School of Undergraduate Studies established

Studying marine environments in Port Aransas and creating a color wheel with fresh produce are some of the innovative and interactive ways first-year students are learning through courses offered by the Office of Undergraduate Studies.

Students will now have even more opportunities to flourish during their first year at the university as the office becomes the new School of Undergraduate Studies today.

The school will be led by Professor Paul B. Woodruff, who became inaugural dean of undergraduate studies in fall 2006. It will be the initial home for students who choose not to select another college or school before the beginning of the first year and for those who are admitted to the university but not into the majors they have chosen.

The school will offer special advising resources to help new students explore potential majors before making a selection and to support continuing students who are considering a change of major.

The School of Undergraduate Studies will accept its first cohort of students in fall 2009.

The school will also develop a new central advising center, the Center for Strategic Advising, which will work closely with other advising units across campus and collaborate with existing Undergraduate Studies initiatives to provide students with opportunities to explore their academic and career interests. One of these initiatives is signature courses, designed to help students mature intellectually from promising high school students to good college students.

The first signature course debuted in fall 2006 with Jay Banner, a geochemistry professor in the Jackson School of Geosciences, and Dave Allen, a chemical engineering professor, collaborating on "Sustaining a Planet." It was an instant hit among students who thrived on the daily activities and discussion with fellow students and the professors.

"It isn't your average science course where you just memorize facts and regurgitate them," said Grace Wang. "This class really forces you to think outside the box."

Banner said he thinks the class is so popular because "the topic is of current interest to many people, the interdisciplinary approach to the topic, the engagement of students in a large format course through discussion sections, field trips and the portfolio project."

The class succeeds in the mission of all signature courses to introduce first-year students to the best the university has to offer and, at the same time, to help them develop college-level skills in research, writing, speaking and discussion.

"It gives students an early overview of different ways they can pursue their interests in sustainability and the environment at UT Austin. It also gets them going on thinking about society-relevant issues," Banner said.

Government junior Tyler Levy will be a peer mentor in Professor Cory Reed's fall signature course, "Cultures in Contact: Spain, Mexico and the Southwest."

Levy said he wanted to get involved with the program to help incoming freshmen make the transition from high school life to college life.

"I know that during my first year at UT, I was somewhat overwhelmed by the immediate increase of responsibility in and outside of the classroom setting," he said. "I want to pass the knowledge I've gained to new students."

He expects the program to enhance his university experience as well.

"From this experience," he said, "I believe that I will learn not only from the course material, but also from the students and enhance vital communication skills that will help me throughout my life."

School of Architecture Professor Nancy Kwallek is gearing up to teach "Living Color: Science, Art, Architecture and Culture" in the fall with Professor Luanne Stovall.

The professors introduced the signature course in fall 2007 as a way to investigate the interdisciplinary nature of the color field.

A highlight of the course for the professors was creating a color wheel using fresh produce donated by a local market called "Living Color Harvest Mandala," which celebrated color and life.

"Students, faculty and the university community were invited to join in for the creationdesigned to celebrate unity through diversity and the natural bounty of the harvest season," Kwallek said. "At the end of the day, the Mandala was dismantled, boxed up and donated to the local food bank."

The School of Undergraduate Studies will offer 99 signature courses in fall 2008 and 26 in spring 2009. For more information visit