McDaniel launches innovative instructional program

October 27, 2008

Delving into examples of propaganda in literature and historical texts ranging from Roman architecture to modern-day elections, sophomore Catherine Szczybor has learned quite a bit about herself.

“I’m realizing how propagandized I am,” she said, only half in jest. “It’s interesting seeing it from these different perspectives.”

The course, Propaganda, is one of a half dozen that are being offered as part of the inaugural year of McDaniel’s innovative Sophomore Interdisciplinary Studies (SIS) program. Each semester, a new menu of SIS courses will be offered.

SIS courses, which are offered to all sophomores, examine issues, topics or sets of questions that are best understood when they are explored from multiple disciplines of study. The courses also help broaden students’ campus experience by exposing them to professors and other students outside of their chosen majors.

Robert Kachur, associate professor of English, who co-teaches the Propaganda course with Deborah Vance, assistant professor of Communications, said designing and teaching in an interdisciplinary setting is a lot of work, but is highly rewarding to educators and students.

“It’s the most innovative thing we’re doing,” Kachur said. “It’s a teaching method of the 21st century.”

It’s an instructional method that few American colleges are offering, but which more educators are convinced is the key to preparing students to flourish in a global society.

“When we educate students, we educate them for a globalized society,” said Vera Jakoby, associate professor and chairman of the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, and co-coordinator of the SIS program. “We can’t do this from one discipline. Interdisciplinary education helps students prepare for this kind of world.”

Jakoby said the value of an interdisciplinary program is in the ability to teach students how “to solve problems that are complex and to be able to do so on a lot of different levels.”

In addition to the Propaganda course, sophomores this semester could choose to enroll in one of the following: Katrinaville: A Tale of Two Cities; September 11th and its Aftermath; The Natural and Social Science of Aging; Controversies in Science and Society; and Southern Appalachia: Literature, Music and the Environment.

Each semester will offer a new menu of courses for sophomores to take, with the occasional repeat of a class, Jakoby said.

Next semester, students will be able to pick from the following: Madness, Genius and Creativity; Everything I Needed to Know I Learned from Science Fiction; Fears and Fascinations in Nineteenth-Century Europe; Music, Mind and Brain; The Arab World; and The Natural and Social Science of Aging.

Each course is co-taught by multiple professors from various disciplines.

The Natural and Social Science of Aging course examines the field of gerontology and illustrates how the study of aging relates to many majors and career options, such as biology and medicine, political science with policy formation and elder law, and psychology with mental health. The course is taught by professors with expertise in gerontology, exercise science, biology, and sociology.

Katrinaville: A Tale of Two Cities looks at ethnography, urban studies and musicology in the treatment of tricentennial New Orleans. The course, with is taught by professors with expertise in music, foreign languages and sociology, provides an historical overview with contemporary issues. Students explore the artistic cultures, race, ethnicity, religion, geography and political history.

Jakoby said professors are learning as much from each other as the students are learning from them.

“As a teacher, you’re sitting in a class and hearing your colleague talking about something, and it makes you wonder how what you already know fits, or contradicts, what your colleague is teaching and how is it relevant,” she said. “It’s exciting and invigorating.”

Debora Johnson-Ross, associate professor in the Department of Political Science and International Studies and co-coordinator of SIS, said the program has the potential to become “one of the jewels of McDaniel's curriculum.”

She said the courses have yielded an overwhelmingly favorable response from both faculty and students.

“I think that this is one of those cases of the sum being greater than the parts,” she said. “We know we have great faculty members and we know we have wonderful and intelligent students. Putting them together in an interdisciplinary setting has allowed the faculty to learn from and be inspired by their colleagues, opening up a whole new world of connections and possibilities for students.”