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Paul Chu: Physics Pioneer, Marketing Icon

Guest Posts, University Archives

Alexander Rodriguez, undergraduate student from the University of Chicago, takes a look at Professor Paul Chu’s presence in university marketing initiatives.

Paul Chu sitting at a lab desk.

Paul Chu sitting at a lab desk (UH Photographs Collection, University of Houston Special Collections)

University of Houston (UH) Professor Paul Chu is a known name both on- and off-campus. In 1987, Chu and his team made breakthroughs in the field of superconductivity, developing materials that could conduct electricity with zero resistance at temperatures reachable with liquid nitrogen. This discovery kicked off a wave of excitement in the scientific community and put the university’s Department of Physics at the leading edge of this research.

In the late 1990s, UH’s Division of Marketing and Communications commissioned the production of 30-second television commercials for prospective students, starring university faculty with their work. One of these focuses on Chu, with shots of him with lab equipment demonstrating the materials developed in his lab. With floating magnets and nitrogen plumes aplenty, the clip is an effective counterargument to any high schooler who says physics can’t be cool.

Still from UH commercial featuring Professor Chu.

Still from UH commercial featuring Professor Chu (UH Marketing and Communications Records, University of Houston Special Collections)

Elsewhere, Chu and his research team garner mention from voices outside the university. In a compilation of news clips from November 2001, several television and radio stations reported on Dr. Chu’s move to Hong Kong to lead a research department there. True to the era, the reporters excitedly mention that he will continue to lead his UH research department through a technology known as “e-mail.” The similarity of the reporting across different channels indicates the use of a standardized press release, likely crafted by UH Marketing and Communications, to package the facts for news stations to add directly into their report.

These items, part of a Special Collections acquisition of UH Marketing and Communications Records this year, demonstrate the way the university showcases its faculty and their research as an asset for its image. The message for the public is that the work done here is not only research worth continuing but also the knowledge that has an impact on the lives of people outside academia and merits sharing. These outreach efforts establish the University of Houston as an institution on the forefront of science, attracting the next generation of bright minds to enroll and be a part of the spirit of innovation at the university.

Check out the full Marketing and Communications collection in the archival catalog here. More information about Chu and his research can be found elsewhere in Special Collections, including newspaper clippings in the Faculty Vita Records.

Shasta: She’s Beauty and She’s Grace… She’s Miss U of H

Guest Posts, University Archives

Jenna Guinn, practicum student from the University of North Texas, shares research and resources related to history of Shasta, the cougar mascot for the University of Houston.

If you attend a UH football game, you will most definitely see the university’s costumed mascot, Shasta the Cougar, doing push ups on the sidelines with each new point scored. However, it wasn’t too long ago that spectators would see a live cougar prowling the sidelines accompanied by her Cougar Guard. Between 1947 and 1989, five live female cougars held the position of the University of Houston’s mascot.

The choice of a cougar as the university’s mascot can be attributed to John R. Bender, who arrived at the university in 1927 as a volunteer football coach. Bender, the former head coach for the Washington State Cougars, held the animal in high regard and suggested naming the university’s new football team after the animal. The student newspaper and student organizations quickly adopted the name. In 1946, the cougar was named the official mascot of the University of Houston.

The Cougar Guard poses with Shasta I for a yearbook photo. (Houstonian)

In 1947,  the Alpha Phi Omega fraternity purchased a cougar from a wildlife preserve under the condition that students at the university could crowdfund for the cougar’s cage and habitat. Articles about the crowdfunding efforts and excitement for the cougar’s arrival abound in the university’s newspaper, The Cougar, from the time period. The students were able to raise enough money, and sure enough, the cougar arrived by plane on October 17, 1947 just in time to attend her first football game the next day. A contest to choose a name for the new mascot was underway shortly after her arrival. Among 225 entries, student Joe Randol won the contest with the following submission: “Shasta (She has to). Shasta have a cage, Shasta have a keeper, Shasta have a winning ball club, Shasta have the best.” Alpha Phi Omega created the Cougar Guard, a select group of members that were responsible for Shasta’s care.

Shasta Ⅰ was not only the university’s first mascot. Serving from 1947-1962 she also held the post for the longest of all the cougars. Shasta Ⅰ lived at the Hermann Park Zoo and attended sporting events chaperoned by the Cougar Guard. In 1953, she was involved in an accident and lost one of her front toes on the way to a game. Tradition says that the opposing team, the University of Texas, mocked UH by imitating the injury. The Cougars, however, adopted the gesture as a symbol of pride and now at game time, Cougar fans show their support by making the “cougar sign,” folding the ring finger of the right hand toward the palm. Shasta Ⅰ also had three cubs: Tom Jr, Shorty, and Hasta, all of whom made an appearances in the pages of the Houstonian from time to time. Shasta Ⅰ retired in 1962.

The debut of Shasta II next to a photo of her predecessor. (Houstonian)

Shasta Ⅱ was the university’s mascot from 1962-1965. She made her debut at just 5 weeks old at an October 1960 pep rally, and was in training until Shasta Ⅰ  retired, at 14 years old. She had the shortest reign due to unruly, predictably cougar-like, behavior. A November 1964 article in The Cougar stated, “Although Shasta is bad-tempered, she is appreciated by the students.  Besides, cougars are supposed to be mean. The students would like to see the meanness rub off on the UH football team.” She was the first cougar to reside on campus full time in Shasta’s Den, a small enclosure located in the southeast corner of Lynn Eusan Park. Shasta Ⅱ was retired to the Waco Zoo at 5 years old.

Shasta III, “The Lady,” rests in her on-campus enclosure. (Houstonian)

Shasta Ⅲ, a.k.a. “The Lady” served from 1965-1977, and may have been the most famous of all the university’s cougars. Along with being the university’s mascot,  “The Lady” was featured in commercial spots for American Motors. Shasta Ⅲ made her mascot debut during the November 6, 1965 homecoming game. She became an official alumnus in 1977 and retired due to worsening arthritis. Shasta was pulled around the Astrodome in her wagon one last time during the UH Homecoming Game. An anonymous donation of $7,000 was made for a second enclosure for Shasta Ⅳ, so that Shasta Ⅲ could remain in her enclosure on campus. Shasta Ⅲ was one of the most beloved cougars that ever prowled university grounds, she even graces the 1975 cover of the Houstonian.

Shasta Ⅳ, a.k.a. “Baby Shasta” was promoted to university mascot when she was just 11 weeks old in 1977. However, when “Baby” grew up, the Cougar Guard could not control her, much like her predecessor Shasta Ⅱ. “Baby Shasta” retired in 1980 at the young age of three. Shasta Ⅳ did make a lasting impression on one of the Cougar Guard members charged with her care. Justin Leiber, an author, philosopher, and graduate of the University of Houston, was so impressed by Shasta Ⅳ that he made her a recurring character in two of his science fiction novels. An article in the 1989 Houstonian details their close relationship. 

Shasta III and Shasta IV share reside together in their on-campus enclosure after an anonymous donation was made to expand the enclosure. (Houstonian)

Shasta Ⅴ made her debut on November 4, 1980. She held the position of beloved mascot for nine years when she was euthanized due to kidney failure in 1989. When Shasta Ⅴ’s reign came to an end there was much discussion over the ethics of housing a wild animal on campus and controversy amongst staff and students over the size of Shasta’s Den and her quality of life. There were even attempts to fundraise for a larger enclosure before Shasta Ⅴ’s passing. In 1989 Interim President George Magner ruled that the tradition of a live mascot would end with the death of Shasta , bringing a 42 year tradition to an end. The decision was made based on liability, funds, and animal exploitation/rights. However, the decision went against the majority opinion of the students at the time.

Shasta V appears in an article in the 1988 Houstonian debating the ethics of keeping a wild cougar on campus. (Houstonian)

Shasta VI calls the Houston Zoo his home. (Houston Zoo)

It would be 22 years before UH was blessed with another iteration of Shasta. In 2011, the Houston Zoo rescued a cougar cub whose mother had been illegally killed in Washington State. How fitting that Shasta Ⅵ would come from the very place that inspired John R. Bender back in 1927. The zoo entered into a partnership with UH Alumni Association and on March 24, 2012 Shasta Ⅵ was introduced to the public and became an ambassador for the university. Shasta Ⅵ is the first live male cougar mascot. While Shasta Ⅵ resides exclusively at the Houston Zoo, he does attend important university events…via webcam. Before the biannual ring ceremonies, class rings spend the night in the cougar habitat to be blessed by Shasta. Students can visit Shasta Ⅵ at the zoo for free with a student ID.

The University of Houston’s Specially Collections Department has many resources that highlight Shasta Ⅰ-Ⅴ, including pictures and articles in archived versions of The Cougar and Houstonian.

Newly Digitized KUHT Films Now Online

Digitization, KUHT Collection, University Archives

Dr. H. Burr Roney teaches telecourse in Biology, 1953.

University of Houston Libraries Special Collections is pleased to announce the recent addition of 112 digitized films from the KUHT Film and Video Collection to the Audio/Video Repository. The films, dating between 1953 and the 1970s were digitized with the generous support of the CLIR Recordings at Risk grant. These films represent some of KUHT-TV’s earliest productions and include examples of the United State’s nascent educational and public television system.

After twelve years experience in Hollywood Arnold Bergene joined KUHT as an editor.

KUHT’s first aircheck took place on May 25, 1953. The station began broadcasting the following month, making it the United States’ first educational, non-profit television station to go on air. KUHT was a pioneering influence in the field of “tele-education,” creating for-credit college courses. Included in these recently digitized materials are several of Dr. H. Burr Roney’s biology courses, which went on the air in the station’s first year. By 1958, the freshman biology telecourse “had the greatest enrollment of any standard college course given by television at any school in the nation.” ¹

In the 1960s, KUHT moved away from the production of for-credit college courses but continued to produce elementary education programs in partnership with the Houston Independent School District, as well as content for the enrichment of all viewers. Many KUHT productions documented the activities of the University of Houston and the Gulf Coast region.

Highlights include from the recently digitized materials include:

(more…)

Eleanor Roosevelt Stops By KUHT

KUHT Collection, University Archives

Eleanor Roosevelt appears on KUHT’s University Forum (1955)

In 1955 KUHT welcomed a very special guest to their studio on the University of Houston campus. Eleanor Roosevelt, who had stepped down from her role as the first United States Representative to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights two years earlier,¹ was visiting Houston to speak at a luncheon sponsored by the American Association of the United Nations Association. During her brief visit, Roosevelt found time to make an appearance on KUHT’s University Forum, a panel discussion show that was simulcasted on television and KUHF-FM on Friday evenings to a typical audience of 120,000 – almost 20% of the Houston population. Hosted by KUHT founder John C. Schwarzwalder, the show was the only local affairs show that discussed international affairs.²

Roosevelt’s stop in Houston was featured in her daily newspaper column, My Day, which was syndicated six days a week from 1935 to 1962. She comments on the merits of the University of Houston’s television program, the prominence of beef on the dinner menu, and the landscape around Houston.

Jan 12: After the television program on which we appeared at the University in Houston on Saturday we came back to the hotel and had a steak dinner because that seemed to be expected of us. They put on the menu four different kinds of beef.
It was interesting to see the program at the university directed by a girl student. The cameras and all other equipment also were managed by students. A faculty advisor was there and, of course, our moderator was the head of the department. This is very good training and the authorities at the university are proud that they sent 76 of their graduates into commercial positions this past year.
The country just outside Houston is rather gloomy, I thought, flat and very unattractive. As you progress on your journey (Added: toward Dallas), however, you find a little more rolling country and it looks more friendly. Most of the land which is not occupied by oil fields is grazing ground for cattle.

To learn more about Roosevelt’s trip to Houston, check out the Rice History Corner blog posts (and comments!), The Great Eleanor Roosevelt Mystery Solved! and “our day in Houston was a very successful one, 1955”.
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¹ “United States Ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Council,” Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Ambassador_to_the_United_Nations_Human_Rights_Council

² Hawes, W. (1996). Public television: Americas first station: An intimate account. Santa Fe (N.M.): Sunstone Press. pg. 44.

True We’ll Ever Be!

Guest Posts, University Archives

Karla A. Lira is a Ph.D. History student at the University of Houston. Lira’s research focuses on multi-racial dynamics of Latinos and Blacks in the space of Basketball during the 1960s. Her current project, “True We’ll Ever Be,” sheds light on the social relations Latinos and Blacks had in the city of Houston and the University of Houston Basketball Program through oral interviews. She was kind enough to share some of her research with us below.

“And to thy memory cherished, True we’ll ever be.”

HOUSTON, March 2019 — After the Spirit of Houston band finished the last stanza, first comes Galen Robinson Jr., then Armoni Brooks, followed by Corey Davis Jr., and the rest of the Men’s Basketball team to “The Cage,” the specially designated courtside student seating section, to high five all the student fans in a new cougar tradition. Black, Latino, Asian, all races celebrate together at the Fertitta Center as the University of Houston, one of the most diverse universities in the nation, celebrates another victory.

This freedom of celebration, race inclusion, and community was not always the case.

from the UH Alumni Federation Basketball Appreciation Dinner program (1966), Athletics Department Records

from the UH Alumni Federation Basketball Appreciation Dinner program (1966), Athletics Department Records

In 1962, the university integrated and signed the first African-Americans, Elvin Hayes and Don Chaney to play basketball. The social transition was eased by various people including Coach Guy V. Lewis, Harvey Pate, and student manager Howard Lorch. These individuals challenged the societal prejudice against the Black community. As Elvin “BIG E” Hayes recalled, student athletes such as Don Chaney, Warren McVea, and others helped create this integrated environment which everyone can enjoy.

Because of Houston’s unique history of desegregation and racial dynamics, I am researching Latinos in the basketball sphere. I am building my research on Katherine Lopez’s Cougars of Any Color: The Integration of University of Houston Athletics, 1964-1968, which emphasizes the many facets of racial integration at the university’s athletics program in the 1960s. I am also using The University of Houston Athletics Department Records in Special Collections where I have found pamphlets, donor records, and program guides that have uncovered race relations during the Civil Rights Era at University of Houston. My research breaks the Black and white racial dynamics by adding Latinos into the conversation.

The hardships of Hayes, Chaney, and McVea’s experience have set the pathway for diverse athletes to be here. This 2019 season is special. The UH Men’s Basketball Team won the regular season American Athletic conference championship, were the first to make it to the NCAA Sweet 16 since the Phi Slama Jama reign, were the first in the history of the institution to host ESPN’s College Game Day, and were one of the seven teams chosen by the NCAA to be part of their March Madness Confidential Series. The Cougars broke several records; Corey Davis Jr. has scored more than 1,000 points, making him the 48th player to accomplish this at the institution. The eccentric senior, Galen Robinson Jr. has triumphed in over 100 victories during his time in the Cougar uniform and is still counting.

With March Madness reaching its crescendo, it is important to give credit and acknowledge those that broke the racial barrier and made it possible for student athletes, coaches, staff, and students to come together and enjoy this communal winning moment.  Go Coogs!

Special thanks to Elvin Hayes and Howard Lorch. Your kindness is felt.

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