News & Events

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.”

A Look at Undergraduate Research: First Wives and Marriage in British Novels

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

A married woman abandons her husband and child to elope with a suitor who jilts her. A woman suffers hallucinations after she is suspected of burning her stepson to death. A mistress curses the young bride whose marriage will disinherit her son. Reading sensational nineteenth–century stories like these are all part of Kerry Sadlier’s work with Joellen Masters, senior lecturer of humanities at Boston University College of General Studies. With Sadlier’s invaluable help, Masters is studying marriage and the first wife as a narrative trope and genre strategy in the British and early modernist novel.

Sadlier (CGS’17, COM’19) became interested in participating in the CGS Undergraduate Research Experience when Associate Dean Megan Sullivan mentioned the program in a meeting: “I decided to pursue it when I realized how much I enjoyed the research aspect of my RH102 research paper.” Funded by the Center for Interdisciplinary Teaching & Learning, the CGS Undergraduate Research Experience gives CGS students a stipend for their research work with a CGS faculty member. When she learned about Masters’ research focus, Sadlier said it “seemed like a perfect fit for me” given her own interest in Victorian literature and women’s rights.

Kerry Sadlier and Joellen MastersAs a research assistant, Sadler hunts for scholarly articles, essays, and contemporary reviews of the novels Masters is studying. Sadlier and Masters meet each week to review the materials and, as Masters puts it, “set up her next foray into the stacks and the databases.” Sadlier also gives comprehensive annotations for many of the critical works important for Master’s research.

Before the fall semester began, Sadlier was jumping into the Victorian era by reading Ellen Wood’s East Lynne (a wildly popular novel published in 1861) and St. Martin’s Eve (1866), and George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda (1876).  Sadlier found some excellent information to help Masters expand on a draft about East Lynne. “She found articles and books that were fabulous, particularly those on Daniel Deronda and Lydia Glasher’s key place in Eliot’s plotting as well as story,” Masters said. Sadlier also tracked down unpublished dissertations and articles that have helped Masters learn more about Netta Syrett, a little-discussed playwright, novelist, and children’s story writer who was part of a high profile fin-de-siecle literary and artistic circle.

“This experience has been incredibly exciting and challenging,” says Sadlier. “The most exciting part of this job is the opportunity to discover new information about an author or character and contribute to telling their story.”  Masters says Sadlier has tackled the research with an “enthusiasm, diligence, and commitment that stimulated my own energies with the project.”

Learn more about student research opportunities—including directed study, stipends for research work through the Center for Interdisciplinary Teaching & Learning, and the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program. Contact CITL at for more details.

Megan Sullivan Completes Leadership Training at 2016 HERS Denver Summer Institute

Megan SullivanMegan Sullivan, associate dean for faculty research and development and director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Teaching and Learning, joined other leaders in higher education for the 2016 Higher Education Resource Services Denver Summer Institute. Along with 62 women leaders from across the United States, Sullivan completed the intensive, 12-day leadership development curriculum that HERS offers to help participants "gain the knowledge and skills needed to lead change on their campus and positively affect higher education."

HERS "is dedicated to creating and sustaining a community of women leaders through leadership development programs and other strategies with a special focus on gender equity within the broader commitment to achieving equality and excellence in higher education." Its three Institutes have provided leadership and management development to approximately 5000 women faculty and staff members from 1200 campuses.

Sullivan participated in institute sessions such as Managing and Leading Change: Your Role in Re-inventing Higher Education, New Partnerships & New Pathways, Leaning into Turbulent Times, Exploring Inclusive Excellence and Reframing: Work-Life to Living Well.  Faculty and guest speakers included: Betty Stewart, provost and vice president for academic affairs, Midwestern State University; Soraya Coley, president, Cal Poly Pomona; and Tuajuanda Jordan, president, St. Mary’s College of Maryland. Sullivan also worked on a project that she plans to further develop at BU -- a website that would help faculty better understand how to help students with disabilities.

“The faculty at HERS, our guest speakers, and the other participants all taught me so much about what women can do as faculty and administrators in higher education. The experience was truly invaluable,” said Sullivan.

Sullivan has been serving as associate dean since 2013. She was previously associate professor of rhetoric at Boston University’s College of General Studies. Her recent achievements include securing grants for faculty development and co-editing her most recent book: Parental Incarceration: Personal Accounts and Developmental Impact (Routledge 2016). Her participation in the HERS Denver Institute was sponsored by The Office of the Provost and The College of General Studies.

CITL Summer Institute To Explore 1960s Politics and Pop Culture

Summer institute 1960sOn July 16, Boston University College of General Studies will host a day of interdisciplinary learning exploring the politics, protests, progressivists and publications of a decade of radical social change—the 1960s.

The event is hosted by the Center for Interdisciplinary Teaching & Learning and is the fourth Annual Summer Institute hosted by CITL. Each year, the institute highlights interdisciplinary and experiential learning—two hallmarks of the CGS teaching model. CITL Summer Institute: The 1960s will treat attendees to four interactive talks, breakfast and lunch, and a reception with the rock music of the 1960s.

Megan Sullivan, CGS associate dean for faculty research and development and director of CITL, said the theme for this year’s event emerged from the unique interests and expertise of CGS faculty. Thomas Whalen, associate professor of social sciences, will bring his study of presidential politics to the topic “Bobby, the Gipper, and Tricky Dick: The 1968 Presidential Election and Transformation of American Politics.” Lynn O’Brien Hallstein, associate professor of rhetoric, will speak on “Male Bashers, Mother Haters, and Bra Burners: The Myths and Truths of the Women’s Movement.” Lecturer Charles Henebry studies comic books and other graphic narratives and will be speaking on “Sick Humor and Upright Morals: Squeaky Clean to Counter-Cultural Comics.” Senior lecturer Cheryl Boots, whose study of civil rights era songs was recently highlighted by BU Research, will discuss “Attack Dogs and Firehoses: Local News Coverage and Protest Music.”

Sullivan says the annual institute allows CGS to practice what it preaches: “We teach students that in order to examine real world issues such as politics and civil rights, they have to use the ways they have learned to think in all the disciplines.” Studying an era like the 1960s involves looking at culture broadly—digging not just into history but also looking at pop culture, Sullivan says: “The institutes provide us an opportunity to show others how this focus on interdisciplinary thinking works.”

Most of the institutes have featured music, and this year is no exception. “We'll cap our day with a reception and two musicians who will sing music of the sixties all while educating us about Boston's contributions to the national music scene,” Sullivan says. BU alumnus John Broderick (ENG’70, ENG’77) and Nick Racheotes, board members of the Brighton-Allston Historical Society, will play music and show the Boston venues of the 1960s vibrant rock scene. Sullivan says, “My guess is that before the end of this final reception we'll all be singing along!”

Register for the CITL Summer Institute to join CGS for this event and contact with questions.