John Ubelaker, Biology, native plants on the Rio Grande

TAOS news

Originally Posted: September 9, 2016

Below is an excerpt from Taos News.

Hike to Williams Lake

Nineteen people joined Dr. John Ubelaker, professor of biology at the Southern Methodist University, on a great hike to Williams Lake Aug. 20. Interesting ferns, trees and flowering plants were discussed all along the way. Ubelaker has a wealth of knowledge on plants, their uses both today and historically – and he shares freely. We learned a great deal about the “Canadian Zone,” which is one of six zones in the state and that extends all the way up to Canada. It is comprised predominantly of three types of trees — spruce, fir and aspen. Above this zone is the arctic-alpine zone, which was beyond our reach on this trip.

To someone newly transplanted from Florida, where Spanish moss abounds — the dripping gray-green hanging from the trees is not a simple air plant like Spanish moss, but a hanging lichen. Ubelaker explained that a lichen is a relationship between an algae and a fungus. The long, grayish green strings are fungus on the outside, with algae cells inside. Fungi are not photosynthetic, therefore they often feed on things like algae. But through photosynthesis, the algae cells make sugars — which they allow to leak out so that the fungus can feed — while the fungus provides a necessary aquatic environment in which the algae cells can live and grow.

It is a unique relationship which enables algae, one of the first forms of life on earth, to live up in a tree. Fungus is the ultimate decomposer in our environment, but now it doesn’t have to feed on the algae. Instead, they exist in a symbiotic relationship — not harming the tree or each other. The fungus will occasionally release spores, which have one algae cell inside, and it will find a new tree. Not only is this fascinating, but since some 50 bird species use lichen as nest material, and elk and other deer eat it, both hanging and rock lichen are an important part of the circle of life in New Mexico.

This fascinating bit of information was given us in the parking lot, before even getting onto the trail. You will not want to miss future field trips with Ubelaker. READ MORE

Follow Geothermal Lab researchers as they collect heat flow and seismic chirp data in Alaska

SMU Geothermal Lab

Originally Posted: September 8, 2016

mattrobcaseybenalaska-300x200SMU Geothermal Lab researchers Dr. Matt Hornbach, Madie Jones, and Casey Brokaw along with OSU researchers Dr. Rob Harris and Dr. Ben Phrampus are collecting heat flow and seismic chirp data in Alaska. READ MORE

Benefactors behind two Tower Center programs honored by D CEO Magazine with Latino Business Awards.

SMU News and D CEO Magazine

Originally Posted: September 6, 2016

DALLAS (SMU) – SMU’s Latino Leadership Initiative in the Cox School of Business, as well as the benefactors behind two other SMU programs in the John Goodwin Tower Center for Political Studies, have been honored by D CEO Magazine with Latino Business Awards.

Launched in November 2013, the SMU Cox Latino Leadership Initiative (LLI) distinguishes SMU as the only university working across the entire Latino talent pipeline for corporate America.  The initiative is designed to help meet the nation’s growing need for corporate leaders as national demographics evolve through management and organizational development, research into Latino corporate workplace retention and community outreach.

D CEO named the Latino Leadership Initiative its “Outstanding Latino Nonprofit” for 2016.

Nearly a year ago, SMU announced it strategic academic partnership with the Latino Center for Leadership Development  (Latino CLD), founded by SMU alumnus Jorge Baldor ’93.  The Latino CLD-SMU Tower Center Policy Program was formed to identify and implement policy-focused solutions to the Latino concerns such as educational and economic opportunities, voting rights and immigration reform, and the under-representation of Latinos in elected and appointed positions.

D CEO named Baldor its “Latino Advocate” for 2016, noting his organization’s contribution forming the Latino CLD-SMU Tower Center Policy Program.

Also in September 2015, SMU’s Tower Center launched an ambitious new program to research and promote policy-based discussion on the economic, political and social ties between Mexico and Texas.  Made possible by a gift from GRUMA-Mission Foods, a Mexican corporation headquartered in Dallas, the program is designed to elevate the frequently fractured conversations about and between Texas and Mexico, creating a platform that examines shared issues through a policy lens.

D CEO named GRUMA Corp., led by CEO Juan González Moreno, as its “Outstanding Latino Business: Large,” specifically noting the company’s contribution to form the SMU Texas-Mexico Center.

“We are delighted that the Cox School’s Latino Leadership Institute, as well as the forward-thinking benefactors behind our newest Tower Center programs, are being recognized,” said SMU President R. Gerald Turner.  “Taking advantage of geography, demographics and the business leadership that exists in Dallas, SMU is determined to remain at the hub of programs that tap the strength of our growing Latino population and our economic partnership with Mexico.”  READ MORE


Making sense of Donald Trump’s visit to Mexico

Fox 4

Originally Posted: September 6, 2016

Jeffrey Engel, associate professor and director of SMU’s Center for Presidential History, talks about Donald Trump’s recent trip to Mexico for a visit with President Enrique Peña Nieto and its effect on Trump’s efforts to become the next president of the U.S. Watch

Watch: SMU geophysics professor discusses earthquake


Originally Posted: September 4, 2016

A 5.6 magnitude earthquake hit Oklahoma Saturday morning, prompting officials to shut down dozens of waste water disposal wells within a 500-square-mile area of the quake’s epicenter.

The earthquake tied the record for the strongest ever recorded in Oklahoma. The earthquake epicenter was about 9 miles northwest of Pawnee. One surveillance video from a public school in North Central Oklahoma shows the moment the tremors started.

The Oklahoma Corporation Commission ordered that 35 wells be shut down due to evidence that links earthquakes to the underground disposal of wastewater from oil and gas production. WATCH

For a Long Life, Retire to Manhattan- Commentary from Willard Spiegelman

Dallas Morning News

Originally Posted: September 3, 2016

Willard Spiegelman commentary, writes about retiring to Manhattan

In his famous essay about New York, E. B. White distinguished among three cities and three types of New Yorkers. The first two — the city belonging to people born here, and that of commuters who work here by day and leave by night — were, he said, less compelling than the third, “the city of final destination” for those who come here in hope and nervousness.

Much has changed since 1948, when White’s essay, “Here Is New York,” appeared. More has remained the same. The sidewalks have retained their beauty and ugliness. The city still draws its influx of eager young people fresh from the farm, the small town and the university, in search of excitement, employment or love.

But it is not only young people who see Manhattan, as Nick Carraway did, as the symbol “in its first wild promise of all the mystery and the beauty in the world.” It can also be the final destination (“final” in two ways) for people at the other end of the age spectrum. Since moving here part time in 2012 at age 67, I count myself among the senior eccentrics.

Most Americans with the urge to retire elsewhere go where children and grandchildren live. They flee from the North to the South or West in search of warmth, less expensive housing, lower taxes. They get rid of their snow shovels. They’ll never sand their driveways again.

Some of us do the opposite. Some of us suffer from reverse seasonal-affective disorder. We hate heat and welcome winter. If one can afford it (a big if), and tolerate serious downsizing, what could be more hospitable to an ambulatory senior citizen than Gotham?

Four years ago I bought a modest studio apartment, a combination hotel room and storage closet. When I move here full time, next year, if luck is on my side, I may even get a real one-bedroom.

For the past 45 years I have lived in Dallas: in other words, Automobile America, Real America. When I leave, I’ll give up my car. Here’s an unmanly, un-American confession: I’m looking forward to it. Driving closes the mind to everything except driving. Walking opens it. New York, especially Manhattan, leads all American cities in its population of carless drivers. I’ll use my feet, or take the subway, happily.

Retiring to Manhattan is an act of bravery. It also prepares you for the end. The anonymity of metropolitan life gets you ready for the anonymity of the grave. I find this comforting rather than macabre. READ MORE

Q&A | A Tower Scholar’s life in Uganda

Tower Center Blog

Originally Posted: August 30, 2016

The Tower Center sat down with Tower Scholar Thomas Schmedding, class of 2017, to talk about his time studying abroad and interning in Kampala, Uganda.

Tower Scholars PortraitsDescribe your life in Uganda. 

Life in a developing country is both fascinating and physically/mentally demanding every day. My time in Uganda was full of unexpected opportunities and some of the most memorable experiences of my life. Throughout my four months in Uganda, I saw circumstances I couldn’t have possibly imagined: extreme poverty, inequitable government healthcare and education institutions, and broken social contracts, among others. Despite these challenges though, a sense of hope and optimism always filled the air. The Ugandans I ran into every day couldn’t have been more grateful for their humble circumstances and they were always full of happiness. Waking up every morning, I was honored to be welcomed into such a warm-spirited community.

What was a typical day like for you?

I split my time between a homestay and an apartment. My homestay family was hardworking, supportive, and incredibly caring. In fact, I’ve never met a group of people that would devote so much time to making sure others felt welcomed. They helped me navigate Kampala’s unorganized “taxi” system (A “taxi” in East Africa is 15 people crammed in a conversion van with no organized route), and they taught me how to negotiate in one of Uganda’s 50 local languages at the market.

For the first two months, I took courses on development, Ugandan culture, and research methods through the School for International Training (SIT) with three other American students. I followed this with an internship at a digital health organization dedicated to alleviating Uganda’s doctor-to-patient ratio of about 1:25,000. These two opportunities were complementary in terms of providing experience navigating Uganda’s diverse culture. READ MORE

Senior Moments

Date: Thursday, September 8, 2016
Location: The Wild Detectives
314 W. Eighth Street Dallas, TX 75208
Time: 7:30pm to 9:30pm


Date: Thursday, September 22, 2016
Location:  Nasher Sculpture Center
2001 Flora Street, Dallas, TX 75201
Time:  6:30pm

Willard Spiegelman has been the Hughes Professor of English at Southern Methodist University, and from 1984 – 2016 served as the editor of Southwest Review. Never known to be a man at a loss for words or opinions, his latest thoughts have been collected into his second book of essays, Senior Moments.

“If you are a living, breathing member of the human race, then Willard Spiegelman’s exemplary Senior Moments is for you. Aging is our universal condition: the only question is whether we approach our seniority kicking and screaming, or proceed with some degree of style and, let us hope, capacity for happiness. Spiegelman’s wise, witty, spirited essays show how we might work our way over to the style-and-happiness route, and are as good a guide for living well — at any age — that I know.” — Ben Fountain

At The Wild Detectives, Willard will read from his new book and be joined in conversation by Greg Brownderville, professor of poetry at SMU and the man stepping into Willard’s position as editor of Southwest Review.

Please join us for an evening celebrating Dallas writing, Dallas history, and with luck some Dallas gossip.



SMU biochemists and students probe biochemistry of membrane proteins that thwart cancer chemotherapies

Originally Posted: August, 31, 2016

“Recurring cancers have ‘learned’ how to evade chemotherapy by pumping it out of the cancer cells so that only sub-therapeutic concentrations remain in the cell, making the drug useless.” — SMU biochemist Pia Vogel


Each semester, SMU biology professors Pia Vogel and John Wise welcome a handful of dedicated and curious students to their lab in the SMU Dedman Life Sciences building.

The SMU undergraduate students and Dallas-area high school students get hands-on experience working on cancer research in the combined SMU Department of Biological Sciences laboratories of Wise and Vogel.

The researchers and students are working to find ways to treat cancer patients whose cancer has either returned after initial chemotherapy or was initially hard to treat using chemotherapeutics. The research is funded in part by the National Institutes of Health.

Students recently in the lab included Victoria Bennet, Hockaday School, and Shaffin Siddiqui and Robert Luo, both from Highland Park High School. SMU undergraduates included Alexis Sunshine, Clinton Osifo, Stefanie Lohse, Brianna Ramirez, Henry Thornton, Shirely Liu, Justin Musser, Jake Oien and Michael Fowler. Also currently working in the lab are M.S. student Collette Marchesseau (2016 SMU graduate), and Ph.D. students Amila Nanayakkara, Mike Chen, Courtney Follit, Maisa Oliveira and James McCormick.

“Often, recurring cancers have ‘learned’ how to evade chemotherapy by pumping the therapeutic out of the cancer cells so that only sub-therapeutic concentrations remain in the cell, making the drug useless,” said Vogel, a professor and director of the SMU interdisciplinary research institute, the Center for Drug Discovery, Design and Delivery.

The pumps that do the work are proteins that span the cell membranes and use the biological fuel ATP to actively pump chemotherapeutics and other toxins out of the cells. “We like to compare these proteins to biological sump pumps,” said Wise, associate professor.

Wise and Vogel use a combination of computational, biochemical and human cell-based techniques to find new drug-like compounds that inhibit the action of the pumps. If successful, the novel drugs — or derivatives of them — will be given to patients with therapy-resistant cancer together with the chemotherapeutic.

“Since our novel compounds block the pumps, the chemotherapeutic will remain in the cell and kill the cancer that had not been treatable previously,” Vogel said.

The researchers have discovered drug-like compounds that can be modified and developed into medicines that target the protein, called P-glycoprotein.

The SMU researchers discovered the compounds after virtually screening more than 10 million small drug-like compounds made publically available in digital form from the pharmacology database Zinc at the University of California, San Francisco.

Using SMU’s Maneframe high performance computer, Wise ran the compounds through a computer-generated model of the protein. The virtual model, designed and built by Wise, is the first computational microscope of its kind to simulate the actual behavior of P-glycoprotein in the human body, including interactions with drug-like compounds while taking on different shapes.

The promising compounds were then tested in the lab.

“We have been quite successful and already have identified close to 20 novel compounds that block the pumps in our cell-based assays,” said Wise. “In these experiments we culture therapy-resistant prostate or ovarian or colon cancer cells in the lab and then show that we can kill these cancer cells using normal amounts of commonly available therapeutics in the presence of our novel compounds — even though in the absence of our novel compounds, the cancer cells would not be treatable.”

SMU undergraduates and high school students experience world-class research
SMU undergraduate and high school students have been involved in different aspects of the research. Typically the beginning students work together with graduate or advanced undergraduate students to learn techniques used in the lab.

Some perform small research projects. Others have simply learned state-of-the-art techniques and “how science works” in the context of critical human health problems.

“High school student Robert Luo was interested in the computational side of our work, so he’s worked with senior SMU Ph.D. candidate James McCormick on trying to evaluate how strongly one of the therapy-sensitizing compounds we found potentially interacts with the pump protein at different proposed binding sites,” said Wise. “It is actually a significant project and will help with our research.”

The opportunities available for students to learn how science works using high performance computing, biochemistry and cell biology can be valuable even for those who won’t necessarily become practicing scientists, said Wise, citing as an example a recent SMU graduate who previously worked in the lab.

Ketetha Olengue (SMU ’15) is a good example,” he said. “She is now in her second year at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California, where she is pursuing her M.D. degree in a novel program with USC Engineering.” Watch Video

Helping West Dallas Teens Develop a Blueprint for College and Careers

Schweitzer Fellow Hillary Evans partners with Brother Bill’s Helping Hand to develop a college readiness / health professions program for high school students.

 Schweitzer Fellow and UT Southwestern medical student Hillary Evans understands the importance of higher education and early exposure to the medical field. Growing up in a small west Texas town, she wasn’t always aware of the opportunities available outside of her home. Through her involvement with the school basketball team, she began to see just what could be possible through education.

Evans Hillary“In high school, the basketball team not only gave me the chance to discover how many different avenues are available and reinforced my drive to pursue medicine to help others,” she explained.

As an undergraduate, Evans participated in a volunteer program through her alma mater, where she spent a year tutoring nontraditional students seeking their GED. The students she worked with were faced with challenges that Evans had never encountered—everything from balancing children and multiple part time jobs, to gang involvement, to coping with movement between foster homes. This experience taught Evans the importance of working with others to break down barriers to their goals, meeting them where they are and helping in any way that she can, and also reinforced the power of education.

Evans elaborated on why, saying “My experience tutoring as an undergrad was eye opening, and I wanted to continue to give back and serve others while in medical school in a personal way. The Schweitzer Fellowship was the perfect opportunity to bring something that could help high school students realize their own potential.”

Evans’ project is multifaceted: the first part of the program consists of six weeks of workshops, covering everything from undergraduate education and community college, as well as information about health career options and other training. The first three weeks of sessions is focused on more general, immediate goals for the students: introductions, financial aid information, how to select a school, ACT or SAT prep options, as well as practical skills like writing a personal statement and how to prepare a resume.

Evans, Hillary

As part of the project, the students took two college tours, allowing them to get a small glance into what college life is like and see what opportunities would be available to them. Their first stop was Southern Methodist University, which houses the DFW chapter of the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship. The day began with a campus tour led by a current student, giving the teens a chance to learn more about what life on campus is like: everything from classes, professors, dorms, and the extracurricular activities available.

Following the tour, Kim Konkel, Director of Recruiting and Communications for Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, provided an information session about the different majors and course requirements available through Dedman, as well as more information about scholarships and research happening through the college.

Speaking about the importance of researching options for college and available programs of study, Konkel elaborated, “Research shouldn’t begin once you enter college; it has to start well before then. Students need to know they have many choices and what they are so when the time comes they can make an informed college decision. It is important for students to do their research so they can figure out which college is the best fit for them and which will provide them with the breadth and depth of knowledge to make them a responsible leader who is competitive in our global job market.”

The second portion of the program is more health care career focused and includes speakers from different professions and educational programs to present to the students about required education, the types of courses they should take throughout college, financing their education, as well as personal stories about why and how they chose their current career.

“As a medical student, I know the health professions best, and touring UT Southwestern was a great experience. Our faculty really opened the doors for them, taking them into the gross path lab, showing off some of the unique specimens in the lab, like an elephant heart, and even allowing them to practice working on triage dummies in our labs. It gave them the chance to learn about medical school in a fun, approachable, and interactive way, which can be so critical for high school students,” Evans explained.

Recognizing the importance of keeping the students engaged and active during the sessions, Evans has designed the program to where students will participate in at least two community service projects in addition to the sessions. The summer portion of the program closes with personal meetings with each of the students to create a plan for their upcoming school year, and the meetings will continue once a month to allow them some time to check in with Evans and stay on track.

“Working with the students this summer has been an amazing experience, and we’ve been able to help them take real, actionable steps toward the college application process, like preparing personal statements for their applications and beginning ACT/SAT prep. I’m excited to continue to work with them and help them as they move into the next phase of their education and lives,” Evans concluded.