University building a sense of community with Explore UT


Shweta Gulati

Nick Mitchell from the College of Natural Sciences explains an experiment to visitors at Explore UT on Saturday. The biggest college open house in Texas, Explore UT provided an opportunity for visitors to delve into programs on the UT campus.

Jeremy Thomas

As UT opened its campus to all interested in the academic side of the University, children and teenagers flooded the 40 Acres to participate in Explore UT — an “open house” event designed to build a sense of community with citizens across the state and within the institution.

Coordinated by the University Events office, Explore UT invites Texans of all ages to experience the University’s various academic aspects and motivate them to aspire to higher education. In its 14th year, the event displayed those aspects of the University with various colleges, schools and units producing approximately 400 activities and events to engage and inform visitors. UT spent approximately $150,000 to $200,000 to put on Explore UT.

More than 450 school buses filled many spaces on campus comprising the LBJ parking lot, East 23rd Street by Robert Deadman Drive and Wichita Street by MLK Boulevard. M Lynn Crismon, dean of the College of Pharmacy and 2013 Explore UT chairman, said the amount of visitors on campus is a testament to how Explore UT is the largest single community engagement activity the University possesses.

“Only football games get more people on campus at one time,” Crismon said. “In terms of the academic enterprise, it is an opportunity to get people, particularly children engaged with academic departments and hands on learning.”

Rodger Caspers, director of University Events, said Explore UT produces an internal benefit that forms a collaborative effort not only with the citizens of Texas but within the University. “The amount of help and support from across campus is pretty amazing,” Caspers said. “I think it’s great for the people who come, and I think it’s even greater for the people that are here as far as helping to build a community within the University. I’ve met a lot of people from across the state and even within members of the University that I just wouldn’t meet because our paths would never cross.”

More than 5,000 volunteers including UT faculty and students helped prepare months in advance a variety of activities and events for Saturday’s big event. Petroleum engineering senior Blake Zisman volunteered with many engineering activities including “Building Blocks: A Wood Block Skyscraper Challenge.” Zisman said these events allow kids to get excited about engineering and its concepts.

“I saw this one girl — probably the youngest out of the whole group,” he said. “She was standing on a chair bossing people around. I went over to her dad and said ‘it looks like your daughter is project manager of the day.’ It is so funny to see all of these kids who don’t know each other group together and achieve a goal. Something as simple as stacking blocks on top of another teaches them so much.”

Crismon said he hoped Explore UT will help children, parents and other visitors see the University is part of the public community and not an inaccessible “ivory tower.”

“I think it is so important that for the University to engage the community so they view this as being a place that they can come to,” Crismon said. “If there is one kid going home today wanting to go to college that didn’t feel that way before, then it’s all worth it.”

Published on March 4, 2013 as "Texans experience 40 acres".