UT Austin’s motto (“What starts here changes the world”) is particularly realized in the school’s commitment to community service. Through the Longhorn Center for Civic Engagement, 75 percent of students volunteered over a million hours of service in 2013, according to the Center’s website. The center runs an events page listing larger events students can volunteer at, as well as linking students with other student organizations with whom they can serve. Additionally through the center UT Austin offers academic service-learning courses, which offer course credit for community involvement. To create these service-learning opportunities the center works with UT Austin faculty to either modify existing courses to include a service component, or to create new courses from scratch. In these courses, students work with a community partner, and are responsible for generally twenty hours of service over the semester in addition to engaging in reflective learning. Alumnus Al Sommers told us that UT Austin alumni have “a reputation for loyalty, hard work, uncompromised ethics, independent thinking and a passion for making a difference in the lives of those around us.”
One education major we surveyed summarized life at UT Austin as “research, education, and service.” Involving undergraduates in research is a core aspect of the faculty’s mission, according to Associate Professor Mickenberg: “It’s very important [for] undergraduates [to] recognize the value of working with professors who are doing cutting-edge research, because this is partly how they can fully comprehend that knowledge is itself constructed and always evolving, and they are learning not just information but how to build knowledge. I’m also modeling an attitude of inquiry for the students . . . I’ve found that they’re very interested, and also excited to know that they’re learning from teachers who are also scholars. I’m also constantly trying to get students themselves into the archives, and to find way for them to get a sense of the thrill that comes from discovering new material and/or finding new connections between things that had always been seen as unrelated.”
The Freshman Research Initiative, which offers first-year students the opportunity to initiate and engage in authentic research experiences with faculty and graduate students in areas such as chemistry, biochemistry, nanotechnology, molecular biology, and computer science, is one such research opportunity for UT Austin students. Each year more than 750 students participate in the program, which guides students through the process of producing independent, potentially publishable research projects.
Faculty are involved with student research in other ways. For example, “I participated in a research mentoring program in which I worked with a sophomore American Studies major and continued working with her through the time she wrote a senior thesis,” Professor Mickenberg told us. “Affording students additional research opportunities, the Brackenridge Field Laboratory is an urban research station on eighty-eight acres on the banks of the Colorado River with a national reputation as a premier site for research on invasive species, evolution and behavior, biodiversity, climate change, and drought. The field lab plays a strong role in undergraduate teaching in the life sciences and is a valuable magnet for attracting top faculty and graduate students to UT Austin.”
UT Austin encourages entrepreneurship and fosters a startup community within the university. To do so, the student government recently launched the Longhorn Entrepreneurship Agency, which connects and coordinates all UT Austin entrepreneurship organizations. The agency, which is student-run, hosts an annual UT Entrepreneurship Week each March and annually awards the UT Austin Student, Faculty and Alumni Entrepreneur of the Year awards, made possible through the sponsorship of the university’s president. UT Austin is also home to the IC2 Institute, an interdisciplinary research unit that works to advance the theory and practice of entrepreneurial wealth creation. Among its programs, the IC2 Institute runs the Austin Technology Incubator (ATI), which helps startup companies successfully compete. ATI collaborates with faculty from the university and hires thirty to thirty-five UT Austin undergraduate students each semester, providing students with valuable learning experiences during the undergraduate careers.
For Al Sommers, real-world business experiences—as a sports reporter for The Daily Texan and for the student radio station and through sports writing and marketing internships with the Austin American-Statesman and the Dallas Cowboys—led him to a career working on public relations campaigns for professional sport organizations and finally to the communications agency that he now manages today: “The basic tenants of taking on a challenge, mapping out a game plan, collaborating with a team and executing to the best of your ability carry through to all levels of experience. And having the opportunity to serve in these work and intern environments as a student also afforded a valuable opportunity to observe the habits and work ethics of some very successful businesspersons along the way.”
It would be an understatement to say that the UT Texas alumni network is extensive; with over 100,000 members the Texas Exes—UT’s Ex-Students Association—is one of the largest alumni networks in the world. The alumni association aims to improve the lives of both students and alumni. Members of the association benefit from networking events around the country, an online jobs board, and continued access to the UT Library System, among other advantages. In addition to his role on the marketing committee for Texas Exes, alumnus Al Sommers described how he supports his fellow Longhorns via the alumni network: “I serve as a guest lecturer on occasion to students in the public relations program, sharing stories from my career and offering perspectives on the role of public relations in today’s marketplace. . . I have also created internship opportunities for current University of Texas students at my marketing agency.” Notable UT Austin alumni include journalist Walter Cronkite, the longtime anchorman for CBS news; former first lady Lady Bird Johnson; Michal Dell of Dell Computer Corporation; mezzo-soprano Barbara Smith Conrad with the Metropolitan Opera, and Abdullah Tariki, the co-founder of OPEC. Competitive academic programs, legendary athletics, a huge sprawling campus, the eclectic allure of Austin, and a strong sense of Texas pride are the hallmarks of an education at University of Texas at Austin.
UT Austin puts its resources to work for students, providing them with access to new technologies and innovative curriculum. For example, at the Satellite Design Laboratory undergraduate and graduate students work on everything from designing software to building and testing hardware for satellites that actually get launched into space. Students in 2013 who built a small satellite called ARMADILLO won first place in the national University Nanosatellite Program competition. At the Longhorn Maker Studio, students can make use of cutting-edge technology to build, create, and invent for class assignments and personal education. The maker space inspires students, expands courses, provides hands-on learning opportunities and spurs both innovation and entrepreneurship. The studio has 3D printers, laser cutters, 2D routers for manufacturing printed circuit boards, plasma cutters, and a three dimensional CNC milling machine. Finally, UT Austin’s Idea to Product program is an international, student-led competition for early-stage technology commercialization. Students from across disciplines come together to create new products that solve problems and fill a market need. Today it’s an independent entity that hosts specialized competitions across the country. Teams from sixty-three universities have participated in I2P competitions on five continents.