Emery Reifsnyder

Intern for KUT News

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Science
11:44 am
Fri May 18, 2012

At International Science Fair, Austin Whiz Kids Shine

The floor of the Intel ISEF, held in Pittsburg.
Photo courtesy societyforscience.org

Today is the final day of the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, the world’s largest pre-college science and engineering competition, with more than $3 million in awards and prizes.

Austin was well-represented at the Pittsburg-held ISEF, with several teens from area high schools vying for honors. KUT News talked to Michael Mann, an 18 year-old senior at Austin’s Westwood High School – and ISEF 2012 winner.

Mann’s project investigates the effects of the fungus Piriformospora indica on the water content and biomass of plant roots – or more simply, whether the fungus will cause a plant to grow more roots, enabling it to take in more nutrients and grow bigger and faster.

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Education
1:23 pm
Tue May 15, 2012

What’s the Value of Finishing High School? For Austin, It’s in the Millions

A report says communities can benefit greatly from increased high school graduation.
Photo courtesy flickr.com/nodivision

A high school diploma is touted as the bare minimum students need to achieve. And now a new study pegs the financial value of high school graduation to the Austin region’s economy.

The Alliance for Excellent Education, a Washington DC-based non-profit  focused on improving national graduation rates, has released a study detailing the effects on Austin’s regional economy if the amount of high school dropouts was cut in half – with benefits reaching into the millions.

It’s estimated that in the Austin-Round Rock Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), some 6,100 students dropped out of the class of 2010. Home to 45 schools, the Alliance says the region is one of the lowest performing in the nation, with 28 percent of high school students failing to graduate on time and with a regular diploma.

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Education
4:28 pm
Mon May 14, 2012

More Than a Movie: Crowd-Funded ‘Black Sun’ Seeks to Revitalize Interest in Science

A solar eclipse viewed from Bangalore, India in 2010.
Photo courtesy flickr.com/asifch

Merriam-Webster defines “eclipse” both as “the total or partial obscuring of one celestial body by another,” and “a falling into obscurity or decline.”

Dr. Jarita Holbrook hopes her new documentary about the former will prevent the latter from claiming young America’s interest in science.    

Dr. Holbrook is an astrophysicist, anthropologist and filmmaker. Her current project, “Black Sun,” is about two astrophysicists, Dr. Alphonse Sterling and Dr. Hakeem Oluseyi, and their journey around the world chasing solar eclipses. However, the film is about more than just two globetrotting scientists, it’s also about the revitalization of American youth’s interest in the STEM field –science, technology, engineering, and mathematics – and specifically, in minority communities.

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Austin Energy
12:17 pm
Mon May 14, 2012

Council Members Pitch New Austin Energy Rate Plan

Council member Bill Spelman, with colleagues Sheryl Cole and Chris Riley to his right, presented Austin Energy rate proposals this morning.
Photo by Emery Reifsnyder for KUT News

Is the long-deliberated redesign of Austin Energy electric rates coming to a close?

Three members of the Austin City Council – Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole, Chris Riley and Bill Spelman – seemingly hope so. The three held a press conference this morning to propose a new rate structure for the city utility, which they would like to take effect this fall.

“I wish we could wait another year or two before proposing higher electric rates, but we can’t,” said Spelman. While he admitted no one wants an increase in rates, the five-tier rate structure the group proposed – with rates increasing in amount as customers use more electricity – could allow for rates to be lowered in the future. For residential customers, the average rate increase will be reduced from 20 percent in the originally proposed plan to eight percent. A monthly fixed charge, originally proposed at $22, has been lowered to $10.

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Education
3:29 pm
Wed May 9, 2012

Gus Garcia on Education: 'Much More Work Needs to be Done'

Former school board member and Austin Mayor Gus Garcia at an event honoring him today.
Photo by Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

Political trailblazer Gus Garcia – the first Hispanic elected to the Austin ISD Board of Directors, and the city's first Hispanic mayor – was honored today.

Garcia has been a major force in Austin politics for decades. In 1972, he became the first Hispanic to be elected to the school board, coming into office with a list of “17 Demands for Quality Education.” Programs at today’s event, sponsored by the U.S. Hispanic Contractors Association, commemorated the 40th anniversary of his historic election.

Garcia’s colleague and keynote speaker, Ernest Perales, remarked on the difficulties the AISD board found itself in during the turmoil of the 1970s. Peralez called Gus Garcia “a hero” and praised his tenure on the board.

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Downtown
4:00 pm
Wed May 2, 2012

Making the Pitch for Waller Creek

A portion of existing Waller Creek development, near Sixth Street.
Photo courtesy Larry Miller, flickr.com/drmillerlg

Could Waller Creek – currently a flood-prone, trash-strewn downtown creek – ultimately stand along New York’s High Line Park and Chicago’s Millennium Park as a premier urban space?

That was one of the rosy assessments the Real Estate Council of Austin shared at a lunchtime talk about the future of the Waller Creek, and its potential as a central riverwalk-style district.

Plans for redeveloping Waller Creek have lurched along with little success dating back to the 1970s. Things began falling into place in 2007, when the city and the county developed a financing agreement to pay for the tunnel that would create a steady flow, and preventing flooding.

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Austin
12:16 pm
Wed May 2, 2012

What’s in the City’s $650 Million Bond Proposal?

New fire engine bays are among the items suggested for funding in a November bond election.
Callie Hernandez for KUT News

A few million dollars here, a few million there, and pretty soon, you’re talking real money.

The Bond Election Advisory Task Force is currently soliciting input on a bond package to send to voters this November. In February, city departments presented lists of projects and programs they would like to see funded. Since then, the committee has narrowed down an initial $1.49 billion of funding requests to just $650 million. (You can view the recommendations here.)

Tonight, May 2nd, and tomorrow, May 3rd, the task force is holding public forums it will use to further narrow its $650 million list. Here’s a look at what’s made the cut so far. 

City Facilities: About $117 million

Big Ticket Items: Fire Department– Fire Maintenance & Breathing Air Shops ($14,852,000)

This nearly $15 million would go towards “relocation of fire department fleet maintenance and breathing air shops from their 2011 E. 51st Street location.”

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Austin
2:56 pm
Tue May 1, 2012

Three Arts Projects in Bond Package – For Now

An artist's rendering of the proposed, $30 million Mexic-Arte Museum.
Image courtesy of Fernando Romero

The Mexic-Arte Museum is asking for $10 million in City of Austin bond money to finance the construction and design of a $30 million, six-story building downtown.

Designed by Mexican architect Fernando Romero, architect of the $70 million Soumaya Museum in Mexico City, the new Mexic-Arte Museum is designed to be 54,000 square feet, half of which will be leased as office space, the Austin American-Statesman reported on Monday.

The Statesman notes that in 2000, the museum received $740,000 to buy their current location at 419 Congress Ave. In 2006, the museum received $5 million in voter-approved bonds to design and construct a new facility on the Mexican American Cultural Center campus, and the museum announced that it would sell its existing building. But three years later, the museum canceled those plans and announced it would stay on Congress Avenue. The museum started thinking about building again in 2010, receiving $500,000 from the U.S. Department of Commerce.

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