Building Blocks

UH People. Programs Paving the Path to Tier One.

by Michelle Klump

Bill SherrillWhen Bill Sherrill (’50) returned to the University of Houston in 1990, the financial consultant and entrepreneur faced two challenges — convincing academics that entrepreneurship could be taught and crafting a program to do just that.

Within three years, Sherrill founded the entrepreneurship program. By 2007, the Cyvia and Melvyn Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship had earned a national ranking from the Princeton Review and Entrepreneur magazine, catapulting the C.T. Bauer College of Business and UH into the public spotlight.

“I think the ranking points to the fact that the University of Houston offers some exceptional educational opportunities of top quality,” said Sherrill.

It also serves as an excellent example of one of the university’s Tier One caliber elements — the nationally recognized programs and renowned faculty that serve as building blocks for a Tier One university.

“Our city is proud to be the home of such nationally ranked academic programs as the University of Houston’s entrepreneurship and health law programs,” said Houston Mayor Annise Parker. “The University of Houston cultivates and attracts outstanding professors who provide a quality education to a diverse student body, and its alumni have much to show for it.”

By helping to attract high-achieving students and raising the university’s overall profile, top programs and stellar faculty help UH obtain recognition from the organizations that bestow Tier One status. They also provide inspirational models for other individuals and units at UH to study and possibly replicate their success.

ENTREPRENEURIAL LEADERS

In the entrepreneurship program, the lesson is to provide a comprehensive education, Sherrill said. On top of the basics of how to run a business, the entrepreneurship program offers students a support system that includes mentors, roundtable discussions and opportunities to network with local entrepreneurs.

The results speak for themselves. In addition to being ranked first in the nation in 2010, the program’s students Ashley Hursthave seen individual success, winning 10 awards in national business plan competitions in the past five years.

Students also are proving themselves after graduation by creating hundreds of new businesses.

“There is such a variety, it is hard to name a business that one of them hasn’t tried,” Sherrill said.

For example, Ashley Hurst, a May 2010 graduate of the program, is in the early stages of launching a health/nutrition consulting business called Wellness by Design. Hurst said her experience with the entrepreneurship program gave her the tools she needed to take the leap.

“I think [the program] really helped me to think critically,” Hurst said. “A lot of people had ideas, and in class, we really examined our ideas. … One thing the program taught me is your goals don’t have to be far off and unreachable. You can break it down into smaller pieces.”

ENGINEERING SUCCESS

Dan LussAt the Cullen College of Engineering’s chemical engineering department — ranked 35th in the nation among graduate programs in 2009 by U.S.News & World Report — success is based on breaking new ground in research.

The department, which is home to two of the university’s seven National Academies members, has maintained its reputation by by hiring faculty members who do “frontier research” and attracting quality graduate students who assist in that research, said Dan Luss, a professor and member of the National Academy of Engineering.

“The main thing is you hire people whose research is going to have an impact,” Luss said. “By impact, I don’t mean just generated support. It must generate the scholarly activity that other people at other schools continue to follow up on.”

It’s also important for the department’s research focus to evolve, he said.

“In any kind of good department, you find the research emphasis changes because different areas become more popular,” Luss said. “In recent years, I think the department really succeeded in defining some of those frontier research areas.”

For instance, Luss has applied his expertise in chemical reactor engineering to reducing emissions created by diesel engines. Other faculty members are beefing up their research in materials and biochemical engineering, he said.

StatueLEGAL EXCELLENCE

At the University of Houston Law Center, home to three programs ranked in the top 10 in the nation by U.S. News & World Report, success is due, in part, to its ability to capitalize on the strengths of the city of Houston.

A case in point: The health law program, ranked 4th in the nation in 2010, has been among the top five health law programs for 13 consecutive years. It also has developed a great partnership with the Texas Medical Center.

“Houston is a major medical community, and health law is a natural addition to that,” said Bill Winslade, director of the Health Law & Policy Institute. “We intend to follow up on the University of Houston’s new affiliation with the Texas Medical Center by finding even more projects of common interest where we can collaborate.”

With offerings such as a concurrent law/Ph.D. program in conjunction with the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, the health law program is able to attract a wide variety of students, from practicing doctors who want to gain legal expertise to students who want to focus on health policy research, Winslade said.

“Our students aren’t just one type of lawyer, but lawyers who have gone off in many different directions,” he said. “We offer things across the board broadly, but we also offer people the opportunity to go in-depth into their area of special interest.”

The intellectual property law program housed within the Institute for Intellectual Property and Information Law (IPIL), is ranked 8th in the nation, and consistently outranks programs at well known public and private universities, said Craig Joyce, Andrews Kurth Professor of Law and co-director of the institute.

In survey after survey, IPIL continuously outranks comparable programs at even the highest levels of private universities throughout the nation,” Joyce said. “UH’s IP program outpaces those at Harvard, Yale, Duke, Chicago, Northwestern, Vanderbilt, Emory and Georgetown, to name a few. Among public universities against which UH benchmarks itself, IPIL outranks UCLA, UNC and UT, just for starters.”

Another top-ranked program is the part time law program, ranked 10th in the U.S. The program, which allows students to take classes part time, fills a need for working professionals seeking a law degree.

“It takes a huge commitment of time and money to build these types of programs, and they stand as cornerstones of our curriculum,” said Raymond T. Nimmer, dean of the Law Center and Leonard H. Childs Professor of Law. “Not every student wants to specialize in these areas, of course, but it’s clear that our ‘top 10’ programs underscore the excellence of the education we provide.”

Together, the programs help bolster the university’s Tier One aspirations, Nimmer said.

“The national and international reputations of the UH Law Center and other UH colleges put some muscle behind [President Renu Khator’s] continuing effort to push the University of Houston to the higher regional and national standing it deserves,” he said.

AWARD-WINNING FACULTY

While award-winning programs help the university prove its Tier-One potential, so does an award-winning faculty.

The Center for Measuring University Performance — the entity that produces the Top American Research Universities (TARU) report each year — designates the top research universities based on nine different measures, including the number of recognized faculty awards and the number of faculty members elected to national academies.

With seven members of National Academies on faculty, and two more slated to join the faculty within the next year, UH has already met the benchmark in that category for inclusion among the top 50 public universities.

In addition, more than 50 faculty members have earned either TARU-recognized awards or other national awards recognized by the Association of American Universities, including Guggenheim fellowships and National Science Foundation Career awards. (For a list of these and other award winners, please see pages 14–17.)

In an effort to increase the number of faculty awards, UH created a website that highlights faculty award winners and provides information on national awards. In addition, deans and administrative staff are helping with the nomination and awards application process, said John Antel, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs.

Though awards are important, they are not the only measure of faculty success, Antel pointed out.

“The awards are a fairly objective way to measure faculty status. There aCarroll Bluere only a limited number of these awards, however, and some dimensions of excellence are not measured by them,” he said. “For example, if a faculty member did a well-reviewed concert at Carnegie Hall, it would not be counted among TARU awards, but it would certainly be recognized by people in the music business.”

UNIQUE QUALITIES

Of course, Tier One caliber elements at the University of Houston don’t begin and end with professors and programs. There are other institutional qualities, such as its diversity — UH has been consistently ranked among the top three most diverse public research institutions in the nation — or its community involvement that clearly set it apart from many other universities.

Carroll Parrott Blue knows that firsthand. As a research professor with the Texas Learning and Computation Center and the Center for Public History, Blue has been involved with dozens of collaborations between UH and the surrounding Third Ward community.

For instance, just last fall, Blue, whose focus is using new media for citizen engagement, worked with a broad range of UH departments, including architecture, technology, art, history and education, and including faculty, staff, students aAnnise Parkernd alumni in an effort to help area middle school students design and construct an art gallery for exhibitions and a computer kiosk to record oral histories and stories from Third Ward residents.


Our city is proud to be the home of such nationally ranked academic programs.

— Houston Mayor Annise Parker


Currently, Blue is working with UH administrators and other university departments already involved in the community to consolidate their efforts to foster more effective campus-community relationships.

“We are working to figure out who we are and how we can work together,” she said. “A lot of times people are working individually, and we are finding that if we all begin to work together under one umbrella, it would be much more effective.”

Community outreach is an important element of a Tier One university, Blue said. The university already has been recognized by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching with its highest designation for community-engaged institutions in the nation.

“Universities right now are really shifting and changing in terms of how they operate in the world,” she said. “They are realizing it is really important to take the knowledge, the expertise that is in the university and apply it to the surrounding community.”

By doing so, UH is proving that it can have a positive impact on the quality of life and economic health of the region. As UH President Renu Khator has said, “That is what a Tier One institution does, and that is where UH is headed.”

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