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UT Austin Year in Review: 10 Campus Highlights from 2021

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UT Austin Tower with students

UT Austin Ranked Among Best Universities in the Nation, World

UT Austin was recognized by multiple rankings in 2021 as one of the top public universities in the U.S. and among the best universities in the world.

Times Higher Education World University Rankings ranked UT Austin No. 5 among U.S. public universities, No. 17 in the U.S. and No. 50 in the world. U.S. News & World Report ranked UT Austin as the No. 10 public university in the U.S. and No. 38 among U.S. publics and privates. And QS World University Rankings placed the university as the No. 6 public university in the U.S. and No. 29 among publics and privates.

In addition, U.S. News & World Report ranked 49 of UT Austin’s graduate schools and programs in the top 10 in the nation. Five subject areas ranked No. 1 in the nation: accounting in the McCombs School of Business, petroleum engineering in the Cockrell School of Engineering, geology in the Jackson School of Geosciences, and Latin American history and sociology of population, both in the College of Liberal Arts.


UT Austin and University of Oklahoma Accept Invitations to Join SEC

The UT System Board of Regents voted unanimously to approve UT Austin joining the Southeastern Conference at the expiration of its current grant of rights contract with the Big 12 Conference.

When UT Austin and the University of Oklahoma join the SEC, it will count 16 schools among its members, becoming the largest college athletics conference in the country.

President Jay Hartzell, sitting at desk, orange tie, smile, glasses, tablet, working
President Jay Hartzell working at his desk on his first day as university president.

Jay Hartzell Inaugurated as President of UT Austin, Sharon L. Wood Named Vice President and Provost

Jay Hartzell was formally inaugurated as the 30th president of UT Austin and delivered his State of the University address in September. Hartzell said his goal as president is for UT Austin to become the world’s highest-impact public university by focusing and strengthening what sets UT Austin apart – its people, its place and its pursuits.

In June, Sharon L. Wood, former dean of the Cockrell School of Engineering, was named executive vice president and provost of UT Austin. The provost is the chief academic officer and leads efforts to deliver world-class educational experiences and produce high-impact research.

Steve Sarkisian becomes head coach of Texas Longhorns football

Coaching Staff Changes Bring New Faces, Excitement to Campus

UT Austin named Steve Sarkisian head coach of the Longhorn football team on Jan. 2, 2021. After finishing 5-7 on the year, Texas football now has the best recruiting class of 2022 in the Big 12, according to 247 Sports. The 2022 season opens on Sept. 3 against the University of Louisiana at Monroe.

The university also named Texas Ex Chris Beard as the 25th head coach of the Longhorn Men’s basketball team. While leading a successful start to the season, Beard has also found novel ways to connect with students and fans, from staging an old-school game at Gregory Gym to hosting an event with Brendan Hunt, the actor who plays the other Coach Beard on the hit TV series “Ted Lasso.” Prior to coming to UT, Beard led the Texas Tech University program to the 2019 NCAA Championship Game and the 2018 Elite Eight.

Social Work professor Ruben Parra-Cardona receives the Covid-19 vaccine in the Health Discovery Building at The University of Texas at Austin. Photo by Montinique Monroe
Social Work professor Ruben Parra-Cardona receives the Covid-19 vaccine in the Health Discovery Building at The University of Texas at Austin. Photo by Montinique Monroe

University Celebrates Scientists Who Developed COVID-19 Vaccines, One Year of Vaccine Distribution

In November, UT Austin, officials from the City of Austin and other local leaders gathered to celebrate the science and health heroes who helped develop COVID-19 vaccines and get Texans vaccinated.

UT Austin scientists have been at the forefront of the race for coronavirus vaccines since the first reports of a mysterious virus circulating in Wuhan, China. Jason McLellan, a professor of molecular biosciences, and researchers in his lab – Nianshuang Wang and Daniel Wrapp – worked in early January 2020 with scientists from the National Institutes of Health to develop a key component in COVID-19 vaccines, the spike protein that trains the body to produce antibodies that fight the virus. All the COVID-19 vaccines now in use in the United States use spike protein vaccine antigens based on the work of McLellan and Wang.

The university also celebrated one year since some of the first COVID-19 vaccines were put in the arms of Austinites in December of 2020. As of November of this year, the UT Vaccination Hub has administered more than 147,000 doses of the vaccines.

University Takes Next Step in Setting a Bold New Strategic Direction

UT Austin is in the process of defining a new strategic direction, 10-year aspiration and the supporting pillars to guide the progress. Led by faculty members and an advisory committee, the university has set out with the goal of becoming the world’s highest-impact public research university, unleashing knowledge, opportunity and innovation from the heart of Texas.

In November of 2021, university leadership took a major step in the strategic planning process, which is still ongoing.

golden hour Sunrise over Texas Landscape covered in White Powder Snow during winter storm Uri
Sunrise over Texas Landscape covered in White Powder Snow during winter storm Uri over a foot of fresh snow in Round Rock north of Austin , Texas , USA

Texas A&M, UT Austin Compete to Raise Funds for Students Affected by Winter Storm

After February’s historic winter storm and freezing temperatures that caused power outages across the state, student leaders in Austin and College Station conceived of a joint fundraising campaign to provide relief for students affected by the crisis.

Donations to “Orange and Maroon: Texas Tough” helped students replace groceries spoiled by outages along with personal items and school supplies destroyed by burst pipes, and helped with bills that they might have struggled to pay. (Oh, and for the record, UT students raised more money that A&M students did.)

Battle Hall with fall color and students 2018

UT Austin Admits Largest First-Year Class and Enrolls Record-High Number of Historically Underrepresented Students

With more students than ever graduating on time, UT Austin has been able to expand capacity, admitting its largest-ever incoming class this year.

The university is also serving more first-generation and historically underrepresented groups than ever, while continuing to serve some of its highest numbers of students eligible for Pell grants, which are available to low-income families.

This UT News story breaks down the enrollment data and presents a breakdown of these increases. And in a related story, the Austin American-Statesman reported in September on UT’s record-high enrollment of Hispanic students.


UT Austin Ranks as the No. 1 University in Texas for Veterans, Celebrates Veterans Day

U.S. News & World Report ranked UT Austin the No. 1 school for veterans in Texas in 2021. The university was also honored with a gold medal designation from the Texas Veterans Commission.

The Veterans Education Excellence Recognition Gold Award recognizes universities that provide excellence in education and related services that significantly contribute to the academic success of student veterans and military-connected students.

The university celebrated veterans and their families this year with its annual game-day celebrations and wreath-laying ceremony.

Commencement 2021 at the stadium (DKR)
Commencement 2021 at the stadium (DKR)

University Hosts In-Person Graduation Ceremony at DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium

In May the university hosted its first in-person graduation ceremony since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Unlike traditional graduation ceremonies that take place in front of the Tower, the 138th spring commencement was held in Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.

Robert A. Iger, executive chairman and chairman of the board at The Walt Disney Company, delivered the commencement address, telling students to be bold; use technology to heal, not harm; and embrace life to the fullest.