Etter-Harbin Alumni Center

President Powers speaks at a Campus Conversation regarding undergraduate education at The University of Texas. The president addressed utilizing technology to enhance the education experience for both students and teachers.

Photo Credit: Helen Fernandez | Daily Texan Staff

President William Powers Jr. said faculty input was a critical element of transforming undergraduate education at the University during a Campus Conversation with faculty in the Etter-Harbin Alumni Center on Tuesday.

The faculty-only meeting, also hosted by executive vice president and provost Gregory Fenves, focused on encouraging a continued dialogue regarding the progress and transformation of the University’s undergraduate curriculum. The meeting highlighted opportunities to use technology to improve learning opportunities for students and allow teachers to reach a larger audience, such as online courses and massive open online courses, commonly known as MOOCs, for the public.

Powers acknowledged the magnitude of these endeavors and said the process is a years-long conversation before a decades-long transformation. Powers also said faculty and department involvement will be crucial for decisions regarding the format of classes and the style of teaching, personalizing the courses instead of implementing blanket policies.

“The faculty owns that curriculum,” Powers said. “That’s a privilege, but it’s also a responsibility.”

Fenves said these model changes are necessary in order to stay competitive, citing the flexibility of a first-year medical school program — which doesn’t use semester hours, has a loose interpretation of courses, lacks lectures and emphasizes flipped classrooms — as inspiration for the University’s undergraduate work.

Mechanical engineering associate professor Michael Webber instructed “Energy 101” as a MOOC this fall, and said the experience made him a better professor, despite the eight months it took to put the class together.

“It forced me to think more carefully about what I was thinking,” Webber said. “It forced me to be global and not just think about the Texas perspective … Now I’ve got really good material for me to use with my class from now on.”                                    

A six-foot-tall thank you card and free Tiff’s Treats drew students to a celebration of Thanks Day on Gregory Plaza on Tuesday afternoon.

Students Hooked on Texas and the Texas Exes Student Chapter helped multiple campus organizations set up tables for students to make thank you cards to mail to UT donors. Students received cookies and free T-shirts along with information about yearly donations.

Student leaders organized the event to thank individual donors, alumni and parents who provide money to support education at UT. According to a 2009 report on tuition and funding, 10 percent of the University’s budget — about ­$216 million — comes from endowments and gifts.

Student Government President Scott Parks said Thanks Day was necessary to make students aware of the people behind the scenes making the campus flourish.

The thank you card, which more than 1,500 students signed, will be on display for alumni at the University Development Office and at the Etter-Harbin Alumni Center.

“We needed something like this to assure donors their contributions are recognized and the students appreciate them,” Parks said.

The organizations will post a video chronicling the day’s event to the Texas Exes website and the Development Office’s home page.

Each college council set up a table on their plaza to inform students about Thanks Day and allow them to make personal thank you cards, said Julie Lucas, assistant director for development at the University Development Office.

“I was excited that so many groups were willing to get involved, but the amazing thing was the level of student participation,” she said. “Students gave personal thank yous on the video and I think that will provide an intimate feeling donors will appreciate.”

According to information from the University Development Office, last year the University collected about $299 million from alumni and friends as either designated funds specified for a center or school, or as unrestricted funds allocated in the University budget.

Each college has a gift office that works to get donors involved, said Carolyn Connerat, executive director for development.

“We work to keep the alumni engaged in the University because every alum was once a student, and the giving and receiving goes both ways,” she said.

Connerat said some donors give because a gift office contacted them, while others choose to donate because they continue to work closely with UT and still feel connected.

“Some of our donors are very active at the alumni center, so they may see what a student is doing on campus and decide it’s something they want to support,” she said.