Central College News

Featured: Great Minds Think Alike

November 13, 2012

The endowed chairs (from left to right): Mark Babcock, Chad Ray, Mark Johnson, Mary Stark and Jon Witt. Missing from photo: Keith Jones.


It was a brain trust nearly 100 strong. On Sept. 21-22, the faculty of Central College came together for the First Annual Chairs’ Conference, held in Graham Conference Center. The mind meld brought together faculty from all 39 majors and 14 pre-professional programs to share their research, swap teaching techniques and spark ideas for future collaboration among disciplines.

“I’ve always known that we have a talented faculty,” says Mark Babcock, the M. Joan Kuyper Farver Endowed Chair in Music.  The conference provided an explosive opportunity to see the passion and expertise across disciplines on our campus.  Celebrating scholarship and intentionally making interdisciplinary connections sets the liberal arts environment as not only the richest environment, but a real model for  the future.”

Central has always been a college where boundaries are fuzzy. The 10-year-old Intersections program—a required seminar for first-year students—includes faculty from many different disciplines who willingly give up a course in their departments to teach an interdisciplinary class.

The Chairs’ Conference is the first step of a plan to enhance the interdisciplinary aspects of a Central education even more. As outlined in the strategic plan, faculty workshops abroad and a pedagogical incubator for faculty collaboration are next.

“In the future, we will have an increasing blurring between and among disciplines,” says President Mark Putnam. ”Faculty enjoy living at the edges of their disciplines, so that psychology is really interested in biology and biology becomes interested in computer science. All of these different fields begin to interplay with one another.”

One important facet of the recent conference was faculty sharing their research with one another. That led to increased awareness of faculty work, as well as faculty brainstorming ideas to hook their projects together.

Highlights of the faculty research included:

  • Russ Benedict’s Prairies for Agriculture project
  • Allison Krogstad’s Spanish poetry
  • Terence Cleven on the five rational arts of philosophy
  • Marie Hopwood on using archeological research in the classroom
  • Nicole Palenske on tropical ecology

Jay Wackerly, assistant professor of chemistry, “How to Write a Nationally Competitive Grant Proposal”

Faculty from different specialties also gave presentations together, such as the group who shared teaching gems or the group who explore video as a tool to enhance student learning.

Other faculty members found their disciplines weren’t so disparate after all. Professors from English, anthropology and communication studies have a joint presentation about how each teaches a class related to health care.

The endowed chairs are already planning next year’s conference—using feedback from participants to make it even better. With so many great minds coming together in one place, the results are sure to be stunning.