Opportunities abound for free, extracurricular education

At least once during their college careers, students are likely to hear the phrase “you learn as much outside the classroom as within it.” While this can be disheartening to parents paying tens of thousands of dollars in tuition, it is not necessarily untrue. In fact, Kansas University offers many opportunities beyond the classroom, for free, right on campus.

From first-rate museums to appearances by famous speakers to a sprawling student center, the KU campus offers a wealth of opportunities for students to broaden their horizons and enhance their educations.

KU junior Alex Montgomery has tried to take full advantage of the extracurricular opportunities on campus. During his first two years at the university, he has been a member of multiple student organizations, attended university events, served on Student Senate and held two on-campus jobs.

Montgomery says it is not enough for students to simply complete their assigned coursework; they should also take advantage of out-of-class opportunities.

“There’s no point in going to a major university if all you want are classes,” Montgomery said. “KU is a leader because it provides students with resources not only in, but outside of the classroom. But nobody is going to make you take advantage of those resources; it is up to you. Your degree is as valuable as you want it to be.”

At KU, there are plenty of opportunities to supplement students’ educations with out-of-classroom activities and access to resources that don’t fit within the usual academic regimen. A number of campus institutions and organizations offer the chance to learn and explore — and even have some fun — and students won’t have to pay any extra to benefit from them.

Natural History Museum

Step out of the campus jungle and into a wild world of wolves, polar bears and dinosaurs at KU’s Natural History Museum on Jayhawk Boulevard. Just inside the entryway of this free, century-old museum, visitors are surrounded by a panoramic view of taxidermied wildlife scenes of rainforests, arctic tundras, forests, deserts, prairies and the Rocky Mountain range. Explore the museum’s four floors of exhibits, which include everything from live snakes and bees to prehistoric fossils.

Wilcox Classical Museum

Just two decades younger than the university itself, the Wilcox Classical Museum has been enriching students’ education for more than 125 years, but many of the items in its collection have been around for thousands of years. The Wilcox Classical collection is now housed in Lippincott Hall, across the street from its original 1886 location in old Fraser Hall, and features ancient Greek and Roman sculptures and antiquities. Visitors can see sixth century BCE coins, bowls and jugs from 12th century BCE, as well as ancient busts, décor and full-sized replicas of statues found in the Louvre, such as the Venus de Milo and Germanicus.

Spencer Museum of Art

Bask in the beauty of paintings, sculptures, photography and more from ancient to contemporary eras at the Spencer Museum of Art, located just west of the Kansas Union. Not only can you enjoy the museum’s continually changing collection, but Spencer also hosts a number of special events and workshops and brings in special artists in residence throughout the year.

While not an art connoisseur, KU sophomore Kaitlyn Klein says she enjoys the Spencer Museum because of these special events and programming that helps students grasp big concepts through creativity.

“I love that we have such a thoughtful museum right in the backyard of our campus,” Klein said. “I went to the ‘Politics as Art’ exhibit and it was very thought-provoking. Everyone should go at least once during their time at KU.”

Dole Institute of Politics

Tired of your professor? Some of the greatest leaders in the nation lecture at the Dole Institute of Politics. Presidents Clinton and George H. W. Bush, Sen. George Mitchell, and Watergate reporter Bob Woodward all have spoken at the institute, which is celebrating its 10th year in operation.

Montgomery, the KU junior, who works as a student coordinator for the institute, says it provides a valuable service to visitors. “We constantly hear about politics, but typically we hear it from biased groups, our circles of friends or news sources that are left-or-right-leaning,” he said. “The Dole Institute is a unique resource that gives KU a chance to hear primary, bipartisan sources on issues that could otherwise be difficult to understand.”

Hall Center for Humanities

Hall Center for Humanities on Sunnyside Drive regularly recruits esteemed scholars and professionals to speak on interdisciplinary topics. This fall, international human rights lawyer and author Arsalan Iftikhar, Harvard University professor of American History (and New Yorker author) Jill Lepore and Pulitzer-prize-winning author Junot Diaz will speak as part of the center’s renowned Humanities Lecture Series.

Monarch Watch

Get away from it all at the Monarch Watch gardens on West Campus, where students and community members are welcome to enjoy the outdoors and appreciate these pollinators in their natural habitat. Flourishing with butterfly-friendly plants such as milkweed, Monarch Watch was created to preserve and research the fluttering insects. It’s famous, too: Movies such as “Moving for Monarchs” and Disney’s “Wings of Life” have been filmed on location.

Booth Family Hall of Athletics

If you are dying to get into Allen Fieldhouse before basketball season starts, you can get pretty close at the Booth Family Hall of Athletics. Located just in front of the fieldhouse, view KU’s NCAA National Basketball Championship trophies and Wilt Chamberlain’s letter jacket. And the exhibits aren’t just about basketball — learn the rich history of athleticism at Kansas University from football to track and field.

Kansas Union

The Kansas Union is more than just a hangout in between a day’s classes; the six-story student center hosts a variety of events well into the evening. Inside the sprawling facility at the end of Jayhawk Boulevard are auditoriums and meeting spaces available for rent, several restaurants, stores and the campus radio station, 90.7 KJHK. Additionally, the Kansas Union is home to Student Union Activities, one of the largest student organizations on campus, which puts on an extensive list of programming, from ice cream socials, tailgates and movies to cooking classes, fashion shows and distinguished lectures.

KU senior and SUA Vice President of Alumni and Community Relations Christy Khamphilay says participating in on-campus events such as SUA’s offers students not only an educational benefit, but a community spirit as well.

“As a college student, (SUA) gives us so many opportunities to hear a speaker making an impact in the world or an up-and-coming music artist at a low cost,” Khamphilay said. “When students take advantage of attending events on campus, I think it also makes students feel more connected to KU.”