On March 6, thousands of children will be roaming the halls of The University of Texas at Austin and getting a peek of what the future could hold.
They will come to the campus from all over Texas, from small towns and cities across the state. Some will come on buses from their hometowns. More than 400 buses will make the trip with students, teachers and parents on board.
Explore UT: The Biggest Open House in Texas will give Texans young and old the chance to experience the treasures of the university and participate in everything from a fossil dig to marching with the Longhorn Band.
"Explore UT is a chance for children of any age, and their families, to explore the excitement of UT and the promise of higher education," said Douglas Dempster, dean of the College of Fine Arts and chair of this year's Explore UT. "It's the biggest open house in Texas, and a bright hope for the future of an educated Texas."
One group of youngsters will be attending as part of the Travis County Model Court (TCMC). The TCMC identifies best practices in legal cases involving children who enter the foster care system. Rob Galvin, an Austin attorney, and Leslie Strauch, a professor in the School of Law, are part of the executive committee of the TCMC team.
"This is an opportunity for these (foster) children to be exposed to possibilities they can't see right now," Galvin said. "Explore UT will give them something concrete to see and to touch and be a part of. They've had such a hard time, that without something tangible they wouldn't even think about college."
Galvin has a personal story when it comes to connecting the university with young people.
"Growing up in the Montopolis neighborhood of far east Austin, the concept of college was not something concrete for me and most of my friends," he said. "However, at some point I found myself spending most of my weekends either selling Cokes at football games, playing sideline-to-sideline football games on the field back when the stadium was left open to the public, or pick-up games of basketball and racquetball at the outdoor courts. I am convinced that that exposure to the university led me to start thinking about the concept of actually attending college. Being able to step foot on the 40 Acres transformed this concept into an experience that could be seen, touched, felt and even smelled.
"It is my experiences that led to the thought that exposing kiddos to UT is a good thing, especially children that have been victims of abuse and neglect, and from my observations over the past 10 years, struggle to maintain the hope that still burns in them."
Another group of motivated students will be coming from Irving for the day. Lindsay Rogers, a graduate of the McCombs School of Business and now an elementary school teacher, is bringing her class of fourth graders to the event.
Advertising and Public Relations Professor Meme Drumwright connected with Rogers when the fourth graders of Britain Elementary School chose the university to study as part of a class project. Rogers applied for and received a grant from Target to bring the students to Austin for Explore UT, but the $800 didn't quite cover the expenses. Drumwright worked with faculty and staff from the departments of Advertising and Public Relations and Finance to raise the remaining funds through personal contributions.
"My students have been supported all year by various departments around UT," Rogers said. "Over 10 departments sent us T-shirts, posters, stickers, brochures and other trinkets to get them excited about college. It turned out they became obsessed with UT! Actually, taking my students to the university was always a dream of mine. It recently became a reality when faculty and staff in the Department of Advertising and Public Relations, as well as the Finance Department in the School of Business, wrote personal checks to send a chartered bus to take my students to UT. I nearly cry every time I talk about the trip with my kids. With horns up, we will be on our way in a few days!
"Explore UT is an extremely important event for children, especially children who otherwise have no exposure to college," Rogers said. "Our kids at Britain Elementary typically come from low socio-economic families with little or no college experience. Having the opportunity to visit a major university like Texas would normally be a once-in-a-lifetime experience."
The program's wide range of activities started with its inception in 1999 to inform the public about the university's mission and broaden the horizons of schoolchildren, motivating them to aspire to higher education.
"We say that The University of Texas at Austin transforms lives," said William Powers Jr., president of the university. "This is our core purpose. By sharing our treasures with visitors of all ages, we open our doors to a world of learning."
The University Co-op, cooperatively owned by the faculty, students and staff of The University of Texas at Austin, is a major sponsor of Explore UT. Additional support is provided by University Federal Credit Union, the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement, and the Office of the President.
Though many of Explore UT's activities are geared toward the younger crowd, there are plenty of events to capture the imagination of the entire family. Visitors can navigate the day's activities with help from volunteers and color-coded maps, or they can use an online tool to create a personalized schedule. A full day might include:
- Challenging Gravity: Explore Water Flowing Uphill
- Virtual Worlds for Educators
- Words Have Power: Finding Your Political Voice Through Buttons
- Life in a Central Asian Yurt
- Signing in American Sign Language
- Clean Energy for a Cleaner Tomorrow
- Flame On: Ignition Happens
- Solar Car Workshop
- Enhancing Your Creativity
- Steamroller Madness: Making Texas-Size Prints with a Steamroller
- Russia Cooks: A Culinary Display
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:
- Ask a UT Admissions Counselor: Applying to UT begins at 9:30 a.m.
- Tours of the Lyndon B. Johnson Library and Museum begin at 9 a.m.
- Perry-Castañeda Library Open House hosted by The University of Texas Libraries opens at 9 a.m.
- The Texas Memorial Museum opens at 10 a.m.
Capping off the day, the Longhorn Band will march across campus, leading hundreds of participants to the Tower, where they will gather for a living insignia photograph. This year's photo will be in the shape of a heart.
"We hope that by showing these kids the wonder, astonishment, learning and fun a college offers," Rogers said of her fourth graders, "they will ultimately decide that college is the necessary step after high school. And selfishly, I hope they all become Longhorns."