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McCormick addresses Fall 2009 COS graduates

René McCormick addresses the Fall 2009 College of Science graduating class
René McCormick addresses the Fall 2009 College of Science graduating class

The College of Science awarded degrees to 164 undergraduate, 27 master's and 15 doctoral candidates during Fall 2009 commencement ceremonies on December 14 at Texas Hall.

René McCormick, a UT Arlington alumna who earned a bachelor's degree in biology in 1983 and a master's in interdisciplinary studies in 2007, delivered the commencement address. She has been involved in education for over a quarter century and is curriculum director for the National Math and Science Initiative, which was created to address the decline in the number of U.S. students who are prepared for challenging college coursework in science and math.

Text of McCormick's commencement address:

Thank you, Dean Jansma, for the kind introduction. I am truly honored to be here speaking to you today.

I was asked here today primarily because I am a product of public education in the Arlington area and most importantly, because I've been described as a UT Arlington junkie since I've attended classes at this very university in the '70s, '80s, '90s and 2000s.

I've attended both undergraduate and graduate classes in biology, chemistry and physics, so it is a real treat for me to surrounded by so many of "my kind".

My connection to UT Arlington began before I was born and spans three generations. My father earned his degree from Arlington State College prior to it becoming UTA in 1967. I entered UTA declaring a major in biology at the ripe old age of 17 just after graduating from Bowie High School here in Arlington.

Why did I choose biology? Because of an inspirational Arlington ISD biology teacher named Betty McNallen. But the better question is, why did I stick with biology? Because of an inspirational UTA professor named Dr. Robert Neill. I hope many of you have been fortunate enough to be in his classes. I consider myself lucky that he was my advisor throughout my undergraduate years here at UTA.

The best question though is, why did I stop despising chemistry and grow to love it so much so that my first graduate degree was in chemistry? Because of an inspirational chemistry professor here at UTA named Dr. Richard Timmons. Dr. Timmons possesses the gift of clarity. I graduated from UTA the first time with a B.S. in Biology in August of 1983. I started my career as a science educator in Grand Prairie the very next day. The second time I graduated from UT Arlington was in 2007 with an M.A. in Interdisciplinary Science in the very same semester my daughter earned her B.S. in Biology, to keep her mama happy and the UTA tradition alive. That was 48 hours before accepting my current position as Curriculum Director for the National Math and Science Initiative.

My UTA science degrees have served me well. However, I do have to share with you that my biggest complaint with the university over the past four decades is that they keep building new academic buildings on my favorite parking lots!

Seriously though, I am most honored to speak to you today, this day, this very day that you will remember as one of those rare, life-defining days. Because it is on this day that you have earned something that no one can ever take from you.

On this day, you have earned a college degree. Oh, and it is not just any college degree - but specifically a College of Science degree from one of the finest institutions of higher learning this great country has to offer. Having said that, it is time to take a moment and talk about next steps. Some of you may already have job offers, some of you may be active! searching for a job and others among you may be headed to graduate school. No matter which endeavor you are currently exploring, know that your UTA science degree will serve you well. Present it to potential employers with confidence since earning a science degree indicates much that is positive about you, as a future employee.

First, having a College of Science degree from UTA indicates that you are fearless - I'm sure you have friends that are not science majors, thus you are most likely aware there were alternate degree paths available to you. Admittedly, some of those alternate paths could even be described as paths of least resistance. It's OK to admit that you didn't follow one of those paths since you embrace a challenge. Employers love that.

Secondly, it indicates that you have an ability to set a long term goal and most importantly, achieve it. Your determination is even more evident if it took you a couple of stops and starts along the journey to this degree. It speaks to your character and determination and the fact that you never lose sight of a goal. It is a positive rather than a negative and employers love that.

Next, having a science degree indicates that you are a problem solver. A natural problem solver, as well as a person schooled in problem solving. And yes, employers love that, too.

Finally, it speaks to the fact that you are an innovator, which is most important. It is well documented that America is falling behind with regard to the number of science majors our universities are graduating and that we are no longer the global leaders with regard to innovation we once were.

You are an innovator. One that has earned this science degree at a time when we know more science than we have ever known, but sadly, teach less science in our public high schools than we have ever taught. You earned a College of Science degree from the University of Texas at Arlington in spite of that.

Which in exactly why I leave you today with a challenge. Continue to be the innovators. Be the graduating class that proves the popular press wrong when they describe our youth as the first American generation that to earn less than their parents.

From this day forward you are forever a UT Arlington College of Science graduate and most importantly a UTA Maverick, which is defined as someone who exhibits great independence in thought and action.

You are that Maverick today, the challenge is to always be that Maverick. When I see you again in the future, I hope it is because you are sitting next to me in graduate classes during my fifth decade as a UTA Maverick.

Thank you.