Research Spotlight: Seeking solutions for unsafe water

Supported by a $270,000 grant from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and additional SMU funds, faculty member Andrew Quicksall and his graduate students in the University’s Lyle School of Engineering are collecting water samples in UNHCR refugee camps, bringing samples back to SMU for analysis, and training workers in and around the camps to test water supplies.

The group will integrate information from multiple sources to develop a database that will help UNHCR planners provide safer drinking water in existing and future camps.

“They’ve asked us to build out a whole picture, truly worldwide, for what’s in the drinking water in refugee camps,” said Quicksall, J. Lindsay Embrey Trustee Assistant Professor in the Lyle School. “So we’re going to go on-site, collect water, analyze some in the field and bring quite a bit of water back to our SMU laboratories and get a full picture.”

The database developed by Quicksall’s group will identify contaminants in drinking water and allow UNHCR officials to track water quality in the camps over time. Some water quality problems are indigenous to the regions where the camps are situated, some develop over time, and some are the nearly instant consequence of thousands of people collecting in unsuitable locations to escape war and famine faster than sanitary infrastructure can be built.

For example, the agreement with UNHCR commits Quicksall’s team to investigate critical water issues in Dadaab, Kenya – home to the largest refugee complex in the world. Nearly half a million people are concentrated in three camps there, many living in makeshift shelters of twigs, reeds and scraps. Refugees pouring across the border to escape war and famine in Somalia continue to face shortages of food, water, shelter and sanitation hazards there.

“The technical challenges of supporting refugee populations of this size will require that our teams stay engaged with the UNHCR for years to come,” said Geoffrey Orsak, dean of the SMU Lyle School of Engineering. “Fortunately, our new Hunt Institute for Engineering and Humanity makes it possible to lead efforts of this magnitude nearly anywhere on the globe.”

Some camps have safe drinking water available, but the taste is so off-putting that residents seek out other sources. In Nakivale, Uganda, for example, the high iron content in well water drives refugees to drink surface water that is frequently contaminated with coliform bacteria. Quicksall’s group also will investigate methods of improving the taste of such safe, but unpalatable, drinking water.

Preliminary research results have revealed problematic concentrations of iodide in drinking water at Dadaab and fluoride in both Southern Uganda and Kakukma, Kenya. Some types of contaminants may not create problems short-term, Quicksall explains, but create severe health issues for people over the long term – particularly children and the elderly. His study group will have the opportunity to both recommend and implement remediation methods for those problem water sources, he said.

“To work with the science in the lab and see it applied internationally — I don’t think there is an opportunity like this anywhere else,” said graduate student Drew Aleto, a member of Quicksall’s study team.

Written by Kimberly Cobb

> Read the full story at the SMU Research blog

SMU celebrates a Centennial Homecoming Nov. 3-6, 2011

SMU Centennial bookcoverSMU celebrates its 2011 Centennial Homecoming Nov. 3-6 with milestones and memories.

The festivities begin Thursday, Nov. 3, with the 2011 Distinguished Alumni Awards. In addition to the Mustangs’ football game against Tulane, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings will serve as grand marshal of the Homecoming Parade beginning at 11 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 5, to celebrate the role Dallas leaders played in establishing SMU in 1911. WFAA-TV anchor Shelly Slater will serve as parade emcee.

This year the parade, which also will include Peruna IX and the Mustang Band, will feature a new viewing zone on Hillcrest Avenue with seating, an announcer and entertainment before the parade. Special outreach is being made to SMU neighbors to join the festivities, which will include a family fun area on the Boulevard.

Pigskin Revue, SMU’s oldest Homecoming tradition, will mark its 77th anniversary Friday, Nov. 4, in Umphrey Lee Center. The celebration includes a reception at 6 p.m. and dinner at 7 p.m. on the Center’s second-story patio, followed by the talent show at 8 p.m. in the Mack Ballroom.

Another Homecoming high point is the launch of the commemorative book SMU: Unbridled Vision (cover pictured at right), featuring more than 200 new photos of the Hilltop.

“As we celebrate the 100th year of our founding, it’s a pleasure to show our appreciation to the city of Dallas for competing to be the site of SMU in 1911 and for providing a supportive community through the years. SMU and Dallas have grown and prospered together, and we value that partnership,” said SMU President R. Gerald Turner. “That’s why it’s especially gratifying to honor Mayor Rawlings as grand marshal and to add a special parade viewing area and activity section for families on the Boulevard.”

> Find a list of events at SMU News
>  Order your copy of SMU: Unbridled Vision online

SMU honors 2011 Distinguished Alumni and Emerging Leader Nov. 3

Blake Mycoskie, TOMS Shoes founder and SMU alumnusBusiness leaders, a philanthropic community leader and an innovative entrepreneur will receive SMU’s 2011 Distinguished Alumni Award, the highest honor the University bestows upon its graduates.

This year’s recipients include Ike Griffin (’57), president of Horizon Communities in PrisonDavid B. Miller (’72, ’73), co-founder and partner of EnCap Investments L.P.; and Annette Caldwell Simmons (’57), community leader and philanthropist. TOMS Shoes founder Blake Mycoskie (’99, left) will receive the Emerging Leader Award, which recognizes an outstanding alumnus or alumna for achievements within the past 15 years.

The 2011 Distinguished Alumni Award reception and dinner takes place at 6 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 3, in the Martha Proctor Mack Grand Ballroom, Umphrey Lee Center. The awards ceremony will be held in McFarlin Auditorium at 8 p.m., following the dinner and reception. The dinner is sold out, but tickets to a dinner buffet and reception in Centennial Hall at the Hughes Trigg Student Center, 3140 Dyer Street, and the presentation at 8 p.m. at McFarlin Auditorium remain available. To register, visit the SMU Alumni website.

During the ceremony, past Distinguished Alumni Award recipients will be honored as History Makers as part of SMU’s Centennial celebration. The honorees this year are:

  • Ruth Collins Altshuler, philanthropist and first woman chair and longest serving member of the SMU Board of Trustees
  • Lila Mae Banks Cockrell, four-term mayor of San Antonio
  • Edwin L. Cox, business leader and Cox School benefactor
  • Lee Cullum, journalist, writer and broadcaster
  • Jess T. Hay, international business and civic leader
  • Mary Ellen Mitchell Jericho, civic leader and philanthropist
  • Nancy Ann Hunter Hunt, civic leader and philanthropist
  • Ray L. Hunt, civic and business leader and philanthropist
  • William King McElvaney, minister, SMU professor emeritus and author
  • Ruth I. Allen (Mewhinney), Dallas pioneer in medicine
  • Marshall Terry, SMU professor emeritus and author

> Read more about this year’s DAA honorees from SMU News
> Find a list of past DAA recipients at the SMU Alumni site

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson delivers Tate Lecture Nov. 1

Astrophysicist and PBS 'NOVA scienceNOW' host Neil deGrasse TysonAstrophysicist and PBS NOVA scienceNOW host Neil deGrasse Tyson visits the Hilltop Tuesday, Nov. 1, to deliver the Jones Day Lecture in SMU’s 2011-12 Willis M. Tate Distinguished Lecture Series. The event begins at 8 p.m. in McFarlin Auditorium.

Tyson is the first occupant of the Frederick P. Rose Directorship of New York City’s Hayden Planetarium. His research interests include star formation, exploding stars, dwarf galaxies, and the structure of the Milky Way. In 2001, he was appointed by President George W. Bush to serve on a 12-member commission that studied the future of the U.S. aerospace industry. In 2004, Bush appointed him to serve on a 9-member commission on the implementation of the United States Space Exploration Policy, dubbed the Moon, Mars, and Beyond Commission.

Among Tyson’s nine books are his memoir, The Sky is Not the Limit: Adventures of an Urban Astrophysicist, and Origins: Fourteen Billion Years of Cosmic Evolution (co-written with Donald Goldsmith). The latter is the companion book to NOVA‘s 4-part mini-series “Origins,” in which Tyson serves as on-camera host. His latest works are the New York Times bestseller Death By Black Hole: And Other Cosmic Quandaries and The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America’s Favorite Planet, which chronicles his experience at the center of the controversy over Pluto’s planetary status. The PBS/NOVA documentary “The Pluto Files,” based on the book, premiered in March 2010.

Since Fall 2006, Tyson has served as on-camera host of PBS’ NOVA spinoff program NOVA scienceNOW, which presents an accessible look at the frontiers of the sciences that shape our understanding of the universe. In August, it was announced that Tyson will host a sequel to Carl Sagan‘s groundbreaking 13-part series, Cosmos: A Personal Voyage. The new series, Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey, is scheduled to air in 2013 on Fox.

Tyson has received 12 honorary doctorates and the NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal, the highest award given by NASA to a non-government citizen. In addition, the International Astronomical Union named an asteroid in his honor in 2001; Asteroid 13123 Tyson was discovered in 1994 at Caltech’s Palomar Observatory.

Born and raised in New York City, Tyson was educated in the city’s public schools until his graduation from the Bronx High School of Science. He earned his B.A. degree in physics from Harvard and his Ph.D. in astrophysics from Columbia.

The evening lecture is sold out. Tyson will answer questions from SMU community members and local high school students in the Turner Construction/Wells Fargo Student Forum at 4:30 p.m. Nov. 1 in the Hughes-Trigg Student Center Theater. The event is free, but seating is limited. SMU faculty, staff and students are encouraged to attend; RSVP online to ensure a place.

> Learn more about this year’s Tate Lectures at

Open Enrollment 2012 takes place until Oct. 31, 2011

SMU Benefits U logoSMU’s 2012 Open Enrollment takes place Oct. 14-31, 2011. The Open Enrollment period is the only opportunity for SMU employees to make changes to benefits elections for the coming year, except for qualified life event changes.

Effective Jan. 1, 2012, SMU will no longer offer the $500 Deductible option to faculty and staff members. Faculty and staff members who carry this plan need to choose a new option during Open Enrollment 2012. There are no plan design changes to the remaining medical plan options or to the prescription drug plan.

As a result of rising health care costs, medical premiums will rise in 2012 at an average of 9.7 percent. The most significant increases will apply to the $1,000 Deductible option. There will be modest increases to the $2,000 and $2,500 options.

Premiums will remain the same for dental and vision coverage. Effective Jan. 1, 2012, the vision plan will offer enhanced retail frame and contact lens benefits, with the purchase allowance increasing from $105 to $130 for both.

In addition, SMU has chosen BlueCross BlueShield of Texas (BCBSTX) to replace Aetna as its new dental plan administrator. You will receive a new combined medical, dental and prescription plan ID card from BCBSTX if you participate in the medical and dental plan in 2012.

> Find more information in the 2012 Benefits Guide, available at HR’s Benefits U page

For 2012 open enrollment, you must take action for the following conditions:

  • You are currently enrolled in the $500 Deductible medical option. If you are enrolled in this option, you may choose a new plan during the open enrollment period. If you do not choose a new plan, you will be enrolled automatically in the $1,000 Deductible option.
  • You want to make changes to your current coverage, including adding or dropping dependents.
  • You want to participate in one or both of the Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs) in 2012. All faculty and staff members must reconfirm their participation in an FSA even if they participated in an FSA in 2011.
  • You want to participate in the Health Savings Account (HSA) in 2012. All faculty and staff members must reconfirm their participation in the HSA even if they participated in the HSA in 2011.

SMU uses a secure online open-enrollment application available through Access.SMU. To use the application:

  • Enter your Access.SMU user ID and password as you normally would to review your pay statement.
  • Click Benefits in the Employee Self-Service navigation on the right, then choose Benefits Enrollment to access your personalized Open Enrollment record.
  • Be sure to read all instructions carefully before making elections for 2012.

More information on vendors and plan changes will be available at SMU’s 2011 Human Resources Fair, 10:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Oct. 25 in the Hughes-Trigg Student Center Ballrooms. Vendor representatives will be on hand to answer questions about your options.

Human Resources also offers guidance through face-to-face meetings with Benefits Department representatives. For more information or to schedule an appointment, contact the Department of Human Resources, 214-768-3311.

> Find the 2012 Benefits Guide on the web

Staff Association offers taste of the State Fair in 2011 Talent Show

SMU Staff Association 2011 Talent Show logoThe 2011 Staff Talent Show goes up Thursday, Oct. 20, and the Staff Association still has seats available. The luncheon and performances take place 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. in the Hughes-Trigg Student Center Ballroom.

For 2011, the Staff Association offers a State Fair menu including hot dogs, corn dogs, a build-your-own nacho bar, fried Oreos and funnel cakes. In addition, the Staff Association is hosting a Homemade Salsa Contest, open to all attendees whose entries meet the contest requirements. Five judges will award prizes based on taste, originality and presentation.

Performers and attendees who reserve lunch will be entered to win door prizes – including a free vacation day, four tickets to see the Dallas Stars (currently undefeated at home) play the Colorado Avalanche Nov. 4 in American Airlines Center, and a voucher good for two tickets and VIP access to a concert at Gexa Energy Pavilion in Fair Park during the 2012 season.

> Learn more, RSVP and buy your luncheon ticket online at the Staff Association website