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Photo by Brigitte Lacombe

When the Harry Ransom Center (HRC) at the University of Texas at Austin first announced its upcoming 65th anniversary gala back in June, they promised a "star-studded" evening with Robert De Niro as the evening's special guest. As if that is not star-studded enough, the Hollywood heavyweight will be joined by yet another screen legend, Meryl Streep, for what is sure to be a truly unforgettable evening.

In a release on August 29, the museum announced the Academy Award-winning actress will join the event to share some words about De Niro. Esteemed film critic and historian Leonard Maltin will also attend, acting as master of ceremonies.

Taking place at the AT&T Hotel and Conference Center on September 24, "A Celebration of Film" will support preservation and access to historical film materials archived at HRC. The event will mark the museum's 65th anniversary while honoring De Niro's ongoing support with a special endowment.

De Niro's archive, which is housed at HRC, will be featured in a new exhibition examining his early years at the American Workshop, in acting instructor Stella Adler’s classes, and in plays and films that marked his initial successes and learning experiences. De Niro first donated his archive to the HRC in 2006, including annotated screenplays, correspondence, production records, film stills and behind-the-scenes photographs, posters and publicity materials, props, costumes, videotapes, and motion picture film.

The HRC’s extensive film collection tells the stories of Hollywood producers, directors, writers, and actors from the silent era and Golden Age of Hollywood through the rise of independent filmmakers and into the age of blockbusters and the new millennium.

The gala supports the museum's mission to preserve and provide access to historical film materials. In an effort to expand access to this unique celebration, the HRC will also hold its first-ever ticketed after party, immediately following the gala.

Featuring cocktails, nibbles, and live music, tickets for the event are $100 and provide an accessible option for Austin film fans to support the HRC. Actors and native Texans Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, and Andrew Wilson will be honorary event co-hosts in tribute to their mother, whose work is featured in the HRC's fall exhibition, “The Writers: Portraits by Laura Wilson," which opened on August 27.

For more information or to purchase tickets, visit hrc.utexas.edu/gala for the gala and hrc.utexas.edu/afterparty/ for the Post-Production Afterparty.

Meryl Streep will join Robert De Niro at a gala to mark the Harry Ransom Center's 65th anniversary.

Photo by Brigitte Lacombe
Meryl Streep will join Robert De Niro at a gala to mark the Harry Ransom Center's 65th anniversary.
Courtesy/UTSA

University of Texas System invests $16.5 million for student mental health resources

What Starts Here

The motto at the University of Texas is: "What Starts Here Changes the World." This week, the university's governing body, The University of Texas System Board of Regents, backed that motto with a $16.5 million investment that supports the mental health of the very thing that starts at UT's 13 academic and health institution — its students.

In a Tuesday, June 28 release, the UT Regents announced that the data-driven, multi-million investment over the next five years will build upon the institution's "long-standing commitment to student safety at all UT academic and health institutions."

In 2011, the university became the first system of higher education to approve an investment toward comprehensive alcohol prevention, education, and recovery programs at each of its academic campuses, and this latest investment will both further support and broaden the scope of those programs. The release detailed a special meeting held on June 28 to approve the $16.5 million investment for expanding and enhancing student mental health, student safety, and alcohol education resources at 13 institutions, including the University of Texas at San Antonio.

“Student safety is always top of mind for the UT System Board of Regents,” said chair Kevin P. Eltife in the release. “Our unanimous support of new funding speaks to the Board’s commitment to ensure the very best learning environments for all students across all UT institutions.”

Chancellor James Milliken said UT System leadership recommended additional investment in student mental health resources based on national studies and internal data that show a significant rise in the diagnosis and treatment of student mental health issues — including stress, anxiety and depression — over the past 10 years or more. Unsurprisingly, the release notes how the coronavirus pandemic and its associated challenges accelerated this trend, as the percentage of students at UT institutions who were diagnosed by and/or received mental health services from a professional increased from 20 percent in 2011 to 30 percent in 2021. During the same period, student counseling centers reported a 38 percent increase in psychiatric hospitalizations.

UT Austin will continue to oversee the expanded student mental health initiative, as it has since 2011. The chancellor emphasized UT Austin’s capacity and history of success as a leader in student mental health in his remarks to the board.

The total allocation of $16,500,000 will fund five initiatives, as well as the evaluation of their impact, for five years across the UT System:

  • Mental health crisis line
  • Expanding clinical mental health services to students via telehealth
  • Web-based alcohol education and sexual assault and harassment prevention for students; harassment, safety, and other training for faculty and staff
  • Faculty and staff training
  • Thrive at UT mobile app

“Student safety and wellness remain a most critical priority for UT institutions, and the Board of Regents’ newest investment will support, educate and treat students at all UT academic and health institutions throughout their journey toward a degree,” Milliken said. “Our campuses are grateful for the timing of these new resources that will allow them to expand and enhance the student services determined to be most effective over the past 11 years and during the pandemic.”

UT San Antonio awards $4 million to groundbreaking Alzheimer’s research

Brainy Theories

It’s a bittersweet moment, commending competitive research achievements in Alzheimer’s disease. On June 8, the University of Texas at San Antonio acknowledged some of the top contributions internationally to our collective understanding of how the degenerative disease starts. The Oskar Fischer Prize awards a total of $4 million, divided into gold, silver, and bronze categories.

“Over the past two years, UTSA has worked closely with a broad group of advisers from the scientific, business and public policy realms to evaluate a large number of visionary ideas,” said UTSA College of Sciences Dean David Silva in a press release. “This partnership demonstrates our leadership to further society’s understanding of the causes of Alzheimer’s disease.”

The gold prize ($500,000) goes to four finalists, two of which are in the United States, including one in San Antonio. Italy’s Carlo Abbate, Ph.D., theorizes that Alzheimer’s starts in neural stem cells while new neurons are formed, and Spain’s Estela Area-Gomez, Ph.D., theorizes that it’s a lipid disorder relating to the regulation of cholesterol metabolism. Ralph A. Nixon, Ph.D., M.D., represents Nathan S. Kline Institute for Psychiatric Research, and posits that an error in cleaning out waste in the brain leads to a toxic accumulation. Finally, and closest to home representing UTSA, Bess Frost, Ph.D. believes the issue is with DNA restructuring, which causes issues in cell identity and eventually cell death.

Frost’s personal statement through UTSA Health anchors her work to new research in tau, a protein and “a key pathological player in Alzheimer’s disease and other tauopathies.” Her laboratory makes discoveries in fruit flies, and compares those findings to post-mortem human specimens. Now an associate professor, she initially received her bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Texas at Austin.

The silver prize ($400,000) goes to Germany’s Bernd Moosmann, Ph.D. and Canada’s Donald Weaver, M.D. Bronze prize recipients ($300,000) are Sweden’s Gunnar K. Gouras, M.D. and three working in America: Annelise E. Barron, Ph.D. at Stanford University, Varghese John, Ph.D. at University of California, Los Angeles, and Russell Swerdlow, M.D. at the University of Kansas Medical Center.

“Despite a century and tens of billions of dollars spent on Alzheimer’s Disease research, no definitive explanation for a cause has been found,” said Texas businessman James Truchard, whose philanthropic contribution established this prize, in the release. “The Prize’s goal is to bring forth ideas which can create a foundation for future research. While no single entry covered all the major aspects of Alzheimer’s, I believe a combination of these ideas creates a launchpad for future research.”

June is Alzheimer's & Brain Awareness Month through the Alzheimer's Association, which is organizing a worldwide fundraising day on June 21, “The Longest Day.” It estimates that Alzheimer’s or another dementia is the cause of death in one in three seniors, and more than 11 million people in America are providing care for patients with dementia.

Photo by dszc/Getty Images

University of Texas researchers make game-changing discovery for plastic recycling

Breaking it down

KVUE — A new discovery by University of Texas at Austin researchers could be a game-changer when it comes to recycling plastics.

The “plastic-eating enzyme” can break down a certain type of plastic to the molecular level, which can then be used to recreate new plastics, according to researchers.

“When we have that perfect cycle, we're not needing to make any fresh plastic. We're recovering everything that we've used and can use it once over again. And I think this has enormous potential to be able to reduce our overall carbon footprint,” said Hal Alper, a professor at UT Austin’s Cockrell School of Engineering.

Researchers have been able to put big chunks of plastic in the enzyme, breaking them down to the molecular level. It ends up becoming a liquid in up to about 48 hours.

Without the enzyme, the plastics could take hundreds of years to degrade, researchers said. The alternative option would be to throw plastic in a landfill or burn it, but researchers said that’s expensive, energy intensive and puts toxic gasses in the air.

The enzyme works on polyethylene terephthalate — known as PET plastic — which is used in things like water bottles, clear to-go food containers, and fruit packaging, Alper said.

It accounts for 12 percent of all global waste.

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Read the full story and watch the video on KVUE.com.

Photo by Bryce France

San Antonio-raised actress shines in new season of Stranger Things

Stranger Things

A new addition to the highly anticipated fourth season of the Netflix hit series Stranger Things has close ties to both Texas and San Antonio. Born in Honolulu, Hawaii, actress Regina Ting Chen grew up in San Antonio and studied at the University of Texas at Austin.

Now residing in Atlanta, Georgia, Chen was a 2016 finalist for CBS's Diversity Drama Initiative Program. She has been featured in the popular USA crime drama Queen of the South, Marvel's The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and HBO's Emmy-winning limited series Watchmen. In the new season of Stranger Things, debuting Friday, May 27, Chen plays a guidance counselor at Hawkins High.

CultureMap connected with Chen for a few questions about her career so far, and about what fans can expect from the next season of Stranger Things.

CultureMap: So you were born in Honolulu, Hawaii. What brought you to Texas originally?
Regina Ting Chen: My dad’s business was not doing well and we had to close shop. We all relocated to San Antonio where my aunt was working and said that it’s a much more affordable place with great education opportunities.

CM: What inspired you to study at the University of Texas at Austin?
RTC: My aunt is a pharmacy professor at UT! She gave me the idea from the get-go, and I wanted to stay close to home as I am extremely close to family.

CM: What are some of your favorite memories of Austin or UT from that time?
RTC: College was difficult for me, I’m not great at test-taking haha! But it taught me so much about discipline, how to stay organized, and work my butt off. I also worked full-time as a hostess and makeup artist in order to pay my way through college as I had no help. Austin always had the best food options! But more importantly, Austin is such a great place to find all kinds of creative outlets. That’s the only way I got to explore doing different things like makeup and acting to find out what I would like to do, how to network, and just grow as a human! Austin is beautiful and will always be dear to me. It was hard leaving the city.

CM: You earned your degree in Spanish and business. How did you first get into acting?
RTC: When I was a kid, I wasn’t allowed to take drama classes so I would just put on “shows” for my family during the holidays. I would come up with different acts, have my family members partake, build a set, all of it! So I always had the spirit in me. My grandma, being an immigrant, was afraid to venture out much. So I always enjoyed helping her live vicariously through my eyes by reenacting my days, sometimes embellishing basic things as long as it made her smile and laugh. She was my rock. She’s gone now, sadly, but I have all those memories I re-enacted for her and created with her to last me my whole lifetime.

As an adult, I was actually scouted by a local photographer who suggested that I try modeling. It almost sounds like a story that would end with me in trouble. I then did some local photo shoots, and, eventually, it led me to sign with Kim Dawson Agency in Dallas. They suggested acting classes for me and thus began my Meisner journey with Austin Meisner coach Laurel Vouvray.

CM: When did you decide to take the plunge and make it your full-time career?
RTC: In 2016, I had decided I was going to just go full-time corporate and take a break from acting for a few years, as I was burned out and not getting opportunities. Three months later, I realized I was miserable without the life of storytelling in any capacity. That’s when I realized acting is for the rest of my life. And everything else I did from that point forward was done to support that realization.

CM: Can you tell us more about the CBS Diversity Drama Initiative Program?
RTC: Yes! So CBS had a nationwide initiative for diverse talent to submit tapes as an audition for the program. They received over 10,000 tapes! The next step was callbacks, which I did in Austin, and finally, they selected 12 finalists to be flown out to LA for a week-long, paid-for intensive. I learned so much on that trip. I have never been on a real big-budget set before in my life, nor met other actors in different markets across the nation. It truly opened my eyes to see how big that world can really be.

CM: What have been some of your favorite roles until now?
RTC: I loved playing a money laundering banker on Queen of the South. I am such a person of honor that it was fun to play someone who was so deceiving. Plus, working with Alice Braga was amazing! I also enjoyed playing the female lead in a local indie feature (Lion Killer) shot in Houston back in 2018, because the creators gave me a chance to show my talent and believed that I could carry the film before I even knew I could. And ultimately, my role in Stranger Things is by far my favorite, because my character Ms. Kelly is truly me — caring, kind, and quirky. I cannot wait for the world to meet her! I’m also just so proud to represent the Asian community every chance I get.

CM: How did the role in Stranger Things come about?
RTC: Just like any other show, I received an audition from my agent for the role. The script (sides) were different names so that we wouldn’t know who was involved in it. It was great, actually, because that allowed me to just bring myself authentically to the character of how I would be in that world.

CM: Were you already a fan of the show before you signed on for Season 4?
RTC: Yes!!! I’m a big sci-fi nerd and I loved the show prior to even getting the audition. So you KNOW how stoked I was to have gotten a chance to read for the show. It’s so rare!

CM: Can you tell us anything particularly exciting to look forward to in this next season?
RTC: The world is darker and scarier than it ever has been before. It’s impossible. Hang on tight! I’m right there with you because I’m scared of the dark and everything spooky!

Courtesy/UTSA

UTSA graduates to the head of the class with new Tier One designation

academic upgrade

The University of Texas at San Antonio has joined an elite class of colleges and universities.

UTSA recently was designated a Tier One school. Under the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education program, Tier One is the highest possible level for academic and research excellence.

“The designation places UTSA among the nation’s top public and private research universities, amplifying its statewide and national exposure to attract and recruit world-class faculty and top students,” the university says in a news release.

Other Tier One schools in Texas are Baylor University, Rice University, Texas Tech University, the University of Houston, the University of North Texas, and the UT campuses in Austin, Arlington, Dallas, and El Paso.

UTSA President Taylor Eighmy says San Antonio and the rest of Texas “deserve Tier One educational and research institutions to advance economic mobility and robust economic development driven by a knowledge economy.”

To achieve Tier One status, UTSA increased annual spending on research, expanded its pipeline of doctoral students, and sought national attention for its researchers.

UTSA is now one of about 20 U.S. universities that hold both Tier One designation and official status as schools serving Hispanic students.

“Tier One designation improves the degree value, increases choices for our students aiming to pursue graduate study at other now-peer university programs, creates stronger professional affiliations for our faculty, and elevates our stature in the national research community,” says Kimberly Andrews Espy, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at UTSA. “Simultaneously, the designation advances San Antonio’s knowledge pipeline by attracting additional talented faculty, who in turn further our local workforce.”

In addition, Tier One status helps encourage partnerships with local organizations like UT Health San Antonio, the Southwest Research Institute, the Texas Biomedical Research Institute, Brooke Army Medical Center, and Joint Base San Antonio.

“In the next decade, UTSA will become a national model for student success, a great public research university, and an exemplar for strategic growth and innovative excellence,” Eighmy says. “The traction we’re seeing on multiple fronts — in athletics, fundraising, enrollment, academic innovation, and research — position us to serve as an exemplar for the future of higher education in the United States.”

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Where to see the once-in-recorded-history green comet approaching San Antonio

Seeing green

The world is buzzing with news of an approaching astronomical body, Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF), more often referred to in the news and social media as "the green comet." Its most recent appearance was 50,000 years ago — compared to the about 200,000 years since modern humans emerged.

"While the pictures of it have been impressive, its visual appearance differs greatly," explains Joe Wheelock, public program specialist at the McDonald Observatory at the University of Texas at Austin. "Currently you might glimpse it with the unaided eye as a fuzzy patch of light[,] but you would need to be away from city lights. Binoculars or a telescope would improve the view, and you might even glimpse a faint tail."

As tempting as it is — and as much fodder as its made on social media — this experience will not be easy for most Texans to photograph and share. "The pictures that have been posted on various websites were taken by experienced astrophotographers and in most cases cameras designed for astrophotography," Wheelock warns.

Some logistics to note when planning a viewing:

  • The comet will be closest to Earth (thus, likely the most visible) on February 1.
  • Wheelan says placement will also be good in late January and early February, and it will be best viewed after midnight. Since the new moon was on January 21, every day the moon will compete with it a little more.
  • The McDonald Observatory posts daily stargazing tips, so viewers will have a few chances at seeing something special, even if the comment doesn't work out.
  • Getting out of San Antn is the best bet against light pollution.

Those who are willing to make a trip out of the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity should consider their best chances at out running the city lights. The closest popular option to San Antonio proper is McAllister Park, which sometimes hosts stargazing events. For a more structured approach, the Curtis Vaughan Jr. Observatory at the University of Texas at San Antonio hosts first Friday stargazing nights after sunset. The McDonald Observatory, although it is an entity of the University of Texas at Austin, is in Fort Davis, about 400 miles from San Antonio.

The International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) maintains records of some of the world's least light-polluted skies and works to protect them, ensuring that these places stay available for reliable stargazing retreats. There are four IDA-certified Dark Sky Parks in Texas: Enchanted Rock (90 miles from San Antonio), South Llano River (120 miles), Copper Breaks (370 miles), and Big Bend Ranch (490 miles).

In addition to the certified parks, there is a smaller group of Dark Sky Sanctuaries, which are especially dark and carefully protected. There are two in Texas: Devil's River State Natural Area (170 miles) and Black Gap Wildlife Management Area (390 miles).

For more in-depth reading on the comet's trajectory and context, Wheelan suggests an article in Sky & TelescopeSky & Telescope.

San Antonio suburb among the richest places in Texas for 2023, plus more top stories

Hot Headlines

Editor’s note: It’s that time again — time to check in with our top stories. Here are five articles that captured our collective attention over the past seven days.

1. San Antonio suburb cashes in among the richest places in Texas for 2023. Alamo Heights has been renamed the third richest place in Texas for 2023 in a recent study.

2. San Antonio home sales slowed in December 2022, report finds. San Antonio sold 36,477 homes all year, a 10 percent decrease from 2021.

3. Here are the top 5 things to do in San Antonio this weekend. Nina Simone, Pink Floyd, the Beatles and more music-centered events made our roundup of the best things to do in Alamo City this weekend.

4. San Antonio Home & Garden Show returns with HGTV star. Ati Williams will headline the San Antonio Spring Home & Garden Show, which takes place February 24-26.

5. H-E-B opens first location in growing San Antonio suburb. The state-of-the-art facility offers 110,000 square feet of floor space, providing everything from cat food to charcuterie.


Popular Pearl brunch spot remixes with new weekend DJ nights

OONCE OONCE OONCE

Though Full Goods Diner has barely been open for half a year, it has already become a San Antonio staple for working weekday lunches and lingering Sunday Fundays. Now the Pearl eatery is looking to be a hot spot after dark.

Via release, the popular local haunt just announced a new limited-time music series, Full Goods at Night. Starting on February 2, Full Goods Diner will open select evenings throughout the month.

The Full Goods at Night series will feature popular local San Antonio DJs, including El West Side Sound, Hector Gallego, DJ Plata, Steven Lee Moya, and Cami Gee. Guests can enjoy live sets while indulging in a specially curated food and drink offerings.

The menu will include some of Full Goods Diner's best—selling items, such as French toast sticks, barbacoa waffle fries, and jumbo cheesy tots. Libations like the Attaboy Negroni, Royal Bermuda Daiquiri, Pink G&T, and more will fuel the festivities.

In addition to enjoying moonlight brunch, guests can relish some prime people-watching. And, of course, the restaurant is just a hop from other nightlife destinations like Pink Hill, 3 Star Bar, and Summer Camp Bar, making it the perfect party starter.

The series runs every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from February 2-25, 6-10 pm. The complete DJ schedule is listed below.

February 2 — El West Side Sound·
February 3 — Hector Gallego
February 4— DJ Plata
February 9 — El West Side Sound
February 10 — Steven Lee Moya
February 11 — Cami Gee
February 16 — El West Side Sound
February 17 — Steven Lee Moya
February 18 — Hector Gallego
February 23 — El West Side Sound
February 24— Steven Lee Moya
February 25 — DJ Plata