Sometimes, the journey can be as much the point as the destination.
Consider the Polar Opposites panel discussion recently organized by the student fellows of the Wheaton Institute for Interdisciplinary Humanities.
The event paired geochemist Matthew Evans, an associate professor of chemistry who studies arctic sea ice and glaciation, with artist Jane Marsching, whose works offer a wry commentary on humans’ fascination with the arctic and our impact on the environment.
The subject of the discussion itself demonstrated the ways in which art and science intersect as well as the power of technology to assist in creating new knowledge. For example, both Evans and Marsching illustrate the effect of climate change, drawing upon data derived from the chemical traces of tiny phytoplankton that can be found in arctic ice and snowpack.
At the same time, the mechanics of staging an event for the campus community offers an education in professional skills, such as organization, grant-writing and promotion that are essential to many enterprises, said Touba Ghadessi, professor of art history and a co-founder of the institute.
"The purpose of the institute is to help students expand their classroom learning in practical ways,” Professor Ghadessi said.
"Students are given assignments that teach them to be proactive, to delegate, to market their projects and themselves in intelligent and relevant ways, and they learn to present in public settings that are not as safe as the classroom,” she said. "This is what happens in the real world: no extensions are given, nobody cares if you had a game last night or if your parents asked you to fly home early. Excuses don't work: your job needs to get done.”
The lesson was not lost on Logan Hinderliter ‘14, a classics major who is currently serving as the institute’s digital content and strategy outreach assistant. "Preparation is 95 percent of the work,” he said. Of course, on the day of the event it is necessary for everything to be organized and ready to go, but the work begins months in advance.”
Hinderliter and fellow classmates in Professor Ghadessi’s seminar, Knowledge(s), which explores how technology, science and culture influence conceptions of knowledge and truth, handled the details, from developing the idea for the panel discussion and writing proposals to recruit panelists and secure funding to interviewing the speakers in advance and promoting the event to build an audience.
The project also involved collaborating with college staff, including gallery director Michelle L’Heureux ‘88. "The event wouldn't have happened without the wonderful collaboration we had with Michele L'Heureux. What she did was really crucial for the event, as it was tied to the gallery’s exhibit "The Observant Eye," which she curated.
Juniors Eric Solomon and Abigail Matses served as the moderators for the discussion, confronting the challenge of adapting their plan for the event as the panelists shared unexpected insights that called for more explanation.
The panel, as well as other events organized this year by the institute, received funding support from the Office of the Provost; the Office of the President; the Evelyn Danzig Haas 39’ Visiting Artist Program; the Student Government Association; and the Women’s Studies Program.
"Looking back I would say that the event was largely successful,” said Solomon, who is a double major in art history amd philosophy. "Both from a personal standpoint in terms of student professionalization and from a public standpoint in providing an intellectually stimulating event.
The work of Jane Marsching is currently on display in the college’s Beard and Weil Galleries in the exhibition, The Observant Eye, open through April 15.