’s ability to increase her chances of finding a job. 68 percent of law school graduates remained in Texas, with the rest pursuing careers in New York and California. Jensen believes this strong Texas connection may inhibit UT Law from achieving the same level of notoriety as its Ivy League counterparts, although reaching this status may not be the law school’s goal after all.


“Some people think it’s a national school and its taught more theoretically like a national school, but if I wanted to practice out of state, UT would not be my best option because ultimately, it’s pretty regional,” Jensen said. “Part of that is just being a public school and the amount of people from Texas who want to stay in Texas, so they just don’t place people out of Texas the way other schools of their ranking do.”

As per the U.S. News and World Report rankings of law schools for 2018, Texas Law has beat out Georgetown for no. 14.

As per the U.S. News and World Report rankings of law schools for 2018, Texas Law has beat out Georgetown for no. 14.

Powers first came to the University of Texas as a law professor, then dean of the law school. After that, he took his turn as the longest serving UT president, and now has returned to teaching both in the law school and in the undergraduate school.

Powers first came to the University of Texas as a law professor, then dean of the law school. After that, he took his turn as the longest serving UT president, and now has returned to teaching both in the law school and in the undergraduate school.

Anne Jensen, a senior at UT, chose Texas Law over Duke and NYU because of its affordability and job opportunities within the state.

Anne Jensen, a senior at UT, chose Texas Law over Duke and NYU because of its affordability and job opportunities within the state.

Former UT President and current law professor Bill Powers believes that while rankings are important, they should not be the main focus of the admissions staff.

Former UT President and current law professor Bill Powers believes that while rankings are important, they should not be the main focus of the admissions staff.






Yoruba Day: A Celebration of Culture and Language

Video by Ceci Gonzales, Karla Benitez and Ashika Sethi

Words by Grant Gordon

Photos by Ashika Sethi



The University of Texas at Austin’s 12th Yoruba Day celebration was held on April 21st, spreading awareness about a culture that is unknown to many but has become very important to a group of UT students.

Professor Omoniyi Afolabi’s Intermediate Yoruba class teaches students from various backgrounds the Yoruba culture and language, which is spoken by over 30 million people in the world, predominantly in Western Africa and Nigeria. At the Yoruba Day celebration, Afolabi’s class performed a 20-minute play speaking solely the Yoruba language in a performance that served as the class’s final exam.

“The best way to teach a language is to have opportunities to apply it,” Afolabi said. The class’s memorized performance in front of an audience of about 50 people supplied this opportunity.

“There is a lot that is lost when all you’re doing is grammar and homework and exercises,” Afolabi said. “But when students are in a situation where they actually have to apply the language, they feel freer. They feel… that the language is alive.”

The approximately 15 students in Afolabi’s class have a variety of different reasons for choosing to learn Yoruba. Christianah Ogunleye, a senior biochemistry major, was born in Nigeria, and while she has been exposed to the language from her family for her whole life, she lost the ability to speak it when she moved to America at two years old.

“I figured now that I’m in college this was the time,” Ogunleye said. “It was kind of a decision to come back to my roots and learn about myself as a person and be able to communicate with my family members that I hadn’t seen in years.”

Ogunleye said that the Yoruba Day celebration is a fun and exciting way to introduce the culture to people who have never experienced it before.

“My favorite part of the culture is the dancing and the singing,” she said. “I think that the artistic culture of dancing and singing is very deeply embedded in the culture, and I love it so much.”

Ogunleye has noticed a significant emergence of Yoruba culture in American pop culture in the past two years. Artists like Beyoncé and Drake have used aspects of the culture in their recent work.

“Globally, hip hop is becoming very influenced by African beats, and Nigeria as a whole is… for African music, it’s a big hub for it,” Ogunleye said.

Rebecca Williams, a freshman Radio Television and Film major taking the Intermediate Yoruba class, has also noticed Yoruba’s recent prevalence in pop culture. Because of her experience learning about the culture, she was able to explain to her friends that Beyoncé was depicting the Yoruba deity Oshun in her recent Grammy Awards performance.

Williams said that performances such as Beyoncé’s could lead to more young people digging deeper and learning about the Yoruba culture, spreading the culture to a wide audience across the world.

While Ogunleye took the Intermediate Yoruba course to get back to her roots, Williams made the decision to take the class with an eye toward the future. She said that she plans to learn other African languages in her time at UT to aid her potential career as a documentary film maker with an African focus.

“For my career, I plan to travel abroad,” Williams said. “I know the language already, so I can use that. It won’t be a language barrier.”

Whatever reason the students have for learning Yoruba, their actions have already helped increase awareness to the culture and draw more people to the UT Yoruba community.

Since he arrived in 2009, professor Afolabi said that he has seen the Yoruba Day celebration change a great deal. He said that it is now much more of a communal experience, with several elders from the Yoruba culture attending last month’s celebration.

“It’s a generational thing,” Afolabi said.

As his students use what they have learned about the culture to enhance their careers or develop their own spirituality, perhaps they will prove their professor right by returning to Yoruba Day celebrations decades down the road.

Bee Friendly

by Mackenzie Palmer, Kathryn Miles, Peyton Yager and Taylor Gantt

It’s a passion for their protection and a bravery of one’s will that has left the Reburn’s able to work near an ever-growing sworn of bees.

Tanya and Chuck Reburn began Bee Friendly Austin five years ago to do their part in saving the world. They agreed their mission began as a combination of a hobby and an eco friendly initiative they took upon themselves to improve agriculture in the Austin area and around the United States.

They started after Tanya had decided to do some research on the pros of bee keeping. After going to an informational meet and great with other beekeepers, the Reburn’s decided to get started on their own.

They began ordering bees simply from the Internet. Starting out with five colonies, it quickly turned into 20 by the end of the first year.

“The next year 40, and then 80,” Chuck said. “Now we manage over a 100, 200 colonies typically in a year.”

The spring is their busiest time of year. On a typical day they are either making equipment or working in the bee yard 12 hours a day.

Chuck stated how Austin is a good place for bee farming. Austin doesn’t have major crops that can cause problems such as pesticides making it a perfect condition for bees.

“Other areas of the country have more problems than Austin does,” Reburn said

Bee Friendly Austin extends classroom teachings to educate the public and offer beginning and more advance beekeeping lessons. They also breed and take care of their own bees, which in returns provides them with honey that they sell.

Each box has a queen and about 10,000 worker bees. Bees reproduce in the spring where the current colony basically promotes a new bee to become queen, starting a new colony. The Reburns are able to have some control over this process, which allows them to keep producing new colonies and breed more queen bees to keep hives productive.

With our nation in a bee epidemic, the Reburn’s are aiding in agricultural production and are encouraging others to do so as well. Chuck described the issue as having two calves every year and having one of them die.

He said it’s not exactly as much of an epidemic as everyone thinks it is.

“We’ll make about, say a 50% increase and then lose 40% so we come out ahead every year but the problem is from someone producing something it’s expensive” Reburn said.

He also explained that one of the biggest areas that are struggling with the dwindling numbers of bees is the almond production, specifically in California. He said that a couple million beehives need to go into almonds and there are just only so many available. They’re planting more and more almonds every year so the demand for bees going to almonds to do pollination is increasing faster than the number of bee’s available to do it.

Chuck deals with the hives daily upkeep and honey production. He states that one can learn much about the world by working with bees.

“What we can learn from the bees is that it’s by helping each other and sharing everything they have equally that they actually lift themselves up and further their creation, further themselves into the future,” Chuck said.

Working in this business comes with a risk, and Chuck said he has taken many stings’ to the body, but now it hardly fazes him.

“Getting stung a couple times a day is fairly normal,” Chuck said. “When it’s hot out I work with less protective gear on and if I get stung it’s not a big deal.”

The couple now sells their honey in the Austin downtown Whole Foods as well as several gift shops in the area but they maintain their stance on the bee endeavor as mainly enjoyment purposes. They are proud to no longer use any sugar at their house and rely solely on honey for their cooking and lip waxes.

Apiary tours and Texas raw honey are available at their house in southwest Austin, which they leave open to visitors, tours and customers daily during business hours.


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