Impact — Summer 2021
Welcome to the Summer 2021 special issue of Impact: The Journal of the Center for Interdisciplinary Teaching & Learning. The theme of this issue is interdisciplinary approaches to, or including, the sciences. STEM disciplines like chemistry, biology, physics, computer science, and math are often taught as separate and distinct from the humanities. The concept of STEAM (STEM + Arts) has attempted to make STEM subjects more interdisciplinary, allowing students to interact with the material from different perspectives. The essays in this issue explore unique ways to design and implement interdisciplinary curricula that combine sciences and humanities/arts.
In their essay Cosmic Visions: Bridging Science and Art, authors Charles W. Henebry and Millard Baublitz describe an interdisciplinary course that combines scientific concepts of astronomy with examination of works of art. Students are exposed to the creative aspect of the scientific process, as well as the analytical side of artistic expression.
The combination of science and art is the theme of another essay, Melding Art and Science to More Fully Explore Issues of Public Health, by Abby Miller, Alexis C. Pheng, and David R. Wessner. The authors present an interdisciplinary assignment from the perspective of both the instructor and two undergraduate students who took the course. The value of this approach to a STEM course is discussed.
In their essay Tip of the Iceberg: Collaboration and Scientific Writing, Lisa DeTora and Sabrina Sobel describe how their Seminars in Chemistry course introduces students not only to specific writing formats (the tip of the iceberg) but also to the iceberg below; the collaborative process and spirit that informs all scientific writing. Students gain exposure to the disciplinary and cultural practices beneath the surface of scientific writing while exploring the current chemical literature on a specific topic, culminating with the presentation of a seminar and production of a review paper guided by their mentors.
This is followed by The Journey to Community-Engaged Transdisciplinary Research, in which Ruth Kassel, Krysta Dennis, Robin Flatland, and Scott Foster discuss how students conduct collaborative work across disciplines to produce publications. Their approach captures the spirit of collaboration across fields, including the sciences. Students are exposed to the entire process involved in completing a collaborative project, including the challenges inherent in the experience, ultimately producing a final product for which they have a strong sense of ownership.
The final paper, Limit to Lifespan Will Limit Human Knowledge, explores the tension between specialization and interdisciplinary work and how this will affect advancement within the scientific fields. John Richard Schrock explores this idea from a historical perspective and connects these ideas to the limit of the human lifespan, suggesting a balance between interdisciplinary approaches and specialization.
We end this special issue with an interview with Richard W. Bulliet, Professor of History Emeritus at Columbia University. In this wide-ranging discussion, he explains the path that led him to bring natural history and the sciences into his Middle East history research and teaching curriculum, as well as his thoughts on how the historical record could provide a useful perspective for students engaged in our current climate crisis with examples from the past.
We hope you are inspired by the innovative ideas and methods shared within this issue, and we encourage you to reach out to us with your thoughts. We wish you continued good health as we slowly return to the “new normal.”
All the best,
Sandra, Robin, and Sal
Sandra Buerger, Senior Lecturer, Division of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, College of General Studies at Boston University
Robin Hulbert, Lecturer, Division of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, College of General Studies at Boston University
Sal Genovese, Lecturer, Division of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, College of General Studies at Boston University Guest Editors