We are Going to Be Okay: Why UT Austin Students Give Me Hope for America’s Future

In early March, I visited UT Austin’s Campus, where I spent 10 days teaching classes, meeting with students and faculty. I was highly impressed with the students I met. Their hard work and warm hearts were encouraging for me to experience and made me more optimistic about America’s future. Read on to understand what I took away and why you can be more optimistic, too.

An Inside Look at My Campus Experience

I teach these classes because I like sharing my experience with students so they understand you don’t have to be a business or engineering student to succeed. And I find it stimulating and learn new things from faculty and students during the fray that we are in.

I am very familiar with the subjects I teach so when a student asks a question that puts me off balance it is fun. The most interesting question thrown my way during my visit was from a student asking how he could be a positive force in the world of water environmental solutions. It was totally unexpected from a Liberal Arts student who has a double major in Chemical Engineering.

Mentoring students during my open office hours on non-profit strategies.  

I enjoy meeting with students for open office hours as well, where I provide one-on-one mentorship. I find having office hours, where a student can come in alone and ask questions without a crowd watching, to be quite a different experience than teaching. Virtually all of the students who wanted to talk about starting a non-profit were gifted and generally on target with what they had done and planned to do. It was a little difficult for me to listen to some of the questions or comments until I tried to relate to what I would have asked as a 1st or 2nd-year student… I wouldn’t have measured up for sure.

South Asia Institute

I also visited The South Asia Institute that is funded by the Marlene & Morton Meyerson Centennial Chair. We had lunch while I learned about the research being done by the Ph.D. candidates in the program. I couldn’t believe how many Udo speakers I came across. I tangentially knew some of the material, but when I discovered one student was studying Jain’s who become wealthy, I was intrigued. Another interesting project was a student studying non-binary and transgender sub-castes in Southern India.

Having lunch with Don Davis Jr., Director of The South Asia Institute.

Asian Study Ph.D. candidates share their research and ask questions. 

The Most Innovative Project

The most innovative project I learned about was by a young woman from Houston whose parents were from Rajasthan (NW India) They started a non-profit, The MAHI Project, to help rural women in India with menstrual hygiene. These young, rural women generally don’t have any sex education, access to pads, or really understand the fundamentals of hygiene. Our family, a few years back, investigated a pad machine which could produce 1 pad for $.01 USD, and their family bought one of those machines. They went to Rajasthan to teach their lessons and how to operate the machine. It was a failure due to the complexity of the machine, but they persevered and tried again in Kerala in South India. This was successful, but the need there was less great. Now, they are going to Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh over spring break to teach their lessons and how to operate the machine. Imagine you are a honors student at UT, and as a freshman, you try this project on for size.

Apricity Magazine

During one of my office hour sessions, I met with a Plan II Honors freshman who is an ambitious poet and student writer. She created and published Apricity Magazine. Apricity means warmth of the sun. The magazine is a collection of the best poetry and prose from around the world, as selected by her and a few staff peeps, plus a few poems of her own. The work to do this is stunningly huge. She and a tiny team produced 1 magazine with a run of only 70 copies. That was all they could afford to print at the time. She asked me how to expand the readership base and if a subscription model would make sense. I purchased two copies and encouraged her to do the subscription model. I hope everyone gets the chance to support this very talented writer in the future.

Signs of A Bright Future

Read the press, watch TV, hear podcasts, or even be a part of a conversation about higher education in the USA; with that insight, you could walk away shaken and depressed. When I read about some elite Universities not allowing speakers on campus who have a view different from a vocal student or faculty group, it depresses me.

Before I came to UT to teach last year, I wondered who I would meet in the student population. I was pleasantly surprised and happy that I met capable, reasonable, highly motivated students. I came away convinced that UT Austin had a reasonably centrist student body and a smart, capable faculty.

Discussing a student’s vision to one day run a non-profit of her own. 

This year, I have an even stronger feeling about those first observations. I have met students whom I would hire in a flash if they were graduating. The stories I have heard about their academic track (so many 4.0 students) plus their concern and actions to help others left me breathless in awe. It is one thing to have a giant GPA, but to also have wide-ranging interests and volunteer to help others?

If these observations are correct (and I am confident they are) America will be ok. The extreme right and left may yell and scream but the students coming out of UT Austin are going to change the world for the better.

-Morton of Austin

A plaque on the front steps of UT Austin’s Tower.