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History Department’s Outreach Program Gives High Schoolers College Classroom Experience

UT Department of History’s Bridge Program

Ernest Freeberg speaks to students from Austin-East and Fulton High Schools as part of the Department of History’s Bridge Program.

On a recent Thursday morning, students from two local high schools debated the merits of radical abolitionist John Brown’s violent approach to overthrowing slavery during the 1850s.

They split into two groups on opposite sides of the Great Room in the UT International House and debated whether Brown, who led attacks on pro-slavery residents, was a hero or traitor.

The spirited discussion, moderated by Ernest Freeberg, head of the Department of History, gave the teens a taste of a college-level lecture—and of a UT history class in particular.

The students’ visit was part of the Department of History’s Bridge Program, an outreach initiative that connects UT history faculty with Advanced Placement US history students at Knox County’s Austin-East and Fulton High Schools.

“Our faculty have been visiting the AP US history classes of these students all year, and now we bring them to campus for a day of seeing what it’s like to be at the UT campus, and hopefully to help them envision how wonderful it would be to be a history major at UT,” said program coordinator Pat Rutenberg, a senior history lecturer.

During the academic year, 10 history faculty members visit Austin-East and Fulton High Schools to deliver lectures on various topics, including World War II, women’s rights, and civil rights. They also share their syllabi and give the students an opportunity to pepper them with questions.

At the end of the academic year, the department brings the students to UT for a day to experience a lecture as an undergraduate student would, talk to admissions, take a campus tour, and visit the McClung Museum.

The outreach program, in its third year, also doubles as a recruitment tool.

“We thought this was the best way to tap talented potential US history majors,” Freeberg said. “Our hope is to diversify the body of students who come to study with us.”


Lola Alapo (865-974-3993,