Final Reflection: Interdisciplinarity and Other Thoughts

As I considered how to go about completing this assignment I realized that I had already reflected on much of the course content in some of my blog posts. So when faced with this assignment I tried to think about parts of this course that I had considered before but not made into a blog post. From this contemplation I generated the guiding questions which frame the subsequent reflection on interdisciplinarity.

What connects all of the professors that have contributed to this class?

Every student in this room has a home discipline, an area of study that they are most comfortable in. In addition, most professors have one home discipline, or the subject they have been hired to teach. The Art of Steve Prince has pushed many of its participants out of those comfort zones, some more than others. I have been thinkING about the professors that volunteered to help teach this class and realized that they, for the most part, have many things in common that perhaps led them to being the ones to contribute to the formation of this class. It seems to me that all of the professors for The Art of Steve Prince course categorize themselves mainly in the broad discipline of liberal arts; that is the humanities (English, history, and philosophy), as well as the fine arts (music, dance, and art). The only professor that seems to really stand out as different at first glance is Dr. Nicodemi. But when one takes into account the fact that Dr. Nicodemi teaches a course in Collaborative Scientific Writing (which pairs together students with science backgrounds with students with creative writing backgrounds), the connection to the rest of the supporting professors for this class makes more concrete sense. I have taken a lot of different professors, thirty-five in fact, over the course of my eight semesters on campus, and of these professors I only repeated three of them. That is, I took more than one class with those three professors. I know some of my fellow classmates prefer to keep taking classes with a professor that they really mesh well with and will sometimes take a class with that professor every semester.

Here I began to think on comfort and how that is often a motivation to keep to the status quo. However, when the status quo is wrong or too limiting, shouldn’t we want to rock the boat, to try for something different. This class has rocked the boat and I think that is a really good thing. The course material has taken me out of my home discipline many times, especially in regards to the lessons framed by art, dance, and mathematics. But somehow, I still found comfort, from my peers often sharing my confusion to the side of me that is utterly joyous at learning something new. My hope is that the supporting faculty also experienced similar emotions and that is what cemented them into this course. Collaboration out of our comfort zones sometimes seems overwhelming, but can often lead to the best and most unique of experiences. I hope that as I have experienced this, so did the supporting professors who put in so much work to create and support this course.

How SUNY Geneseo’s general education requirements allow students variety within restriction

My primary disciplines are English and Biology, about as dissimilar as subjects can be. When I tell people what I am studying, I have always been asked how those two connect. I am a tour guide on campus and I, without fail, get that question every time I take out a tour group which is at least once a week. The majority of the time it’s parents who want some sort of validation that I actually have some sort of plan. I am also pre-law, and I’ve noticed that once I add on that tidbit, the questioners tend to back off. I have come to the conclusion that this is because people see attorney as an actual occupation, while English and Biology student does not lead to a traditional career path.

However, isn’t the point of a liberal arts education to gain a plethora of knowledge on a variety of subjects? Isn’t that why SUNY Geneseo has general education requirements? According to the Wikipedia the definition of interdisciplinarity or interdisciplinary studies, is “the combining of two or more academic disciplines into one activity (e.g., a research project).” Or a more relevant example is an interdepartmental class such as INTD 288: The Art of Steve Prince. SUNY Geneseo requires its students to fulfill the following requirements through a few different class options: Logic & Reasoning, Basic Communication, two Natural Sciences, two Social Sciences, American History, Other World Civilizations, Humanities, two Fine Arts, and Foreign Language through the first intermediate level. See the below images for some examples of different options that some of my classmates have taken to fulfill these requirements (Thank you so much to my fellow classmates who donated their DegreeWorks snapshots!).

How does this class lend itself to interdisciplinarity, or does it struggle in some regard?  

For all of Geneseo’s general education  requirements there multiple different options a student can choose from to fulfill these requirements. This flexibility that SUNY Geneseo offers its students in general education is fantastic when one looks at the broad picture.

All together, the information covered by the professors in this class could fulfill more than half of SUNY Geneseo’s general education requirements. If you add to this total the varied class and group discussions and the blog posts, this class has managed to fit the entirety of topics required by our college’s into one class over the course of one semester. That’s pretty amazing. Taking into account the backgrounds of all of this class’ students, I would be interested to see how they incorporate what they have learned here into the future courses they take both in and out of their home disciplines.   

Something I noticed that I touched on before briefly when discussing this course’s supporting faculty is what I perceived to be the scarcity of physical and social science representation. Dr. McCoy mentioned once that she tried to get professors from those departments to join in the collaborative effort to create and sustain this class, but they all declined. I mean no offense by any of the following statements, I only seek to understand what I have personally observed by offering my own formulations based on empathy. I have noticed from my personal experience that many of my science professors get a bit stuck in their own discipline. I have thought that this is perhaps because their comfort zone is intensified by their subject being less in-depth public knowledge. That is, most people do not understand the intricacies of quantum physics or why birds are technically dinosaurs, and unfortunately not all people care. Any person who is learned and passionate on a particular subject wants to share that knowledge, to have someone care about something that they think is cool and special. All professors are busy, our syllabus even details the expectation of a full-time faculty member’s labor.

In conclusion, I do not think that the scarcity of social science and physical science representation is because those professors were too busy, we all make time for the stuff we care about, but because they did not feel that the material they are knowledgeable in would relate well enough to this course or that the students enrolled in this course would not care about what they had to say.

Personal piece

Truthfully, I do not often think English and Biology overlap as much as interdisciplinarity might wish them to. I think the skills I have learned in my English and Biology classes, respectively, sometimes complement each other, but I have only seen them work together in a handful of instances. For example, last semester, I took a Public Health Biology course in which the professor required a decent amount of writing. My English background gave me a ridiculous leg up on my classmates, which felt unfair even though I was glad to be doing well. It felt unfair mainly because all of the people in that class had access to the same course catalog that I did; however, they had not taken many courses in the humanities that I did where I gained reading and writing experience. I am comfortable saying that my undergraduate education has been enriched by being able to take classes outside my home disciplines, but I do not know if the subjects I have taken have really become one. Though my academic interests often do not make sense to others, I feel that I have been blessed to have the opportunity to pursue education in all of the areas where I had interest.   

Did Prince’s work and conversations about it spark you to learn anything about that term or assumption? If so, how?

When I registered for this class, I had trouble understanding what I signed up for. That trouble continued throughout the first couple weeks, then months, of the semester. I cannot pinpoint when I started connecting all of the dots because I did not realize I was doing it until I already had. That being said, as I have mentioned before, the humanities and the fine arts often complement each other in my opinion. Perhaps we all would have been more out of our depths if physical and social sciences were more directly involved. However, perhaps it would have strengthened our understanding of the world and how Steve Prince’s art affects other aspects of the world outside of the spheres Prince traditionally works in. For example, the intellectual humility article we read earlier in the semester focuses on the field of psychology which is closely tied with the field of biology when one considers any aspect of the brain, such as choosing whether or not to practice intellectual humility.

Does this mean anything in terms of your ability, as GLOBE puts it, “to make personal, professional, and civic plans based on that self-reflection”?

I had the most fun time with this question because I realized that I could very basically answer and even keep to the goals that I made for my personal and professional plans, but my civic plans were really hard to one, make, and two, implement. For example”

Personal plans: be happy, adopt a kitten, travel more

Professional plans: work for a year or two and then go to grad school

Civic plans: …

Civic plans are perhaps the easiest plans to make and perhaps the hardest plans to keep. Right now, if I were to say I was going to plant twenty trees in support of sustainability I could, but it would, in reality, be a logistical nightmare. That is, where are the trees going to be planted (public v. private), what kind of trees would I plant, how are they going to be paid for (out of pocket v. grant), etcetera. But then I realized, I could make civic plans from my personal and professional plans, I just had to want to think in that manner. That is, how can I be civically involved while pursuing my own personal and professional goals.

Personally, I said I want to travel more. That wasn’t very specific, but I have found that travel can be an excellent way to learn about a new place and its culture. This class has made me a lot more cognizant of the fact that the people I meet, even in my everyday life, are also experiencing me as “new and different.” As such, it is important for me to respect their everyday life and them to respect mine. We are all tourists to each other, and we can affect their everyday lives so easily during a simple encounter. When each party leaves the exchange, hopefully they leave it with a smile and not sadness. Hopefully, they are as happy as I personally plan and want to be.

Professionally, I wish to be an attorney one day and something that I have heard a lot from attorneys is that they hate doing mandatory pro bono work because “they are also awful cases” or “they are designed to be lost causes.” Those claims are, to me, alternate versions of what I inferred earlier about why social science and physical science professors did not contribute more to this course. They do not want to “waste” their time on what they perceive to be as clients who do not care about the work they put in and thus, they want to put in less work. Like systematic racism, it is a never ending cycle until enough people say, “no, this is enough.”   

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