UT Tower

Standing at 3-and-a-half feet in a Chicago apartment, the UT Tower stands tall. Not far in a guest bedroom lies a 2-and-a-half foot tall Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. UT alumnus Drew Finkel created these two campus landmarks out of more than 62,000 Legos combined.

After posting pictures on Reddit of his Lego replicas of the Tower and the stadium, Drew’s hobby went viral. When the University tweeted a link to pictures of the stadium replica, Drew replied that UT was welcome to borrow it. According to Laura Finkel, Drew’s wife, the University jumped at the opportunity.

“I’m surprised at how much attention this has received,” Laura said. “We have had so many media outlets reach out to us to do interviews on it.“

Exactly when the stadium will be brought to UT and where it will be displayed has not been confirmed, but Drew believes it will be in the Student Services Building.

“I built the stadium in multiple pieces because I knew that, wherever it was built, I didn’t want it to have to live there forever,”
Drew said. 

Drew started the Tower, which took about five months to complete, in March 2013 and started the stadium this year. In the past, he had only worked on small, 4-inch tall Lego replicas of landmarks such as Big Ben, which had instructions.

“It was starting to become winter and it was a little cold outside, and I just said, ‘Hey, I think I’m going to build the UT tower out of Legos,’” Drew said. “It was said as a joke, like maybe we’ll see, and then I started doing it, and it actually happened.”

According to Laura, it is not unusual to want to stay inside when it is minus 14 degrees Fahrenheit.

“Just imagine someone who’s knitting in front of the TV  — he does the same things for Legos,” Laura said. “It didn’t interfere with anything just because the winters are so awful here, and I think it was his way of coping with the seasons here.”

Drew used images from Google Maps to build the Tower and traveled to campus during spring break to take his own pictures, filling in the holes for any views he did not have.

“For the stadium, the hardest part was doing the inside because there is not a lot on Google Maps or images that I could find of the inside,” Drew said. “Luckily, all of the sides of the stadium are on the street, so using Street View was pretty helpful for that.”

For now, when people visit his apartment, they are surprised to see Lego replicas. Drew’s friend Richard Meth, software engineer and UT alumnus living in Dallas, saw most of the process through pictures and when he visited Chicago.

“He set his mind to it and finished it,” Meth said. “I didn’t realize how much effort he put into it until I saw it and helped him finish off DKR. To fit his design, Drew had cut and pieced together thousands of little Lego pieces. It took time and patience, but, in the end, both models look outstanding.”

RTF majors junior Justin Perez, senior Victoria Prescott and senior Hannah Whisenant stand outside the UT Tower as a part of a memorial service presentation organized for the anniversary of the 1966 Tower shooting. As president of the Students of the World organization, Whisenant organized the event that memorialized victims of the shooting.

Photo Credit: Sarah Montgomery | Daily Texan Staff

Current and former University students gathered on the Main Mall on Friday for a living memorial 48 years after Charles Whitman opened fire from the observation deck of the UT Tower.

The memorial service began at the Littlefield Fountain and moved to where each victim fell, to remember 16 people who were killed and the 31 wounded after architectural engineering student Whitman’s shooting spree on Aug. 1, 1966.

Many of the survivors of the shooting were in attendance, including Claire Wilson James who was one of the first people shot, while eight months pregnant. Her boyfriend at the time, Tom Eckman was killed in the attack, as was their unborn child.

“This is the first time that I’ve been able to be part of a community that was involved in this and I’ve longed for it. I’ve longed for it for all of these years and I’m incredibly touched,” James said.

A group called UT Students of the World organized the event. Hannah Whisenant, event coordinator and radio-television-film junior, learned that an official memorial service had never been held for the victims while working as an intern on an upcoming documentary film on the shooting.

“The turtle pond is built as a memorial, but it’s a very tiny plaque, and a lot of people have been upset about that and with the recent shootings and with mass shootings kind of becoming a recurring problem it seemed like a good time to revisit that issue,” Whisenant said.

The walk finished at the turtle pond behind the tower, where the memorial ended with a speech from adjunct associate professor Alfred McAlister and a moment of silence. McAlister said less guns in fewer hands and better mental health care for people were the keys to preventing mass shootings.

Actually, the same way you prevent mass killing is how you prevent suicide,” McAlister said. “It’s exactly the same thing — school psychologists, mental health experts at the grassroots level finding and helping disturbed people.

James said she didn't feel traumatized by the event, but rather that she is a proud survivor and said she thought it was good that people can talk about it.

Remember how important it is to try your best to talk to somebody when something like this happens, James said. I think it's better if they didn’t focus so much on the killer, but you know, personally, I just always felt sorry for him.

Photo Credit: Sam Ortega | Daily Texan Staff

In front of an orange-lit UT Tower, 8,686 students graduated from the University at the 131st Spring Commencement ceremony on Saturday.

The event capped off two days of ceremonies held in the individual colleges and schools at UT. University officials estimate 25,000 people attended the final event, which was held on the Main Mall.

Naval Adm. William McRaven, who led the mission that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden, delivered the keynote address at the University-wide ceremony. McRaven, a UT alumnus, shared life lessons he learned from basic Navy SEAL training and said they can help the graduates “change the world.”

“If take you take some risks, step up when the times are toughest, face down the bullies, lift up the downtrodden and never, ever give up – if you do these things, then next generation and the generations that follow will live in a world far better than the one we have today,” McRaven said.

During his speech at the ceremony, President William Powers Jr. praised the graduating class' diversity. According to Powers, the graduating class consisted of students from 71 foreign countries and 48 states.

Powers said the University benefits from having students with diverse backgrounds.

“Size and diversity are among are University’s strengths,” Powers said.

Four-year graduation rates for the class of 2014 were not available by the time of publication. In 2011, Powers created a task force with the goal of improving the University’s graduation rate to 70 percent by 2016. Over the past five years, graduation rates have ranged between 50 and 52 percent.

Along with seating on the Main Mall lawn, attendees could view the ceremony from nine indoor locations across campus, such as the AT&T Conference Center, Hogg Memorial Auditorium and Student Activity Center.

After the ceremony, biochemistry graduate Ifran Nathani said he will miss the friendships he made at UT.

“That fact that hard work is paying off makes me feel really good.” Nathani said. “I will remember all the good times I’ve had with my friends – present and past.”

Photo Credit: Aaron Rodriguez | Daily Texan Staff

The loudest noise on the 13th floor of the UT Tower is the minute hand of an old clock. 

More than half of the floors of the UT Tower are empty, classified formally by the University as either “vacant” or “future storage space.” Furniture and unused computer monitors are the only occupants in some of the abandoned offices. The few employees who still work in the upper floors of the Tower won’t be there much longer, because of safety concerns involving evacuation policies. Though the outside of the Tower is ornately decorated, and instantly recognizable, UT’s most iconic building is largely hollow.

“The Tower is really, really cool,” said Dan Slesnick, the senior vice provost for resource management. “The views up there are just spectacular. Losing tens of thousands of square feet of office space on a campus that is short of space is very, very difficult. But we have to keep people safe.”

Of the 657 available rooms in the Tower and Main Building, only 57 percent are currently in use. Of those rooms, just under half are not occupied by people and are instead used as break rooms and for storage. Seventeen of the Tower’s 32 floors are unoccupied.

Slesnick said his office is nearly finished moving people out of the Tower’s upper floors. The University considers the space less safe than lower floors because of the Life Safety Code, a nationwide set of fire safety rules, which requires buildings have multiple exits in the case of a fire. From the 13th floor up to the top of the Tower, an area where there are still 20 occupied offices, there is only one staircase

Though UT fire marshall James Johnson said there are several ongoing projects to make the Tower and stairwells more safe in the event of a fire, he does not feel those measures will ever be sufficient.

“Those things in turn are going to enhance the systems we already have in place, but it’s never going to get us to where the University would like to be based on today’s codes,” Johnson said. “There’s no way we are ever going to be able to build another stairwell — it’s impossible.”

Repurposing buildings is a standard practice on campuses as old and sprawling as UT. Waggener Hall, for instance, originally housed the business school, and as a result, is decorated with images of peaches, cotton, oil and other Texas exports. Waggener Hall became home to the classics and philosophy departments after the business school got a new building.

Though buildings are regularly repurposed, especially for reasons of space efficiency, it is unlikely the upper levels of the Tower will ever become permanent office space again.

The 13th floor of the UT Tower is currently being used as storage space, along with over half of the tower’s 32 floors. The upper floors of the tower that still remain occupied will soon be cleared out in order to meet fire safety regulations. Photo by Lauren Ussery / Daily Texan Staff

When the Tower was completed in 1937, the University planned to use the monumental building as the campus’ main library and not as permanent
office space. UT historian Jim Nicar said while a few administrators were using space in the Tower from the beginning, the plan was not to keep the administrators there but rather to move them into a building of their own. As more libraries opened up on campus, Nicar said the Tower began transitioning more and more into an office space for the administration and staff.

“The administration wasn’t originally supposed to go in the main building of campus — that was the library,” Nicar said. “It was supposed to be the depository of human knowledge. The administration is not the star of the show — it’s the library.”

Slesnick said UT does have plans to use at least some of the space, including using it to store plants. Slesnick says the University is still determining how it will use the upper floors of the Tower once everyone is moved out, but one option is to move storage of plant specimens from the Plant Resources Center currently spanning six lower floors to the higher space. The Plant Resources Center is the University’s herbarium, with more than a million plant specimens, including the largest collection of Texas plants in the world. Slesnick said moving the center higher up would open lower floors up to office space.

Slesnick said transforming the space currently used by the Plant Resource Center into office space will take both money and time, and the process is further complicated by the fact that the Tower is an old and historic building the University strives to preserve.

“Right now we’re kind of in a holding pattern, and that’s why you’re seeing a vacancy,” Slesnick said. “When it comes to space management, everything moves at a glacial pace.”

Students from UT's College of Communication put up their horns and scream after college dean Rodrick Hart announced they were official graduates. 

Photo Credit: Pu Ying Huang | Daily Texan Staff

Under the burnt orange glow of the UT Tower, thousands took their seat as students. They stood up as UT alumni at the University’s 130th commencement Saturday.

UT officials estimate 25,000 people came to see the 8,358 students from the Class of 2013 graduate. Sanya Richards-Ross, former UT student and Olympic gold medalist, delivered the keynote address at the ceremony, which UT officials have been planning for all year.

The class’ graduation rate, a report UT officials consider crucial, was not available by press time. UT is leading an effort to increase its four-year graduation rates, which currently stand at 52 percent, to 70 percent by 2016.

Attendees also faced new security standards and were unable to take any bags larges than 12 inches into the ceremony, a precautionary measure UT adopted after the Boston bombings.

Richards-Ross told the crowd about the successes and failures she had experienced in her running career. She was diagnosed with a rare disease that gave her mouth ulcers, which she said made it difficult for her to run. 

Richards-Ross said she pushed through this obstacle to do what she loved and urged graduates to do the same.

“In order to achieve greatness, you will experience failure. It’s the bitter ingredient in the recipe for success,” she said. “Without trying and failing, you never get the opportunity to stand in the face of your disappointments, your insecurities or your arrogance, your pride, and say ‘I’m stronger.’”

UT President William Powers Jr opened the ceremony and conferred degrees at the end. He said this year’s graduates came from 66 countries, 48 states and 158 Texas counties.

“That’s more than 8,000 unique paths leading here to the Main Mall, it’s a big night,” Powers said. “Size and diversity are among our greatest strengths and throughout history we’ve welcomed students seeking knowledge, expertise, inspiration and opportunity.”

Rod Caspers, director of University Events, said his office began physically setting up for graduation in April. Hundreds of people are brought in to replant flowers, paint the streets and set up chairs, among other tasks.

There are six immediate staffers in his office and more are brought in to help with graduation. Many of UT’s events are volunteer-based, he said. About 65 people signed up to volunteer at graduation.

Caspers said people could watch the ceremony in front of the UT Tower or in any of the nine indoor viewing locations across campus, including the Student Activity Center and Hogg Memorial Auditorium. Many go there to avoid the heat, he said.

“It’s kind of like we’re inviting family and friends to our house. You don’t invite family and friends if you don’t have enough food,” Caspers said. “I don’t want people to have a bad experience because we didn’t plan for it.

UT officials said last year 52 percent of 6,679 first-time freshman who came to UT in 2008 graduated in four years; 324 were dismissed; 871 dropped out and 2,000 continued onto a fifth year. Officials said final numbers would be available in the fall.

Event personnel checked bags at all entrances to the weekend’s graduation ceremonies. UT spokeswoman Tara Doolittle said the University prohibited bags larger than 12 inches to be brought into the ceremonies and all other bags would be checked. She said UT worked to inform graduates of the change.

Chemical engineering graduate Rebekah Scheuerle said she appreciated the opportunity to work in a research lab during her time at UT and network with the school’s most talented students. 

Philosophy graduate Paulina Sosa said she felt the social experience of studying on campus and interacting with various student communities, studying abroad in Italy and being involved in UT’s entrepreneurship program have changed her life.

“This is the time to really show your biggest supporters, your family, friends and mentors just how much they have impacted you over the years,” Sosa said. “You get to share this victory with the people that believed in you along the way. It's a joyous time that all of us graduates have looked forward to since the beginning.”

Contact Christine Ayala christineayala@utexas.edu or follow her on Twitter @christineayala. Additional reporting by staff writer Jody Serrano.

Coach Mack Brown addresses the crowd at the TCU Hex Rally Monday evening. Though UT has a new Thanksgiving rival in TCU, Brown stressed the importance of keeping the Hex tradition alive.

Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

The glow of red candles illuminated the steps of the UT Tower 71 years after UT’s first hex on Texas A&M, proving that Longhorn tradition remains even if the original opponent does not.

The Texas Exes Spirit and Traditions Council hosted its annual Hex Rally on Monday at the Main Mall, placing a curse on the TCU football team in time for the Thanksgiving game. Although the Longhorns have hexed A&M for the past 26 years, the Aggies’ departure from the Big 12 Conference provided UT with the opportunity to hex the Horned Frogs.

According to the Texas Exes, the Longhorn football team ended an 18-year losing streak against A&M at Kyle Field in 1948 after a local fortune teller, Madam Agusta Hipple, suggested burning red candles a week before the game. Since then UT has used the hex against rivals other than A&M, including SMU in 1950, Baylor in 1953 and TCU in 1955.

Kelsey Roberts, the Texas Exes’ student relations coordinator, said the organization considered replacing the hex rally as a result of A&M’s departure, but ultimately decided to keep the rally because it is a valuable piece of UT history and tradition.

“If we got rid of the rally, it would be proving that this entire time it was all about A&M,” Roberts said. “We instead decided to keep up with this tradition by making it more about us.”

Advertising senior Erica Flores, Texas Exes Spirit and Traditions Council chair, said the council worked to make the rally more UT-focused by introducing new acts to the rally, including a skit by mascot Hook ‘Em and a speech by Harley Clark, creator of the “Hook ‘Em Horns” hand sign.

“Students need to embody UT traditions as UT traditions,” Flores said. “We need to take the ownership back, and this year provides a great opportunity for that.”

Flores said the organization successfully maintained student body spirit for the tradition. The Student Chapter sold more than 400 Hex Rally shirts Monday in addition to 400 shirts it sold Nov. 14, Flores said. She said this support reflects UT’s independence gained from A&M’s departure from the Big 12 Conference.

“Of course there may be mixed opinions about the rally, but there is a sense of such excitement because not all campuses do these types of things,” Flores said.

Despite the changes made to the rally, one aspect remained the same. Coach Mack Brown initiated the hex by lighting the first candle. Brown emphasized UT’s 15-home game winning streak against TCU.

Junior offensive guard Mason Walters said UT’s opponent is not what is important. Walters said what matters is the time-honored tradition of Longhorn football on Thanksgiving Day.

“The thing about this game is it is about Texas,” Walters said. “It is not about the other team.”

Printed on Tuesday, November 20, 2012 as: New team, same tradition

A student fills a gallon jug with dirty water from Town Lake on Friday Oct. 26. The Clean Water March represents the walk many people in developing countries have to make in order to supply their families with water. 

Photo Credit: Becca Gamache | Daily Texan Staff

Carrying two gallons of water each, students trekked more than five miles from UT Tower to Town Lake to raise awareness about the approximately one billion people who are forced to walk miles for clean water every day.

The walk was organized by Students for Clean Water, a student organization that works to raise awareness about water problems in developing countries. Nutrition senior Zabin Marediya, the organization’s president, said in some areas, children as young as 5-years-old retrieve water with jerry cans, which can hold about five gallons of water, or up to 40 pounds.

“The gallons we carried are an iota compared to 40 pounds of water,” Marediya said. “It was an eye-opening moment because people do not realize how hard it is. Every day people have to walk so many miles to a water source that is disease-ridden and very bad for them.”

According to the nonprofit organization water.org, 3.4 million people die each year from sanitation issues, including a lack of access to clean water. Children collectively miss up to 443 million school days due to water-related illness.

Public health senior Jesse Contreras, Students for Clean Water vice president, said despite the fatigue, the walk was a positive example of doing anything possible to raise awareness for those in need of clean water.

“My arms were pretty tired by the time we got back,” Contreras said. “But I cannot complain since it was not like the 40 pound jerry cans.”

Students for Clean Water has raised more than $65,000 for clean water since its inception two years ago with efforts that include benefit concerts, a semi-annual pancake party and profit shares with local businesses. Students for Clean Water is currently working to provide the Rulindo District of Rwanda with clean water for the first time.

In addition to university efforts, the organization advocates support for Austin initiatives for clean water. Some of the organization’s members participated at the Gazelle Foundation’s “Run for the Water” Sunday morning. The Gazelle Foundation focuses on improving the quality of life for those in Burundi, Africa by funding and building clean water projects in Burundi.

Plan II junior Jaclyn Kachelmeyer, Students for Clean Water member, woke up early to run a 5k route for the race. She said although she was exhausted, she was glad to participate in the race because it was for a good cause.

“We try to support water-related causes whenever we can,” Kachelmeyer said. “Clean water is a right everyone should have, and as students we can work as a large force to raise awareness.”

Printed on Monday, October 29, 2012 as: Students walk with water jugs, advocate access to clean water

UTPD investigating TAMU graffiti on campus

Vandals defaced prominent UT landmarks and many spaces on campus with Texas A&M-related graffiti this weekend. UT officials say they do not know who committed the crime but an investigation is ongoing. Photo Credit: Fanny Trang | Daily Texan Staff
Vandals defaced prominent UT landmarks and many spaces on campus with Texas A&M-related graffiti this weekend. UT officials say they do not know who committed the crime but an investigation is ongoing. Photo Credit: Fanny Trang | Daily Texan Staff

To see more photos of the graffiti, view Daily Texan photo blog: Aggie-themed graffiti litters campus.

Even though UT and Texas A&M University are not meeting on the football field anytime soon, vandals sought to fan the flames of rivalry by defacing prominent UT landmarks with A&M graffiti tags this weekend.

UT spokesperson Cindy Posey said the areas around the UT tower, the Peter T. Flawn Academic Center, and the East and West Mall were some of the areas tagged. Although University officials don’t know exactly when it happened or who is responsible, they guess that it was between Friday night and Saturday morning. Posey said an investigation by the University of Texas Police Department is underway. Officials started cleaning the affected areas Saturday and expect the cleanup to be finished soon.

UT building attendant Christopher Goudreau said it will be a big job to clean up the graffiti because most of it was done with spray paint on concrete, but he thinks it is possible and there will be no need to replace any thing that was vandalized.

Prominent UT landmarks defaced include the wall perimeter of the UT tower, the windows of the of the Peter T. Flawn Academic Center, the statues of Jefferson Davis and Woodrow Wilson in front of the tower and the 1987 “The West” sculpture by Donald Lipski that is East of the tower.

The graffiti was done in red and includes the phrases “ATM,” “MUNGLOAF,” “Howdy,” “GIG ‘EM,” “FARMERS FIGHT,” “Whoop!,” “OLD ARMY Fight!,” “SEC!,” “GO AGGIES,” “CORPS,” and “MISS US YET?.”

Posey said she did not know what the consequences for the vandals involved would be.

Similar vandalism attacks have occurred at UT in the past. In Oct. 2011, vandals spray painted a bridge near the Winshop Drama Building and other campus monuments with sayings that include, "GiG em Aggies."  

The Texas A&M football team joined the Southeastern Conference this fall, and they are not set to play UT this season for the first time since 1914. A rivalry between the two schools has existed since 1894, when they first began playing each other.

Undeclared sophomore Emily Smith said she thought the graffiti was probably done to keep the rivalry between the two universities going, but she it wasn’t a good attempt at accomplishing that goal.

“They could have done a better job, a more impressive job,” she said. “It kind of looks like chicken scratch.”

Smith said although UT was defaced, she hopes members of the UT community will not retaliate against Texas A&M.

“I think we should keep the moral high ground,” she said. 


(Photo Courtesy of UT Tower)

The chime of UT’s carillon bells will soon be absent from campus as a three-month construction project draws closer. For the past four months, the bells have been in partial operation for a separate construction project. 

From Nov. 1 until Jan. 31, the carillon bells housed in the UT Tower will be out of commission for a $71,000 project to repair years of wear and tear, Bill Throop, director of project management and construction services, said. Throop said the bells have been in partial operation for the last four months because a $331,000 walkway was being built around them. He said the bells will resume normal operation Thursday and continue until the November project begins.

Throop said he feels it is important for the University to preserve the bells, as they have become an integral piece of UT’s culture.

“It’s just part of the fabric of the campus,” he said.

Joshua Cook, spokesperson for the office of the vice president for Student Affairs, said the bells have a long history at UT.

“The original 17 bells were installed in 1936,” he said. “In 1986, a bequest from the estate of Hedwig Thusnelda Kniker added another 39 bells.”

Throop said normally the bells go off every quarter hour. They chime the correlating number of times for each hour on the hour and once on the quarter, half and three-quarter hour. Also, tunes are played on the bells several times throughout the day by professional keyboardists inside the tower, Throop said.

He said the University decided to build the walkway around the bells after receiving complaints from workers that the area should be more in line with current construction safety standards.

“Expectations have changed with regard to what workers are expecting from the standpoint of safety on a project,” Throop said. “So in this case, our workers who were going up there regularly said, ‘We can get up there and we can maintain these, but if we had a catwalk, it would be better.’”

Throop said while working on the walkway, and in recent years, the wear and tear on the bells became increasingly apparent, and repairs were deemed necessary.

“More and more often, [UT staff members] were having problems with individual keys and individual bells,” he said.

UT alumnus Nathan Crenshaw said he hopes the construction goes well and the bells last for a long time, as he is well aware of their importance to the campus community.

“It’s a part of what makes you feel like you are going to UT,” he said. “It’s like they go off and you look at the tower, and you’re like, ‘Oh yeah, I go to one of the largest schools in the country.’ Then it makes you feel like you are doing something with purpose by going to school.”

The Longhorn Band performs at Gone to Texas Tuesday, Aug. 28. The annual event welcomed the class of 2016, which could potentially be the largest incoming freshman class UT has ever seen according to University officials.

Photo Credit: Zachary Strain | Daily Texan Staff

The number “16” burned brightly on the UT Tower at the 15th annual “Gone to Texas” welcome celebration.

Traditionally held the day before the first day of school, the celebration featured speakers, special performances and an address from UT President William Powers Jr. To accommodate the large class of incoming students, university officials set up about 1,200 additional seats. The event also featured the UT Honor Code, which encourages values like learning and responsibility, despite Powers’ summer announcement that it would be changing within the next few months.

Student body president Thor Lund opened the night with a few encouraging words for the new students.

“We are a truly amazing place, and tonight is the beginning of a year and a lifetime full of wonderful opportunities,” Lund said. “If you haven’t already noticed, Texas has a unique and valid spirit, and at the University of Texas, anything is possible.”

Every year, Gone to Texas welcomes all students new to UT, whether freshman, transfer or graduate students. Junior transfer student Bryce Gibson said it was a good way to start off the year for him.

“I’ve always wanted to come to Texas,” Gibson said. “It kind of gets you in the spirit of Texas.”

In addition to hearing from Powers, students were also encouraged to take advantage of all the opportunities at UT. Biology and anthropology senior Alexa Van Brummen spoke about her experience reaching out to a professor and getting involved in research her first year.

Brummen works on spinal injury reseach and encouraged new students to get involved early in their time at UT.

“I know what all of you are thinking: ‘Meh, I’ll do that later.’ But why not sooner rather than later?” she said. “UT gives you all of the resources to pursue any interest you might have.”