I was in the bookstore last fall, dodging freshman who don’t know enough to check Amazon first to see how much textbooks are elsewhere, looking for a programming book. On my way towards the engineering section, I stopped to eavesdrop on a pair of students who were talking about the books. I quickly realized that they were not speaking about the authors with an undeserved familiarity, but that their professor had written the book on conflict due to climate change in Sudan that one of them was wildly gesticulating with. Of course, as an engineering student, it’s not unheard of for a professor to write a textbook. But I’d never really stopped to consider the vast amount of what I was missing at Tufts. I haven’t taken a history course since high school. Not because I particularly dislike history, but because I just never had time.
There are so many amazing professors at Tufts doing fascinating reasearch. And I was never going to hear about it.
And so I contacted the ExCollege, because surely this was perfect for them. At first, I had a hazy idea for a class where a different professor came in each week to lecture on their research. Robyn Gittleman, the Director of the ExCollege, seemed to think that there couldn’t be a class where the students didn’t have to do any work or take any tests. Which in retrospect seems reasonable, but I was insistent: the course should be like paging through a newspaper, where an educated person can still understand what’s going on without having to have read yesterday’s paper. After hashing out a couple of ideas, my initial frustration in the bookstore manifested as the Taste of Tufts Lecture Series.
I paired up with the ExCollege Assistant Director, Cindy Stewart, and began recruiting professors. I received a variety of responses, (did you know that some professors plan their calendars four months out?) but most were positive. The more I talked about the lecture series, the more positive feedback I got. The seniors (like me) wanted a last chance to sample Tufts. The youngsters who still have no idea what to major in wanted to hear about their options. The professors wanted in. Everybody had a suggestion about who to add to the roster.
We started off the lecture series with a bang two weeks ago: Dean Berger-Sweeney came to speak about her research into Rett’s Syndrome. Looking back, I’m amazed that she managed to bring something so highbrow down to my level. I took one biology class six years ago and even I understood what she was testing on her mice samples and the outcome. Amazing presentation and amazing research. Last week, Professor Locke spoke about his work with the Dagomba peoples music and dance. He has faithfully documented much of their culture and showed us his online database, which allows anyone in the world to begin to understand the rich Dagomba heritage.
The great thing about both of these lectures was that not only did students and faculty from both departments show up, but that students who had never been exposed to these topics before joined in the discussion.
Next week, Professor Hugh Gallagher will speak about his work in neutrino research. From what I remember from having him as a professor freshman year, he shoots neutrinos under several states (yes, states) before collecting and studying them. I look forward to seeing you there!