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Fostering Multidisciplinary Education

Fostering Multidisciplinary Education

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Difficult Subjects: K-12 Teaching Institute

In 2020-21, the Difficult Subjects: K-12 Teaching Institute — directed by Hasan Kwame Jeffries (History) — brought together 17 pre-K, kindergarten, elementary, middle and high school teachers from twelve schools and three school districts in Central Ohio for a year-long exploration of multidisciplinary approaches to understanding and teaching American slavery.

Multidisciplinary approaches demystify normative narratives. They help students unlearn misconceptions about a subject by providing them with different lenses through which they can interrogate what they believe to be true. The arts and humanities, in particular, offer new lines of sight, helping students see differently what they have already seen and think critically about what they have accepted as truth.

The institute had a profound impact on the participants. Shannon Griffin, a fourth-grade teacher at Olentangy Heritage Elementary School, reported that the institute provided her with “an entirely new way of teaching the subject.” Kristin Marconi, an eighth-grade American history teacher at Olentangy Orange Middle School, developed mapping and research activities for her students using the Freedom on the Move database. “I can’t wait to do this lesson in class and have the students create our own class map each year,” she said.

In a time when teachers are being pressured to dismiss rather than discuss historical experiences and people’s identities, teaching difficult subjects has become unusually hard. Multidisciplinary approaches provide a way out of this morass. For teachers, multi-disciplinary approaches enable teaching topics from different angles, thereby avoiding many current political pitfalls while still teaching challenging content honestly, accurately and effectively. In other words, art, music, literature and creative writing can all be used to teach a difficult social studies subject like slavery.

Institute Director and Associate Professor of History


Graduate Team Fellows Program Fosters Career Diversity for Graduate Students

Katelin Webster (PhD, Musicology) currently works as Philanthropy Coordinator of the Refugee Education Center in Kentwood, Michigan. For Webster, the ability to skillfully leverage her doctoral work in order to land a sought-after job in the nonprofit sector was firmly grounded in her year-long experience of cross-disciplinary collaboration as a Graduate Team Fellow in the Global Arts and Humanities Discovery Theme’s Society of Fellows program. Transitioning from academia to the nonprofit sector meant that Webster needed to not only translate the analytical skills and knowledge gained from her PhD, but she also needed to draw upon the deep connections that her cohort built across their individual disciplines — a process that prepared her to reimagine and reposition her academic research towards participation with a wider public arena.

It is precisely this kind of capacity-building that the Society of Fellows was designed to foster and promote. Committed to cross-disciplinarity, this program defines research as a fundamentally collaborative endeavor fueled and sustained by strong relationship-building. In the Graduate Team Fellowship, advanced students from a range of disciplines throughout the arts and humanities are brought together to create a shared public-facing project that brings together their diverse academic perspectives. Unfolding over the course of an academic year, the Graduate Team Fellowship gives candidates the space and time to build real and lasting relationships that allow for authentic cross-disciplinary connection.  

The Society of Fellows Graduate Team Fellowship thus builds significant capacity not just for collaborative, cross-disciplinary work, but it actively redefines “research” as radically inclusive, innovative and relational. In preparing and supporting fellows like Webster to work in innovative ways towards meaningful social change, the Graduate Team Fellowship demonstrates how the development of collaborative research cultures can help us thoughtfully respond to and intervene in the urgent challenges of today’s world.