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Graduating Natural Sciences Students Make Their Mark at UT Austin

Graduating Natural Sciences Students Make Their Mark at UT Austin

This is the month when close to 2,000 students in the College of Natural Sciences will cross the graduation stage and begin a new chapter in their lives. Our hearty congratulations go to all the Class of 2018.

In addition to their many outstanding achievements in academics, many of these students have also excelled in service to the community, research, leadership and entrepreneurship. Meet just a small sampling of the amazing, soon-to-be graduates who have already left a mark on the university and the world.


Biochemistry senior Karan Kathuria, one of six students campus-wide to receive a Presidential Leadership Award, has served as president of the Natural Sciences Council and an entrepreneurial leader in a student-run biotech service company that helps labs obtain mutant variants of a target protein. 

He spent two years working on improving what's known about the chemical production of antioxidants and the results of that research—into how antioxidants such as Vitamin C or E protect us against cancer and aging—were published in Cell Chemical Biology. 

Through years of involvement with the Natural Sciences Council, Karan has helped to develop and sustain programs that provide academic resources to students, with a primary focus on professional development. He is among 26 students in the top fraction of a percent in the College to be selected as a Dean's Honored Graduate.


Twitter users call him a "filter legend" and a "talented designer." Jordan Villarreal, a senior biology major, is the the creator of some of Austin's most popular Snapchat geofilters, including several for the various buildings around the UT Austin campus and Austin landmarks. (Snapchat geofilters, for the uninitiated, are like location-specific stickers you can put over your photos on the popular social media platform.) 

Villarreal, who has been designing geofilters since he was a high school senior, estimates that he's designed over 25 filters.

"They tell you when you get to college, 'Oh, make your mark on the university,'" Villarreal said in an interview with KVUE. "And I'm just glad that I've done it in my own way."

Photo Credit: Elizabeth Garabedian, Daily Texan Staff


Biology senior Jimmy Ding has worked with the Trevor Project, a non-profit organization focused on suicide prevention efforts among the LGBTQ+ community, to make healthcare accessible to everyone, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. 

Last summer, he worked as an intern with the Vanderbilt Trans Buddy program, a patient advocacy program supporting transgender patients, to increase access to care and improve healthcare outcomes for transgender people by providing emotional, informational and procedural support to patients.

His thesis for this work received a runner-up award for the University Co-op Mitchell Award.


Astronomy senior Elizabeth Gutierrez has completed three independent summer research experiences during her undergraduate career. At the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, she investigated protoplanetary disk formation; through the TAURUS scholars program here at UT Austin, she helped to identify stellar twins (stars with identical spectra); and at the Harvard Banneker-Aztlan Institute, she studied star-forming regions in the Milky Way Galaxy. 

Gutierrez has presented her work at three meetings of the American Astronomical Society, and she has been published as a co-author in the Astrophysical Journal.

For her research excellence, she received a 2018 College of Natural Sciences Aspire Award.


Computer science senior Ewin Tang, a Dean's Honored Graduate, has been exploring a specific and highly challenging quantum algorithm for recommending products to users, similar to the algorithms Netflix and Amazon use to make recommendations. According to his faculty advisor Scott Aaronson, Ewin, at just 17 years old, may have made more progress on the problem than any of the computing researchers who preceded him. 

Tang also helped co-author four published journal papers in the field of biomaterials, and he is first author for "In Vivo Imaging of Infection Using a Bacteria-Targeting Optical Nanoprobe," which was published in the Journal of Biomedical Nanotechnology

Beyond these research accomplishments and his outstanding academics (yes, Tang maintained a 4.0 grade-point average), this graduating senior served as council president for the Moore-Hill Residence Hall, as a counselor for the Chinese Youth Leadership Camp, and as a software engineering intern for Indeed.


Courtney Austin's peers describe her as someone with "extreme integrity, who would not even condone littering." A computational biology senior who completed her degree coursework last December, Austin has participated extensively in community service and has served as an Orientation Advisor in the College of Natural Sciences. As a member of the deaf community, she regularly works with new and incoming students who also are deaf, providing them with advice and support to help them be successful on campus. She also has conducted research with the UT Southwestern Medical Center and the Dell Pediatric Research Institute. Austin received the Dean's Choice Impact Award this year at the 2018 Aspire Awards for "the impact that her strength of character makes in our college community."

We asked her what lessons she's learned from her time at UT Austin. She said don't be afraid to make mistakes.

"We learn far more from making mistakes than being perfect all the time," she said. "I believe that my mistakes have made me a better student and a better person. I used to think, as a pre-med, that everything had to be perfect, but I realized that I would rather make my mistakes now and improve myself so that I can be the best person and physician that I can be."


More stories of amazing College of Natural Sciences graduating seniors are tagged UT Class of 2018 on this blog.


BONUS: Not all of the amazing students we received exciting news about this spring are crossing the graduation stage just yet. Meet a junior who is making her mark and won an award this month, too.

Jacqueline Gibson, one of only two students in the college singled out for Presidential Leadership Awards, helped co-found the Association of Black Computer Scientists and has worked with the Senate of College Councils to campaign for more affordable technology on campus. Her first involvement with the Department of Computer Science was at First Bytes, a summer camp for high school students designed to dispel myths about computer science and intrigue young women with the potential of computing and the excitement of problem solving. Since then, she's become a leader in the project of ensuring a big tent for technology at UT, and her efforts have touched the lives of countless people, including an underclassman mentee who told her he would have dropped out if not for her.

"I think we all hope that we will have a significant impact on someone's life," she told The Alcade, "but actually having that moment was more meaningful than I can explain."

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Monday, 15 October 2018

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