Assistant Director for Special Gifts and Constituent Relations
DAAD German Studies Short-term Research Grant, summer 2014
Bruton Fellowship, The Graduate School, UT Austin
2013-14, UT Austin Green Fee Grant
UTSOA Travel Grant

Shannon is a 2015 graduate of UTSOA's Sustainable Design Program.  She also holds a BA in Geography from the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Texas at Austin. Shannon previously worked at Texan by Nature, a non-profit founded by former First Lady Laura Bush, where she managed several successful land and habitat conservation programs.   

As a graduate student, Shannon researched water conservation initiatives in Texas as well as the beautification policies of Lady Bird Johnson and the Johnson Administration.  She previously worked at the School of Architecture’s Center for Sustainable Development and interned with the Ecological Design Group at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.  

In her role as assistant director, Shannon will manage the affairs of the advisory council, oversee donor and volunteer relations and the operations of the school’s development office, and spearhead fundraising for special gifts programs, including Friends of Architecture the Goldsmith Society.  Given her background and academic interests, Shannon will also have an important role in fundraising for sustainability-related projects and programs, an area that is emerging as a focal point for many UT-wide initiatives. 
 

Education

  • The University of Texas at Austin

Publications

Austin American Statesman – Dec. 23, 2014 - OTHERS SAY
 Water districts save us from selves
SHANNON C. HARRIS
Special Contributor
   Some have argued that local regulatory entities exercise too much power when it comes to groundwater in Texas. This is incorrect. Water is not just another commodity. It is vital to life, and it needs to be closely watched and regulated.
 
   It is true there is substantial water available in some aquifers, but what is totally ignored is how much annually can be withdrawn in relation to the projected yearly rainfall recharge that the aquifers need in order to sustain themselves. Groundwater conservation districts were created to make those determinations based on good science. Different districts will operate differently because no two aquifers were created equal. Water in Texas is diverse and site-specific. That is fact, not politics.
 
   For instance, the Lost Pines Groundwater Conservation District in Central Texas has placed five-year limits on water permits. This is both just and reasonable. The Lost Pines District is in an area of the state that is experiencing drought, just like the rest of the state. The district has prudently determined, based on data designed to keep the aquifer at sustainable levels, that this limit is justified.
 
   Developers and water marketers should take a common-sense lesson from this restriction and remember that in some parts of Texas, growth may be constrained because nature limits water resources.
 
   Groundwater supplies in Texas are not vast statewide, and there is solid data on some key aquifers being depleted. Texans reliant on the Ogallala Aquifer in the Panhandle portion of the state know this quite well. One of the state regional planning groups in this area has the most rigorous conservation plan in the state, designed to decrease dependency on the aquifer due to depletion.
 
   The aquifer drawdown in the Panhandle in 2013 ranged from half a foot to nearly two feet, which are large amounts, while annual recharge for this aquifer is known to be only half an inch or less in some areas.
 
   Groundwater levels elsewhere in Texas are also suffering drawdown that, while perhaps related to the drought, provide solid evidence about the need to conserve when allowing long-term contracts for water that may or may not be available. The Edwards Aquifer in San Antonio is in Stage Four rationing, one level short of severe.
 
   Lake Travis, at 34 percent full, has not recovered despite near normal rainfall this year, and it is experiencing historically low inflows from the rivers and streams. IBesides runoff, groundwater springs help our rivers and streams flow and fill our reservoirs.
 
   Groundwater conservation districts are not-for-profit entities that have the interests of the general public in mind, not the interests of those intending to turn a profit on water for developing more of our ever-decreasing open landscapes. Water marketers with deep pockets are both greedy and irresponsible when they sue an individual district for just trying to do its job.
 
   If water marketers really want their businesses to continue, they should tweak their plans to focus on innovative thinking about other water strategies. Two examples are low-impact development incorporating green infrastructure and ecosystem services that could help mitigate most of the need for landscape water. Subdivision-wide rainwater harvesting projects could provide much of the needed water in some areas.
 
   But whatever happens, the power that groundwater conservation districts hold is needed and acceptable.

 

~Harris: Code Next needs Lady Bird’s vision to create tomorrow’s Austin
By Shannon Harris - Special to the American-Statesman
This week marks the 50th anniversary of the White House Conference on Natural Beauty.
The conference ultimately endorsed the principles that were later signed into law later that year by President Johnson as the National Highway Beautification Act and is part of the legacy of Lady Bird Johnson.
Those ideas were embodied in the term “beautification.” According to an account by Lady Bird Johnson, they used the term because, “We could never think of a better word!”
On this anniversary, we need to be reminded why the word, despite her misgivings, was perfect. In 1965, through her national platform, the first lady championed natural beauty as a way to stabilize social unrest and heal our major urban cities.
This notion was particularly salient in the turbulent years of the mid-1960s, and comes full circle today, given the recent unrest in cities like Baltimore. Lady Bird Johnson possessed an innate ability to relate to all people across social spectrums, and through this strength, her ideas spread. Today, physical beauty is associated with prestige and success. Such an elite view of attractiveness diminishes its potential. Mrs. Johnson’s vision was simple though profound: Natural beauty satisfies something deep within the soul and is an indispensable component of our collective health — economic, social, and ecological.
What Lady Bird Johnson knew was that the circumstances in which we live affect the dignity of man’s spirit. Creating acceptable surroundings implied concern for the total relationship between man and the world around him, an idea echoed in a message to Congress by President Johnson in February 1965.
Research has proven the first lady correct. We know now that unmaintained city infrastructure and spaces fall victim to crime, vandalism, and other events that promote abuse. Greener surroundings, in contrast, promote health. Frances E. Kuo from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who recently spoke at an Imagine Austin speakers’ forum, researches how the experience of nature in the city affects health.
Kuo supports Mrs. Johnson’s notion: When exposed to more greenery, psychological health improves. People are less violent, more supportive and generous. Imagine Austin’s vision statement reads, “As it approaches its 200th anniversary, Austin is a beacon of sustainability, social equity, and economic opportunity; where diversity and creativity are celebrated; where community needs and values are recognized; where leadership comes from its (residents), and where the necessities of life are affordable and accessible to all.”
Recent reports contradict some of these claims. Social and economic equity are still beyond the reach of many Austin residents. As a starting point to meeting the Imagine Austin goals, Code Next Advisory Groups should thoughtfully develop the City Council resolution that focuses on green infrastructure and sustainable water management.
Code Next activities grew out of the Imagine Austin process with the purpose of revising the land development code. This is important because a revised code will positively influence the entire natural ecology of the city. Other key actions consist of integrating existing plan initiatives that bring nature into the city, including prioritizing restoration areas and planning more spaces for parks, urban trails, green streets and conservation projects.
As a movement, “beautification” was not merely cosmetic. Washington leaders decided that it was critical to devote an entire White House Conference to the subject in 1965. The results expanded the national conception about the benefits and potential of renewed environments in American cities. Its ideas are echoed in today’s principles of sustainability. The intent of the “beautification” program persists: to improve lives and promote cooperation among Americans. As we remember Lady Bird Johnson’s achievements, it is appropriate to recall her positive effects on our cities and to utilize the Code Next process to gain improved health, lower crime rates, reduced stress and strengthen ecologically sound design that will give back to our residents as it matures.
Now, as in the 1960s, it will take more than greening our cities to solve current social issues; however, the Imagine Austin and Code Next processes have admirable goals that enhance social and economic equity. Green design and great design are not antithetical ideas. Nature itself teaches us that it is beautiful as well as beneficial.
Harris is a graduate student in the Sustainable Design Program in the School of Architecture at the University of Texas. She is researching Mrs. Johnson’s contribution to green design principles, as well as water conservation in Texas.

photo of Shannon Harris
  • auxiliary water technologies in the built environment; socio-technical relationships surrounding sustainable technologies; Texas wildflowers & landscape; opera
  • conservation, ecological restoration