Snow on pine trees

CLAS Acts February 2019

Monthly newsletter of the college for TT faculty

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“The most important thing you need to do [in this job] is to have big chunks of time during the day when all you’re doing is thinking.” 
 Barack Obama


We head into February having met our next university president, Philomena V. Mantella, and we have some clues about her style—she’s already met with the Lanthorn crew, stocked up on Laker gear, met the deans, and shared fun facts such as that she has a black belt in Tae Kwon Do.  From her remarks, we can see alignment with values and traits of Grand Valley that make it special for us.  Tom Haas has already started training her in selfies.  There is a definite sense of momentum leading up to July. 

In the meantime, we have some upcoming opportunities to thank Tom for pouring his heart into his Presidency, teaching some Chemistry sections for us, and leaving us wonderful legacies such as the Center for the Performing Arts.  Think for a moment about the growth we’ve seen under his leadership.  It is now hard to imagine this place without our gorgeous library or Kindschi Hall or the Fieldhouse (or the whole wing of MAK that houses my office!).  We have served Michigan increasingly well over these 13 years.  And when you see Marcia Haas, be sure to thank her for unwavering support, service on the Shakespeare Festival’s board, and such high engagement with our arts.

This month we have some great events coming up.  Be sure to check out GVSU Opera Theatre’s Wonderful Town, the Language Festival, and Sustainability Around the World.

As you may have heard, I’ve urged all of the unit heads in CLAS to be deliberate about spreading the load in service fairly among the faculty.  There are many models for how to do this and your units are free to choose or create the one that works for you, but it is key to step back every so often to make sure that those inclined by nature to volunteer or junior faculty or some other subgroup of your unit is not overloaded.  This reconsideration will allow some of us to thrive in other areas, have new voices heard, and generally promote our structural well-being.

Let your students know (especially any coming apart at the seams) that two free Repair Clinics will take place this month:  Downtown on Tuesday, Feb. 19 at 6:15-8pm in 121E DeVos and here in Allendale in Holton Hooker on Wednesday, Feb. 27 6-8pm.  To the CLAS faculty and staff volunteers involved, I hear reports of your good work and the 158 repairs you have made so far to torn clothing and backpacks as well as some novel items that students bring you to fix.  If you’d like a flyer, contact Monica.

Students will soon be registering for classes.  Your help in advising them and letting them know your offerings is greatly appreciated and does help to shorten the list of students with whom we need to follow up. 

Wishing you dry feet, good traction, a successful mid-semester, and time to think.


Embracing Real World Complexity in the Tweet Age

Chad Frederick, Assistant Professor of Geography & Sustainable Planning, was interested in coming to GVSU in part because of the emphasis on sustainability and not what is often just referred to as urban planning.  Don’t get him wrong—his Master’s is in urban planning—but his interdisciplinary approach is grounded in a scientific paradigm of sustainable planning that continues to evolving beyond just a “triple bottom line” approach that was touted a few years ago into something better that has the environment at its center.

“It’s the difference between a Venn diagram and an Euler diagram,” Chad clarifies. For those a little rusty on the distinction, a Venn diagram can represent all the possible combinations, while the Euler sticks to those represented in the real world.

His particular research passion is on mobility inside cities.  What is it?  What do they do? What are the necessary and sufficient conditions?  How do they interact?  To have such an interest is necessarily to embrace complexity. As his website profile reads, his interest include: Urban Geography, Multimodality, Spatial Inequalities, Medium-size Cities, Urban-Rural Relationships, Bioregionalism, Quantitative Methods, Sustainability Theory, Urban Agrarianism, Education for Sustainable Development.

When Chad thinks about how a student here might approach learning about the workings of cities, he notes that there are currently about a dozen courses in disparate departments that have cities as their focus. “But there is no class called ‘Cities—what do they do?’”

He can certainly envision it though.  It would be a transdisciplinary course with a different speaker each week that, while including disciplines such as engineering, would be convened by CLAS where disciplines such as GPY and HST reside.  Students would have a great framework for disciplinary understanding as they learned how each discipline approached urban issues.

“I’d be willing to facilitate it all.  It could be Gen Ed, display lots of disciplines, help exploratory study students pick majors,” Chad notes.  He even sees this as an opportunity to have a really large lecture with lots of “turn to your neighbor” interaction, demonstration of geometric progression, pluralism, and dividing the class into four to show how certain kinds of information disseminates.  “We could show students what a hundred people looks like.  It would be very visual,” Chad says with more enthusiasm for the large scale than some might have.  “Different tools, lots of Deweyan things you could do with your neighbor or the person behind you to see how ideas permeate.  Fun, engaging interaction.”

Chad is clearly pretty comfortable with the notion of filling the largest hall on campus and quickly reminds us that we are now an urban planet, noting that 80% of us live in urban areas.

“Yes, the way I teach is a little shocking to students at first.  Education for sustainable development is very student-centered and involves problem-solving, interdisciplinarity, and is quite exploratory.  They learn from themselves as much as from me.  They learn about research but also how it plays out in the world.  They are a little surprised to see me accept what I don’t know and that helps demonstrate the framework of knowledge as necessarily interdisciplinary.  They help me write the exam questions, they pick the city to examine.”  He notes that this approach is not theory heavy and that it is not a linear progression, but is instead more modular.  “Having no necessary starting place can be a little unnerving, so I often ‘put a pin in it’ to show that knowledge is not necessarily linear and that we may come to the relevance of a particular point later—or not.  They find this a little strange, but by the end they get it.”

His comfort with this sort of uncertainty has been coming in handy in his own life.  He moved out of an Airbnb and into a home after classes began last fall and that was not his only move that summer.  He explains that he survived this frenetic start to his new job at GVSU.

This term he has some courses that are an open, seminar sort of style that many students have not before experienced.  “They use their diversity as an important systems property.  It’s another tool that students should be exposed to.  They can explore their natural inclinations, and it’s fun.  And it makes me fresh and sharp and keeps me out of ruts.”

Chad finishes the interview describing a 60-100 word essay assignment he gives.  The middle length takes more care and disincentivizes wandering. 

“There is no skirting the question,” Chad concludes, “and that’s another tool in the Tweet Age.”