Rebecca Richards-Kortum challenged Rice’s new students to find solutions to problems around the globe during the O-Week Faculty Address Aug. 19 in Tudor Fieldhouse.
“Our job is to create knowledge to help solve the world’s problems,” said Richards-Kortum, the Stanley C. Moore Professor and chair of the Department of Bioengineering and director of Rice 360°: Institute for Global Health Technology. “That’s why we exist. But there’s often a big gap between the problems of the world and the knowledge that could be used to solve those problems.”
She said that Rice created the minor in global health technologies to allow students to have hands-on learning opportunities that allow them to deal with some of the world’s problems by developing and implementing solutions that can positively impact global health.
The founder of Rice’s hands-on engineering education program Beyond Traditional Borders, Richards-Kortum said that Rice students have worked on projects ranging from developing an inexpensive device that helps newborns in respiratory distress to creating a tool that makes it easier for caregivers to administer correct dosages of medication to prevent HIV in infants.
She said that she hopes the new students will gain much during their time at Rice, and also hopes they will be inspired to give back.
“Look for the kinds of classes that help you discover what it is that you love, courses that offer a civic engagement component,” she said.
But Richards-Kortum warned the students not to get in a hurry when searching for their passion in life. “I urge you, don’t rush to commit to a major until you try out several different areas. You need to do what you want to do, not what other people might be expecting of you.”
She also encouraged students to take the opportunity to travel internationally and experience other cultures, and to have confidence in their abilities without being self-righteous.
“You have to learn how to be part of a team, and how to value the abilities and knowledge and contributions of people with different backgrounds.”
Richards-Kortum said the key to any meaningful journey – including the journey through college – is about “crossing the valley of hard work.” But she said students shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help.
“Sometimes as you journey across the valley of hard work, you’re going to encounter an unexpected flood,” she said. “And sometimes you just have to pray and hit the gas and trust that you know how to do what you’ve been trained to do. And remember, the people by the side of the road want to see you make it through, and if you get stuck in the middle, they will wade in and they will help you.
Richards-Kortum reminded the students that they are now part of a university community and that Rice is a research-intensive university. She told the new students that she and her colleagues are “just delighted” they are here and look forward to getting to know them and working with them.
“Without question, the best part of my job every year is going to graduation and clapping proudly as the students that I’ve gotten to know walk across the stage to receive their diplomas,” she said. “For you, today marks the beginning of that journey.”