Academic journal article Human Ecology

MULTI-DISCIPLINARY IMPACT: Faculty Shines in Cross-College, Cross-Campus Collaboration

Academic journal article Human Ecology

MULTI-DISCIPLINARY IMPACT: Faculty Shines in Cross-College, Cross-Campus Collaboration

Article excerpt

"You know what they say?" asks Dan Lichter. "They say innovation occurs at the intersection--the blurry space--between different disciplines."

"They" being all the faculty researchers and students Lichter has worked with over the years, spread across the constellation of centers and institutes he's headed. Like the original Bronfenbrenner Life Course Center (now the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research), the Cornell Population Center, and lately, the Institute for Social Sciences.

"At Cornell, centers are where you draw in information and ideas from other disciplines," says Lichter, Human Ecology's Ferris Family Professor of Policy Analysis and Management, with a Sociology appointment in the College of Arts and Sciences. "You might express ideas in the language of your own discipline. But you're building bridges across different parts of the sciences. Collaborative research is how we learn from each other, how we draw on our comparative strengths in research and teaching so that we produce a better product."

"Product" being both innovations and well-rounded students. One innovative example comes from the Cornell Institute for Public Affairs (CIPA), where a cross-section of faculty researchers and MPA students are collaborating with Bassett Healthcare to investigate a question: Can school-based health centers in rural districts educate and serve parents, students, and pre-schoolers?

In addition to centers and institutes, the college's laboratory groups and research programs are important nodes in the ever-growing network of collaboration, according to Rachel Dunifon, Human Ecology's Associate Dean for Research and Outreach. A Professor of Policy Analysis and Management with a collaborative research program of her own, Dunifon points to studies like John Cawley's investigation of risky health behaviors and Keith Green's exploration of interactive and adaptive environments.

"If you think nanotechnology belongs in Engineering," Dunifon continues, "you should see the work of Human Ecology faculty researchers like Juan Hinestroza, Anil Netravali, Margaret Frey, and Jintu Fan. Paul Soloway is a biologist in Nutritional Sciences, but his innovative work wouldn't be possible without engineering collaborators in nanobiotechnology."

Then there are the university-wide opportunities for collaboration. Tasha Lewis' home department might be Fiber Science & Apparel Design (FSAD), but her research interest in sustainability depends on connections she makes through Cornell's Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future.

Eve De Rosa, a faculty member in Human Development, almost turned down a Big Red recruiting pitch. Luckily, she remembered a first impression of Cornell while guest-lecturing here from another university. "There was so much palpable, collaborative energy and creativity here," De Rosa says. "That's what attracted me to Cornell."

Rural Matters

No one was more surprised than Dan Lichter, a sociologist in Policy Analysis and Management (PAM) with a lifelong scholarly interest in rural America, when Donald J. Trump's Electoral College edge came from rural America.

Surprised--not because the populist candidate's message resonated with so many dissatisfied voters--but that it took pollsters, pundits, and political strategists so long to recognize that rural America still matters.

"Rural America came out to bite urban America in this last election," says Lichter, PAM's Ferris Family Professor and Director of the Institute for Social Sciences (ISS), "because we ignored rural people and communities for so long."

Rural America is made up primarily of older, white, religious, working class people, who often view themselves as "real Americans," adds Lichter, whose observations come from studying poor communities in Appalachia and the farm belt. "It was overwhelmingly a Trump base that even the pollsters missed. …

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