BU Names Kilachand Honors College Associate Directors: Linda Doerrer, Paul Lipton Lend Scientific Thought to “Visionary” Curriculum

in MSE Spotlight Faculty, MSE Spotlight Research, NEWS

Carrie Preston (center), director of the Arvind and Chandan Nandlal Kilachand Honors College, with the new associate directors, Paul Lipton (GRS’01), a CAS research associate professor, and Linda Doerrer, a CAS and ENG associate professor.
Carrie Preston (center), director of the Arvind and Chandan Nandlal Kilachand Honors College, with the new associate directors, Paul Lipton (GRS’01), a CAS research associate professor, and Linda Doerrer, a CAS and ENG associate professor.

BU has named two associate directors of the Arvind and Chandan Nandlal Kilachand Honors College, one with a background in the sciences and the other in creative interdisciplinary approaches to education, as well as in science. Their knowledge and expertise will help broaden students’ undergraduate experience both in the classroom and beyond, says the college’s director, Carrie Preston, Arvind and Chandan Nandlal Kilachand Professor and a College of Arts & Sciences professor of English.

Linda Doerrer is a CAS associate professor of chemistry and a COE Materials Science & Engineering (MSE) Division associate professor. Paul Lipton (GRS’01) is a CAS research associate professor and director of the interdepartmental undergraduate program in neuroscience as well as the outgoing director of the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP). The two were chosen by a six-member search committee chaired by Preston. She says that they will bring “their experience building visionary programs” to their new roles.

Established in 2011 with a $25 million gift from University trustee Rajen Kilachand (Questrom’74), the Kilachand Honors College is a general education program with a current student population of 353, all housed within the neoclassical contours of Kilachand Hall (formerly Shelton Hall), at 91 Bay State Road.

The Kilachand curriculum, according to its mission statement, has several keynotes: “First, it attempts to integrate the arts, sciences, and professions and attempts to lower the barriers between pure and applied knowledge while avoiding an instrumental, utilitarian approach. Second, the curriculum explores the commonalities and differences of various disciplines’ ways of knowing by looking at specific problems in a wide range of fields. Third, the curriculum tries to connect teaching with research and creative activity by introducing students to their professors’ work and gradually preparing them to do research and partake in creative activity on their own. Finally, the curriculum pays close attention to ethical, aesthetic, and social issues in order to foster self-development and citizenship.”

“I’ve been attracted to the honors college since I taught here a couple of years ago,” says Lipton. “I love the experience and the perspective of its students, and how the honors college provides an opportunity to be part of a vibrant, active, and multidimensional community that for some may be hard to find at BU because it is such a big place.” Lipton’s primary research interests are in cognitive neurobiology and science education. He joined the undergraduate program in neuroscience when he came to BU in 2007 and became director in 2013, overseeing its growth from approximately 30 students to close to 400 today. He will continue as director, along with his Kilachand appointment. (A successor has not yet been named to direct UROP.)

Lipton says he has found great satisfaction in helping to build an academic and intellectual environment where students and faculty come together to learn about and explore the brain and mind. Already familiar with an interdisciplinary approach (neuroscience at BU embodies eight departments across four colleges), he is interested in creating courses reflecting the reach of neuroscience in unexpected directions. The relatively new field of neuroeconomics, for example, probes the neurobiological mechanisms involved in decision-making behavior. The fledgling field of neuroaesthetics looks at questions of neurological hardwiring of artistic preferences (why is blue a favorite color worldwide?), and, he notes, BU already offers a new joint major in philosophy and neuroscience.

In a letter last month introducing the new associate directors to Kilachand students, faculty, and staff, Preston said that “Doerrer’s lab is investigating the use of highly fluorinated aryloxide and alkoxide ligands for C-H and O-H bond oxidations” and that a second research area of the lab is exploring “the behavior of quasi one-dimensional nanowires as templates for developing structure-property relationships in electronic conduction and single-chain magnetic behavior.”

Doerrer offers a more user-friendly description: “I make new molecules that can help solve problems.” She describes herself as “a person passionate about clear communication, oral and written,” with a love of history that informs her teaching. “In 1900 some of what my group and I do might have been called metallurgy,” she says. “In 1200 it would be alchemy.” A vigorous advocate for women in science and engineering, she speaks eloquently of the honors college’s devotion to liberal arts and what she calls “the life of the mind. There is a constant reframing of human knowledge into different disciplines, and that has been going on for very long time, even when Aristotle tutored Alexander the Great.”

Preston says the naming of associate directors in the sciences will help the college expand its multitextured approach. “I’m a humanist interested in everything that makes us human,” says Preston, whose new book Learning to Kneel: Noh, Modernism, and Journeys in Teaching (Columbia University Press, 2016), chronicles her long-term practice of the highly specialized and nuanced Japanese dance form. “I needed associate directors in the sciences to supplement my knowledge,” she says.

With its new triumvirate guiding it, Kilachand Honors College should be better equipped to give students what Preston refers to as “the critical skills and flexibility of mind to think about global challenges in all their complexity and from multiple perspectives.” After she was appointed director last September, she expressed her commitment to preparing Kilachand students “to consider the ethical dimensions and human impact of any action or decision, from technological advances to policy changes, scientific discoveries to business platforms.” In the coming years, she says, the Kilachand curriculum “will be enhanced to embrace challenges such as climate change and global health, and incorporate service learning as well as fieldwork, both locally and abroad.”