The fourteenth annual fall University Lecture Series (ULS) invited notable professors from across the Forty Acres to discuss two pressing global issues: the novel coronavirus pandemic and race and social justice in America. This year’s lectures were livestreamed from the Liberal Arts Instructional Technology Services (LAITS) studios to an audience of first-year students who joined in a question and answer segment after each lecture.
Four lectures were scheduled during the spring semester as well, but only two took place before the campus closed as the pandemic spread in mid-March. After the disruptions, Patty Micks, the director of the First-Year Experience program which organizes the lecture series, began planning for a digital pivot this summer.
“We reached out to our colleagues in LAITS to develop a way to offer our fall events virtually, with the same high-level production we normally have in person,” Micks said.
From the LAITS studio, Undergraduate Studies Dean Brent Iverson introduced each night’s lecture from one studio while the lecturers each had their own space to present. At the end of each lecture, Dean Iverson posed questions from the audience to the presenters.
The first night, which was titled “COVID-19 Research That Changes the World,” featured Dr. Lauren Ancel Meyers and Dr. Jason McLellan addressing the data behind the virus and the structure of COVID-19.
Dean Brent Iverson began the series by offering a personal anecdote about his experience contracting the virus and emphasized the importance of masks and social distancing. “This was one of the earliest community spreading events in Austin,” said Dean Iverson. “I want everyone to know just how contagious this darn virus is.”
Meyers continued the presentation by discussing her role as a pandemic modeler and how she uses data and math to model the spread of the pandemic. She took the student audience on a tour through the past few months, talking about the key discoveries by researchers as well as offering a plan on what to do going forward.
McLellan then spoke about the structure and functions behind the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein that causes COVID-19. He also addressed some of the different vaccines that are being developed and tested and how they work to fight the coronavirus. “We’re hopeful that these new vaccine antigens will play an important role in this current pandemic,” said McLellan.
On the second night, Dr. Leonard Moore presented “Racial Justice, AI, and the Disrupted EDU.” Moore began his talk by addressing the ongoing issues of race in America that have erupted and taken center stage in multiple ways this year. He strongly emphasized the importance of having talks and open dialog concerning race-related issues. “We are having conversations in America that we should have had a long time ago,” Moore said.
He continued by explaining how the current virtual semester will permanently alter future ones, and how students need to be diligent about gaining new perspectives. Moore stressed that global experiences and the need to be culturally intelligent are critical ways students can distinguish themselves.
Read more about the ULS in a story from the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost.