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Tuesday, October 3, 2023


University professor’s discovery reflects UH’s volcanic growth

David Delgado//The Daily Cougar

David Delgado//The Daily Cougar

Geophysics professor William Sager made national news last week with his discovery of the largest volcano on earth.

This formation, called Tamu Massif, is the size of Oregon and lies beneath the Pacific Ocean. At 400 miles wide, it is 25 percent smaller than Olympus Mons on Mars, which is the largest volcano in the solar system.

The discovery is quite a coup for the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, especially because Sager was a professor at A&M until this year. As UH continues to expand and improve, it mirrors the changes in our city at large. A recent article in Forbes predicted that by 2023, Houston will be widely recognized as the next great global city.

Houston is now not only the nation’s leading exporter, but also the most racially and ethnically diverse metro area in the U.S. as well. It stands to reason, then, that UH would be up-and-coming, too.

Acknowledging the school-wide ramifications of his discovery, Sager said, “UH is trying to change from a regional university to a Tier One research university. So unlike TAMU, which made this leap a generation ago, UH is looking for respect. Having this story come out from a UH researcher helps the University’s reputation.”

It’s incredible to consider how something like the discovery of a volcano can trickle down and eventually affect things like an increase in value of a UH degree. Tamu Massif allowed UH to make national headlines, which can only improve the school’s reputation.

A&M received recognition as well, as Sager was employed there during much of his study of Tamu Massif — not to mention the volcano is named after A&M. However, UH has the element of surprise because A&M is so frequently behind innovative studies and major discoveries.

Sager pointed out that UH’s Tier One status “means that when you go to class, your professor is a leader in his or her field,” which “is very important for graduate students who come to learn to do research with these professors for their M.S. and Ph.D. degrees.”

This raises the question of why, with Nobel Prize winners, respected authors and innovative scientists in our midst, UH is having such a hard time earning this recognition. This year, UH was ranked fifth in Texas, behind UT, A&M, Rice and UNT. Any misgivings about these numbers should be assuaged by the University’s motto, “In Tempore,” meaning “in time.”

Having just made such leaps and bounds in terms of its status, UH is on its way up. With a few notable exceptions, the school has been improving steadily throughout recent years.

One of the main things holding UH back from obtaining its desired reputation is abysmal graduation rates. Currently, UH is drastically behind Rice in graduation rate comparison. This is an issue that must be resolved before UH can reach its full potential.

It’s likely that much of the trouble lies in the large population of older students with families and jobs. With the added responsibilities, it is not uncommon for these students to drop out and focus on working and making money.

A larger population of traditional”students, as opposed to those of commuter status, could be the key to improving graduation rates. To that end, the recent Tier One upgrade could serve to attract freshmen from other parts of the country.

In addition to the University’s improving academic status, it has geography going for it. Sager cited Houston’s oil industry as part of the prompt for his career move.

“I want to try industry-related research, and there is lots of geophysics industry here in Houston.”

UH is a huge part of Houston life and is, in many ways, a reflection of the city itself. UH and Houston are growing, changing, improving and in turn influencing one another, and the discovery of Tamu Massif is an excellent example of the University’s growth.

Opinion columnist Katie Wian is an English junior and may be reached at [email protected]

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