Freshman 101 – UT Style

Last week I had the pleasure of meeting with faculty members who are teaching the Signature Courses for first-year students. These courses are designed to expose freshmen to experienced faculty and provide them with a rigorous and engaging intellectual experience.  They are an important element in UT’s undergraduate curriculum reform.  This academic year, more than 5,250 freshmen have enrolled in the Signature Courses, and next year the entire freshman class will participate.  The program is administered by the School of Undergraduate Studies.

Adam Rabinowitz

For example, Professor Adam Rabinowitz in the Department of Classics teaches a Signature Course on the Trojan War.  He and his students start with Homer’s Iliad and examine the way the story has been adapted again and again, from antiquity to the present, to illuminate issues of violence, honor, and loss. The students also look at the role of the story of the Trojan War in the birth of the field of archaeology, its representation in art and literature, and the ways in which philosophers and social commentators have used the story to explore the relevance of the ancient world to the modern.

“I’ve watched my students become more comfortable speaking and presenting their ideas in class; I’ve watched them learn how to conduct research and frame an argument,” says Professor Rabinowitz.  “After several drafts and peer editing, their final papers matured into serious research projects with a thesis and evidence organized to support arguments for that thesis.”

“I wholeheartedly support this initiative,” he continues.  “I’m the product of a small liberal arts college, and while a big research university has certain advantages over that experience, small colleges usually have an edge in teaching students how to be students through close interaction with professors and their peers.  To have this kind of interaction at a university the size of UT—and to have it not just for the best students, but for all of them—is incredibly valuable.”

I agree.  I teach a Signature Course in the fall.  It keeps me in touch with students and reminds me why we’re all here.

Bill's Signature


  1. President Powers,

    I am an alum, who graduated in May 2008. I spent four, great years at The University of Texas.

    I don’t get a lot of time to visit our school’s website, because of work, life and all the rest.

    I believe the “Tower Talk” blog is wonderful. This is the first time I have visited it.

    I like that you are bringing attention to issues of great importance to our current–and future–students, alumni, parents, faculty and anyone else who believes higher education is vital to the success and advancement of our state and country.

    Keep up the excellent work.

    Hook ’em.

  2. I LOVE the signature course program at UT! I was an entering freshman in Fall of 2008 and I took New Media for Young Voters with Sharon Jarvis and it remains one of my favorite classes. I really liked having a teacher that didn’t normally teach freshman classes because I feel like she approached us differently. Also, I liked having the opportunity to take a really interesting class that I probably wouldn’t have taken normally since it isn’t required or even suggested for my major.

  3. I think it’s wonderful the Signature Course program will be extended to all freshmen. Both of my UT kids were engineering freshmen and weren’t able to participate. Both of them struggled during their freshman year.
    From what other parents have told me, I believe they would have greatly benefited from the program…much more so than the FIG program they were in.