Faculty encourage students to pay attention, embrace failure and put Rice to the test

As they embark on their careers at Rice, members of the 2017 matriculating class received a spectrum of advice during the O-Week Faculty Address Aug. 14 in Tudor Fieldhouse. Three faculty members from different academic areas delivered TED-style talks focused on their areas of expertise and shared their perspectives on what it takes to succeed at Rice.

Rice faculty members Lesa Tran, Alex Byrd and Sarah Whiting at the 2017 O-Week Faculty Address. Photo by Jeff Fitlow.

Rice faculty members Lesa Tran, Alex Byrd and Sarah Whiting at the 2017 O-Week Faculty Address. Photo by Jeff Fitlow.

“One of the things you will want to do during your time at Rice is to meet as many faculty as you can,” said John Hutchinson, dean of undergraduates, as he introduced the event. “Engage with them and exchange ideas with them.”

Sarah Whiting, Rice School of Architecture dean and the William Ward Watkin Professor of Architecture, kicked off the talks by explaining why architecture matters to her.

“I would argue that the architecture school is the 12th residential college at Rice,” she said. “We have a self-sufficient world within our walls — classes, dedicated space and a social life.”

Whiting then explained how architecture intersects every other discipline.

“Architecture is everything,” she said. “I actually decided to pursue architecture because I couldn’t pick just one interest. But, if architecture is everything, how do you teach it?”

Whiting explained that the School of Architecture intersects all the schools at Rice and offers courses in everything — technology, structure, history and design.

“Architecture is the most public of the arts,” she said. “You all experience architecture whether you like it or not.”

Whiting concluded by encouraging students to pay attention to architecture.

“I urge you to pay attention and look up,” she said. “There are amazing buildings on this campus and in this city. Think about why something is built, how it contributes to the city. Join me in thinking that architecture matters.”

Next, Alex Byrd ’90, associate professor of history, spoke about how he came to his work today from studying late 18th-century black migration.

O-Week 2017 - Faculty Address

“I’m interested in the shape, consequence and transformation of old suburbs into diverse urban city sections and what those changes mean for business and schools and transformations and the discourse we have over the city and the suburb.”

Byrd urged that while it’s a depressing subject to study, understanding the slave trade is critical to understanding freedom.

“I’ve found the study of slavery is particularly important for people who are interested in liberty and freedom,” he said. “If we want to understand freedom and black politics in the new United States, we need to understand slavery and the politics that emerged from slavery.”

Lastly, Byrd offered his words of advice to the students.

“This university is wide open for all of your curiosity,” he said. “I want to encourage you to put this university to the test in that regard. Study everything you’re interested in and also their antonyms.”

The final speaker, Lesa Tran ’07, the Wiess Instructor of Chemistry, told students that Rice will be challenging but not impossible.

“I’m guessing you didn’t come to Rice for an easy time,” she said. “To become the person you want to be, it’ll take a lot of hard work. These challenges will take every ounce of you.”

Tran, who received her bachelor’s, master’s and Ph.D. from Rice, told students she knows exactly how they are feeling as they enter college.

“During your time here, you will question your decision and you will compare yourself to others,” she said. “I urge you to never doubt yourself. Never doubt your potential. Rice accepted you, which means you belong here. Rice believes you have the potential to become the person you want to be.”

Tran then spoke about failure, admitting that she has achieved what she has, not despite of failure, but because of failure.

“Embrace the struggle,” she said. “Making mistakes is proof that you are working to become the person you want to be. Don’t let the fear of failure define you. Treat failure as an opportunity to learn, not the end of the world.”

Tran concluded by encouraging students to take advantage of college to decide what they want to do in life but also to understand what they don’t want to do.

“Ask yourself why the things you are doing are helping you become the person you want to be,” she said. “The best way to predict the future is to create it. It’s your life and you have complete control.”

About Kendall Schoemann

Kendall Schoemann is a staff writer in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.