Throughout the 2020 presidential election season, amid the riots in the halls of Congress and during the transition of power to a new president, journalists again and again turned to Rice for expert analysis. Rice historian Douglas Brinkley’s commentary during the storming of the nation’s Capitol provided context for a worldwide audience watching on CNN, and political scientists Mark Jones, Bob Stein and Paul Brace were quoted in dozens of media outlets. During the campaign and its aftermath, Rice’s name was mentioned more than 2,500 times in political and government stories by outlets as diverse as the New York Times, CNN, National Public Radio, Reuters and the Associated Press.
Shannon Walker ’87, a Baker College alumna and a former member of the Rice MOB, blasted into orbit aboard the first operational flight of the private Crew Dragon spacecraft. As she embarked on her journey to the International Space Station, television crews deployed outside Baker College watched students witnessing her launch on TV. Her Rice connection was touted by national and international media outlets like the New York Times, CNN and Associated Press as well as specialty publications like Discover and Astronomy.
Jupiter and Saturn aligned in the twilight sky during Christmas week to create a heavenly sight unseen since the Middle Ages. The rare conjunction made the solar system’s two largest worlds appear so close to each other they looked — to earthlings — like a double planet. A strategically timed news release made Rice astronomer Pat Hartigan one of the nation’s most widely quoted experts on this holiday week phenomenon, cited by such national media sources as the Washington Post, CNN, CBS News and USA Today, and London’s Daily Mail and Daily Mirror.
Rice News and Media Relations issued 450 news releases, expert alerts, media advisories and story pitches in 2020.
Of those 450 releases:
Research-related news releases: 158
Media advisories: 9
Expert alerts: 71
General, not research related: 212
For a full list of November and December media stars,
please see the last section of this report.
Government Relations closes out 2020, prepares for an active new year
As the end of the year approached, Government Relations spent a great deal of time analyzing the November elections at the state and federal levels to determine how Rice’s priorities might be impacted in the weeks and months ahead, after which we presented our analysis to several Rice community audiences. To help answer questions about evolving federal visa and immigration policies, we joined Dean Seiichi Matsuda and Adria Baker from the Office of International Students and Scholars in a panel discussion with numerous international students invited by the Graduate Student Association. We also continued our support for the Developing Civic Scientist Leaders program in the Baker Institute’s Science and Technology Policy Program by helping arrange congressional audiences with Rep. Sylvia Garcia and senior staff for Rep. Lizzie Fletcher to present the findings of “The Perils of Complacency: American at a Tipping Point in Science and Engineering,” a report from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Baker Institute.
In early December, in the culmination of a nearly two-yearlong plan, Government Relations helped lead the successful efforts by Rice’s OpenStax to have a national “model policy” on textbook cost transparency adopted unanimously by one of America’s largest nonpartisan, voluntary membership organizations for state legislators. We also helped build new relationships with state leaders, working with Rice’s President’s Office and our University Relations colleagues to successfully host a campus visit from our newly elected state representative, Ann Johnson. In addition to lobbying aggressively against a provision in the year-end pandemic relief bill that would restrict emergency education funding to certain private nonprofit universities, we also represented Rice in a virtual meeting with the chairman of the Texas Senate’s Committee on Higher Education as he explored the prospects of state legislation addressing student-athletes’ ability to transfer and to make money from the use of their names, images and likenesses. Finally, following her defeat in the November elections, we set aside some time just before Christmas to thank state Rep. Sarah Davis and recognize her decadelong representation of our district in the Texas House of Representatives.
Christmas Eve drive-in
Adapting to COVID-19 restrictions has been an adventure not only for the entire Rice campus, but also for nearby institutions. When Palmer Episcopal Church began to consider how they might safely hold their traditional Christmas Eve service, they turned to Rice for permission to erect an open-air stage in the Rice Stadium parking lot. Parishioners were invited to attend a “drive-in” event, where they could watch the service on a large video screen and listen via a broadcast over their car radios. More than 300 Palmer parishioners attended the service in person while others watched a livestream video broadcast, thanks to the help of University Relations, RUPD, Rice Parking and the Office of Campus Events.
Here comes Sammy Claus
Also in December, University Relations partnered with Rice Athletics, the Ion and the Office of Multicultural Affairs to help make the season bright for 15 area schools. Through a partnership with the College Football Playoff Foundation, Athletics secured $5,000 in gift cards from Michaels craft stores and the online crowdfunding platform Donors Choose. Rice sponsors helped distribute the gift cards to local elementary and intermediate schools, including an in-person appearance by “Sammy Claus” at Roberts Elementary and Blackshear Elementary. Sammy also presented a $1,000 prize to teacher Andrea Landry as part of an ongoing collaboration between Rice and Blackshear Elementary, which includes academic enrichment programs coordinated by the Multicultural Community Relations team and a nutrition program funded by the Ion in partnership with the Houston-based nonprofit Brighter Bites.
Welcome Center banners
Creative Services produced 13 new banners as part of the Welcome Center refresh. The banners display the names and crests for Rice University, the Graduate Student Association and each of the 11 residential colleges.
‘After RBG’ webinar promotion
Creative Services designed and edited a flyer to promote “After RBG: American Democracy and the Future of the Supreme Court,” a webinar hosted by the Program in Politics, Law and Social Thought. Two U.S. constitutional law scholars, Melissa Murray and Michael Klarman, shared their perspectives on the state of the Supreme Court and its relationship to American democracy.
Rice Feminist Seminar mark
Creative Services designed a branding mark for the Rice Feminist Seminar, an ongoing research project from the Center for the Study of Women, Gender and Sexuality that focuses on a different topic every few years. The inaugural topic of the 2019–2021 seminar is titled “Climates of Violence, Politics of Change.”
Multicultural Community Relations
Education during the pandemic
Representatives from Rice Athletics, the Houston Independent School District (HISD) and Rice’s Office of Enrollment spoke at the Nov. 4 quarterly K-12 Outreach Council meeting hosted by Multicultural Community Relations (MCR). Patrick Clark, director of ticket sales, and Ashley Landers, associate director for marketing for Rice Athletics, talked about the department’s growing outreach efforts to various independent school districts. Daniela “Dani” Hernandez, an HISD board member, discussed the challenges HISD is facing during the pandemic and how the district expects to achieve certain goals during these difficult times. Rice Vice President for Enrollment Yvonne Romero Da Silva explained how the pandemic has affected the admissions process at Rice.
Hispanics moving forward
MCR hosted the first in a series of webinar panel discussions about the status of the Latinx community. José Aranda, the Allison Sarofim Associate Professor for Distinguished Teaching in Humanities, focused on literature and writers. Ruth López Turley, director of the Houston Education Research Consortium (HERC) and the associate director of the Kinder Institute for Urban Research, talked about growing educational inequities by race and ethnicity and their impact on educational outcomes for Hispanics. Richard Tapia, the Maxfield-Oshman Professor in Engineering, discussed how Rice and the nation are doing in Hispanic representation in engineering and science. MCR Director David Medina moderated the discussion. More than 150 alumni, faculty, staff, students and community members, including people from New York, Dallas, San Antonio and McAllen, participated in the lively discussion.
Partnership with Blackshear Elementary continues to grow
The Shepherd School of Music’s Just for U Music Program (JUMP) entertained students from Blackshear Elementary, located in Third Ward, with a virtual concert Nov. 19. JUMP is an in-house educational program for Title I schools in Houston. Working with Blackshear librarian Rhonda Miller-Eaglin and Rice Associate Professor Janet Rarick, MCR helped the two groups plan a JUMP performance for fourth and fifth graders. In a separate event Dec. 14, Sammy the Owl presented Blackshear with a $1,000 check to support technology enhancement at the school. MCR collaborated with University Relations in selecting Blackshear for a grants project provided by Rice Athletics.
To give or not to give
On Nov. 12, David Medina spoke via Zoom about two books that shaped his life. He shared summaries of “Famine, Affluence and Morality” by Peter Singer and “A Decent Life: Morality for the Rest of Us” by Todd May, and then engaged the audience in a discussion on the ways people may understand their commitments to others. The talk, titled “Altruism: A Conversation,” was organized by Luis Duno-Gottberg, professor of Caribbean and film studies and chair of the Department of Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American Studies.
Marketing and Digital Communications
There was a drop in visits to the homepage due to the end of the term and holiday breaks. The total page views were 1,016,138, with visitors spending an average time of 4 minutes, 27 seconds on the site — which continues to show that visitors are finding the information they need.
November/December Page Views: 1,016,138 Average Time on Page: 4 minutes, 27 seconds Bounce Rate: 35.21%
As of Dec. 31, Public Affairs and the Office of Information Technology have successfully launched 227 Drupal 8 websites and completed the migration from Drupal 7 to Drupal 8. On Dec. 21, 2020, the Master of Computer Science homepage was relaunched with updated branding and a new user experience. The Rice Online homepage is also being revamped.
The two departments are also collaborating on an additional 27 new websites that have come into the Rice-branded theme. Some of the websites currently under development are:
Center for Engaged Research and Collaborative Learning (CERCL)
Ceremony (December graduation)
Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences
Glasscock School of Continuing Studies
KnOWLedge Café (Human Resources Intranet)
Office of Faculty Development (OFD)
Office of Institutional Effectiveness (OIE/OIR)
Office of the General Counsel (OGC)
Rice News and Media Relations
The Chemistry of Art
The Kinder Institute for Urban Research
VP for Administration (Kevin Kirby)
Impressions: This reflects the number of times the content was seen. Followers: This is the number of people who follow the main Rice accounts. Engagements: This reflects the number of interactions (likes, shares, comments, clicks, etc.) on a post.
In November and December, Rice’s social media channels received more than 2.5 million impressions and more than 112,000 engagements. Overall, Rice’s channels have a combined 223,553 followers (a 1.4% increase over the previous period (September and October).
Twitter followers increased to 38,193, a net change of 0.9%. The top tweet celebrated Mayor Sylvester Turner’s visit to Rice to award the university with the #earlyvotechallenge win. The tweet received 42,365 impressions, 272 likes and a 3.2% engagement rate. This was followed by a tweet sharing a photo of Baker College students watching Shannon Walker ’87 launch into space. The tweet earned 28,758 impressions, 189 likes and a 4.5% engagement rate.
Facebook followers increased to 58,069, a net change of 0.71%. The top post shared the news of Lyn Ragsdale’s passing in December with 2,183 engagements, 349 reactions and an 18% engagement rate. This was followed by the new student center architecture firm announcement with 1,812 engagements, 226 reactions and a 15.7% engagement rate.
LinkedIn followers increased to 88,402, a net change of 1.9%. The top LinkedIn post featured Rice’s Forbes 30 Under 30 list honorees and received 34,510 impressions, 488 reactions and a 6.1% engagement rate. This post was followed by news of a Rice team that won first prize at the Collegiate Inventors Competition. The post had 27,290 impressions, 465 engagements and a 3.2% engagement rate.
Instagram followers increased to 38,889, a net change of 2.05%. The top Instagram post welcomed early decision admits to the Class of 2025 and earned 24,755 impressions, 3,670 likes and a 15.3% engagement rate. Following that, our second-best performing post wrapped up the year with top photos from Instagram. The post received 22,704 impressions, 3,639 likes and a 16.4% engagement rate.
Patrick Hartigan, a professor of physics and astronomy, had the highest number of media mentions — 5,573 — during November and December, mainly for comments about the Dec. 21 event that saw Jupiter and Saturn appear like a “double planet” for the first time since the Middle Ages. Below are members of the Rice community who were mentioned in the media 10 or more times during November and December.
Kristian Coates Ulrichsen
José Iván Rodríguez-Sánchez
Katharine Neill Harris
Michelle Michot Foss
Elaine Howard Ecklund
Douglas Brinkley, the Katherine Tsanoff Brown Professor in Humanities, had the highest number of media mentions — 8,362 — in 2020. Below are members of the Rice community who were mentioned in the media 500 or more times in 2020.
Kristian Coates Ulrichsen
Elaine Howard Ecklund
The chart below shows Rice’s media mentions since 2007. The green column reflects the number of mentions through Dec. 31, 2020.