Hook ’em!

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Today is my final day as president of The University of Texas at Austin. Serving in this office for the past nine and a half years has been the highest honor of my career, and I will miss it. Words are not enough to thank you all for the Texas spirit you have shown as, together, we have moved the University forward. And the support and friendship you have shown Kim and me has changed our lives forever.

As Greg Fenves begins his service as president of this great institution tomorrow, I take comfort knowing that UT is in great hands. I am very optimistic about the future.

UT will always be a big part of my life. After some time off, I will resume teaching at the law school. And I expect to see many of you at football and volleyball games, museum exhibits, and dozens of other events in the life of this amazing place.

Thank you for all you have done for The University of Texas.

God bless you and UT. And Hook ’em Horns!
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Photo by Brian Birzer

Final Thoughts on an Unusual Commencement Weekend

ECommencement 2015

With Josh Aldred and Esperance Nasezerano

As you all know, for the first time in many years, our university-wide spring commencement ceremony had to be cancelled on account of dangerous weather. All of our college and school graduation ceremonies took place. And we convened a small ceremony inside the Main Building, where our keynote speaker, Darren Walker, delivered an inspiring address for our graduates to watch online. You can watch or read his speech here.

On Sunday night, the weather cleared enough for us to invite graduates to the Main Mall, where I “conferred” their degrees and we all enjoyed the traditional fireworks show. (You have your degree whether you were there or not.)

I’m always impressed by our graduates’ stories of achievement and persistence. And I’d like to share just three of those many stories with you here:

Josh Aldred is receiving his PhD in civil and environmental engineering from the Cockrell School of Engineering. Josh studied the benefits of using activated carbon air filters to improve health in buildings. By collaborating with UT Austin Environmental Health and Safety on improvements in one campus building, he was able to cut indoor ozone levels by nearly half while simultaneously saving $50,000 a year. This strategy might be used in new campus construction such as the Engineering Education and Research Center and the Dell Medical School.

Josh is also a major in the Air Force and has been deployed in Afghanistan, Qatar, Oman, and Iraq, where he led a work-training and education mission called The Village of Hope, teaching young men who were former militants to read and do basic math. Josh is headed to Korea this summer for a one-year tour and then plans to teach civil engineering at the Air Force Academy. Thank you, Josh, for all you’ve done, and congratulations!

ECommencement 2015

Computer science graduate Brianna Connelly

Brianna Connelly earned a degree in computer science from the College of Natural Sciences. Bri led a team of 13 students in the IBM Watson competition to win $100,000 in seed funding. They used the money to develop an app that uses artificial intelligence to help Texas residents find health care, food assistance, and other social services. That class project has now become a company, and Bri, who was the only female in some of her computer science classes, is the CEO.

She was an officer in the Women in Computer Science organization and helped found what is probably the first co-ed computer science fraternity in the country. She also was a member of the prestigious Turing Scholars program. She starts this summer as a product manager at Google. We’re looking forward to watching your success. Congratulations, Bri!

Ten years ago, on the night of August 13th, 12-year-old Esperance Nasezerano of Congo and her family were huddled in a U.N. refugee camp in Burundi when armed soldiers began shooting and setting fire to the tents in which they were sleeping. One hundred sixty-six people died that night in front of her, and Espy herself was shot in the back.

She recovered from her injury, and two years later, her family moved to the United States and settled in Fort Worth. She began learning English at 16, graduated high school, and enrolled in a community college. As a junior, she transferred to UT. Here, she majored in international relations and global studies in the College of Liberal Arts and worked in our International Office.

Espy has seen the worst of humanity, but she lives with optimism. She wants to attend graduate school and then work for the U.N. in human rights advocacy. Espy says, “I am just so thankful to God and America for giving me a second chance to live again and have the opportunity to do things that most of my friends will never have the chance to do.” Esperance, you give us all hope for a brighter future. Congratulations!

Like Josh, Bri, and Espy, each of our graduates has a unique story. But they all share the common experience of being graduates of one of the finest institutions in the world, The University of Texas at Austin. You can find more profiles of our outstanding new alumni here.

I hope all of you were able to be with your loved ones and celebrate graduation in your own special way. Our thoughts and prayers are with those throughout Texas who are recovering from the extraordinary weather of the past week.

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UT’s 132nd Commencement: A Time to Celebrate

Commencement 2013 Saturday evening

As UT Austin’s 132nd Commencement approaches this weekend, I want to send my sincere congratulations to our graduates and their families. Graduating from The University of Texas is a tremendous achievement and a profound milestone in your lives. I’m proud of every one of you.

I’d like to share a few statistics about our graduates this year you might find interesting:

  • • Some 9,007 degrees will be awarded this weekend to a total of 8,667 graduates. The majority are women, who outnumber men by more than 200.
    • We will award 6,104 bachelor’s degrees, 2,042 master’s degrees, and 861 doctoral degrees.
    • Harris (Houston), Travis (Austin), and Dallas counties sent the most students to this year’s graduating class.
    • California, Illinois, and New York are the top contributors of out-of-state students.
    • China, India, and Korea are the top contributors of foreign students.
    • There are eight degree candidates under the age of 20 and 10 over the age of 60.
    • Our College of Liberal Arts has the most graduates of any of our 17 colleges and schools.
    • The most popular major in the Class of 2015 is Business Administration.

Again, my warmest congratulations to all of our graduates. I hope to see you all at our University-wide Commencement Ceremony on the Main Mall Saturday night at 8 p.m. This year’s keynote speaker will be Darren Walker, an inspirational UT alumnus and president of the Ford Foundation.

What starts here changes the world.

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New book on Signature Courses shares UT’s educational innovations

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Guy P. Raffa and his contribution to Signature Course Stories

One of the most important developments at the University during my nine years as president has been the formation of Signature Courses. Taught by seasoned faculty and required for all freshmen, Signature Courses are administered by the School of Undergraduate Studies and immerse students in the culture of higher learning as they arrive on our campus.

Now, a new book, written by the teachers of these courses, has painted a vivid picture of how they’re changing lives. Signature Course Stories is a collection of essays that describe how these groundbreaking courses connect the University’s freshmen with its most distinguished faculty members.

Written by outstanding professors from across many disciplines, and with a foreword by me, the essays are organized by the goals of Signature Courses: critical thinking, information literacy, oral communication, writing improvement, interdisciplinary approaches, experiential learning, and contemporary content.

Below is a short excerpt from Ben Carrington’s essay “Postracial America: Race and Culture in Contemporary America,” describing the scene in his classroom after showing a photo of the Marion, Indiana, lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abraham Smith, and playing Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit”:

As I turned on the lights my suspicion was confirmed, at least three of the class were crying, a few more trying to hold back tears. The rest were silent. I took a few moments to let the students reflect and process. In truth, I needed the time myself. “Is everyone okay?”

It’s at moments like these that our role as educators seeking to enhance not just knowledge acquisition but the humanistic desire to understand and make sense of the world, with a view to change it, becomes apparent. These moments remind me what we’re about as professors, as teachers, or at least why I came into the profession. A reminder that, despite what some may claim, my students are not “customers,” and I am not providing a service to please and satisfy preexisting wants. The mall and cable TV can do that. A necessary precondition for being a better student, for being a more fluent writer, a more critical thinker, is to care about the subjects we engage. This does not mean losing sight of objectivity or placing politics before robust scholarship, but rather recognizing that passion, emotion, and empathetic recognition with different histories, cultures, and peoples can be an important basis for learning. We ultimately understand ourselves and our own histories better as a result. An affective pedagogy helps us to humanize and make real what can sometimes come across to students as a series of worthy but disembodied facts and historical markers.

I’d like to congratulate Dean Brent Iverson of the School of Undergraduate Studies, as well as editor Lori Holleran Steiker, on an outstanding job. Thank you for capturing and sharing this important moment in American higher education. The book is available from the University of Texas Press.

What starts here changes the world.

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Scott Hanna to direct Longhorn Band

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One of the key institutions in Longhorn life has a new leader. Scott Hanna has been named director of the Longhorn Band and will begin this summer. Scott has been the band’s associate director for the past 16 years and also will be promoted to associate director of bands in the Butler School of Music.

Robert Carnochan, who directed the Longhorn Band for the past 13 years, will become the University of Miami’s director of wind studies and conductor of the Frost Wind Ensemble.

Scott will be just the 12th director of the Longhorn Band. He earned his master’s in music and human learning and doctorate in wind conducting here at UT. He received his undergraduate degrees in music education and instrumental music performance from LSU.

The Longhorn Band, also known as the Showband of the Southwest, was founded in 1900 and now includes more than 380 students from across many majors.

Congratulations, Scott, and Hook ’em Horns!

 

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Newest members of Academy of Distinguished Teachers named

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From left, Richard Corsi, Mechele Dickerson, and John Markert

I’d like to congratulate the newest members of UT’s Academy of Distinguished Teachers.
They are:

  • Richard Corsi, Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering, Cockrell School of Engineering
  • Mechele Dickerson, School of Law
  • John Markert, Department of Physics, College of Natural Sciences

The academy was created in 1995 to recognize tenured faculty members who throughout their careers have maintained significant contributions to education, particularly at the undergraduate level. Academy members receive the title of “Distinguished Teaching Professor” and a $7,500 increase in annual academic salary, effective the following academic year.

Moreover, the academy serves as an advisory group to the executive vice president and provost on teaching excellence and will provide institutional leadership and guidance for the distinctive undergraduate experience available in our research university environment.

I’m proud of professors Corsi, Dickerson, and Markert. They’re the best of the best.

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