College’s Center for Interdisciplinary Studies Transitions Leadership, Increases Student Enrollment in Program

By: Emma Brentjens ’21

Staff Writer

Davidson’s Center for Interdisciplinary Studies (CIS) allows students and faculty to study fields that are not offered as majors by the college. Some center-established majors include Arab Studies, Communication Studies, Genomics, Global Literary Theory, Neuroscience, and Russian Studies [1]. Students can also design their own majors through CIS, leading to very specific majors like Creative Writing & Asian-American Studies and Poverty & Development Studies. Soon, the CIS will transition to a new director, as Dr. Hilton Kelly, a member of the Education Studies and Africana Studies departments, succeeds Dr. Fuji Lozada, a member of the Anthropology and Environmental Studies departments.

Lozada began as director after the CIS hit a bit of a rough patch. “After Scott Denham, we were in a period of hiatus where we had our reviewers looking at it, and we were trying to figure out ‘what are we going to do?’” he said. Denham, a member of the German Studies Department, served as the director of the CIS for eight years. The Classics and History departments’ Dr. Peter Krentz then served as the interim for one year while the CIS was “figuring things out.” During this time, there were proposals to “push center functions onto departments instead,” Lozada explained.

When he took over, Lozada continued Denham’s work. Center-established majors began to be approved by the Educational Policy Committee (EPC), meaning that “the faculty approve them as legitimate curriculum.” He explained that the majors “still have to be run through the center because we can’t allow anybody to apply,” due to a low number of faculty in each department.

The Center “created majors so that people can look at the catalog, and they can see there’s a major in neuroscience or global literary theory,” said Lozada. Before then, he explained that “essentially people just heard about it by word of mouth… my goal has been to make things at the center more transparent.”

Lozada has also had an enormous impact on the students in CIS programs. Nick Johnson ’19, a Global Literary Theory major, commented that Lozada was “instrumental in helping me shape the major I am in now.”

Kelly has been involved with the CIS since he arrived on campus. “One of the reasons I wanted to become the Director of the Center is because when I got here in 2007, the Center was, I felt like, the heartbeat of the campus,” he said. With a Ph.D. from the University of Massachusetts, Kelly had lived in a five-college area and “was used to a lively [academic] environment.” When he first came to Davidson, Kelly explained, “I was longing for my graduate school experience, and I found that in the Center.” It is important to him that the CIS remains “a place with a lot of energy and excitement.”

Before he became director, Kelly was an advisor for students in the Center. “Last year alone I had five in the Center; this year I have two,” he said of his advisees. “Being a part of that process is what I really liked.”

Lozada believes that, because Kelly has been active in the Center, the transition is “going to be seamless.” Kelly plans on keeping many current aspects of the CIS, including the center lunches, which he calls “brown bags.” “We’re trying to make them more accessible by having a Monday brown bag and a Tuesday brown bag,” he said.

The main functions of the Center will also remain intact. “I still see it serving those two purposes: one, as a create-your-own space; and two, as an incubator for majors that students and faculty would like to see one day,” Kelly continued.

When asked if he had any advice for Kelly, Lozada responded, “He knows what he’s doing.” However, the interdisciplinary nature of the center presents certain unique difficulties. “The challenge is I have to skip from more hardcore science to computer coding to poetry and then back to social science,” Lozada said. He further explained that a large part of being the director of CIS is to “demand excellence” and “give the faculty and students space.”

According to Lozada and Kelly, the center attracts a certain type of student. For Kelly, “it requires independence; it requires tenacity; but most of all intellectual curiosity.” Lozada agreed that “it’s harder to do a center major than a non-center major.” Seniors in the CIS are especially busy with theses and projects while their peers may be taking classes to fill their requirements at that point.

Kelly has noticed an increased interest in majoring through the Center. “There is an upsurge, I think, in the number of students who are looking for non-traditional majors,” he said. The number of center majors each year match this trend. The class of 2017 had 25 center majors as does the class of 2018, whereas the class of 2019 has 33 [2].

For both Lozada and Kelly, the CIS is a special place on campus. Lozada believes the success of the Center comes from “all the people who their passions are addressed through majoring at the Center, through the students who major through the Center.” Kelly added that “it’s the place for those students who don’t quite fit in boxes…a place, I think, that is always thinking forward.”

 

[1] https://www.davidson.edu/academics/cis/majors

[2] http://cis-davidson.net/admin/2018-class/

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