Efforts to integrate research into undergraduate experience will take faculty, student input

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Editor's Note: This is a guest blog post from associate classics professor Jennifer Ebbeler. 

On Friday, Sept. 5, a group of more than 150 faculty from across the campus gathered together in the SAC Ballroom for a daylong symposium on the future of undergraduate education at UT Austin. The symposium was convened by Provost Gregory Fenves and organized by a group of faculty, led by Jeremi Suri, a professor in both the history department and the LBJ School of Public Affairs in addition to a columnist for this newspaper.

The aim of this symposium was to engage faculty in an important conversation: How can we better integrate our identity as a research university into the undergraduate experience? President William Powers Jr. opened the symposium with a call to the faculty to accept the charge to think hard and creatively about the future of undergraduate education at UT Austin.

Seated around round tables in groups of six to eight, the faculty first listened to Rice bioengineering professor Rebecca Richards-Kortum describe Rice 360° Institute for Global Health Technologies, a program that has students solving real problems with medical care that arise in developing countries. We were then asked to discuss and respond to a prompt: how should we best connect research and discovery with teaching? Each table had an assigned stenographer, who took notes on the discussion and also composed a 25-word summary of the table’s conversation (these can be found here).

In the afternoon session, following a talk by University of Virginia history professor William Hitchcock, the conversation turned to a second question: What could be done to best motivate, enable and empower the changes that we have talked about (see summary here)? The faculty and administration at UT Austin are working hard and are deeply invested in creating an innovative, meaningful undergraduate experience for our students. We have a lot of work to do, but it quickly became clear that, somewhere on campus, there are dedicated faculty already piloting many of the ideas that emerged from the day-long symposium. We all agreed that an important next step is to engage our students in this conversation.