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Lecture Series Touts Collaboration, Creativity, and Innovation

Lecture Series night 1The eighth annual University Lecture Series brought top faculty and a crowd of first-year students together at Bass Concert Hall for two nights of themed lectures last week. The lectures, titled In the Creative Mind and Ethics and Innovation in Healthcare, presented fields of study in a way that challenged the audience to think about the topics in non-traditional ways.
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A Different Approach

“The University Lecture Series is unlike anything that happens anywhere in the country,” said Brent Iverson, dean of the School of Undergraduate Studies. “We bring a significant fraction of the freshman class together to listen to the best faculty this campus has to offer.”

The series introduces first-year students to the idea that areas of study can be approached from a multitude of disciplines and asks them to think about how to apply a multidisciplinary approach at the beginning of their college careers. Every student enrolled in a Signature Course is required to attend at least one night of the lecture series.

In the Creative Mind

Art history professor Ann Johns began the evening’s lecture by discussing how the examination of art history can enhance critical thinking skills. Johns was briefly in the national spotlight earlier this year when she received a handwritten apology from President Obama after she wrote him to take issue with an off-the-cuff remark questioning the usefulness of an art history degree. She focused her lecture on the historical context of several paintings Obama posed with or spoke in front of and used those examples to show how art serves as a bridge to understanding different cultures. “Taking a class in art history, or any class for that matter, should be teaching you how to think critically in a wider setting,” she said.

Mathematics professor Michael Starbird continued with the subject of creativity saying, “I think that extraordinary people are ordinary people who use their minds effectively.” Starbird’s lecture demonstrated, using personal anecdotes, how someone can think creatively by examining everyday situations like sitting in traffic. He attempted to dispel the myth that creativity is magic and to show that the most creative thing students can do is learn to think for themselves.

Liberal arts professor Guy Raffa showed how a creative idea can span centuries and take on new meaning when applied to contemporary society. He examined instances of how Dante’s Inferno has been used recently in movies, books, television shows, and video games. He then challenged students to come up with ideas that have a similar potential to span generations.

Ethics and Innovation in Healthcare

Pharmaceutics professor James McGinity began the second night of the series by talking about several recent patents that have come about as a result of collaborations between students and faculty in the College of Pharmacy. The main patent discussed was an abuse deterrent for the opioid tablet OxyContin that renders the pill uncrushable. According to the Federal Drug Administration, this innovation has saved lives.

Biology professor Lauren Ancel Meyers gave a timely lecture on mapping the spread of diseases like ebola and how that can best be achieved through modern technology. She discussed how biology, math, and computer science are used collaboratively to solve real-world problems from the Forty Acres. Meyers spoke of how the Texas Advanced Computing Center has helped document the spread of influenza in the United States and how it has enabled scientists to forecast diseases much as meteorologists forecast the weather.

Psychology professor William Winslade discussed the ethics of controversial medical treatments. Winslade pointed out how such treatments often improve lives, creating ethical questions that debate between proponents and detractors. He spoke of the use of electroconvulsive therapy to treat psychological disorders, a treatment considered too extreme for some patients and ideal for others. Winslade also pointed out how new surgical techniques can exist in an ethical grey area before they are widely utilized but can then rise to prominence when successfully utilized.

Collaboration Across Campus

“This unique experience allows students the opportunity to hear from top scholars about their passion for teaching and learning, and in areas students may never have thought existed, or in disciplines where research is taking place and new ideas are created,” said Patty Micks, director of the First-Year Experience Office.

Many of the lecturers spoke of collaboration between students and faculty in both the lab and the classroom. Ann Johns was once a student of Guy Raffa in graduate school. Both were speakers at the In the Creative Mind lecture and Johns noted that Raffa informed her research in art history through his course on Dante’s Inferno and made her rethink the way she approaches her work.

Jim McGinity, speaking at the Ethics and Innovation in Healthcare lecture, discussed several innovative patents that exist because students and faculty in the College of Pharmacy worked side by side in laboratories and classrooms.

Since 2007, the University Lecture Series has been supported by the Audre and Bernard Rapoport Excellence Fund for Undergraduate Studies and is an integral part of the School of Undergraduate Studies First-Year Experience