UHV faculty lecture series to explore how to survive on Mars

When “The Martian” was selected as the University of Houston-Victoria Community of Readers book, Keith Akins knew there would be some interesting discussions along the way.

Keith Akins

“The book is not just about the technical side of surviving on Mars,” said Akins, a UHV associate professor of criminal justice and director of the First-Year Seminar. “It’s a real, interdisciplinary look at what it takes to make the decision to survive, and our faculty members are going to explore that subject from their individual areas of expertise.”

Seven UHV faculty members will give presentations examining education, literature, mathematics, physics and chemistry, and how those disciplines relate to the story of a lone astronaut stranded on the red planet and struggling for survival. The lectures begin Tuesday and are free and open to the public.

“The Martian” tells the story of astronaut Mark Watney, who becomes stranded on Mars when his team has to perform an emergency evacuation because of a dust cloud. Watney is injured during the evacuation and presumed dead. Left alone and initially unable to contact anyone, Watney has to find a way to communicate with Earth and survive until the next Mars mission is scheduled to arrive. Meanwhile, officials at NASA must scramble to find a way to bring Watney home before his food resources run out.

The Community of Readers program is designed to establish a common reading experience between first-year students and the larger community. Everyone is asked to read a book that can provide cross-disciplinary perspectives, generate discussion and foster the exchange of diverse ideas. Lessons from the book are incorporated into lectures, projects and events during the fall semester.

Amanda Breu

“The Martian” was chosen partly because of its in-depth inclusion of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, said Amanda Breu, UHV instruction and outreach librarian. However, the story also lends itself to discussions about psychology, ethics, philosophy and more.

“When examining the overall story of ‘The Martian,’ STEM topics play an instrumental role, but there’s more involved than typical science,” Breu said. “The reader is privy to discussions about social issues, government policies and budgets in terms of scientific discovery and the psychology of surviving alone.”

All of the speakers are members of the UHV School of Arts & Sciences unless otherwise noted. The lectures will begin at 5:30 p.m. in the UHV University West Alcorn Auditorium, 3007 N. Ben Wilson St.:

  • Sept. 27 – “Get Your Hands Dirty: Grit, Growth Mindset and Academic Success,” Joann Olson, education assistant professor, School of Education, Health Professions & Human Development
  • Sept. 28 – “Marvelous Math in Mars,” Ricardo Teixeira, mathematics assistant professor and director of the core curriculum and math program
  • Oct. 11 – “The New Robinson Crusoe: The Martian, Exile and Popular Culture,” Jeff Cass, English professor
  • Oct. 12 – A discussion about the mental and emotional challenges of being alone for extended periods of time, Linda Autry, education assistant professor, School of Education, Health Professions & Human Development
  • Nov. 1 – “Fact and Fiction: The Physics of “The Martian,” Brad Button, physics assistant professor
  • Nov. 2 – “Message in Numbers,” Jang Woo Park, mathematics assistant professor
  • Nov. 9 – “Chemistry on the Red Planet,” Sandy Venneman, psychology and biology professor

The Community of Readers is primarily for first-year students taking the freshman seminar course. Community members can purchase the book online or check out the book from the VC/UHV Library or the Victoria Public Library.

The University of Houston-Victoria, located in the heart of the Coastal Bend region since 1973 in Victoria, Texas, offers courses leading to more than 80 academic programs in the schools of Arts & Sciences; Business Administration; and Education, Health Professions & Human Development. UHV provides face-to-face classes at its Victoria campus, as well as an instructional site in Katy, Texas, and online classes that students can take from anywhere. UHV supports the American Association of State Colleges and Universities Opportunities for All initiative to increase awareness about state colleges and universities and the important role they have in providing a high-quality and accessible education to an increasingly diverse student population, as well as contributing to regional and state economic development.