School of Undergraduate Studies Brings Interdisciplinary Experience to First-Year Students

Think Ted Talk. Now, add first-year students and renowned faculty from UT Austin, and you have the University Lecture Series (ULS), a program designed to create a cross-disciplinary conversation for new students. Created by the School of Undergraduate Studies (UGS) in 2007, the ULS brings together faculty members across departments and disciplines to provide multiple perspectives on one topic in a large lecture-style series.

Patricia Moran Micks, assistant dean and director of the First-Year Experience, explained that the program is “about making an interdisciplinary experience accessible to first-year students.”

“One big piece of the University Lecture Series is to make sure students see the important work that is being done here and also to make it where these faculty members are approachable,” added Micks.

UGS had several important goals in mind when they conceptualized the program. One was to ensure new students have access to the university’s renowned faculty – who are leaders in their research, fields, and community – regardless of their major coursework. These types of lectures are often available to graduate students, but it was important to broaden what first-year students are exposed to. Another goal was to help build connectedness among first-year students in a way that’s unique to the academic reputation of the university.

“The only experience students at other universities usually have in common are athletic events.  At UT, thanks to ULS, the first-year class also has a thought-provoking academic experience in common, one that catalyzes interesting conversations about important and timely topics,” added Brent Iverson, dean of UGS.

In a video promoting the program, Richard J. Reddick, professor in the College of Education, describes the ULS as a rite of passage that “merges all the great things about the university experiences with academic prestige, but also community and connection.” He added, “I think it’s such a wonderful, plenary experience for our students. They’ve just gotten to the university. They are just figuring out how this thing works. The University Lecture Series comes up and they feel connected.”

Micks shared an example of a 2011 series on “Research that Changes the World” that featured three faculty speaking on their scholarship and how research is done in different fields.

“A lot of times new students think about research as lab coats, test tubes and beakers. So, we’ll have someone talk about the research they do in the STEM field but we also invite someone from social sciences or social work. What does it look like to do research in that way? We had someone from the humanities, an English professor who runs the Shakespeare in Windale Program talk about doing research before you perform a piece so that you know about the character and the history of that,” said Micks.

Traditionally a two-day event held every fall at Bass Concert Hall with more intimate talks in the spring, the ULS recently held a live virtual event with Liberal Arts Instructional Technology Services to maintain accessibility.

Topics are normally broad and sometimes focus on current events. The topics of this fall were structured differently and centered on COVID-19, Racial Justice and Disrupted EDU. The topics for the spring will focus on Health & Wellness.

To learn more about the ULS and watch previous lectures, you can visit the official website.

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