Experts discuss future of the humanities at March 6 symposium

February 28, 2014

In a world that some say desperately needs the humanities, Arizona State University will bring together nationally prominent humanists and its own distinguished faculty March 6 to discuss how to provide the best humanities education for students, and also affect the public at large. The “Future of the Humanities Symposium” is slated for 8:30 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. in the Memorial Union Arizona Ballroom (room 221) on ASU’s Tempe campus.

Leading the two plenary sessions at the event are the executive directors of two national humanities organizations critical to many faculty at ASU. The keynote speakers will bookend four faculty-led breakout sessions. ASU President Michael M. Crow will conclude the daylong conversation with his remarks at 5 p.m. Those planning to attend the 12:30-1:30 p.m. luncheon are asked to RSVP to two women looking at photos Download Full Image

“We are at an exciting crossroads in the history of culture,” said George Justice, dean of humanities in ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “It is an opportune moment for those of us at ASU who are committed simultaneously to the value of understanding our cultures – what they were and are – and to using our unique knowledge and methods of research to make new discoveries and educate the world’s growing population. We recognize that the humanities are as vital and necessary as the sciences, and that together they can empower society to shape all of what we do in meaningful ways.”

Kicking off the symposium in the morning is Rosemary G. Feal, executive director of the Modern Language Association. She speaks frequently on the need to create a national agenda for foreign language learning, strengthen college and university language programs nationwide and establish protocols for evaluating scholarly publications for tenure and promotion. Feal is on leave from her position as professor of Spanish at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York, where she was chair of the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures.

Addressing the afternoon session is James Grossman, executive director of the American Historical Association (AHA). Grossman moved to the AHA in 2010 from the Newberry Library, where he was vice president for research and education. He has taught at the University of California, San Diego, and at the University of Chicago, where he remains senior research associate in history. The AHA brings together historians from all geographical, chronological and topical specializations, and all work contexts, to embrace the breadth and variety of activity in history today.

Four ASU faculty-led breakout sessions are also scheduled during the symposium, as follows:

• "Transdisciplinary Education," facilitated by Tracy Fessenden, professor of religious studies, and Mark Tebeau, associate professor of history

• "The Major, the Minor, Certificates, and Competency," facilitated by Catherine O’Donnell, associate professor of history, and Juliann Vitullo, associate professor of Italian

• "The Humanities and General Education," facilitated by Michael Tueller, associate professor of Greek, and Alberto Rios, Regents’ Professor of English

• "Research and Education," facilitated by Karen Adams, professor of English, and Stephen West, professor of Chinese

Justice, a noted scholar of 18th century literature and the history of publishing, was appointed dean of humanities at ASU last year. He came to ASU from the University of Missouri-Columbia, where he served as vice provost for advanced studies and dean of the Graduate School, overseeing more than 70 doctoral programs and 90 master’s programs spanning the arts, science, education, business, law, medicine and nursing, journalism and engineering. He also helped to develop the University of Missouri Informatics Institute and spearheaded Missouri’s entry into the Center for the Integration of Research, Training, and Learning, a consortium of 25 universities dedicated to transforming STEM undergraduate education.

ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences was established in 1953 and is the largest ASU college, with 20,375 students and 1,364 faculty. The humanities division houses one-third of the faculty, and offers 21 undergraduate and 22 graduate degree programs. In his role as dean of humanities, Justice oversees all humanities academic units and centers.

ASU life sciences students 'open the minds' of local middle-schoolers

February 28, 2014

When a Valley middle school teacher asked Pat McGurrin to teach children about the human brain during a school “science day,” he jumped at the chance to share his passion. McGurrin is, after all, a doctoral student in Arizona State University’s neuroscience program in the School of Life Sciences. He investigates the areas of the human brain that control hand grasping. After earning his doctorate, he hopes to transition into a clinical setting and create new rehabilitation models that would improve motor function in people with damage to their nervous system.

McGurrin is also a member of GAINS (Graduate Association of Interdisciplinary Neuroscience Students), a student-led and organized group whose mission includes introducing children to neuroscience. He and other GAINS members are reaching out to grade schools to encourage students to get involved in science. A Gavilan Peak middle school student examines a model of the brain Download Full Image

“Exposing children to the excitement found in science is really important for kids of all ages, particularly for younger students from kindergarten through eighth grade,” McGurrin said. “This was a perfect opportunity for us to get into the classroom and start making a difference.”

Together with fellow graduate students Mari Turk and Josh Klein, also with the Neuroscience Interdisciplinary Graduate Degree Program, McGurrin recently spent a day at Gavilan Peak middle school in Anthem giving presentations about the brain to students in grades five through eight. They covered a wide array of information, adjusting their explanations and activities to a level appropriate for each age group. McGurrin’s group found that regardless of age, the students were curious and wanted to learn more.

“These are bright grade-school students – they asked a lot of really solid questions,” McGurrin said. “I’m hoping that by combining their previous exposure to science with the information we gave them, they left with a new level of enthusiasm and love of science.”

According to McGurrin, the children were especially curious about the brains of family members, more so than their own. When they discussed memory and motor control and how they work in the brain, many students asked about relatives who suffered a stroke or were affected by Alzheimer’s disease.

“It was a little hard to deal with, but some of the kids asked about a relative who has some sort of issue,” McGurrin said. “We tried to fill them in about what was going on without overwhelming them.”

Many students were also curious about more light-hearted subjects, such as dreams or how memories are formed – and some even wondered whether “brain freeze” meant that the entire brain actually froze over.

By the end of their presentations, McGurrin said he felt the outreach effort was successful. GAINS currently has 25 members, but is looking to grow as an organization, as well as continue its community outreach.

School of Life Sciences is an academic unit of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Jason Krell

Communication and events coordinator, Center for Evolution and Medicine