Guided tour of my service and institutional development work III

I. Building a Basis for Interdisciplinary Science, Health, and Environmental Education and Research

(continuing a guided tour of my work presented in the spirit that service and institutional development can also be practically and theoretically coherent)

B. At UMass Boston

1. Science, Technology & Values Program. Since becoming STV director in January 2004, I articulated and pursued many concrete steps grouped under four overall goals:
• build the students numbers in the Program;
• maintain a regular and rich set of courses to fulfill STV requirements;
• build a community of faculty and students around the program; and
• build external recognition for the program.
Community-building is the goal I have made most progress towards. I helped initiate monthly discussion meetings of interested faculty while assistant STV director, then built on this in organizing a semester-long thematic Inter-college faculty Seminar in Science and Humanities, which started in spring 2004 and has continued most semesters since. ISHS is a “forum for discussion and interaction among faculty at UMass-Boston. Faculty from different disciplines and colleges come together to focus on topics of common interest, exchange ideas, renew their intellectual energy, and advance their work in a spirit of adventure and collaboration.” As well as building community around the STV program, ISHS was designed to bridge the Humanities/Sciences gap after the separation of the College of Arts and Sciences into two colleges. As an early and regular participant noted: “This is the only game in town.” (This statement is no longer strictly true, as the Center for Urban Cultural History, the Center for Science and Math In Context, and the Community Engagement Research Cluster have begun the sponsor cross-college seminars and discussions.)

2. Curriculum development for Education for Sustainability. In fall 2002, Chancellor Gora and Dean Kibel reactivated Education for Sustainability initiatives at UMB and appointed me chair of the committee to Infuse Sustainability into the Curriculum, assisted by Steve Rudnick of Environmental Studies. The committee developed a vision of sustainability that integrated an environmentally sustainable (“green”) economy, with just and equitable governance, and an engaged populace. The corresponding teaching mission was that curricula should seek to develop students’ ability to:
• appreciate and monitor the state of the environment, social structure, human health —to become “environmentally literate”;
• understand and analyze the complexities of phenomena that link economics, politics, culture, history, biology, geology, and physical processes;
• be involved in dynamic, vigorous exchange across the traditional disciplinary boundaries within and between natural and social/human sciences; and
• work within specific communities to facilitate self-conscious, reflective engagement with linked socio-environmental processes.
The plans of this committee progressed as far as hosting a pair of faculty curriculum development workshops, from which some new curriculum units or courses arose. Since these workshops, however, we were not able to sustain our efforts; my judgement was that we needed to pause until the reorganization of the Environmental Science and Studies units was completed and until what became called the Center for Environmental Health, Science, and Technology had taken shape. While this was happening, the administrators who had sponsored the Education for Sustainability initiative left the University. When I was made director of STV, Steve Rudnick took over primary responsibility for further work of this committee.

3. Health in Society Research Discussion Group. While I was developing a doctoral course on epidemiological thinking for the Public Policy and Nursing programs, I came to see that there was a critical mass of UMB faculty and doctoral students who had (or were developing) an epidemiological focus (broadly construed) to their research and teaching. Given our diverse institutional locations (and distracting administrative demands), it seemed we might benefit from regular exchange with each other. This discussion group took the form of a monthly meeting of 1.5-2 hours from November 2007 through Spring 2009, where we took it in turns to share a manuscript or grant proposal, lead a discussion on a published paper, or discuss a syllabus. Distracting administrative demands for several members, unfortunately, led to HisReDG going into hibernation.

4. Transdisciplinary Research Workshop Proposal. In the proposal, which I initiated in spring ‘08, a group of faculty and graduate students would have sustained interaction about their research interests over a semester (like ISHS), but with topics shaped to support the University’s research cluster initiative. The motivation was that University’s research cluster initiative should build in support for transdisciplinary interactions that draw in personnel not directly involved in externally- and internally-funded cluster-based research. Depending on the mode of such interactions, they could have all or some of these benefits:
a. Generating novel ideas and initiating collaborations to pursue them and submit funding proposals;
b. Maintaining a pipeline of personnel from outside any cluster into its projects. (Doing this for junior faculty is an important component of mentoring them);
c. Acknowledging the intellectual work of faculty who are not well aligned with the clusters (and preempting any insider-outsider ill-feelings);
d. Facilitating work at the overlap of clusters (e.g., public health and developmental science); and
e. Promoting critical, social contextualization of new research developments (without making the common move of placing such discussion into a separate “Ethical, Legal, and Social Implications” box).
The proposal was well-received by the incoming Provost, but got left on hold until the research clusters were launched. In the meantime, the Provost convened a cross-college working group to initiate a cross-college Science and Society graduate program.

5. Science in a Changing World. The initiative to create a cross-college Science and Society graduate program ended up taking the form of a graduate Certificate and M.A. track within CCT on “Science in a Changing World,” which was approved in spring 2009. Steps are being taken towards certification as a Professional Science Masters, create visibility for the track (through twitter, a blog, a “Changing Science, Changing Society” Expo of Boston-area groups, and international collaboration with Science, Technology and Society Research Group at the Centre for Social Studies at the University of Coimbra in Portugal (with seed funding from the OITA at UMass Boston). In the fall of 2010, University College agreed to fund a 50% assistant coordinator position for this track contingent on the Program scheduling more sections of required courses and electives so that the Master’s degree in the new track could be completed by students entirely by taking sections offered through University College.

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About Peter J. Taylor
Peter Taylor is a Professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston where he teaches and directs undergraduate and graduate programs on critical thinking, reflective practice, and science-in-society. His research and writing focuses on the complexity of environmental and health sciences in their social context, incl. Unruly Complexity: Ecology, Interpretation, Engagement (U. Chicago Press, 2005) and Nature-nurture? No (2014, http://bit.ly/NNN2014). On reflective practice, see Taking Yourself Seriously: Processes of Research & Engagement (with J. Szteiter, 2012, http://bit.ly/TYS2012).

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