Our Taste of Tufts Series: A Full Re-cap

The Taste of Tufts series initiated in 2012 aims to bring together faculty, staff, and students through the sharing of the amazing and ground-breaking research being done at Tufts. This fall, the ExCollege welcomed 4 faculty members to speak about their research and to initiate dialogue with a diverse audience. We’ve compiled a detailed listing of all Taste of Tufts lectures from this past fall so you can get a glimpse into the awesome things happening on our campus!

Ben Hescott, Computer Science

Professor Ben Hescott from Computer Science spoke as the opener of our Fall 2013 Taste of Tufts series. Professor Hescott dove into describing how the protein-protein interaction network is a collection of thousands and thousands of pairs of genes in some relationship. He compared this network to a social network like Facebook, where the ‘relationships’ can be represented as a graph. Professor Hescott informed the audience that in leveraging that information, we can actually devise new algorithms for biological discovery. According to Professor Hescott, his research presents algorithms using the protein-protein interaction network to discover compensatory pathways in yeast. These pathways are life’s “back-up” system and can be found using only high throughput data modeled like a social network.

Cathy Stanton, Anthropology

Earlier today, Cathy Stanton of the Anthropology Department spoke at our second Taste of Tufts lecture of the semester. She described her work studying traditional communities that have made their home on land now owned and managed by the National Park Service. Stanton has studied groups as diverse as the factory-worker Polish immigrant community in Salem, MA, engaging in what she calls “salvage ethnography,” to looking at how a traditionally run farm operates in the context of contemporary agricultural practices in Columbia County, NY. Most recently, the National Park Service asked Stanton to study the community of seasonal residents on Peddocks Island in Boston Harbor. Stanton said that although the traditional residents of the island were from three separate communities — Portuguese fishermen, summer residents who came to the island when cottages and hotels were built, and the officers and soldiers who were stationed at Fort Andrews on the island’s East Head — after five generations and years of intermarriage, the islanders now share a cohesive identity and sense of community that Stanton says is very much bound up in the unique place in which they’ve come together.

Read the full Tufts Daily article here.

Kelly McLaughlin, Biology

Earlier today, Professor Kelly McLaughlin of the Biology Department spoke at our Taste of Tufts lecture, discussing her work in developmental biology. McLaughlin works with South African clawed frogs (Xenopus laevis) as a model organism to study organ development and regeneration, specifically that of hearts and kidneys. According to McLaughlin, these frogs are ideal model organisms because they can be easily manipulated as embryos, their tissues can be explanted and transplanted, and because they’re transparent while developing, researchers can see their hearts beating and fluids pumping in their kidneys through their skin. McLaughlin’s lab looks at what effects turning on and off various genes within these frogs’ genomes have on their organ development. Some of the most fascinating work she’s done recently, though, arose after some of her colleagues asked her why so many frogs are disappearing. The answer? An herbicide called atrazine interferes with the frogs’ genetic pathways responsible for development, causing them to metamorphose into frogs before their bodies are physically capable of doing so.

Read the full Tufts Daily article here

Stephen Bailey, Anthropology

Dr. Stephen Bailey of the Anthropology Department joined us today for the final Taste of Tufts presentation of the academic year. Dr. Bailey spoke on his research looking at the growth and development of people living in high altitude climates. The majority of Dr. Bailey’s latest research focused on children living in Tibet. He and his colleagues looked at how elementary school children of different nationalities faired under the same environmental stressors. Going into the study, he stated that he and his team thought that adaptation to high elevations fell under the idea of “one size fits all” in that every human would adapt similarly to being at a high elevation. However, after diving further into his research, Dr. Bailey uncovered this to be untrue. Based on an individual’s genetic background, there are actually multiple ways of adapting to the high elevations both physically and physiologically!

Read the full Tufts Daily article here.

A Look at Medical Spanish

Written by Benji Cohen, A11 and summer graduate intern

Background: In 2008, a Tufts student approached the ExCollege with an idea. As a soon-to-be medical school student, he wanted to put his Spanish skills to use with his patients. However, he felt that his more traditional Spanish language education did not give him the full skill set necessary to interact with people as a medical professional in a hospital.

The ExCollege gave the student the opportunity to reach out to prospective instructors for a course entitled “Medical Spanish,” and the student received a few applications from interested individuals. Ultimately, Josep Vicente was chosen as the “Medical Spanish” instructor. Josep Vicente, an interpreter at many local hospitals, sought to meet the immense demand for Spanish-speaking health professionals.

First Taught: Fall 2008.

Status: In the Spring 2013 semester, Josep taught Medical Spanish for the sixth time. The demand for his course among the student body has only increased over time.

What Made it Special: Buttressing the established curriculum at Tufts, Medical Spanish is a practical outlet for Spanish language learners. Josep does more than just provide students with the necessary language and vocabulary training. Through a series of role-playing exercises, his class is imbued with a strong cultural emphasis in order for students to practice how to interact with, while simultaneously assisting, individuals who may not be fluent in English. According to Josep, this dual focus is key because in medical interpretation health professionals must understand both the verbal and the non-verbal cues from patients. As the Latino population in the United States continues to grow, Medical Spanish can literally mean life or death.

Reflection: A Tufts Daily editorial in 2008 applauded Josep’s class for reflecting “the type of cultural fluidity that has come to define our country, while also allowing [Tufts] to adjust to the times.” The editorial lauded Medical Spanish for embodying “what a Tufts education is all about.”

The Beginnings of EPIIC

The beginnings of the EPIIC program stem back to the Experimental College. The ideas that eventually served as the foundation of EPIIC began as ACOIL and the Symposium Project! Benji Cohen (A11) dug into the history of EPIIC this summer.

The Symposium Project

The Background: In the fall of 1985, Robyn Gittleman had an impromptu meeting with an academically curious Tufts student who wanted to promote intellectual life outside of the classroom. This conversation resulted in the creation of the Advisory Committee on Intellectual Life (ACOIL), which, as Robyn told the Tufts Observer, would create forums and discussions that were “intellectually challenging.” ACOIL was made up of three student representatives and Robyn. One of the committee’s first acts was to place national newspapers at “neutral locations on campus,” which ACOIL hoped would inspire off-the-cuff conversations between students about current events.

The Class: ACOIL’s first semester-long program was a seminar on International Terrorism and Political Violence led by Sherman Teichman and taught through the ExCollege. Robyn told the Observer that the class incorporated in-depth readings and brought in guest speakers with an expertise in terrorism. From the beginning of the fall semester, the class aimed to illuminate the basic issues and develop a keen understanding of terrorism, and then put their work toward a full-day symposium in the spring.

The Simulation: In November 1985 Sherman devised an eight-hour terrorist skyjacking simulation exercise for his students. On a Saturday morning, students reported to Braker Hall where they were confronted with the fictitious, albeit quite timely (a TWA flight had been hijacked in June 1985 by Hezbollah), news that a plane travelling from New York to Rome had been taken over by an extremist group called the Revolutionary International Phoenix. As the Tufts Daily reported, students played a variety of roles, which included the terrorists themselves, the American government, and the negotiating team. Sherman noted that that exercise helped students understanding “the frantic feeling of helplessness” and the “confusion that arises during crises not only intellectually, but emotionally. It’s an exercise of your entire brain.”

The Symposium: From February 28 – March 1 a collection of distinguished public intellectuals, academics, and policymakers descended on Tufts to participate in the culminating symposium sponsored by the ExCollege. The guests included: Dr. Michael Klare, ExCollege instructors from 1975 and defense correspondent for The Nation, Professor Martha Crenshsaw of Wesleyan University, and Tim Russert. The Boston Globe and the New York Times wrote expansive write-ups about the conference, and both publications noted the lack of consensus from the experts on how to deal with terrorism. The Tufts Daily estimated that 600 Tufts students and faculty attended the event.

Legacy: The Symposium Project taught through the ExCollege continued annually through 1990-1991. Topics ranged from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip crisis to the United States’ drug policy. In 1991, Sherman created Education for Public Inquiry and International Citizenship (EPIIC) and moved the program to the Tufts Institute for Global Leadership. The current framework of EPIIC continues to resemble that first ExCollege seminar.

Peer Teaching through the Years

We extended our Peer Teaching application deadline to November 8! If you have an expertise and want to share it in your own classroom, get in touch with us before filling out your application. We are very excited to see what classes will be proposed by undergraduates for the upcoming semester.

Giving in to a bit of nostalgia, we went through the past few years of peer-taught courses and compiled some great course descriptions. Based on the unique and innovative classes offered over the past 3 years, we know that we’ll have a fantastic line-up of peer-taught courses this spring!


The Art of Improvisation
Taught by Rachel Shoenbrun (A13) and Adam Bangser (A14)

Do you love to make people laugh? Are you spontaneous? Do you love to tell stories?

This course teaches the exciting art of improvisational comedy. Students in this course will explore the basics of improv performance, including scene building, agreement (“yes, and”), basic narrative skills, and physical characterization. At the same time, we will be reading important improv texts, discussing improvisational theory, and relating its principles to our daily lives. Our work will be inspired by the teachings of the improvisational experts and theorists such as Keith Johnstone, Del Close, Tina Fey, and Amy Poehler (founder of the improv troupe My Mother’s Flea Bag at Boston College). The structure of this course will be highly interactive and discussion-based, with field trips, guest speakers, and group performance. No experience necessary.


Architecture/Music: Sound and the Built Environment
Taught by Amelia Wellers (A13)

As Goethe once observed, “I call architecture frozen music . . .; the influence that flows upon us from architecture is like that from music.” Spaces speak—are you listening?

Sound is an omnipresent influence within our environment, but very few people actually listen to what they hear. This class will explore the many dimensions of how sound interacts within the built environment, exploring topics including archaeoacoustics, aural architecture, space and sound analysis, music and performance, visual art, film, hands-on sound production, and as many other applications as could possibly be deemed reasonable. We will take field trips to our own Granoff Music Center as well as to Boston Symphony Hall and engage in guest lectures given by some of the leading Boston area acousticians. Informal studio sessions and conceptual discussions invite students to synthesize their own diverse experiences in the soundscape of our world. The ultimate goal is to take creative license in forming your own perceived “point of audition.”


Game Strategy
Taught by Aaron Bartel (A12)

When playing Monopoly Scrabble or Clue, do you just go by the rules? Or have you ever thought about the strategy that’s involved? This course will explore the skills and understanding that’s necessary to actually win common household games. We will focus on the strategy implemented in these games by employing game theory, economics, statistics, and balance of power dynamics. Classes will consist of an examination of a certain strategic element within the context of a game, and then the exercising of that strategy in class by playing the game in question. Games explored will include students’ choices along with the following: Texas Hold’em, Risk, Monopoly, Settlers of Catan, Dominion, Hearts, Spades, President, Bridge, Connect 4, Checkers, Chinese Checkers, Chess, Scrabble.


Alpinismo: The Culture and Science of Mountain Climbing
Taught by Nick Levin (A11) and Ryan Stolp (A11)

Why do humans feel the need to travel into and immerse themselves in the highest and harshest environments on the planet?

This course presents the history of alpinism and how it has developed into one of the most extreme endeavors humans have undertaken. It will also include the practical skills of rock, ice, and mountaineering, as well as theoretical, philosophical and alpine environmentalist perspectives. Through skills practice, presentations, guest lecturers, reading responses, discussions, and a final expedition planning project, students will thoroughly explore the art of mountaineering.


Psychology, Magic, and Performance
Taught by Marcell Babai (A11)

This course will introduce students to an exploration of the psychology that makes magic work and makes it an entertaining art. As such, it combines study with performance.While specific techniques will be taught, the focus of the class is an analysis of how the techniques and psychological cues work together. To further the understanding of performance we will also briefly examine the history and evolution of technique, as well as examine how these concepts apply to other non-performance situations. In addition to a discussion of relevant theory, throughout the semester students will be preparing to perform short, close-up magic routines.


Investigations in Hypnosis
Taught by Aliza Howitt (A12)

Have you ever gone to a hypnotist show and seen your friends cluck like chickens? Maybe you thought it was a fluke or wrote it off to voodoo science. Well, not so! Hypnosis is a legitimate field that is often neglected by mainstream psychology curriculums.

This class is here to rectify that. In this course students will take a closer look at how hypnosis actually works. We will cover a variety of materials, providing students with an intimate knowledge of the history and science behind hypnosis, as well as an understanding of possible clinical applications and contemporary research on the subject.


HBO’s The Wire: TV and the American Inner City
Taught by Alex Hart (A11)

HBO’s The Wire has been called “a display … that must be considered alongside the best literature and filmmaking in the modern era.”

Through close analysis of of key episodes, this course will use The Wire to explore the societal and institutional processes that shape and influence the lives of inner-city Americans. We will journey through the first four of The Wire’s five seasons, examining the politics, societal influences, and institutional practices that affect the lives of the urban poor.

Readings will accompany viewings of the program, examining topics such as community policing, the economics of drug trade, the loss of jobs in America, underrepresented subcultures, and undocumented labor. The different academic viewpoints will provide a view into a disenfranchised community, located in the center of the American city. Participation and discussion will provide the fuel for the course.