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Classics Undergrad Signature Courses featured in Daily Texan article

UGS courses seek to broaden education

Posted: January 28, 2009

“If it means that what you do is memorize the things you needed to memorize to do well on your tests, then that’s not a good education,” Rabinowitz said. “You learned how to memorize. You didn’t learn how to think.”

Since its founding in May 2008, UT’s School of Undergraduate Studies has used curricular reform and increased advising to make undergraduate education more holistic.

The school debuted Signature Courses last fall with mandatory seminars of about 20 students and larger-format courses of 50 to 100 students. Courses center on specialized topics ranging from business ethics, Greek literature and the future of biofuels, according to course listings.

Liberal arts sophomore Julie Rietzi said associate English professor Lisa Moore’s Signature Course on modern feminism helped her navigate the University.“

I did a , and even though I was with the same people in all my other classes, that was a class where we really got to know each other,” Rietze said. “Dr. Moore wanted to make the classroom a community, and that’s really what happened.”

Psychology freshman Ceylon Ovkan said she was surprised to find herself liking her Signature Course on ancient Troy.

“I was mad at first,” Ovkan said. “I couldn’t believe I had to take this course. It had nothing to do with anything, but now I’m totally glad I took it. It was so worth it, even though it was so much work.”

Thomas Palaima, a classics professor who teaches a Signature Course on multiculturalism in the ancient Mediterranean world, said he recognized that the courses might not initially seem important.

“It’s very easy to ask, ‘Why should we be supporting, in a public university, a scholar who teaches about the Mycenaean Greeks?’” Palaima said. “Why should any taxpayer be supporting this? Because these things are historic and are meaningful. It’s well-known you have to step outside yourself to understand yourself.”

Paul Woodruff, dean of the School of Undergraduate Studies, said the school will work this spring with “unreformed” departments like the Colleges of Engineering and Fine Arts, which have not yet adopted state-mandated curricular reforms.

The school will also implement the “flag” curriculum requirements suggested by the Task Force on Curricular Reform, a 20-member group formed in 2004 to revise the core University curriculum. Flag requirements include redefined writing, quantitative reasoning and global cultures courses.

Woodruff said the school’s biggest project this semester is the launch of the Center for Strategic Advising, an independent advising unit charged with mentoring undeclared students.

Undeclared students, who now fall under the jurisdiction of the School of Undergraduate Studies, will undergo mandatory advising during orientation and registration at the center starting next fall. The center is currently open for any student who wishes to be advised.

“The mistake is to focus just on interest to find a major,” said Melva Harbin, an adviser at the center. “We look at interests, skills and abilities, how their beliefs and values affect their career field. We talk about personality type.”

David Spight, assistant dean of the advising center, said his department is critical in helping students pick the right major and sticking with it. He said 68 percent of UT students have changed their major at least once.

Woodruff said the mandatory advising at the center will clear up confusion students often face regarding the route to a profession.

“Many people think when you choose a major you’re choosing a career, and in fact there’s a very poor correlation between the choice of major and eventual choice of career,” Woodruff said.

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