AUGUSTA — Whether it’s global warming or social injustice, solving the problems popularly considered the most pressing of our time will take more than just scientists or philosophers focusing on their independent specialties.

It will take people from a combination of disciplines, working together to blend their knowledge and insight, to get a better view of the problem and more creative ways to solve it.

The faculty, students and families at Friday’s University of Maine at Augusta convocation were called upon to lead the charge in that effort, dubbed interdisciplinarity. An emerging area of study at UMA, the commitment to interdisciplinarity will be introduced across academic disciplines this year, which, Sarah Hentges, associate professor of American studies, said will give students a deeper understanding of the world.

“If the disciplines, the subjects in school, are pieces of fruit in a bowl, then interdisciplinarity is a smoothie,” Hentges said. “In the smoothie, the individual fruits blend together to create a new source of nourishment.”

This year’s convocation celebrated the school’s 50th anniversary, and much of the assembly was given over to introducing interdisciplinarity as the theme for the upcoming academic year, but university officials also took time to recognize students and professors for their work.

Thomas Giordano, associate professor of accounting, received the distinguished educator award, which recognizes someone who understands his or her profession and strives to inspire students’ curiosity.

“Tom is a tireless advocate for his students, his profession and the technology that enhances his teaching and students’ learning,” Provost Joe Szakas said. “His students regularly comment on his passion in the classroom, his innovative style and his ability to relate theories to practical application.”

Richard Nelson, professor of music, was given the distinguished scholar award for the acclaim his music has elicited. Szakas said Nelson was being recognized for “his entire body of work and for his continuous pursuit of excellence in contemporary composition.”

A group of 91 students was recognized as rising scholars, which recognizes student achievement and potential.

“Some of these rising scholars have already achieved wonderful things while at UMA,” Szakas said. “Some show tremendous promise. Some have both achieved and show promise. And all of them, we are so proud of and delighted to have the privilege to teach and work with during this crucial time in their lives.”

Hentges worked during her presentation to define interdisciplinarity and explain its significance. The historical approach to education is multidisciplinary. That’s why students at all levels take a variety of courses across disciplines, from math and science to reading and history.

But the knowledge gained in those classes will never form a completed education if that information is compartmentalized into individual groups of data.

“We have to work to make connections and practice integration in order to take our multidisciplinary education into the realm of interdisciplinarity,” Hentges said. “Interdisciplinarity can help us to make connections, to see the bigger picture, to build collaborative teams for research and service, to approach problems from a variety of angles, to build a richer more diverse, more just world.”

Interdisciplinarity will be key to addressing the global issues, including climate change, said Kati Corlew, assistant professor of psychology. Meteorologists are needed to predict short-term weather conditions and climatologists to create models designed to predict long-term trends. Hydrologists, biologists, botanist and ecologists must all work together to see the full effect of climate change and to search for solutions, but it also will take the social sciences and economists, and political scientists, not to mention lawyers.

“We, each of us, with our own different expertise and different interests, even with our different vocabularies and priorities, we are all parts of a whole,” Corlew said. “And we must come together. There is no field, and certainly no disciplinary silo, that can provide all the answers we need. In interdisciplinary work like this, we are not separated by our differences; we are connected by them.”

Keynote speaker Elizabeth Duclos-Orsello, associate professor of interdisciplinary studies at Salem State University in Salem, Massachusetts, said an interdisciplinary approach will be required to solve issues of social justice as well.

“Social justice work is focused on transforming the structures and systems that currently sustain or enable inequality and injustice,” Duclos-Orsello said. “As you might imagine, changing systems and structures is hard work because social, political, economic, religious, demographic, educational, health, legal and other structures are embedded and entrenched.”

Duclos-Orsello highlighted the work of individuals in history who have used an interdisciplinary approach to addressing social injustice, including W.E.B. Du Bois, Robert Moses and Ruth Wilson Gilmore.

Du Bois was an African-American scholar and educator and co founder of the NAACP. His work took him into the fields of history, philosophy, journalism and civil rights.

“Interestingly enough, any biography of him struggles to find a simple disciplinary title for him,” Duclos-Orsello said.

Moses worked in the civil rights movement in the 1980s to improve education for minorities, which he believed was key to social justice.

“Moses was able to draw upon his knowledge of the history of racialized injustice, his understanding of educational theory, his skills as an organizer and activist to imagine and lead a new way of ensuring educational transformation for young people,” Duclos-Orsello said.

Gilmore works to change the corrections system, which she views as racially motivated. Duclos-Orsello said Gilmore is trying to address the link between the growing rate of incarceration of poor people and people of color.

Duclos-Orsello said each reformer knew change would not come about by simply adding voices to the discussion.

“Each of the problems they were hoping to solve required having someone at that table who understood the value of recognizing and integrating perspectives, methods, materials and approaches to create something never before imagined,” Duclos-Orsello said. “Shared authority, in practice, is deceptively simple and truly challenging.”

Craig Crosby — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @CraigCrosby4

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