Yesterday was my first day of teaching this semester. I have a full roster of 25 students, and they all seem like interested and interesting students. Since Intro to Lit. is a standard requirement for most students to graduate, it’s pretty common that these classes are majority non-majors. This semester, I have zero English majors or minors! That may sound like a negative thing, but yesterday I was reminded of just how much I love it. Students from different fields bring different perspectives, different ideas, different mindsets. What better for class discussion and lively Blackboard conversations? It always feels enriching to witness a Bio-Engineering student team up with a Marine Vertebrate major and an Anthropology major in group work and watch them share their ideas with one another. It’s one of my favorite experiences in academia, and it’s not just because it’s a useful experience for the students. It’s also enlightening for me to have daily interactions with individuals from outside English and History and the Humanities. I guess this ties into my growing belief in interdisciplinary collaboration. If a small team of three undergraduate students from different fields can come up with such extraordinary ideas in fifteen minutes, what, then, are the possibilities for a continued discourse among dozens of experts in various fields?
Last November, I attended Nassau Community College’s 9th Annual “IDEAS Symposium,” an interdepartmental (and intercollegiate) conference/workshop that explored pedagogical theories and practices aimed at teaching better, reaching a wider variety of students, and making learning meaningful. I found out about the event through a rhet/comp professor of mine at Stony Brook, who was bringing his presentation from CCCC to the IDEAS Symposium. He quickly sold me on the event, and since he mentioned that the IDEAS Committee is a self-funded, grassroots organization at NCC that, like many such organizations, is surviving on a shoestring, I was able to secure a donation for breakfast and lunch from the Alumni Association, on whose Board of Directors I sit. I’m so glad that all these circumstances led me to attend the event because it was an amazing experience to sit among faculty and staff from so many different departments across campus (and across the country): Reading and Basic Education, Music, Marketing, Retailing, Fashion Design, English/Honors, Psychology, Biology, Mathematics, Computer Science, Information Technology, Communications, and Library Sciences, among others. The sharing of ideas, experiences, and strategies was extraordinarily more productive and fruitful than it would have been had members of only one department attended. I remember one segment of a workshop in which we discussed ways of trying to keep students from becoming physically stressed during class due to prolonged sitting and lack of activity. One professor shared her strategy of making sure to break class up into smaller segments and have students move around between those segments. I shared a strategy that my piano professor from sophomore year had shown me: a sort of body stretch that I have frequently used ever since I learned it, and which turned out to be a popular yoga exercise called the “Sun Dog.” Another attendee (I am not sure whether she was faculty or a staff member in NCC’s affiliated hospital) who works in physical therapy and rehabilitation shared her strategies that she derived from her experiences of reteaching individuals how to walk. Whether it’s small conversations or workshops, Humanities Institute events featuring speakers from another field, or even my recent experiences in the History Department, stepping outside of one’s familiar circle can be one of the most rewarding experiences as a teacher, as a researcher, and as an individual.