2023 Fall/Winter 2023

Top of the class


Amber Bay Bemak

Associate Professor of Film and Media Arts, Meadows School of the Arts


Robert Gregory

Professor of Earth Sciences, Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences


Heather DeShon

Department Chair and Professor of Earth Sciences, Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences


Edward Glasscock

Associate Professor of Biological Sciences, Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences


Nicos Makris

Addy Family Centennial Professor in Civil Engineering, Lyle School of Engineering


Austin Baldwin

Department Chair and Professor of Psychology, Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences


Devin Matthews

Assistant Professor of Chemistry, Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences


Ruben Habito

Professor of World Religions and Spirituality, Perkins School of Theology


Barbara Hill Moore

Senior Associate Dean for Faculty and Professor of Voice, Meadows School of the Arts


Rita Kirk

Professor of Corporate Communication and Public Affairs, Meadows School of the Arts

William F. May Endowed Director, SMU’s Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility


“When our faculty receive high-profile
fellowships, society memberships,
leadership positions and honorifics, it
demonstrates the expanding scope of
our impact. SMU’s faculty are truly world
changers in their fields – at the local,
national and international levels.”

Elizabeth G. Loboa
SMU Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs
American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Fellow
2023 Fall/Winter 2023

Hungry for change


A significant amount of food is wasted every year, but what if there were an affordable technology that could give a much closer sense to how far food is from spoiling than a freshness date? A tiny pH sensor may hold the answer.

“The pH sensors have long been used commercially, but ours is small, disposable and flexible to be integrated with circuits – and much cheaper,” says Khengdauliu Chawang ’24, a Ph.D. student in electrical and computer engineering at the Lyle School of Engineering who developed the sensor. “The ones presently in the market, I would estimate, cost $100 to $2,000.”

Higher pH levels mean food is increasingly moving toward going bad, but not all foods have the pH, she explains. “Fruit juice, for example, is usually more on the acidic side,” Chawang says. “The biggest challenge for this is that pH sensors are very calibration-dependent, so they need to adjust, for example, to viscosity. Even liquid-based foods have different viscosities.”

The idea of the sensor, which is 10 millimeters wide and 2 millimeters in length, is that when it passes different points in food distribution, the pH level could be tracked to monitor its present freshness. The sensor has been tested successfully thus far on fish, berries and many liquid-based foods. Chawang saw firsthand the effects of food waste growing up in Nagaland, India, and hopes the sensor will improve the situation globally. “This is something thatmaybe can contribute to many communities hurting in the world,” she says. “Wasted food has sad consequences.”

There are other potential applications, as well. One is research in electronic bandages.

“The idea here is to integrate sensors to study wound status because a wound condition is also directly correlated with pH level,” Chawang says. “If a wound is healed, then the pH level gets more acidic.”

Another potential application is to monitor sepsis, a large, potentially life-threatening response to infection.

“The blood becomes infected and spreads throughout. The problem with today’s medical diagnostics is the diagnosis is usually too late because it has spread over your muscle and tissue and your entire body is infected with virus,” she says.

“There are indicators in research that show blood pH level changes before it spreads into your tissue – the sensor could possibly make a difference before it’s too late.”

2023 Fall/Winter 2023

A new era


The energy was palpable as students, alumni, athletes, donors, staff and faculty gathered in the Armstrong Fieldhouse to celebrate. A cloud of red and blue confetti filled the air.

The Mustang Band played Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now while the pom squad and cheerleaders danced along. The rumors had proven true: SMU was joining the Atlantic Coast Conference by invitation.

“We’re finally back where we belong,” said SMU Board Chair David B. Miller ’72, ’73 to a cheering crowd on September 1. “I firmly believe that the conference just got stronger – a lot stronger – with the addition of the SMU Mustangs.”

But the celebration wasn’t just confined to those who found themselves in Armstrong Fieldhouse that Friday afternoon. The buzz online generated a reach of 13 billion, including 526 million impressions.

In just three days, SMU experienced a 103% increase in visitors to the undergraduate admissions homepage – people were talking.

“As a child who was born into being an SMU fan in 1988, this is lifechanging,” Andrew Conwell ’11, ’17 shared via Instagram. Sara McKenna ’03, another proud Mustang, commented on LinkedIn: “It’s about time!!”

SMU will officially join the conference on July 1, 2024, while the University of California, Berkeley and Stanford University will follow on August 2. The ACC boasts 15 members, including Boston College, Clemson, Duke, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Louisville, Miami, North Carolina, NC State, Notre Dame, Pitt, Syracuse, Virginia, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest.

Founded in 1953, the conference is in its 71st year of competition and enjoys a reputation as one of the strongest and most competitive intercollegiate conferences in the country. ACC schools have won 173 NCAA team championships, 196 NCAA men’s individual titles and 181 NCAA women’s individual titles. And now, SMU is taking its place within this esteemed conference.

“From early on in my tenure here on the Hilltop, we had a vision to reestablish SMU Athletics as a nationally recognized and relevant program, one to complement our outstanding academic reputation,” said SMU President R. Gerald Turner.

“In addition to its influence on our Athletics programs, being formally associated with the outstanding academic institutions in the ACC will also be beneficial to the academic community of SMU.”

Over the past decade, all of SMU’s 17 athletic programs have reached postseason, and 15 of those programs have won conference championships.

Since 2013, SMU has invested over $250 million to develop and enhance championship-caliber facilities.

“We have a great story to tell institutionally and athletically,”

SMU Director of Athletics Rick Hart told the crowd at the announcement celebration.

“If you want to accomplish big things, you ride with the Mustangs. I’m blessed every day to ride with the Mustangs.”

And it didn’t take long to accomplish some of those big things.

In just seven days, a group of 30 donors, including trustees and key supporters, raised an unprecedented $100 million to support the transition to the ACC. This first effort launched a drive for all Mustangs to financially support SMU’s move to the ACC.

“When we announced on September 1 that SMU would be joining the ACC, I was highly confident that we would be able to cover the cost of the transition into what is one of the top three collegiate athletic conferences in the country,” said Miller. “To be able to raise this level of support in such a short period of time is astounding.”

Donations aren’t the only way fans are showing their excitement. Just two weeks after the announcement, men’s basketball season ticket sales jumped by 30%, and hundreds of new football season tickets were sold.

“The news has energized not just our fan base, but the Dallas community,” said Hart.

2023 Alumni Fall/Winter 2023

Normalizing kindness one coffee cup at a time

If you walk out of a La La Land Kind Cafe satiated by the bet coffee of your life, the cafe’s founder and CEO will say, “That’s an utter failure.”

Certainly, Francois Reihani, the 27-year-old entrepreneurial visionary behind the café chain – with 11 stores spanning Texas and California – wants customers to enjoy their sip of choice. However, it’s kindness over coffee that he and his dedicated team aim to brew from the heart.

“We really truly believe [that] when you do the right thing with the right intention, magic happens,” Reihani says.

When Reihani arrived in Dallas in 2016 to study business at SMU after transferring from the University of Southern California, he says he was “focused on building something – I saw opportunity.”

Reihani co-founded a poké restaurant in West Village, and while the business found success, he realized something was missing.

“The human connection is so important,” he says. “And at the end of the day, all we were doing was serving raw fish.” Reihani’s guiding question became:“How do you normalize kindness?”

His answer: La La Land Kind Café, a café committed to, in addition to spreading kindness, hiring and mentoring foster youth. The first location opened in 2019 in a 100-yearold house on Bell Avenue in Dallas.

“From the moment we opened, the people proved the concept,” he says.

In four years, the café’s growth has exploded, now boasting 11 locations, including Houston and Los Angeles, with plans for more on the way.

Notably, the spike in stores occurred during a global pandemic and, perhaps even more impressive, all that growth has been achieved without the company ever paying for a single ad.

A worthwhile investment

In June 2023, La La Land Kind Café announced it had received a $20 million investment from two SMU graduates: John Phelan ’86, cofounder and chairman of Rugger Management LLC, and Andy Teller ’86, a private investor.

The path to such a significant investment – which is expected to yield expanded operations and new locations throughout the United States – all began, ironically, with a cup of coffee. In 2022, Teller began receiving frequent notifications on his phone showing that his daughter, Cameron Teller ’21, ’22, was a devoted La La Land customer; he was clued in by her credit card transactions linked to his phone. Curious to see what could be so special to warrant his daughter’s repeat business, Teller visited the location on West Lovers Lane in Dallas. As he was leaving, he received a call from his son, Preston Teller ’21 – who was friends with Reihani when both attended SMU.

When Teller casually mentioned where he was, Preston informed him Reihani was the man behind the café chain. This led to Andy Teller and Reihani being engrossed in a three-hour conversation.

“Andy was so passionate about our mission,” Reihani recalls.

Prioritizing what matters

Given La La Land’s surge of success, Reihani says he has fielded many investment offers, including amounts higher than the $20 million investment now in place.

“This business has never been focused on the numbers,” he says. “We didn’t want big venture capitalists to come in with their normal tactics. … We never wanted to be controlled, being told what to do away with this and do away with that. Those offers were rejected immediately.”

Teller introduced Reihani to Phelan, and the three engaged for several months, threaded by the “cool bond,” as Reihani calls it, stemming from the Mustang connection.

“La La Land Kind Cafe is raising the standard of what we should expect from companies,” Phelan said in a statement. “A business can give back, care about the community and serve high-quality products while being profitable.”

The café chain also weaves in another passion of Reihani’s: the nonprofit he founded in 2016, the We Are One Project, whose mission is to provide the right tools for businesses to come together and employ foster youth. With La La, which funds the nonprofit, he is able to fully realize his vision to empower youth and young adults who have aged out of the foster care system and provide them job training and employment, and especially, a kind community to feel secure.

“We’re building to make something special – not building to sell,” Reihani says. “It’s about how we, as a brand, can deepen human connection.”

2023 Fall/Winter 2023

Lessons for living

Rich and Mary Templeton sit at the dining room table of their home, which serves as a central gathering place for their extended family, bantering easily as they reflect on how – and why – they became some of the most passionate supporters of SMU and the Lyle School of Engineering.

The sciences have long been a passion for both Rich and Mary – they met at Union College, a private liberal arts school in New York that they recalled felt a lot like SMU.

When they married in 1987, Mary was a financial analyst for General Electric and Rich was starting his career with Texas Instruments. He became president of TI’s semiconductor business from 1996 through 2004. He was president and chief executive officer of TI from 2004 through March 2023 and continues to serve as chairman of the board.

The couple has given generously over the past decade to support education and research at Lyle, but the family connection with SMU began in 2008 when Rich joined the SMU Board of Trustees, where he now serves as vice chair. He is vice chair of the Lyle School of Engineering Executive Board and served on the Cox School of Business Executive Board.

The Templetons celebrate a landmark gift to the Lyle School of Engineering.

They’re bullish on the Lyle School because its students graduate with skills that enhance a traditional engineering degree.

“The breadth of classes students are required to take, the variety of students they meet and the projects they undertake make them well prepared for a work environment,” Rich says. What’s more – it prepares them to lead, he says.

It’s the liberal arts tradition at SMU that makes the difference, they believe, having experienced it at Union College and through the eyes of their own family members. Their son Jim graduated in 2014 with an electrical engineering degree and earned an MBA in 2020.

His wife, Allison Hawks Templeton, also earned a degree in electrical engineering in 2014. Their nephew, William, earned an electrical engineering degree in 2016, while his brother, Charles, earned an MBA in 2023.

“My feelings for SMU were enriched by Jim’s positive experience, both academically and socially,” Mary says. “His friends are still involved in our lives.”

The Templetons have given more than $30 million to the Lyle School, creating an endowed research fund, the Mary and Richard Templeton Centennial Chair in Electrical Engineering, and an endowed deanship. Most recently they have funded scholarships for undergraduate and graduate students and postdoctoral fellowships to increase the school’s research capacity.

But they’ve been equally generous in sharing their life lessons – delivering a joint Commencement address in 2016 that explored the hard lessons they learned after Mary was paralyzed in 2013 after she was hit by a rogue wave during a family beach vacation.

“If you asked me for the list of personal characteristics that I believe are crucial must-haves, resiliency is now among the top few. I learned that from my wife,” Rich told the graduates. “Her resiliency reinforced mine and the kids’. It made us more aware, appreciative, stronger, and I think it made us better.”

Mary candidly described her emotions and actions after the accident: “Deal with it, start with small steps, and get on with it,” she said. She also challenged the graduates to build their own resilience by focusing on others and “leaving everything you touch or person you meet a little better than you found them.”

Her words – and their impact – came back to her at the February 2023 event celebrating their most recent gift to the Lyle School. One of the guests approached her at the end of the event, carefully keeping his distance because he was receiving chemotherapy for cancer. He’d been in the audience attending his daughter’s graduation when the Templetons spoke.

“When I got sick several years ago, I looked up my notes on your speech,” he told Mary. “I’ve read them many times, particularly about taking small and steady steps each day. Thank you for giving that speech.”

It’s resiliency that carries you through challenges, Mary concluded.

“You’ll understand that life doesn’t end, but it does change. And sometimes those changes make you better in ways you never imagined.”

2023 Alumni Fall/Winter 2023

Achieving their goals


Getting Americans to refer to soccer as “futbol” may never happen in this lifetime, much to the dismay of fans of the world’s most popular sport.

The lesser-known futsal (or small-sided soccer) may be just unique enough, however, to get called by its proper name.

Futbol and futsal share many similarities, but the main difference has to do with team size, and also the location and equipment. Futsal teams feature four players and a goalie, whereas futbol requires 10 players and a goalie. Athletes compete on a hard court versus grass or turf, and the smaller ball used in futsal has more density than futbol’s sphere.

“Futsal is like playing basketball with your feet,” says Manuel Mariel ’09.

Together with his twin brother, Esteban Mariel ’09, Manuel Mariel came up with the idea to open City Futsal after their father, Federico, said they could use the sport as a training tool for youth development. They had already been leading soccer sessions to train kids, but without dedicated futsal courts in the region, the brothers transitioned their program’s focus and turned to area gyms to host.

Demand forced the brothers to find a permanent location, which eventually turned into three. The first two were indoor, and the most recent at Dallas Farmers Market is entirely outdoors. That turned out to be a saving grace for the family business during the pandemic when they had to close their indoor facilities. The outdoor farmers market location thrived because people could play futsal in a safer way.

“As a small business, you are used to having to pivot. The pandemic was a restart for us; we saw it as an opportunity to reallocate resources and move toward a different direction,” says Mariel.

To find creative solutions to their problems, Mariel took inspiration from his time at SMU.

The rigorous schedule of being a student-athlete and working at the same time he was attending school turned out to really help in making this concept a success.

“It was tough,” he says. “It’s not your typical college experience, but it does prepare you to work within teams, understand that there is a process in everything, and find out where you are the most valuable.”

City Futsal started as a family idea, and it continues in that tradition. Mariel is also joined by his sister, Ximena, and younger brother, Felipe, in addition to his twin brother and dad.

The Mariel family now has their sights set on opening two new facilities: in The Colony, Texas, this fall and in Richardson, Texas, at Dallas International School in early 2024.

2023 Fall/Winter 2023

A career for change


Esteemed human rights lawyer Amal Clooney joined the Mustang community to discuss her storied career advocating for the rights of marginalized people across the globe. Clooney came to the Hilltop as part of the renowned Louise B. Raggio Endowed Lecture series, which has hosted senators, first ladies, New York Times editors and Supreme Court justices, among other speakers.

Clooney met exclusively with Dedman Law students before taking the McFarlin stage with law school professor Natalie Nanasi to discuss the trajectory of her life and the power of lawyers to make positive change. Born in Lebanon, Clooney emigrated to the United Kingdom with her family to escape the ravages of the Lebanese Civil War at the age of 2. She attended the University of Oxford and then began her legal career in New York City, arguing cases that would change the world for the better – a fundamental function of the law, according to Clooney.

“I’m not a world leader … [I] don’t have the power to pass laws,” Clooney said. “But as a lawyer, there are things you can really do to make a difference to the people on the front lines.”