Two hundred and eighty-six busloads of kids will hit the road to Austin on March 7. From El Paso and the Rio Grande Valley to East Texas and Plano, teachers and students from elementary schools, middle schools and high schools will be making the trek to Austin to participate in Explore UT: The Biggest Open House in Texas.
Tens of thousands of visitors, from infants to octogenarians, will descend upon the campus. The throngs of eager guests will include parents, teachers, K-12 kids and families of all shapes and sizes.
Two of the faces in the crowd, brothers Anthony and Ben, will be sharing the experience for the first time.
Ten-year-old Anthony and 30-year-old Ben share a love for The University of Texas at Austin. This Saturday, Ben will get the chance to share a defining experience with Anthony when they head to Explore UT together, something Ben volunteered for years ago.
Anthony, a 5th grader at Weiland Elementary School in Pflugerville, and Ben, a lawyer who practices civil litigation and appellate law, have spent the last three years helping to shape one another's lives.
Though the two brothers have many things in common, the one thing they don't share is a bloodline. Ben De Leon is Anthony's Big Brother through the Big Brothers Big Sisters program.
"Anthony and I have been paired together for three years," said Ben. "Anthony is a great kid and when I mentored him years ago while he was still at Oak Springs Elementary in East Austin we became friends. We've been spending time together ever since."
Ben graduated from The University of Texas at Austin in 2001 with a bachelor of science degree in corporation communication and a bachelor of arts degree in Spanish. In 2004 he received his doctor of jurisprudence degree from The University of Texas School of Law and is practicing civil litigation and appellate law. During his years as an undergraduate and a law student, he volunteered for the annual Explore UT event.
"I started volunteering for Explore UT my freshman year at UT," said Ben. "In Law School, I continued to volunteer for the event through the Student Recruitment and Orientation Committee (SROC) and I was involved in a number of campus organizations."
"Anthony and I are both huge fans of UT and this is a great opportunity not only for him to see what the campus is really like, but for us to spend a day together, enjoying the many activities that are being offered."
Ben and Anthony won't be the first Big Brother-Little Brother duo to enjoy Explore UT, nor will they be the last. Each year, as the number of activities increase, so do the crowds.
The open house, first offered to the public in 1999, was originally called UT Interactive: A Campus Wide Exploration. Since then, the name has changed and the event has grown exponentially. This year's attendance at the more than 400 activities on campus is expected to exceed 50,000.
There are numerous reasons the event is gaining popularity with each passing year- from the sheer magnitude of activities to the ever increasing variety of offerings-however, this year in a cash-strapped economy, the price tag is invaluable.
Teachers and parents can take their children to enjoy an all-day outing filled with fun, activities, performances and lectures, and not have to pay a penny for the experience (other than their own transportation costs).
"Explore UT is an extraordinary experience in which the university opens its doors to the public and shares its wealth of knowledge and talent with the surrounding community and the far reaches of Texas," said Fritz Steiner, dean of the School of Architecture and chairman for Explore UT.
"It allows parents, teachers and kids the opportunity to enjoy a day of fun and learning at no cost whatsoever."
Although the open house is geared toward children, there are a variety of performances, tours and lectures aimed at "older kids," too. Offerings this year aimed at parents and teachers include lectures focused on topics such as sustainability and green living, diversity and time management, as well as motivating students to learn, handling difficult children and talking to kids about going to college.
Offerings for teens include a variety of lectures and tours geared toward learning the ins and outs about college, from how to enroll and apply for financial aid to choosing a major.
Children at Explore UT will be treated to hundreds of activities, including past favorites such as face painting, a water-balloon toss, the amazing maze, the chemistry circus, the cookie walk and medieval book crafts. They may learn about finding fossils, creating pet rocks, building a fort, making papier mâché, designing T-shirts and cooking up liquid nitrogen ice-cream.
The Children's International Festival will be at the heart of the Explore UT Cultural Crossroads on the South Mall. Visitors to the festival will have the opportunity to experience the cultures of South Asia, Russia, Mexico, South America and the Middle East.
Many activities and events will appeal to young and old. Some new and exciting activities include:
- What FDR Might Tell Obama: Watch a Depression-Era President Offer His Advice.
- Facebook: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Learn How to Use it Safely.
- Interested in Time Travel? Choose a historical moment. Through the magic of digital photography you can become a participant in the past.
- Computer Mapping: Find Your Way Around the World Using an Advanced Geographic Information System.
- Lights! Camera! Action: Watch University Students Rehearse and Film a TV Drama.
- Engineers for a Sustainable World: Explore Projects Such as Sand Filters and Homemade Windmills.
Explore UT begins at 11 a.m. but there are activities available for those who may want to get an early start to their day of adventure and fun. Early bird activities include:
- To the Moon: The American Space Program in the 1960s at the Lyndon B. Johnson Library and Museum, opens at 9 a.m.
- Perry-Castañeda Library Open House hosted by The University of Texas Libraries, opens at 9 a.m.
- The Texas Natural Science Center, home to Texas Memorial Museum, opens at 10 a.m.
For those who have children in the Pflugerville Independent School District, this is the second year the district will be providing shuttle buses to and from the parking lots of Pflugerville's three high schools. Shuttle service begins at 10:30 a.m. and continues each hour thereafter. The last shuttle heading to the university will leave at 3:30 p.m. After 3:30 p.m. shuttles will only be available from campus back to Pflugerville. The last bus will leave the university at 5:30 pm.
One of the most popular events each year is the closing "ceremony" in which individuals wanting to experience the thrill of marching in The University of Texas at Austin Longhorn Band will have the opportunity to become honorary members of the band. A rehearsal session will be held in the Denius Practice Field "bubble" near IH-35 and Dean Keeton Street (26th St.) at 4 p.m. The practice will be followed by a march to the UT Tower at 4:30 p.m. for the conclusion of Explore UT, the living-insignia class photo. If you have ever wanted to step inside the "bubble" and follow the footsteps of a 100-year-old university tradition, this is your chance.
Regardless of whether you want to march in the band, learn a new language or participate in hundreds of hands-on activities, The University of Texas at Austin is the place to be this Saturday.
Perhaps the hardest part of the day is deciding how many activities can fit into six hours and which ones to choose. By going to the online schedule of activities, participants can plan their agenda ahead of time and map out an itinerary.
Anthony and Ben plan to do so.
With their love of Longhorn sports, they will, undoubtedly, choose to spend time in the stadium, takings photos with Bevo and the UT pom squad. However, Anthony will also find plenty of activities that focus on his two key interests-social studies and government.
Perhaps Anthony will be a city leader someday. Or perhaps he'll run for president.
Whichever road he chooses, there's no question where he'll begin his journey.
"I want to go to UT just like Ben," Anthony said with a huge grin. "Ben went there and he has a great job and a great office. That's what I want someday."