News & Events

Seven Years of Impact: A Q&A with Megan Sullivan

On July 1, Megan Sullivan will step down from her role as Associate Dean for Faculty Research and Development and Director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Teaching & Learning after seven years. In her time as Director and Associate Dean, Sullivan led CITL through a period of growth and development during which undergraduate research grants expanded dramatically and the College won an award for excellence in general education. Sullivan will be succeeded in the role by D. Lynn O'Brien Hallstein. We caught up with Sullivan to discuss her time at CITL and what's next for her as she hands off the role.

How has CITL evolved since you started your term as director?

CITL has evolved into a really burgeoning center for faculty, staff, student and alumni engagement. CITL has always taught summer institutes for lifelong learners on interdisciplinary topics, hosted academic conferences, published Impact: The Journal of the Center for Interdisciplinary Teaching & Learning, and more. We’ve since had the opportunity to offer or sponsor additional faculty development workshops, to fund more varied projects, and to offer the Global Impact Research Fund Award.

We’ve also been able to further harness our collective scholarship and commitment to pedagogy to present at national conferences and to become even more of a “name” in General Education. CGS has been ‘doing’ General Education for over sixty years, but I was honored that we were recognized by one of the most important associations for general education in my tenure as the director. CITL also wrote for and received grants to nurture staff and faculty development, which was important to me.

CGS faculty accept the AGLS Award. From left to right: John Regan, master lecturer, Department of Rhetoric; Megan Sullivan, associate dean for faculty research and development and director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Teaching and Learning; Karen Guendel, lecturer, Department of Rhetoric; Beth Kramer, senior lecturer, Department of Rhetoric. [credit Joyce Lucke, AGLS]
CGS faculty accept the Association of General and Liberal Studies Exemplary Program Award. From left to right: John Regan, Megan Sullivan, Karen Guendel, Beth Kramer. Credit Joyce Lucke, AGLS
CITL has also accomplished smaller, but still important things: we’ve hired an ePortfolio mentor and offered student prizes for ePortfolios; all this helps in our ongoing assessment practices. We’ve revamped the look and feel of Impact; we’ve mentored 7 or 8 what we now call “Pedagogy Fellows” who have gone into careers in higher education; we’ve expanded faculty talks into Alumni Weekend; and we’ve established thoughtful processes and procedures for these varied initiatives.

Importantly, our Undergraduate Research Experience went from sponsoring approximately 3-5 undergraduate researchers to funding up to 50 students per year. This is largely because CGS and Dean Natalie McKnight secured funding from generous alumni and parents, and because we know that undergraduate research is a ‘high impact practice,’ or one of those practices that significantly impacts student success and retention.

CITL supports an incredible array of undergraduate research projects – what are some of the most memorable ones that have stood out to you over the last few years?

Great question, but there are too many to name! I think more than the topics, I love to see how a student grows as a result of whatever project he or she is involved in. I love to see students’ eyes brighten when they discuss their research projects; I love that CGS faculty have invited students to present papers and attend conferences with them; and I love that now an entire cadre of undergraduates will know something about the process of writing a book or engaging in a long-term project. And I hope that this encourages them to someday write that book or engage in that long term project on their own.

Why do you believe it’s important to give students an opportunity to engage in paid undergraduate research?

Student Adam Lazarchik conducts research on historical cures through CITL's undergraduate research program.

In the parlance of the day, paid undergraduate research is a ‘win-win’ for everyone: faculty obtain research help, and students learn to put the critical thinking and research skills they learn in college to work by engaging in “real world” research, or research that will make its way into labs, grants, articles, books and conferences. As I noted above, it’s also important because engaging in undergraduate research has been found to increase students’ level of academic success and retention. I also really like that alumni and parents get to ‘win’ in this situation, too. They get to talk to our research teams and feel their excitement. They can contribute with thoughts or deeds; and that is how real research is accomplished, with a shared canvas and a shared goal.

In addition to supporting undergraduate research, CITL acts as a resource on interdisciplinary general education. Why do you think general education is so important? How is CGS’s program unique in the field of general education?

General education is important because it prioritizes the intellectual curiosity, skills and habits of mind that will help people become better in life and work. General education serves the whole person; it teaches us to be smart, ethical, community-oriented and autonomous. With the Hub, BU recognizes that students should have these opportunities throughout their four years of college, and that’s good. However, research shows that we need to “catch” students in their first two years; these are the years that can literally make or break students’ ability and desire to continue their education. General education is among the most important work a university has to accomplish.

What are you most proud of in your time as CITL director?

I’m really proud of what I’ve been able to do for the College of General Studies as a whole and with respect to each part or “stakeholder” in this whole. There can be a tendency for administrators to think in terms of constituencies: they support students or faculty or staff or alumni. I’m proud that I’ve been able to learn about and help foreground what folks need across the spectrum at our college and what makes them succeed, whether these people are students, staff, faculty, alumni, parents or donors. The reality is that a college is only as good as each of its parts, and from the beginning I’ve set out to contribute to all these “parts”; I’m proud of that. I was able to do so, because I wanted to, and because that’s something Dean Natalie McKnight believes in and promotes.

I’m also proud that I’ve been able to participate in so many BU committees and to therefore meet people who could, through me, learn more about CGSits goals, aspirations, sophistication and commitment to teaching and scholarship. When BU created its first university-wide general education program, or the Hub, I could contribute, because general education is what CGS does. Yet I could also be of service on the General Education Committee by allowing other units at BU to know more about what CGS does best: interdisciplinary, cohort learning. The same is true with respect to diversity and inclusion. Because I was able to be a member of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion Chairs’ group, I could showcase how CGS is working on everything from diversity hiring to inclusive pedagogy. This has been hugely important to me. There are other examples, but the reality is that I always thought my role was to help people within CGS and to help others better understand CGS.

What’s next for you when your term ends?

For the next year I am on sabbatical. All my energies will be focused on two things: writing a book about the Irish writer Maeve Brennan, and fostering a community of scholars, activists, educators and policy makers who will better attend to the needs of people in prison and their children. Just as my roles as Director of CITL and Associate Dean for Faculty Development led me to attend to the various communities that create a college, my research and scholarship have always pushed me to attend to and highlight those literary and material voices most in need of being heard.

-- Compiled by Chelsea Feinstein

My CGS: A Q&A with Tyler Davis

Tyler Davis (CGS ’20, COM ’22) spent her gap semester pursuing her passion – film. An internship with the San Francisco International Film Festival turned into an opportunity to have one of her own short films played at the festival – all before she continues on into the College of Communication to study Film and Television. We spoke with Tyler about her internship, what it was like to know her film had been chosen for the festival, and the trip to Ireland that kicked it all off.

How did you decide that interning at the San Francisco International Film Festival was how you wanted to spend your gap semester? What appealed to you about the opportunity?

Going into the gap semester, I didn’t have a clear plan on how I wanted to spend it, but I did know that I wanted to work on something related to film. I researched film internships in the Bay Area and that’s how I discovered the San Francisco International Film Festival. I was very excited to get hired because SFFILM has great connections in the film industry and hosts incredible filmmakers from all over the world every year, including during their annual festival. It’s an amazing organization, and I knew I was going to be able to get a lot out of the experience.

What was a typical day at your internship like?

I had several different responsibilities as an intern, and every day was a little different. During the week I helped teach stop-motion animation to a 5th-grade class at Jefferson Elementary School in San Francisco. The kids learned the basics of storytelling and then developed their own film, which they brought to life using paper cut outs and an adorable narration. I also worked in the SF Film office researching potential family-friendly short films for the festival to screen during their animated shorts section. I watched a lot of animated films and rated them for age appropriateness. On the weekends I helped host film screenings, mostly of documentary films. I assisted in documenting the film screenings, facilitated live Q&A with the directors and filmed interviews with the artists. Hosting these events was very rewarding because I was able to spend a significant amount of time with the artists, who were from all over the United States as well as different countries like France and Italy.

What were some of your favorite experiences during the course of the internship?

Working with the 5th graders at Jefferson Elementary was very exciting and rewarding since they were all able to work together to create a pretty impressive short film by the end of the class. The majority of the students were new to the art of film storytelling, and it was touching to witness how their excitement for their project progressed as they spent more and more time on it. I really hope some of them were inspired by the experience.

You’ve been interested in film for a long time. Can you tell me about the artists residency you participated in the summer before your gap semester?

Throughout high school I participated in three very different summer programs, one at CalArts in LA, another at Northwestern in Evanston, IL, and an independent residency at Cow House Studios in Wexford, Ireland. I had a transformative experience at CalArts that really fueled my interest in film as a career. Northwestern was an intensive program in which I learned, in detail, about the different roles in film productions. Living in Ireland was definitely the most challenging, however, because it was the first time I was alone with the film camera. I tried a new, experimental form of filmmaking that was very personal.

Tell me about the film you made there.

I made a three-minute short film titled Farewell, inspired by my feelings about leaving home and moving on to college in Boston. I filmed myself on a tripod and played with mirrors and my reflection in order to create different illusions. I then added a voiceover of a poem that I wrote, describing the different memories and experiences that shaped my childhood. I was very proud of the final video since I really struggled working on such an intimate project. A few months after finishing, I submitted it to the Youth Shorts section in the San Francisco International Film Festival, and to my surprise it was accepted!

A still from Tyler Davis's short film, "Farewell."

When you were interning, did you plan to submit your film to the festival? What made you decide to submit?

I did not plan on submitting my film to the festival, especially since it was so personal and experimental. I was actually encouraged to submit by my boss, Hillary. She said they usually receive a wide range of submissions and look for a diversity of style.

What was it like to be featured at the festival?

When I got the news, I was overjoyed and just really honored to have my film selected. The festival happened in April, so I unfortunately didn’t get to go since I was in school in Boston, but my family and some friends were able to see it play at the Roxie Theatre in San Francisco. I get excited just imagining my short film playing in a local SF theatre. It’s so cool because a few months earlier I had been hosting screenings at the Roxie Theatre for established documentary filmmakers and now my own film has played there as well.

What are your favorite parts about filmmaking? What do you find the most challenging?

I absolutely love directing and editing because it is the part of the filmmaking process that brings the story to life. I’ve had the director role on a couple different projects so far and it is definitely a challenging role that comes with a lot of responsibility. Directing can be difficult since you are trying to accomplish everything you envisioned during the pre-production process. I feel like I am able to express the most creativity when I am on set.

Are you hoping to pursue film in the future? What are your plans for after finishing your sophomore year at CGS?

I do hope to pursue film in the future and after CGS I plan on transferring to the College of Communication to major in Film/TV. I love film but I still need to figure out what I want to do in film, so I will get the chance to figure that out in COM.

A still from Tyler Davis's short film, "Farewell."

What opportunities did your gap semester give you that you wouldn’t have had otherwise? How did that internship prepare you for college?

The gap semester was absolutely a gift in disguise. I felt a little left out and lost at the beginning of the semester since my friends were all leaving for college. Once I got an internship with SFFILM, however, that all changed and I started appreciating the opportunity. It’s an amazing (and surprisingly short) time to focus on things that you are interested in and commit to something new and unrelated to school. The gap semester gave me a lot of confidence that I could succeed in the future, maybe with film.

What advice would you give to current and future CGS students about how to make the most of the gap semester?

Focus on something that you are interested in, new or existing, during the gap semester and get as involved in it as possible. It’s the first time in which you have the freedom to explore whatever you want before you go back to school. It’s also a great time to reflect on your life and how you may want to improve moving forward onto college. Having a longer transition between high school and college was definitely rewarding for me, and I am very happy I had the chance to work with SFFILM.

What's next for you in pursuing your passion for film? Do you have anything planned for this summer?

I'm really excited to work on more projects in my upcoming production classes in the College of Communication. I am also currently a pledge in BU's professional film fraternity, Delta Kappa Alpha, which has introduced me to an incredibly driven group of film students on campus. This upcoming summer, I am doing a directed study with the amazing Dean Natalie McKnight that is focused on women filmmakers. I plan to study films written and directed by women in order to identify the unique characteristics of films made by female directors and creators. I will be creating a film at the end of the study inspired by my research.

Students present undergraduate research projects

The Center for Interdisciplinary Teaching & Learning offers undergraduates an opportunity to partner with College of General Studies faculty on research projects. During the Undergraduate Research Forum on Feb. 4, seven students presented their research to Mike Gould, the donor that made that work possible. Gould said to the students, he “wants people to grow and thought this would be an opportunity to challenge yourself.” 

Mike Gould (left), whose gift endowed the Center for Interdisciplinary Teaching & Learning’s fund for undergraduate research projects, speaks with CGS Dean Natalie McKnight.

Dominic Kemmett presented his research work with Peter Busher, which focuses on the relationship between northern water snakes and beaver structures. Over a period of time, he collected data and concluded that beaver structures appear to be a critical habitat for the northern water snake, especially during the late spring breeding season. For his possible future research, Kemmett wants to expand his area of data and focus on an endangered snake species.

Dominic Kemmett (left) presents his research on water snakes.

Caroline Pratt worked with Robin Hulbert to measure the prevalence of MRSA bacteria in the gyms at BU. She continued her research from last semester and decided to test the same four equipment pieces every month in the gyms. She used three different methods to help her analyze and after three months, did not see a trend with the bacteria of the different facilities. Pratt did find that the dumbbell had the most bacteria for every round of sampling. For the future, she is looking into using human subjects. 

Caroline Pratt (right) and Robin Hulbert

Ruslan Crosby worked with Joshua Pederson to design an ethics class with a unique approach. He wanted a class that everyone could take and he wanted the source materials to be interesting. For example, he talked about using books like Peter Pan as a way of demonstrating the concept of hedonism. The course focuses on utilitarianism vs. hedonism, time, and climate change. Crosby said that he learned a lot and now knows what to do better next time, including having clearer objectives and a stronger planning process.

Ruslan Crosby

Adam Lazarchik presented findings from his research with Sandy Buerger on historical remedies that may help to counteract antibiotic resistance. While using plants and fruit as samples, he focused on four types of bacteria. His ultimate hope is that studying historical cures will help develop new antibiotics.

Adam Lazarchik presents his research on historical cures.

Peter Moore, under the guidance of Shawn Lynch, explored neoliberalism globally during the 1980s. He noted that it was an interesting topic as he compared today’s politics with the past. Not only did he learn a lot about neoliberalism, but he also learned about the research process itself and how fluid it is. During his time working with Lynch, he helped Lynch with a paper that will be published in 2021.  

Peter Moore presents his research on neoliberalism.

Katherine Workman and Aanchal Goel, with the help of Sandy Buerger, observed the communication in environmental samples of bacteria from the Charles River and Lake St. Clair and the effectiveness of probiotics. Even though students in the past have done this experiment before, they wanted to redo it and see it for themselves. They concluded that the two bacteria do communicate based on the way they grew. Furthermore, they found probiotics to be less effective than expected.

Left to right: Katherine Workman, Sandy Buerger, and Aanchal Goel

Although not present at the event, Alexander Batt and Chris Coffman were also recognized for their research on the literary identity and improvisational strategies of The Grateful Dead. Batt will be presenting on his work at a conference in Albuquerque, N.M. later this month.

— Story and Photos by Natalie Seara

CGS Wins AGLS Exemplary Program Award

The College of General Studies won the Association for General and Liberal Studies’ Exemplary Program Award, recognizing the college’s Boston-London Program for its focus on outstanding co-curricular general education.

Megan Sullivan, Associate Dean for Faculty Research and Development and Director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Teaching and Learning, traveled to Orlando, Fla. to accept the national award, alongside several faculty members.

“I think the award makes explicit what many have long recognized: In the era of the BU Hub, CGS has much to offer,” Sullivan said.

CGS faculty accept the AGLS award.
CGS faculty accept the AGLS award. From left to right: John Regan, Megan Sullivan, Karen Guendel, Beth Kramer.

From the beginning of the development of the Boston-London program, Sullivan said that CGS faculty were eager to take on the challenge of developing a co-curricular program that encapsulated all the best that CGS had to offer.

“We recognized from the beginning that we could infuse a new program with what over 50 years of general education has taught us: students benefit from cohorts of learners; a team of faculty; an interdisciplinary focus with co-curricular or experiential opportunities; and a global component,” she said.

In the application, Sullivan highlighted how outside of the classroom experiences in both Greater Boston and London, including trips to Walden Pond, Stonehenge, and more, enhanced student learning, with data to support the outcomes.

“Our several year assessment and the fact that we could compare September and January students was huge; we had the data to support that one of our key learning rubrics – integrated learning – is strengthened as a result of co-curricular experiences,” Sullivan said. “I think AGLS also liked that we take general education seriously. It’s what we do, and we do it well precisely because we know how important it is for student success.”

Sullivan said the award, which is now on display on the second floor of CGS, is a way of recognizing the work of all those involved with the program, including administrators, faculty, staff, and students.

“I was especially pleased because I am first and foremost a faculty member; I have taught many students in my decades at CGS, and I felt that this award recognized these students and their hard work,” she said.

— By Chelsea Feinstein

CGS Hosts London Conference on Writing and the Nation

On June 30, 2018, an interdisciplinary group of scholars-- hailing from colleges and universities in at least seven countries (the US, the UK, France, Ireland, Germany, Malta, and the Netherlands)--convened at Boston University's Harrington Gardens building, in South Kensington. The gathering was a conference hosted by the Center for Interdisciplinary Teaching & Learning at the College of General Studies, with the support of BU-London, on the topic of "Writing, the State, and the Rise of Neo-Nationalism: Historical Contexts and Contemporary Concerns.”

Annika Gonnermann, of the University of Mannheim, discusses dystopian fiction during a conference panel. Photo courtesy of E. Thomas Finan

The conference was organized by CGS Humanities Division faculty members Christopher K. Coffman and E. Thomas Finan. Finan offered a talk, “Motifs of Particularity and Pluralism in American Literature," and several other BU faculty presented. The CGS Divisional Chair of Humanities, Adam Sweeting, presented a paper entitled “‘I am Almost Glad not to Know Any Law for the Winds’: Thoreau’s Resistance to National Weather Discourse." Master Lecturer of Rhetoric John Regan chaired a panel on nationalism in 20th- and 21st-century Russia, and BU–London faculty members Andy Charlton and Aleks Sierz chaired panels on contemporary nationalism and New World nationalisms, respectively.

The conference’s keynote speech, “Dylan and the Presidents,” by University of Bristol's Winterstoke Professor of English Daniel Karlin, offered a serious and engaging look at the criticisms, complications, and celebrations of the American presidency in Bob Dylan’s song lyrics. The Times Literary Supplement published an excerpt of Karlin's keynote lecture the week after the conference.

Other papers addressed a wide range of subjects, from the relation between prophetic voice in poetry and national identity, to the anti-nationalism of contemporary anarchists in France, neo-Ottomanism in contemporary Turkish political rhetoric, the opportunities opera presents for renewing nationhood, and the nationalist content of contemporary popular music.


A Look at Undergraduate Research: Women Writers, Food, and Wartime

When a computer engineering student and an English major help a rhetoric professor with a book about British women writers and food, you’re seeing the interdisciplinary synergy of undergraduate research in action.

College of General Studies Lecturer Kate Nash is writing a book on how twentieth-century writers—among them Virginia Woolf, Betty Miller, and Muriel Spark—incorporated wartime food ephemera into their fiction. During the austere years of World War I and World War II, governments aimed to manage food consumption through mass-media campaigns. Nash looks at how women writers incorporate these propaganda materials—from posters to infant feeding manuals to domestic pamphlets—into their writing as they confront how the state regulates femininity and the female body in service of the nation. In the books that Nash studies, young women use chocolate as a form of currency during the hungry years of wartime London, and a restaurant meal becomes a symbol of racial assimilation.

This may not sound like the kind of project a computer engineering student would sign up to work on, but Rene Colato (CGS’18, ENG’20) was up for the challenge. After the topic of political propaganda came up in his rhetoric class with Nash, he became interested in helping with her research. The CGS Undergraduate Research Experience program, funded and administered through the Center of Interdisciplinary Teaching & Learning, provided Colato a stipend for his work.


Coleen Ilano and Kate Nash. Photo by Steven Silvio

Nash says that talking with a non-humanities student gave her a new perspective on one of her key concepts—rationing—and that Colato’s technical experience was useful as she expanded the digital humanities side of her project. Colato built a website Nash can use to showcase her own materials and her students’ work. When she teaches in London for the Boston-London Program, Nash assigns her students to find and describe a propaganda poster from the Imperial War Museum. Now the students can create a digital showcase of those posters for their class.

After Colato’s and Nash’s project concluded at the end of the fall 2017 semester, Nash started a new collaboration with Coleen Ilano (CGS’18, CAS’20), an English and psychology major. Ilano was interested in doing research related to literature, psychology, or gender studies, and she loved her classes with Nash—so the project was a perfect fit. Ilano says, “I am able to learn more about the subjects I love while also being able to assist a professor who I greatly admire and respect.”

Ilano is helping Nash collect materials for a book chapter on Muriel Spark’s 1963 novel, The Girls of Slender Means, set in England in 1945. Ilano said one of the most interesting things she’s learned this semester is “the ways that women in fiction can exercise agency and maintain autonomy over their bodies” even when those acts might also conform to “restrictive social standards.” Analyzing a book written decades ago has helped her to place herself in the mindset of another time while integrating her own contemporary understanding of the themes.

“Keeping an open but critical mindset … has allowed me to enjoy the book more fully and enrich my own experience,” Ilano said. She’s found that mindset is something she can apply to other areas of her life, too. She says it's helped her mature in her studies and in her understanding of others. In the spring of 2019, Boston University Center for the Humanities recognized Ilano's dedication to her studies by presenting her with one of its undergraduate student awards.

Colato says he’s glad he could work in “a one-on-one work environment that encouraged exploration, academic growth, and innovative thinking to create something unique and profound.”

For her part, Nash says these collaborations have helped her refine her project, organize it into manageable steps, and communicate her work to different audiences in a way that anyone can understand-- whether they’re studying computer engineering or English.

For more on Nash’s research, read her article, “Fixing the Interwar Meal: Positive Eugenics and Jewish Assimilation in Betty Miller’s Farewell Leicester Square,” in Modernism/modernity (Volume 2, Cycle 4). Her book manuscript is provisionally titled Consuming War: Modernism and the Rhetoric of Austerity

Do Probiotics Work?

sandra-buerger-alexander-smith-17-1946-PROBIOTICS-024Manufacturers are always promoting their newest probiotic by promising it will get rid of the bad bacteria in your body by bringing in the good bacteria. But are these probiotics doing what they are supposed to be doing? Professor Sandra Buerger,  a lecturer in natural science and mathematics at the College of General Studies, and Alexander Smith (CGS’19) wanted to find out if these probiotics were the real deal.

With a grant from the Center for Interdisciplinary Teaching & Learning, Buerger and Smith went to the drugstore and got samples of different probiotics. After going back to the lab, Buerger and Smith ran their experiment by putting the pill's diluted bacterial powder onto petri dishes. Buerger also decided to test the probiotics against naturally fermented foods like miso soup and apple-cider vinegar.  According to Buerger, “The numbers from our methods have been a little lower than what’s claimed on the box, but there are definitely living bacteria" in the probiotic pills. 

According to BU Research, the next step for Buerger is finding out whether all those bacteria actually make it through the digestive system to the small intestine. To do this, Buerger and Smith plan on building an artificial stomach that will actually be able to digest the probiotics. After a few hours, Buerger says that she will check, “Are they still alive? Are there more of them ready to grow? Is there enough to still make a difference to the digestive system?”

Read  the full story on Buerger's and Smith's research at BU Research.

International Conference Examines Threats to Lobster Population

CGS IWCL Logo brand-approvedWhen people think about the effects of climate change, they're probably not immediately wondering how the world's warming will affect the sea crustacean we know as the lobster. But that was a central concern for the keynote speakers and the researchers who presented at the 11th International Conference and Workshop on Lobster Biology and Management, held June 4-9 in Portland, Maine. CGS Senior Lecturer Kari Lavalli co-chaired the conference with Rick Wahle, research professor at the University of Maine's School of Marine Sciences.

U.S. Senator Angus King (I-- Maine) opened the conference with a keynote speech, warning against proposed cuts in federal science funding and telling the audience that data is key to safeguarding Maine's $533.1 million a year fishery.  "This is not an abstract problem or something about environmentalists versus non-environmentalists," King said. "This is  very practical."

The conference's 200-plus researchers attended talks on topics such as: how temperature affects diseases in lobsters, how changing environmental conditions affect chemosensory abilities, how thermal stress affects season movements, climate-related shifts in the distribution of American lobsters, and more.

Researchers probed a question troubling both biologists and lobstermen: the number of baby lobsters in the Gulf of Maine is falling even though fishermen are still seeing high value and volume in their catches. The Portland Press Herald covered the "great disconnect" between these two facts: "Researcher after researcher at last week’s International Conference and Workshop on Lobster Biology & Management in Portland talked about work underway to explore the disconnect, ranging from an examination of how rising ocean temperatures might have forced the larvae to 'settle' in new spots where surveyors aren’t counting, to whether new predators are eating them or gobbling up all their food supply." 

Kari Lavalli
Kari Lavalli

Lavalli spoke to the radio station WCAI about another trouble facing New England lobsters. Warming waters can increase the incidence of shell disease and bring new predators to the lobster's waters. In one of her panels, Lavalli spoke on the slipper lobster, a species that is commercially fished but understudied, and why it is less susceptible to shell disease even though it lives in waters that are much warmer than our New England lobsters. Understanding why some species are susceptible to disease and some are not could be key to protecting the lobster population from the effects of climate change.

In fact, one workshop focused on three diseases seen in lobsters and how rising temperatures and increased ocean acidification affects the lobster's shell and immune system response. "The take-home message from this workshop was that we still have much to learn about diseases in the marine realm and there is a real need to train a new generation of pathologists who will recognize, report, and study these diseases," said Lavalli. "Attendees warned that the U.S. lobster fishery is at particular danger of having a major disease outbreak in the near future."

A threat to the lobster fishery would be a major blow to Maine's economy. University of Maine Professor Robert Steneck noted that lobster represents almost the entirety of Maine's fishing industry, and he urged the state to diversify and plan for an uncertain future.

The conference received press coverage from Portland Press Herald,  Maine Public, Maine Biz, Fox 23, WCSH6, and the Boston Globe. The Center for Interdisciplinary Teaching & Learning at BU College of General Studies was among the conference's sponsors.


International Conference Focuses on Dickens’ Interdisciplinary Thinking

On July 14-16, Boston University College of General Studies hosted the 22nd Annual Dickens Symposium: Interdisciplinary Dickens, a gathering for scholars from across the world to present their research on the nineteenth century writer Charles Dickens. Over 70 scholars attended from nine countries.

Charles Dickens  (1812-1870) was not just a spinner of dramas and writer of comedies. He was someone with a concern for social justice, an interest in people from all walks of life, and an interdisciplinary thinker who dealt with the themes of science, disease, linguistics, religion, music, and more. A sampling of conference panels reflects the depth and breadth of Dickens' interests: Dickens and the Arts; Urban Dickens; Dickens, Disease and Death; Storytelling, Chance, and Melodrama; Dickens, Gender, and Economics.

“Dickens is someone, like Shakespeare, who has encyclopedic knowledge and chronicles people from all walks of life and all parts of society,” Natalie McKnight, dean of CGS and Dickens scholar, told BU Today. “There isn’t much you could be interested in, in terms of a discipline, that you couldn’t find some angle on in Dickens.”

“As is always the case with this conference, the program is testimony to the extraordinary multitudes that Dickens contains,” Iain Crawford, a University of Delaware associate professor of English and Dickens Society president, told BU Today.

A conference report from the  Dickens Society said the Interdisciplinary Dickens theme "led to an impressive, diverse collection of methodologies and approaches to Dicken's work and life." The report summarizes each panels' discussions and concludes, "The conference was interdisciplinary in every sense of the word" as participants approached Dickens and his work from a number of different angles—religious, scientific, philosophical, pedagogical and even digital. "The end result is a multi-faceted picture of an author who seemed to have written a bit about everything, whose opinions are inexhaustible as much as his work is inimitable."

The symposium was co-sponsored by the Dickens Society and the Center for Interdisciplinary Teaching & Learning.

A Look at Undergraduate Research: Tragedy of the Commons & Climate Change

This post is part of a series that profiles the faculty-undergraduate research partnerships offered through the Center for Interdisciplinary Teaching & Learning. To learn more, please contact the Center at

R. S. Deese and Morgan AshurianCGS Social Sciences Lecturer R. Sam Deese is writing a book that tackles philosophical and political questions around climate change. CGS student Morgan Ashurian (CGS’17, CAS’19) is providing some valuable research help along the way.

Deese’s book, Climate Change and the Frontiers of Democracy (Springer, coming in 2017), looks at an economic theory called the “tragedy of the commons.” It’s a quandary most of us can understand: if you have a common resource, like land, and everyone surrounding that resource is unregulated in their ability to use it, people will pursue their short-term self-interest and take as much of the resource as they can. In the end, the resource will be destroyed.

Deese’s book traces this idea from its originators, William Forster Lloyd and Garrett Hardin, then examines how it applies to the problem of climate change today. It’s in every country’s self-interest to have a strong economy, industry, and the cheapest energy possible—says Deese—but pursuing that self-interest is disastrous for the planet as a whole. As a solution, Deese argues for the creation of more democratic institutions on a global scale, with the ultimate aim of creating a world parliament that would be directly accountable to voters.

As a research assistant, Ashurian is the first reader for the chapters that Deese writes. She helps to convert his citations to APA format and gives her thoughts on how to clarify the concepts. “Morgan is absolutely excellent as an assistant on this,” Deese says, adding that she’s “very perceptive when she reads the chapters and has great ideas and suggestions. … It’s helpful for me to know what’s clear and what could be clearer.”

Ashurian says the project intrigued her because of her interests in philosophy and political science. Now she’s learned how the Cold War and space exploration prompted people to see the environment in a different way. She’s thought about steps the international community can take to collaborate on issues of global climate change. The research has even prompted Ashurian to consider a study abroad program focused on countries working together to solve international issues—issues like global climate change.

Ashurian appreciates that the project allows her to think about an issue from both the philosophical and political science perspectives: “So many of the issues of global climate change have to do with the people that are in charge of different countries, the decisions that they make and the moral outlooks of people. Philosophy is just the understanding of the ethical viewpoint, and political science is about looking at this modern issue from an international and political standpoint.”

Thanks to the CGS Undergraduate Research Experience program through the Center for Interdisciplinary Teaching & Learning, Ashurian is able to get a stipend for her research work. Deese said her help is a “wonderful resource” and he’s grateful to CITL for making it possible: “It’s one of the wonderful things about CGS that ambitious and enterprising undergrads can do this kind of work with faculty.”