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The Biggest Open House in Texas: Discover what inspires you at Explore UT's more than 400 activities

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Whether they’re kindergarteners or octogenarians, Texans can’t get enough of Explore UT.

Last year, more than 30,000 of them trekked to campus from as far away as Corpus Christi and Arlington to delight in the university’s annual open house. Some of them brought fossils from their yards to be identified. Others played mariachi music with some of Mexico’s greats. Others viewed the Texas Declaration of Independence or the “Gone With the Wind” audition tapes. Still others partook of a little Hogwarts history. The possibilities seemed endless.

Explore UT
Explore UT Saturday, March 4.

Explore UT returns for its seventh year on Saturday, March 4, and the university’s doors will be thrown open as wide as ever. More than 400 activities will guarantee there is something for everyone.

“There’s a reason why Explore UT has been called the ‘Biggest Open House in Texas,’” says Dr. Barbara White, dean of the School of Social Work and chairwoman of Explore UT 2006. “On this wonderful day of learning and fun, we are reminded that the university belongs to everyone in the state, and we want to share it all—research, libraries, art exhibits and much more.”

Last year, Becky Rivera, student and family support director for the Manor Independent School District, had a chance to discover just how much the campus has to offer her students. She brought a group of 85 children to Explore UT for the first time. She was so thrilled with the result that this year she’s bringing 150. From the time the students climbed off the bus near the football stadium, they were jazzed.

“The majority of the students, third to fifth-graders, had never set foot on a university campus before,” Rivera says. “So it was very exciting for them to be at UT, to walk around and see the buildings and the tower. It gets them thinking about going to college.”

The students talked about their experience all year, and the first ones to sign up for this year’s trip were the ones who came on last year’s visit. They couldn’t wait.

This included a group of five fourth-grade girls who went to activities in the College of Engineering. As they meandered, they were able to sit in a solar-powered car to discover how it works and have their pictures taken. Then they saw dry ice smoking in a weird science experiment. As they headed back toward the center of campus, they stopped to see skyscrapers being creatively constructed out of building blocks.

A student becomes an anchorman at a College of Communication event called 'Live at 10--You Deliver the News,' View more photos from Explore UT 2005
A student becomes an anchorman at “Live at 10—You Deliver the News” in the College of Communication. Visit a PHOTO GALLERY of other images from Explore UT 2005.

“It was amazing for the girls to see the car up close, and to see that it’s not that different from a car they’re used to seeing,” Rivera says. “It was very exciting for them, and it got them asking questions.”

Questioning and inspiring is what Explore UT is known for, and it’s why people caravan from Laredo, Carrizo Springs, Houston and points in between to Austin. More than 150 school buses are registered for the event.

Even local corporations get involved. The students from the Manor school district are being sponsored by a grant from Applied Materials, which will cover the expenses of transporting the students, pay stipends to the teachers attending with them and even treat them to a meal in a cafeteria at the nation’s largest residence hall.

“One big reason for sponsorship is making college a possibility or a reality for every student,” says Michele Walker-Moak at Applied Materials, a University of Texas at Austin alumna. “Getting them on the ground at such a young age is so important.

“The idea of opening those doors helps people understand how valuable it is for the overall community to have an institution like UT. Even Aggies can come!”

Explore UT's giant Lone Star photographed on the university campus
The grand finale of every Explore UT is the moment crowds gather to make a living insignia. This year the tradition will be made new when participants create a giant Longhorn.

And even Aggies will find the range of activities available at Explore UT represents the diversity that can be found on campus. Participants can create a personalized schedule online or simply arrive on campus, pick up a schedule and follow their whims. They might choose to:

  • Be dazzled by a lunar sample brought back from the moon’s surface by astronauts
  • Serve as jurors in a mock trial of Gold E. Locks
  • Look for truth in the historical claims in Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code”
  • Delve into how the virtual worlds of video games are constructed
  • Lace up their dancing shoes to learn folk dances representative of the cultural groups that settled Texas
  • Discover how Lance Armstrong matured into a seven-time Tour de France champion
  • Test their skills driving robots
  • Toot their horns at a trumpet workshop with members of Mariachi Vargas
  • Uncover the 12 myths of math

Special sessions have been designed in response to the natural disasters of Hurricanes Rita and Katrina. Participants can learn how to make sure their families are ready for an emergency and how to save precious family documents when disaster strikes.

The University Co-op, cooperatively owned by the faculty, students and staff of The University of Texas at Austin, is a major sponsor of Explore UT.

Wherever participants’ campus journeys take them, they know where to be come 5 p.m.: at the base of the Tower for the annual living insignia photograph.

The grand finale of every Explore UT is the moment crowds gather to form a giant Lone Star, led by the Longhorn Band. This year the tradition will be made new when participants will create a giant Longhorn instead.

As always, the insignia will be captured in the Explore UT photograph, available for download following the event.

People from all over Texas will be part of the photograph, and Rivera’s students will be among them. She admits that the one complaint students had last year was that they didn’t get to stay at Explore UT to the end. She’d imagined they’d be tired. Instead, they were still bubbling with enthusiasm.

So this year, wearing T-shirts made especially for the event that read “Manor ISD: Exploring Our Future,” they’ll be there for the culminating event, smiling along with Texans from near and far.

BY Vivé Griffith

PHOTOS: Office of Public Affairs

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Fax 512-471-5812

  Updated 6 March 2006
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