All That Jazz: UHD Kicks Off 50th Anniversary Year
By Marie Jacinto
Last month UHD officially launched its 50th-anniversary year with two major events; proclamations from federal and state elected officials; and front-page headlines in the Houston Chronicle. (If you missed them, check out our video recordings for the Kickoff and An Evening of Jazz.)
The UHD Drumline and cheerleaders generated electricity and a catchy beat to open the 50th Anniversary Kickoff celebration on Thursday, Jan. 25. KHOU 11 Weekend Anchor and Reporter Marcelino Benito, who is the proud husband of recent UHD grad Rafaella Azevedo Benito, emceed the fast-paced event. Dr. Gene Preuss was on hand with the history of the University; Alumni Council President JB Bobbitt looked back to 1974; and a friendly game of UHD Family Feud brought Gators together over UHD trivia.
During the event, President Loren J. Blanchard elicited applause from the crowd in the Roberston Auditorium and made front-page news as he revealed plans for UHD’s future. “The 50th anniversary is an important milestone for our university, prompting us to look at our past in anticipation of our future,” said Blanchard. “The future University of Houston-Downtown has a much larger geographical footprint.”
“We’ve been working on a campus master plan that dovetails with TxDOT’s highway improvement project,” explained Blanchard. “Now, with the North Houston Highway Improvement Project set to commence in 2027, we are gearing up to implement our plan for an expanded campus that is not split in half by I-45 and I-10 and that extends into the warehouse district. The future UHD has a cohesive, pedestrian-friendly campus with increased green space, adequate parking, and additional buildings that support a more dynamic academic environment and residential housing.”
“The future UHD has considerably more academic programming at both the undergraduate and graduate levels,” added Blanchard. “The first of these new programs – a Master of Science in social work and a Bachelor of Science in Cybersecurity – are already emerging.” He shared that plans are underway to propose a new B.S. degree in Manufacturing and Process Engineering Technology, a B.A. in Translation, and additional programming in Computer Science, Engineering, Artificial Intelligence, Public Administration, and Green Technology.
The event included a performance by vocalist Julie Wilson accompanied by pianist John Torres—a sneak peek preview for An Evening of Jazz, to come on Tuesday, Jan.27. That event, with the full Houston Civic Jazz Orchestra, was a free, open to the public concert in celebration of UHD’s 50 years. Professor of Art and O’Kane Gallery Director Mark Cervenka welcomed the audience and introduced State Representative Christina Morales, who told the crowd that UHD was in the very center of District 145. “I am so proud to represent this university in the state legislature and to offer the very first resolution this year—for your anniversary,” said Morales. U.S. Representative Sheila Jackson Lee and State Senator Carol Alvarado also sent their best wishes and proclamations for UHD’s 50th.
Right from the start, beginning with Duke Ellington’s “Caravan” followed by Count Basie’s “Second Time Around” and “Li’l Darlin’,” the orchestra had the audience in the palm of its hand. Ms. Wilson, co-director and widow of Professor Robert Wilson, founder of the UHD Civic Jazz Orchestra (later to become the Houston Civic Jazz Orchestra), shared her love of jazz and her pride of UHD through her effortless renditions of such favorites as “Orange Colored Sky,” “God Bless the Child,” and “Mack the Knife,” performed with her sweet yet sultry vocal stylings. Vice President of Advancement and University Relations Jay Zambrano closed the evening, thanking everyone for attending the celebratory event filled with a pre-concert reception, a Q-and-A with co-directors Wilson and Dr. Sam Jackson, and jazz from the Great American Songbook.
And that’s just the beginning for a year filled with celebrations, special events, and unforgettable performances—all in honor of 50 years of UHD. Check at the schedule and mark your calendar to join the festivities!
The University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) is the second-largest university in Houston and has served the educational needs of the nation’s fourth-largest city since 1974. As one of four distinct public universities in the University of Houston System, UHD is a comprehensive, four-year university led by President Loren J. Blanchard. Annually, UHD educates approximately 14,000 students, boasts more than 66,000 alumni, and offers 45 bachelor’s degrees, 12 master’s degrees, and 19 online programs within four colleges: Marilyn Davies College of Business, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, College of Public Service, and College of Sciences and Technology. UHD has one of the lowest tuition rates in Texas.
U.S. News and World Report ranked UHD among the nation’s Best Online Bachelor’s Programs for Applied Administration and Best Online Master’s Programs in Criminal Justice, as well as a Top Performer in Social Mobility. The Wall Street Journal/College Pulse ranked UHD one of the best colleges in the U.S. for its 2024 rankings, with notable distinctions: No. 1 for diversity (tied) and No. 3 for student experience. The University is designated as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, a Minority-Serving Institution, and a Military Friendly School. For more information on the University of Houston-Downtown, visit uhd.edu.