“There’s the future, members, right up there,” Rep. Dan Branch said proudly as he gestured to dozens of college students perched above him in the House gallery of the Texas Capitol.
Down on the House floor, Branch and other representatives were honoring students who gathered in Austin recently for “Texas Undergraduate Research Day at the Capitol.” The impressive group included University of Houston students Nicholas Heisig and Jeff Mindrebo.
The event is designed to give students a unique opportunity to showcase their research work for Texas legislators and others through high-quality poster displays. This year’s theme was “Transforming Texas Through Undergraduate Research.”
It was coordinated by the Council of Public University Presidents and Chancellors (CPUPC), the Independent Colleges and Universities of Texas, Inc. (ICUT) and the Texas Association of Community Colleges (TACC), and conducted with the support of Branch, chairman of the Texas House Committee on Higher Education, and Sen. Kel Seliger, chairman of the Texas Senate Higher Education Committee.
Nearly 70 students studying a wide variety of subjects at more than 50 universities across Texas participated in the event late last week in Austin. Heisig, a student in UH’s College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences and The Honors College, has a double major in history and Spanish. Mindrebo, a student in UH’s College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, is a biochemical and biophysical science major.
In addition to displaying and discussing their research work, the students also got to see the Texas Legislature in action during the final weeks leading up to the session’s end on May 27.
It proved to be an enlightening experience for both UH students. They met Rep. Carol Alvarado of Houston, Rep. Rick Miller of Sugar Land and Rep. Ed Thompson of Pearland, as well staff members from the offices of Sen. Rodney Ellis, Rep. Garnet Coleman and Rep. Jessica Farrar, all of Houston.
“Getting to meet with the representatives or offices of representatives and senators was a fascinating glimpse into the running of the state government, especially during this hectic time as their legislative session draws to a close,” said Heisig, 21. “The energy and excitement of meeting Representative Alvarado as she left the chambers, knowing she took the time to meet with us and take an interest in our research, was one of the more memorable moments of the day.”
Mindrebo liked seeing the lawmakers at work, especially at one point where several were ribbing a fellow lawmaker while he was officially getting his first bill passed by the House.
“The most memorable aspect of my visit was being able to sit down and talk with some of the Texas representatives. It was nice to put a face to a name and find out just exactly who these men and women of power are and how hard they work during their legislative session,” Mindrebo said. “The representatives were more than accommodating and all of them were happy to hear about our undergraduate research and discuss ways to increase the chances for other undergraduates to take part in such experiences.”
And he was thrilled to see the pink dome for the first time.
“The trip to the Capitol was an eye-opening experience to say the least. I came up on the building on a foggy morning to see the giant spire of the dome piercing through a hazy mist hundreds of feet in the air. I am amazed that no one has told me to visit the Capitol before, it is an absolutely beautiful building,” said Mindrebo, 24.
They also were impressed by the work being done by several fellow UH students who are interning in lawmakers’ offices.
“Another interesting aspect was seeing how interns from the University of Houston are spread out among different legislators and working with different aims,” Heisig said. “Getting to see that our classmates have helped draft bills that are debated and presented before the Legislature is exciting.”
Heisig’s research presentation was on the 1936 Olympics and the debate at that time over whether the games should be held in Berlin because of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler. His work explored the various positions taken by athletes, luminaries, newspapers and organizations.
“I was able to give my presentation to a Venezuelan professor of biology from Midwestern State University. Then, when she found out I also studied Spanish, I was able to continue the presentation in Spanish, and we finished with a discussion about contemporary Venezuelan politics and emigration,” Heisig said. “It’s just one example of the increasingly collaborative, interdisciplinary and interconnected experience that is higher education, in this state, the country as a whole, and the entire globe.”
Mindrebo’s research project was about the computational docking and anaylsis of a peptide-linked inhibitor of RHO-Associated Kinase, a protein from the serin/threonine kinase family.
Both UH students enjoyed meeting other students and seeing their research work.
“It was refreshing to get an idea of what some of the other students were accomplishing in their undergraduate careers,” Mindrebo said. “I am hopeful that this was a message to the legislators that higher education, and education in general, is one of the most important things that can be funded. It was an honor and a privilege to be a part of any event that may have had the capacity to raise awareness to its importance.”
Yes, they are our bright future.