Exploring Collaborative & Interdisciplinary Work

By: Sarah Bracy, Lauren Ngo, & Jose Romero

In our first blog post as a team, titled “Starting Over After the End of the World”, we were successful due to our ability to communicate with each other effectively and work collaboratively. Because we worked so well as a team for our first blog post, a few of us decided to do a couple more together, now that we are finally able to utilize each other’s strengths and knowledge in the most efficient manner. Our post turned out to be even better than we planned because it brought together all of our individual ideas and transformed them into something interdisciplinary and multifaceted. However, this polished final product started off as a pile of scraps that we didn’t quite know what to do with at first.

During our second group work session, we were all getting to that dreaded turning point in every semester when everyone feels exhausted. We felt a bit hopeless about our first post actually turning into something. We completed very little work that day and consequently decided that the next time we met, we would all come with new ideas and a plan to get the blog post done. During our third and final collaboration session, everyone came in ready to work and brought in their completed research. Most importantly, we spoke to each other, brainstorming new ideas, asking for feedback, and actively including the new ideas and feedback until our work throughout the session had evolved so much that by the end it was unrecognizable from that of our first session. This preparation and mindset helped us utilize our allotted time efficiently. Looking back at our experience, we were able to successfully meet one of Geneseo’s GLOBE learning outcomes:

“Leadership and Collaboration: To engage others in developing collaborative solutions; to experiment, take risks, and learn from mistakes; to enable, encourage, and recognize contributions to collaborative efforts by all group members; to manage and share work fairly and respectfully; to envision, promote, consider, and respond to diverse viewpoints.” 

Geneseo Learning Outcomes for Baccalaureate Education, SUNY Geneseo

The skills listed under this learning outcome helped us achieve a high mark on our first blog post, and allowed us to work with one another while gaining a fuller understanding first of the challenges and later of the advantages that accompany working collaboratively. As a whole, we were able to share our work fairly and respond to diverse viewpoints by discussing our thoughts on Jemisin’s literature. During the process, we also discovered the extent to which our work as a team could be defined as interdisciplinary, since most of us have different major backgrounds and therefore bring in ideas that may have never crossed the rest of our minds. As such, Jemisin incorporated many different disciplines into The Broken Earth trilogy, including geology, sociology, linguistics, psychology, and, some would dispute, many more. One primary example can be seen when Nassun and Schaffa descend into the Earth in The Stone Sky in order to get to Corepoint. They board a transportation vehicle that is covered in cilia, a term in biology that describes appendages that help microorganisms move. This minute detail may be mentioned only briefly in Jemisin’s trilogy, but she must have had to do biology research, perhaps even consulting an expert in the field, to include such details that create an even more enthralling tale. Thus, throughout this process, we have come to understand that all of our perspectives matter.

Here is what we all brought and continue to bring to the table:

  • Sarah: *Protective like Essun* As a member of a group, one thing that I find particularly important is acceptance of other members’ ideas and feedback. Not every idea is a winning one, but we cannot be afraid to fail (as Dr. McCoy tells us!), or we will never write anything worth reading. Safe writing cannot be great writing. I strive to foster a positive atmosphere so that everyone feels welcome to share their ideas, because some of the worst ones will help us reach some of the best ones! (Also, laughing about our terrible ideas helps relieve some stress and get us into a mindset in which our better ideas surface.) In each book in the trilogy, Essun increasingly displays more nurturing traits, especially through her mothering. In The Fifth Season and The Stone Sky, we saw how resolute Essun is to find and protect Nassun from harm, first from Jija and then from Steel. Essun also, throughout the series, begins to exhibit her fierce loyalty to friends when she sticks by Alabaster while he is dying, defending him when Ykka made digs about how he is not contributing to Castrima as a whole, and sticking by Tonkee when Tonkee makes rash decisions like breaking into the control room of Castrima, defending her reasoning even though Tonkee appeared to be in the midst of some kind of mania. The acceptance of other group members’ ideas helps us grow and develop new opinions of our own.
  • Lauren: *Determined like Syenite* I have always struggled with anxiety and the idea that I just wasn’t as good at reading and analyzing literature as my peers. Coming into this class, I was afraid that I wouldn’t understand the book or be able to participate in and contribute to the conversation. I often thought about dropping the class, believing that I couldn’t succeed.  But every time I thought about quitting, my stubborn side kicked in and I was determined to prove myself wrong and continue trying my hardest. During the composition of our first blog post, I found it hard to contribute and come up with new ideas. But I couldn’t, in good conscience, not do anything. So I got myself together and did more research and reread parts of the books so I would be able to truly contribute to the conversation in a good faith effort.  Throughout The Fifth Season, Syenite’s resolve is challenged time and time again. In Allia, Syenite has to save Alabaster from food poisoning and it is the first time she experiences parallel scaling.  This is beyond anything Syenite has learned to do and it contradicts what she was taught at the Fulcrum. But she is determined not only to do it, but also to understand what is happening while she performs this high level orogeny, so she listens to Alabaster (and we all know how hard it was for her to do that) and she takes control. Syenite is determined to understand her orogeny as well as what Alabaster was doing, and because of her unyielding determination, she defies the logic that the Fulcrum ingrained in her.  My Fulcrum is the part of me that always says that I can’t do something and that my ideas are dumb. In order to be a contributor to our blog post, I had to push away these thoughts and find the determination to get the work done.
  • Jose: *Versatile like Damaya* For me, an essential part of working together is to have blended roles. This can be seen through group leadership, support, and willingness to take over whenever needed. I believe I have a high degree of initiative so I really like to lead a team, and also support when needed. During our first blog post, I helped organize our information in a neat way that would allow us to clearly write and articulate our thoughts. During this process, I learned that I am versatile, like Damaya. Though I initially laid the foundation for our group, I was able to adapt to the needs of my team as our post was coming together. For example, even though we had delegated tasks to each other, we also helped each other along in the process— especially when unpacking our thoughts in relation to Jemisin’s text. As such, throughout the Broken Earth trilogy, Damaya is portrayed as a versatile character. She demonstrates the ability to adapt to various situations, especially when she goes from being locked in a barn to later being taken to the Fulcrum by Schaffa. Not only that, but on the road to Yumenes, Schaffa breaks Damaya’s hand in order to teach her stability and control— a painful tactic to which she needed to adapt. Lastly, Damaya has to adapt to the situation in which she finds herself when she helps Binof find the secret underground chamber in the Fulcrum. As a result, Damaya is put in a fight-or-flight situation, where she has to take her first ring test in order to survive. Throughout The Fifth Season, Damaya demonstrates her flexibility and versatility where she learns to grow and mature despite being new to the Fulcrum. I think I have been able to adapt myself very well to group work despite it being my first semester at Geneseo. My group has been very accepting of my ideas and we have challenged one another to unpack our thinking, and it has proven to be very successful!

As we have demonstrated, we can all relate to various parts of Essun’s past/personality. She might even be described as interdisciplinary herself. Essun is a complex character, and her experiences have only furthered this sentiment. Without Essun’s knowledge of life and phenomena both in and outside of the Fulcrum, without her knowledge of children coming from both the standpoint of a mother and the standpoint of a teacher, without all that she has learned from the many different people she has encountered who had vastly different stories and life experiences of their own, The Stillness would be the same as it always was. Change would not have come. Essun, as well as her alter egos Syenite and Damaya, used her multidisciplinary experiences to create positive change, just as the three of us worked together to turn our experiences into writing that has meaning.

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