Events & Media

UCSB’s Graduate Division Receives Interdisciplinary Learning Grant
Bren faculty helps UCSB secure funding to enhance interdisciplinary research and teaching program

February 8, 2017

A team of UC Santa Barbara (UCSB) educators, including Graduate Division associate dean and Bren School professor Bruce Kendall and Bren School dean, Steve Gaines, played instrumental roles in securing a National Science Foundation (NSF) Research Traineeship award for UCSB this past September.

The $500,000 award from NSF’s Graduate Education Division will expand UCSB’s Crossroads program, which launched during the 2013-14 academic year and resulted largely from the efforts of Graduate Division dean, Carol Genetti, who first developed the idea with Chuck Wolfe, when both were associate deans in the Division of the Humanities. Geneti further developed the ideas in response to surveys in which graduate students asked for “more opportunities to become involved in collaborative interdisciplinary research,” Genetti said.

Bruce Kendall
The Crossroads fellowship program integrates interdisciplinary research and teaching in graduate education and takes its name from the multiple intersections involved: of disciplines, research and teaching, and of faculty members, graduate students, and undergraduates. It is sponsored by UCSB’s Graduate Division, Office of Research, Office of Instructional Development, and the deans of the College of Letters and Science, the College of Engineering, the Gevirtz Graduate School of Education, and the Bren School.

Bren professors Sarah Anderson and Matt Potoski joined colleagues from Psychological and Brain Sciences and Political Science to co-lead one of two inaugural Crossroads projects, undertaken in the 2013-14 academic year. In “Psychology, Environment, and Public Policy (PEPP)” graduate students studied the framing of environmental issues and how those frames translate into consumer and political behavior that affect public policy. Two Bren School PhD students, Patrick Callery and Alex DeGolia, joined three students from Psychological and Brain Sciences in the project.

The other inaugural project, “The Politics of Race and Language in Learning Contexts,” included faculty and graduate students from the Department of Linguistics, the Department of Chicana and Chicano Studies, and the Gevirtz Graduate School of Education.

“We know many of society’s challenges have solutions that require interdisciplinary approaches, yet most graduate students are trained in a single department,” says Gaines. “This award will increase interdisciplinary learning opportunities for UCSB students.”

The Crossroads program brings together faculty and doctoral students from multiple departments to collaborate on a year-long research project. Graduate students then receive mentoring from faculty to transfer the project to the undergraduate classroom.

“With the extension of the research project into the classroom, graduate students are allowed the unique opportunity to expand as teachers by directly incorporating their research into their teaching,” said Genetti.

The NSF award, which followed an assessment led by Graduate Division associate dean Mary Hegarty to identify what worked and what didn’t during the first three years of the program, will fund a suite of new activities open to all graduate students.

“For instance,” said Kendall, “we learned that we need additional explicit training for students, particularly in the pedagogy component, so we are leveraging a new course developed by Bren alumna Lisa Berry” (MESM ’04, PhD '08, senior instructional consultant at UCSB Instructional Development). This course, which will first be offered in spring 2017 under the auspices of the Graduate Division, is designed to prepare graduate students for their future work as college and university teachers.

Workshops will also be added in which students will discuss how to conduct research in their disciplines, collaborate effectively as an interdisciplinary research group, and communicate their work to diverse audiences.

Ty Brandt (Bren PhD Candidate)
The biggest modification to the program, Kendall says, is that, “while in the past the teaching component — when graduate students go into undergraduate classrooms — has often happened in one-off courses with small enrollments, now it will be required that teaching occur in parts of the curriculum that already exist, have large undergraduate enrollments, and thus, already have TAs.” Formerly, deans had to find funding for TAs in the new courses, but now Crossroads TAs, supported by the new funding, will work in core courses in professional master’s programs and in lower-division courses for undergraduates.

A call for proposals will be released late in winter quarter for new Crossroads projects to begin next academic year, but to get things started and test some of the innovations, the NSF PIs and senior personnel will craft a couple of projects to start this year.

At the beginning of winter quarter, Kendall joined Sarah Anderson and environmental historian and Environmental Studies professor Peter Alagona to lead one research project on the biological, social, and cultural dimensions of wildlife reintroductions, using the proposed reintroduction of grizzly bears in California as a case study. Students will explore what knowledge is needed to decide whether to reintroduce the grizzly, which adorns the California state flag, and investigate the question from ecological and historical perspectives, and possibly from legal, political, and policy perspectives as well. This group of Crossroads fellows will TA for the Environmental Studies 1 course, titled Introduction to Environmental Studies.

“The TAs will be teaching interdisciplinary material to a diverse undergraduate ES students,” Kendall says. “We want to enable TAs to bring their research into their discussion sections and help them teach effectively to this heterogeneous group.”

Mellichamp Chair and professor of chemistry and chemical engineering Susannah Scott will lead the other initial Crossroads project, which will start this spring and is expected to focus on green chemistry. For that project, the fellows will be TAing in introductory courses in chemistry and chemical engineering. In contrast to the Environmental Studies course, those classes are highly disciplinary, and their content is constrained by the accreditation requirements of the discipline ― an issue across all of engineering and many of the science departments. Here, the Crossroads fellows will enhance the undergraduate learning experience by showing how different disciplines approach the same problem. That will help the students to better understand the strengths and assumptions of their discipline and recognize the broader societal relevance of the disciplinary material they are learning in the course.

The NSF award will also fund in-depth assessments of the Crossroads model and the new enhancements based on analysis of five Crossroads research projects. The evaluation will determine the extent to which participation in Crossroads improved PhD students’ ability to apply approaches from multiple disciplines and work in diverse teams. This analysis will be used to make improvements to the Crossroads program for subsequent research projects. Another goal is to promote the Crossroads educational model to other UC campuses, and more broadly, by presenting it at meetings and describing it in pedagogy journals.

“In many ways, I think that Crossroads is a quintessential UCSB program, arising from the highly collaborative, collegial, and interdisciplinary ethos of our campus,” says Genetti. “Interdisciplinary research is both highly challenging and highly rewarding; it helps participants take on new perspectives and broadens our understanding of the complexity of the phenomena we are researching. It also allows for innovative ideas to emerge that are not possible when one is limited to a single disciplinary perspective. The program facilitates the critical interaction between faculty and graduate students that advances the frontiers of our knowledge, and also takes the undergraduates right along on that journey.”