December 12, 2022
Six months ago, we launched Change Starts Here, our 10-year strategic plan to become the highest-impact public research university in the world. Change Starts Here is not merely a vehicle for driving UT Austin’s transformation; it is a way to tell the story of our progress and our vision for the future.
Each one of you belongs to this story. Though you may not routinely connect your work to the broad movement underway, the student success you enable, class you teach, program you launch or research you conduct makes a difference and moves us closer to our goal.
Today, I am sharing three stories to highlight some of the great momentum building across campus along the three dimensions of people, place and pursuits outlined in our plan. If you do not see your work explicitly represented in this update, I hope you will recognize it in spirit and share in the excitement about where we are heading as a university.
People: Connection to Success
First-generation student and senior mechanical engineering major Jacqueline (Jackie) Villalobos started her UT journey in Austin and continued it around the world – in France, Denmark, and currently, the Netherlands, through the Texas Global Reciprocal Exchange Program. Though Villalobos never planned to study abroad, one strong connection with a mentor unlocked new possibilities and a sense of broader community, inspiring her full-circle decision to become a mentor herself.
Villalobos’ mentor, Dr. Tiffany Lewis, assistant vice president of the Longhorn Center for Academic Equity (LCAE), knew firsthand the power of investing in students. Like Villalobos, Lewis was a first-generation student at UT and became passionate about creating opportunities for her fellow Longhorns. Now, through LCAE, Lewis is helping to scale the critical mentor-mentee relationship, which can fast-track a sense of community and drive academic achievement.
Investing in student success at all levels is working. Programs such as peer mentoring, academic support and scholarships have increased UT Austin’s overall graduation rates, while those of our Black, Hispanic, first-generation and Pell Grant-eligible students have risen even more dramatically. These improvements help UT move closer to achieving its full potential, which is inextricably linked to the opportunity for all members of our community to reach theirs.
Amplifying our culture of belonging helps everyone in our community thrive. This semester, we welcomed more first-generation students than ever, celebrated the first cohort of Darren Walker Scholars, and launched the Military/Veteran Faculty & Staff Association. Learn more about ongoing efforts that support this strategic priority.
We also made new investments in our people, with Wellness Time Off for leave-eligible employees, new Faculty Development Leave and Faculty Development Award Programs, and new leadership for Dell Medical School.
Place: Revitalizing Texas Memorial Museum
Founded by the state Legislature in the 1930s, the Texas Memorial Museum began as the state natural history museum, with a conservation and education mission. Through the years, it has captivated guests of all ages with a unique mix of history, new research and innovation, and access to millions of specimens in UT’s collection – from the Quetzalcoatlus northropi dinosaur skeleton to minerals, meteorites, and native Texas wildlife.
To honor its legacy and share this cultural asset with our communities, city and state, we plan to renovate and reimagine the Texas Memorial Museum. As early as next fall, it will reopen with classic and new exhibits, as well as educational opportunities that will give visitors new reasons to explore our diverse natural history and scientific discoveries made in Texas.
We are working in other ways to make our campus more vibrant than ever. Increasingly, it is an incredible destination …
… for new art and collections that expand our research and educational opportunities, including Robert De Niro’s Collection and the Gospel of John papyrus fragment at the Harry Ransom Center;
… for athletic events like our women’s volleyball Big 12 championship, and men’s basketball win against Gonzaga;
… and for live music like Wiz Khalifa’s concert on the Main Mall and the April 2023 CMT Music Awards show at Moody Center.
Pursuit: Delivering Change
A grand challenge will bring exciting change to campus next year, when researchers deploy a new delivery network of service robots. Thanks to a $3.6 million National Science Foundation grant to expand the multiyear Living and Working with Robots project, our teams will collect the most extensive data ever recorded for humans and robots interacting and coexisting in public spaces.
UT Austin excels at this kind of world-class, interdisciplinary endeavor that combines humanities, social sciences and technology, with teams from the School of Architecture, Cockrell School of Engineering, School of Design and Creative Technologies in the College of Fine Arts, College of Natural Sciences, Moody College of Communication, and Texas Advanced Computing Center. Our diverse campus community also will be a key participant in the study by enabling researchers to capture the full spectrum of potential experiences that come with encountering robots.
As a direct result of our extraordinary talent and unique resources, UT Austin continues to drive high-impact research as we seek to improve lives and solve some of our world’s biggest challenges …
… in health and well-being. The College of Liberal Arts will study education’s impact on Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias;
… in technology and society. A Cockrell School research study empowered participants with motor disabilities to maneuver wheelchairs with their minds;
… and in energy and the environment. UT Austin will lead the establishment of a new research center to study the risks and impacts of flooding and air pollution in Beaumont-Port Arthur.
Leaning into our collective strengths is fueling our university’s potential for even greater and broader impact. Thank you all for your hard work and dedication. Together, we are on an incredible path, and I am grateful for your continued efforts in support of, and in the spirit of, Change Starts Here.
We have exciting work ahead as we continue writing UT’s unfolding story of powerful, positive impact. Until then, I wish you a restful, wonderful holiday season.