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.
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.