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Tales of Inspiration: Cougars Remember Special UH Moments

by Michelle Klump

From the young boy with his gaze on the night sky, to the young woman from Cameroon seeking a new career in the U.S., the stories of these proud Cougars help convey the story of the University of Houston. We are proud of our students, faculty, staff and alumni. Their successes provide the foundation and inspiration for future success. Their stories are your stories, because You Are the Pride.

Margaret Cheung

Margaret CheungMargaret Cheung first developed her interest in science looking at colorful photos in science magazines and visiting the Hong Kong Planetarium.

By 15, she knew she wanted to be a scientist. She began following a path that would eventually lead her to the University of Houston, where she is a professor and researcher in the physics department and a mentor to young women.

“Once I came to UH, I realized there is a need for role models in science, so I offered workshops for high school students and teachers, as well as reaching out to young girls in elementary and middle school, for them to share the excitement of research,” she says.

In 2009 alone, Cheung’s outreach work has impacted more than 400 young people in the Houston area.

“Houston is the city of energy and health. With all of these right ingredients combined, it makes UH an excellent place for research. It is very exciting,” she says.

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Carl Lewis

Carl Lewis

Long before he became the fastest man in the world, Carl Lewis was a self-described “small, skinny kid” looking for a place to nurture his growing talent.

“Houston was the only school that told me what they could do to advance me, which is what the college experience should be,” Lewis says. “Everyone else was saying, ‘Look at what you could do for our college.’”

Lewis found what he was looking for at the University of Houston. With help from Tom Tellez, the men’s track coach, Lewis trained to achieve remarkable feats — 10 Olympic medals and a world record for speed.

“I loved the experience. I loved being on campus,” Lewis says of living in the dorm. But, he also enjoyed his classes.

“What happened is that I realized that I couldn’t be what I wanted to be without being able to articulate my ideas, so I took speech classes here,” he says. “I said, ‘How can I become a better public speaker? How can I extend my vision?’ I learned that at the University of Houston.”

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Danny Olivas

Danny Olivas

Growing up in El Paso, Danny Olivas (M.E. ’93) spent many nights on his roof, gazing at the stars and looking for craters on the moon. But it wasn’t until a trip to the Johnson Space Center in Houston that Olivas says he was truly “bitten by the space bug.”

Olivas, a NASA astronaut, has made two space flights — one in 2007 on Space Shuttle Atlantis and one in 2009 on Space Shuttle Discovery.

He says it was his passion for engineering — nurtured as a UH graduate student — that made his career at NASA possible.

Olivas remembers being impressed by the caliber of graduate students on campus — many of whom, like himself, were pursuing graduate degrees while working full time.

One of the professors who went out of his way to help Olivas was Charles Dalton, professor of mechanical engineering. He recalls showing his thesis to Dalton.

“He took that document, and he just ripped it to shreds, and justifiably so,” Olivas says. “In doing so, he made me a better engineer.”

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Odelia Bongmba

Odelia BongmbaWith a background in agricultural engineering and forestry management, Odelia Bongmba didn’t follow the typical route to UH’s College of Pharmacy.

Nevertheless, Bongmba, a native of Cameroon, Africa, draws on her past experience as she pursues a degree in pharmacology — focusing her efforts on research to aid patients suffering from Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Her research could contribute to the search for and development of new forms of therapy that might improve the quality of life for people whose lives are affected by degenerative diseases.

Expecting to complete her degree program in 2011, Bongmba says she feels UH is providing her everything she needs to succeed in her chosen career.

“I don’t think I could have a better environment,” she says.

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