In early October, over three nights, some of UT's finest scholars gathered to share discoveries with students as part of the seventh annual University Lecture Series. Keeping to three themes In Pursuit of Health, In the Creative Mind and In the Lab the talks challenged traditional perceptions of academic disciplines and put first-year students in front of some of the top scholars at the university.
"This is an exciting way to show off in spectacular fashion just how lucky we are to be here. All of us," said Brent Iverson, dean of the School of Undergraduate Studies, kicking off this year's lectures. "We want to broaden your understanding of the kinds of amazing research being done in classrooms and labs and libraries all around you."
During the In the Lab lecture, Professor Kim Fromme from the College of Liberal Arts discussed her work researching college drinking. With a federally funded grant, her team has set up a bar laboratory that will be used to study drinking habits and associated risk-taking behaviors.
In Pursuit of Health featured professors from the School of Nursing and the College of Pharmacy who study health issues. Associate Professor Pat Carter spoke about her research on sleep and why we need it. Assistant Professor Kavita Radhakrishnan explained how the world of health care is being transformed with technology. Professor Pat Davis talked about infectious diseases and their terrifying global effects.
Speakers for In the Creative Mind underscored different aspects of creativity. Professor Dean Young from the College of Liberal Arts read his poem, "Belief in Magic," and talked about the relationship between creating art and the world. "Art teaches us to pay attention, and attention is an art," Young said. "You look out into the world, and that's where the materials of art are."
Professor Mike Starbird from the College of Natural Sciences then explained his more analytical view on the creative process. "The concept that creativity is magic has two defects as a concept. The first problem is that it's wrong. The second defect is that it's useless. The reason people think of great ideas is because they have a method of thinking," he said. "They think in a very deliberate way that leads to creativity."
Variations on Themes
The speakers also highlighted campus resources that are hallmarks of a first-class research university. Professor Tom Staley talked about the importance of the original documents housed in UT's Harry Ransom Center.
"Be they books, be they manuscripts, be they archives, be they art work, be they photographs, or digital materials, these items are more than mere artifacts to us," Staley said. "They are the trail that the author leaves behind, the map that traces the trajectory and the imagination. It is this material that tells the story of a work of literature or art."
All students enrolled in first-year Signature Courses were required to attend at least one lecture.
"The series showcases opportunities new students might not have known existed like doing lab research if you're a music student or working in the health care industry without being a doctor," explains Patty Micks, senior program coordinator for the First-Year Experience Office.
"It's essential that, in welcoming new students to the University of Texas, we give them a glimpse of the breadth of the university and an understanding that they are now part of something that is truly exceptional," says Davis. "The University Lecture Series is one effort designed to provide this glimpse."
Since 2007, the University Lecture Series has been supported by the Audre and Bernard Rapoport Excellence Fund for Undergraduate Studies and is an integral part of the School of Undergraduate Studies First-Year Experience.
A version of this story first appeared on the School of Undergraduate Studies website.