Rice students often make their mark in the Greater Houston area. Students can earn a Certificate in Civic Leadership from the Center for Civic Leadership, whose mission is to foster engaged citizenship through integrated curricular and experiential learning opportunities. The center promotes and develops opportunities for members of the Rice community to engage directly with the city of Houston through collaborative, community-based research and design. The center hosts a number of courses, programs, and activities that allow students, faculty members, and community partners to work together on Houston-based civic projects. For example, Beyond the Sallyport is a program designed to introduce first- and second-year students to the city of Houston. The experience provides a pathway to civic leadership that guides participants toward engaged service experiences, a deeper understanding of social injustice, and a lifelong commitment to service resulting in the creation of sustainable change in the Greater Houston community and beyond. During orientation (known as O-Week), there is an Outreach Day when freshmen can volunteer at a number of local nonprofit organizations. Rice’s Community Involvement Center sponsors this event to enable students to make a positive impact on the Houston community by engaging in volunteer activities throughout the city. Finally, Rice 360°: Institute for Global Health Technologies works in partnership with communities throughout the world to design and implement low-cost, high-performance health technologies that address major global health challenges. More than 60,000 people in twenty-eight countries have benefited from more than fifty new global health technologies and programs designed by over 400 students in Rice’s global health initiatives.
Participation in research is a fundamental part of the Rice undergraduate experience, one that many of the students we surveyed took advantage of. Research is defined very broadly as any opportunity to approach a problem in a critical and open-ended way; it ranges from the scientific experiments in science and engineering laboratories, to the design projects in engineering classes and architecture studios, to the fieldwork and original analyses of social scientists and humanists. Many students, including one anthropology major, appreciated the “opportunities for students to get into the ‘real world’ of research and work.”
The Office of Fellowships and Undergraduate Research helps Rice undergraduates, graduate students and recent alumni find additional academic opportunities beyond the classroom. On campus, students have access to research opportunities in various schools of study: engineering, natural sciences, social sciences, humanities, architecture, music and business. Rice also has more than forty institutes and consortia that offer interdisciplinary research experiences with faculty, visiting scholars, postdocs and graduate students. Off campus, the city of Houston provides an enormous landscape for independent research projects, collaboration with city government and internships with both the private and public sectors that make up the nation’s fourth-largest city. Access to the world’s largest medical center, NASA and twenty-six Fortune 500 companies makes Houston an extremely valuable resource for Rice undergraduates. It’s not surprising then that one bioengineering major commented that “the opportunities for research are plenty.”
Rice’s Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen has all the “ingredients” for creative engineering students to tackle authentic design challenges or to experiment with their own building projects. The facility has 18,000 square feet of space that houses more than 66 work tables, conference rooms, a classroom, a wet lab, rapid prototyping equipment, large-format printers, 3-D printers, a designated woodworking area, a machine shop and access to a welding shop. It’s the ideal place for hands-on experiential teaching, learning, experimentation and innovation.
“Rice is heavily focused on student empowerment,” a cognitive science major told us, a focus the school achieves largely as a result of the residential college system. A double major in biochemistry, cell biology, and Hispanic studies elaborated: “One of the greatest strengths of Rice is the amount of student leadership involved in running the campus. For one, the residential college system promotes student involvement, from coordinating activities to following university regulations.” A physics and mathematics major provided even more specific examples of the governing role that she’s been able to take within her residential community: “My dorm is being renovated. I decided to create a committee that works with the architects and engineers to advise them on the project. We have weekly meetings where we literally tell them what we want and they actually listen to us. Its incredible how much responsibility Rice gives to its students.” Alumnus Judge Edward Emmett, the administrative county judge of Harris County, Texas, told us that he essentially got his start in politics as a student leader within the residential college system. He said, “I was president of my college my junior year. We had great arguments about things going on on-campus. The students really do get to make the decisions. The experience caused me to work with people from all stripes and come up with an arrangement that all people can agree to.”
The Doer Institute for New Leaders opened its doors in July 2015, thanks to a $50 million gift from alumni Ann and John Doer (who both have bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering from Rice), and specializes in hands-on leadership training that extends for a student’s entire college career. According to Rice, “The strengths of each student will be assessed and their potential will be developed in a four-year comprehensive, custom-made plan of classroom instruction, hands-on, real-world experience and guidance from personal coaches.”
Another program, Leadership Rice, offers a mentorship experience combined with a summer internship. Before starting their internships, students attend training sessions that focus on leadership in professional contexts. For nine weeks over the course of the summer, students perform substantive work with recognized leaders in public, private and nonprofit organizations. Each student is paired with a mentor who is responsible for overseeing the student’s learning and personal development. Previous placements have been in Houston, New York City, Washington D.C., Paris, and Pune, India.
Engineering students have access to the Rice Center for Engineering Leadership (RCEL), which was established to educate and develop students into strong leaders, team members, and entrepreneurs. From academic courses and leadership labs to student discussion groups and structured learning experiences, RCEL program components provide students with opportunities to develop and strengthen their leadership abilities and prepare them to put these skills into practice in engineering and professional environments.
Beyond these programs, there are a number of student-run businesses on campus, such as the Coffeehouse, which offer students an opportunity to develop leadership and business skills. Rice also has a student-run newspaper, yearbook, radio station, and many student clubs to join.