The University of Houston Magazine

by Michelle Hillen


Six years ago, James Carmouche was a construction worker with a unique idea. Today, with help from the University of Houston Small Business Development Center, Carmouche is a business owner—having turned his idea into a marketable product he is now pitching to major corporations in the city.

“They brought me from being a construction worker into the business field,” says Carmouche, owner of Industrial Innovations, LLC, which produces and markets his product, the “Eradicator,” a device that removes wooden forms used to build concrete.

“There is no better program in the world than this one at the University of Houston,” he says.

Carmouche is one of thousands of Houstonians whose lives are improved each year by their association with the University of Houston. Whether helping residents start their own businesses, introducing them to art and music, providing free or reduced-cost vision care, or offering a world-class education, UH is synergistically linked to the Greater Houston community.

That connection and dedication to Houston has been present since the beginning. In 1927, when describing what he saw as the university’s purpose, E.E. Oberholtzer, UH’s first president, said:

“The University of Houston is a service institution for the metropolitan area. [It] desires to grow in service and become the center of culture, as well as the center of practical learning in professional, business, and industrial pursuits. This university will become great if the citizenship of this area desires to make it great.”

Since those early days, when the university held its first classes after hours at San Jacinto High School, to the present, with a nearly 600-acre campus and world-class facilities, UH has worked to live up to that vision.

In December, the university was honored among the top “community-engaged” universities in the nation by the prestigious Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

In earning that designation, UH joins 119 other nationally competitive institutions including Duke, Michigan State, Ohio State, the University of California at Los Angeles, and the University of Pennsylvania. The listing sets the University of Houston apart as the only public metropolitan university in Texas with this designation, which is based on an array of criteria that indicate the breadth and depth of a university’s service to the community and students’ involvement in community issues.

“Recognition by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching is one of three universally accepted national benchmarks of top-tier universities,” says UH President Renu Khator. “Support for the University of Houston’s designation as a top-tier university is building (see page 22), and this achievement further empowers our path to inclusion among the nation’s top national research universities.”

Elevating UH into the ranks of the nation’s top research universities is one of the major goals of Khator’s presidency. UH’s designation as a community-engaged institution is especially significant because Khator has strongly emphasized that the support of the Greater Houston community is essential to achieve the lofty designation.

In dollars, the university’s impact on the region is compelling. Each year, the University of Houston System attracts $1.1 billion in new funds to the Houston area, according to Barton Smith, a UH economist and director of the UH Center for Regional Forecasting. That results in about $3.126 billion in total economic benefit and the generation of 24,000 local jobs, according to Smith.

The research, consulting experience, performing arts, outreach programs, and workforce education offered by UH also has touched the lives of nearly every person in the Houston region.

“The University of Houston has more impact than perhaps any other institution of higher learning on the culture and economy of America’s fourth-largest city,” says Houston Mayor Bill White, speaking of the recent Carnegie designation. “It is deserving of this recognition among America’s top-flight colleges and universities. We know it to be deserving of top-tier recognition in so many of its endeavors.”

An example of the university’s broad impact on the Houston region can be found in the Houston Teacher’s Institute—a partnership between UH and the Houston Independent School District. The institute has helped more than 500 teachers strengthen their content knowledge and creativity in a wide variety of subject matters throughout its ten-year history. With the help of UH professors in the arts and sciences, those teachers have created innovative curriculum that has benefitted more than 35,000 local students.

UH also affects countless individuals on a personal level.

“Recognition by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching is one of three universally accepted national benchmarks of top-tier universities,” says UH President Renu Khator.

Student volunteers with the university’s Metropolitan Volunteer Program provide service for a variety of community initiatives.

Felina FranklinThe Center for Consumer Law, operated by the UH Law Center, provides educational programs attended by more than 35,000 people, and the Texas Consumer Complaint Center has helped more than 2,000 consumers save more than $1.2 million.

Through the Office of Community Projects in the Graduate College of Social Work, individuals at more than 500 human service agencies interact with UH student workers.

Felina Franklin, a Ph.D. candidate in the college, helps perform program evaluations and community needs assessments for nonprofit organizations such as the United Way. The needs assessments, which involve studying U.S. census data and interviewing everyone from community leaders to potential clients, help the organizations determine which charities to support.

For Franklin, the work is integral to her training and provides skills she will use throughout her career. For the community, her work provides them a voice.

The UH College of Optometry helps provide vision care to underserved populations in the Greater Houston area through its Mobile Eye Institute headed by Dr. Gavin Gerondale.

College of Opmetry - Mobile Unit

The institute, a partnership between the college and the city of Houston, operates a medical specialty bus that travels throughout the city. It treats patients with limited or no access to traditional healthcare, with language and cultural barriers, and with limited or no financial resources. The patients receive quality vision care for free, while optometry students gain valuable patient-care experience.

Heidi Suprun, executive director of Eye Care for Kids Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides free vision care and glasses for low-income students, says the Mobile Eye Institute fills an important need in the community. By partnering with her organization, the “medical specialty bus” was driven to dozens of area schools last year and provided glasses to 430 students.

The university also serves this community’s cultural needs and interests—providing access to music, opera, dance, theater, and facilities such as Blaffer Gallery, the Art Museum of the University of Houston.

The Houston Shakespeare Festival, produced by the School of Theatre & Dance, has presented outdoor performances in Houston for thirty-one years.

“I think we are filling a huge hunger for something other than the frivolous,” says Sidney Berger, professor of theatre and founder/director of the festival. “People look to those plays for the consideration of the important questions in life.”

Crowds as large as 15,000 gather for the plays, performed each summer at Miller Outdoor Theater in Hermann Park. Each time, Berger says he meets people who were touched by Shakespeare for the first time, such as one woman who said she finally understood Shakespeare after a production of The Merchant of Venice.

“She said, ‘Thank you for updating the language. I understood every word,’” Berger says. “Of course, I hadn’t changed a word.”

The business community also benefits from the University of Houston. In addition to providing local companies with a skilled workforce, UH, through programs like the Small Business Development Center, helps promote the creation of new businesses. In 2008, the center provided nearly 34,000 hours of free management consulting and 33,000 hours of training seminars and workshops to 13,000 owners of small- and medium-sized businesses.

For people like James Carmouche, that is a path to a better future. Through collaboration with the center, Carmouche was put in touch with a patent attorney. He learned how to create a business plan, raise capital, contact potential customers, and market his product.

“This program has brought me a long way,” he says.

Stories like Carmouche’s are echoed throughout Greater Houston because of UH’s devotion to community engagement, says Susan Rogers, a UH architecture professor and director of the Community Design Resource Center, who authored the university’s application for the Carnegie Foundation.

“Our original mission was to be the university for the working man and woman in Houston, and I think that kind of grounding in our community that began early on has maintained itself,” Rogers says. “Amazing things are happening at UH.

Provost John Antel

“We need the city and the community to support us,” says Antel. “The community needs us to attract a twenty-first-century workforce and build the cultural capital in the community to attract the best and the brightest. We are partners, and our success is inextricably linked.”

Antel, who had been dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences since July 2002, assumed his new role as provost and senior vice president/chancellor on February 1.

Antel joined UH as an assistant professor of economics in 1981. He was named an associate professor in 1988 and became a full professor in 1995. Among his numerous leadership roles, he chaired the Department of Economics from 1997 to 2002, and since 2004, has chaired the Undergraduate Enrollment Management Taskforce.

He holds a Ph.D. in economics from the University of California at Los Angeles and a Bachelor of Arts in political science from the University of California at Berkeley. Antel was selected as provost following a national search.

“I am delighted to have Dr. Antel as a key member of my leadership team as we continue to build momentum toward becoming a top-tier research university,” says President Renu Khator.

“Dr. Antel is highly respected in the academic world as a researcher and as an administrator, and he has a proven track record of promoting academic excellence and student success.”

One key to student success is the hands-on experience gained through work in the community. For example, Antel says, UH’s Center for Public History is working on a project about the history of the Third Ward.

“This honors the contributions of this important community and local school history programs, and it helps us do research and train graduate students,” he says.

While there are several great ongoing programs in the community, Antel says he would like to see many programs expanded, with more student workers and graduate student trainees doing community-based research and clinical training in a variety of areas.

“While UH does not have significant financial resources to support all community programs, we do have a lot of human capital,” he says. “We plan to use our expertise in various areas to reach out and serve this community.”