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Prasad—I was a European history major, but times were tough in India so I got an MBA. But I found I was thinking differently than many of my fellow MBA students, and I went into acad- eme rather than a business career. When I entered grad school in the US, business as a discipline was in ferment, largely about interdisciplinarity. I integrated postcolonial history and global- ization studies in my work. You really can’t understand busi- ness thoroughly without bringing in at least two or three other streams of knowledge.


I taught previously at big research universities, and for me the main appeal of joining the Skidmore faculty was the oppor- tunity to work with colleagues outside my own department. It’s so intellectually invigorating.


O’Brien—I was also attracted by that at Skidmore. I wanted to teach in the Liberal Studies curriculum at the time, because I could really envision teaching some of my courses to broader audi- ences with more diverse majors and backgrounds. And I saw that Skidmore genuinely welcomed and fostered that kind of inquiry.


management faculty in team-teaching some short travel semi- nars—in Germany, Poland, Austria—where our students were majoring in art, exercise science, and a wide range of fields.


Prasad—Skidmore students benefit from having many courses cross-listed—for example, my course “Is the Melting Pot Boil- ing Over?” counts as an American studies course, a manage- ment course, a gender-studies course....


What does interdisciplinary study really offer to students?


“I like finding the various strings that can really pull the discourse together more comprehensively.”


How do you see the role of interdisciplinary thought in Skidmore’s curriculum?


O’Brien—The Scribner Seminars are great opportunities for get- ting every first-year student started right away in that mode of thinking.


Pfitzer—Interdisciplinarity should be synonymous with the liberal arts mission of a college like ours. It’s in the structural framework of our curriculum’s breadth requirements and is pursued by many students who find points of overlap in dou- ble majors or minors. In American studies, students select an area of concentration, take courses outside the department to support their choice, and then share those perspectives when they reconvene in the broadly interdisciplinary senior capstone seminar in American studies.


O’Brien—There’s a lot of symbiosis between interna- tional affairs and foreign languages. Most of our stu- dents have a double major or a minor. They tend to be very open to learning a discipline but also to criti- cizing it and finding out where to go to discover dif- ferent information or deeper perspectives. In fact, international affairs requires this of faculty too—we have to co-teach a number of courses. It’s challenging for us, because we do come from different disciplines and we have to look for the commonalities as well as ex- plore the differences. But it always enriches the educational experience for both the teachers and the students. I’ve also joined


PROFS. MARY BETH O’BRIEN, GREG PFITZER, AND PUSHI PRASAD


Prasad—I’ve found interdisciplinary ap- proaches to be especially fruitful in inde- pendent studies. I recently advised one student, a double major in women’s studies and government, in analyzing the history of the tobacco industry’s marketing to women and the radical changes it inspired in smoking habits during the 1920s. Our research turned up some surprises relating to issues of socioeconomic class, identity, and other factors.


Pfitzer—I suspect that interdisciplinary approaches do help students, or force students, to examine presuppositions more expansively and to find lines of communication that facilitate intellectual exchange across areas of study.


Prasad—I think they also nurture the flexibility to pursue grad - uate school in a wider range of fields. I had a student who ma- jored in women’s studies and business who is now considering a program in organizational communications—not one of her ma- jors, yet she’s well qualified to pursue it on the graduate level.


O’Brien—One thing about interdisciplinary studies is that they’re always evolving; they’re never stable or stale. And as they shift, students can see where the borders fall and move, and where the porous areas are in those borders. In international affairs, gender studies, and other integrative majors, final papers in the senior seminar are critiqued by all students, bringing to bear all their different specializations. That means each student simply learns more from the exercise.


Pfitzer—Thirty years ago, interdisciplinarity was a somewhat startling...


Prasad—Radical... O’Brien—Pioneering...


Pfitzer—...idea in colleges. Now it’s the coin of the realm in liberal arts education, and it prepares students to be nimble, critical, and incisive thinkers.


WINTER 2011 SCOPE 19


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