The Interfraternity Council’s RoundUp boasts live music, cheap food and parties attended by more than 15,000 people in West Campus every year. A second Round-Up — also a prized UT tradition — takes place each August. At only 1,500 participants, it features breakfast tacos instead of crawfish boils, UT faculty instead of musicians.
Texas Undergraduate Studies hosts Freshman Reading Round-Up, an annual program offered only to incoming first-year students. Students come the day before classes start to discuss one of nearly 60 books with a UT faculty member. The program began 16 years ago with the goals of welcoming students to the University, getting students excited about their UT experience and exposing students to distinguished faculty. The professors can also get energized about the upcoming semester.
Reading Round-Up receives uniformly positive feedback. But with signups limited, we should ask why this program hasn’t expanded in a more significant way.
These small book discussion groups — around 30 people — exemplify the best we have to offer as a scholastic, interdisciplinary institution. Professors from across campus are matched with students eager to read something new. The sheer diversity of the faculty and literature offered makes the program unique. Professors from colleges such as Moody, College of Natural Sciences and McCombs share a common experience and get to choose books such as Harper Lee’s “Go Set a Watchman” or Sophocles’ “Oedipus Rex” to discuss.
“We hear time and time again how for faculty it’s their favorite event that they do all year,” said Laura Weingarten, a UT Program Coordinator who helps oversee the program.
All Round-Up professors volunteer, and some have hosted for its entire 16-year history. The program’s popularity remains strong among students too. Round-Up filled within three days of the email invite this past summer. Around 1,500 incoming freshmen from the class of 2022 ultimately participated.
Reading Round-Up assuages the feelings of anxiety and stress that often accompany the transition to college. That’s why UGS reserved the program for just freshmen. Many professors noted that first-year students often feel more uncomfortable than upperclassmen speaking in groups.
While getting oriented to campus can be a challenge, stress levels also pick up again during senior year as jobs and graduate school fast approach.
To prepare students for their final semester on the 40 Acres, UT should offer Senior Reading Round-Up the day before the spring semester begins in January.
Senior year marks a turning point — for the first time, many people will be out of school. They will begin their careers and new lives. A Senior Reading Round-Up with the same accomplished professors would benefit seniors as they transition between these periods. It gives them one last opportunity to learn from practical or influential books in a collaborative way that complements their freshman experience.
Math professor James Vick introduced Reading Round-Up when he was vice president for Student Affairs. Vick stated in an email that he “would be happy to join in a group to explore the possibilities” of expanding the program, adding that a senior version “may work better if it is focused on the next stage of life.”
Keri Stephens, an associate professor in communications studies, participated in the Round-Up this year. She said it brings students into the Longhorn community and, for her, marks the start of the year. “It sets the tone that you are a part of a scholarly community.” She also said that “having a practical, career-focused Reading Round-Up for seniors would be incredible.”
Freshman Reading Round-Up stands out as an amazing success on campus. Everyone loves it. But let’s offer the same opportunity that gets freshmen ready for college to seniors transitioning to careers and graduate school programs. Let’s have UT students finish out college the same way they started it — with a good book in hand, food in their stomach, interacting with world-class faculty in a one-of-a-kind setting.
Verses is a Plan II and environmental engineering sophomore from San Antonio.