Back to school…

This is my first semester “back to school” in quite some time.  I’m finishing up my undergrad, and have a good bit of “core” classes to finish as well as a sprinkle of classes related to my major, Interdisciplinary Studies / Organizational Administration.

So, to help reengage the brain, I decided to start off with classes “Developing a Civil Society” and “Globalization and Diversity”, in addition to a couple others to complete a full-time status.  I chose these two classes specifically because of how they tie into the world today.  During this political climate, I wanted a civil way to discuss some of the concerns I have with the direction government and politics are heading.   The divide seems to be between so many Americans, including members of my own family.  I have to say; these classes have not disappointed me.

In “Developing a Civil Society” we are discussing things like solitary confinement and incarceration.   While watching a PBS Frontline episode, “Solitary Nation“, I was horrified to see the effects of leaving people in solitary confinement for times exceeding 10 years!  The impact of punishment on people exceeds cruel and unusual; and the ability to acclimate people back into society or general prison population has a lasting impact.  My eyes were widely opened diving further into prison problems reading an article in the New Yorker, “The Caging of America”  and watching videos like “Incarceration Nation”.

We have a true prison population problem.  The number of juveniles, minorities, and re-entries into prison shows a system that is not working well.  We have the highest prison population of any developed country.  An example of questions our professor will ask to generate good conversation are, “Has the privatizing of prisons contributed to these problems?”   “How has racial profiling, the war on drugs, and other political movements impacted this mass incarceration movement?”  While the class did not discuss solutions, just becoming further aware of these problems encourages me to support a different way of thinking and really question the current process, along with the impact and the cost to society.

The other class, “Globalization and Diversity” has really brought my attention to the relevant issues of trade with the European Union.  But the more shocking and troubling awareness came when I did a recent paper on one of the worst humanitarian crisis since 1945

United Nations photo Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

in countries such as Yemen,  South Sudan, and Nigeria.    The food insecurities, starvation and cholera outbreak is leaving over 20 million people to die.  The all too common conflicts of the world leave food and access for assistance unobtainable.

While these are difficult conversations to have around your dining room table, I’ve really enjoyed the classroom environment to discuss real world problems of today.  I’m truly enjoying my pursuit of my undergrad, and being “back to school”.  I’m looking forward to the Spring semester, when my class load may be more focused on my major.   But in the interim, taking these two classes was a great way to get reengaged and truly got me thinking again.


Putting Interdisciplarity to work for college students outside the classroom

Photo taken by NordForsk cc logo
Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

I recently read an article by Sarah Knapp & Renee Merges (2017) An Evaluation of Three Interdisciplinary Social Science Events Outside of the College Classroom, College Teaching, 65:3, 137-141, DOI:10.1080/87567555.2016.1244655, that really summed up the advantages of bringing different disciplines together.

The article broke down three different interdisciplinary events where students from the criminal justice and psychology field participated.  The three separate exercises  were using a “synthetic interdisciplinary approach”, while looking into occurrences of bystander apathy as related to the Kitty Genovese tragedy; participating in a competitive game similar to “Who Wants to be a Millionaire”; and a panel discussion on mental health and criminal justice with professionals from various fields.

Following each exercise,  students answered a series of questions using the “Likert-scale”, from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree), and two open ended questions.  The results are found in three Themes.

Theme 1: “Students enjoyed having the opportunity to meet and work with students from other disciplines.”     Theme 2: “Students felt that the structure of each event optimized their ability to learn from each other and from experts in each field.”  Theme 3:  “Students found the activities to be peer-centered and fun, yet appreciated the serious nature of the events that they were celebrating.”

Overall, the students who participated in the exercise(s) were happy to work with people outside their field.  The exercises brought out an overlap between disciplines, and it helped show potential multidisciplinary career paths.   Students felt “challenged and excited” to learn from each other.  Instructors took away the importance of collaboration, and value of their peer’s experience.   In addition, professors discovered a budget friendly approach to a non-traditional learning style, and an opportunity to get away from the routine of lecture based learning.

I found the article very relevant of today’s workforce.    The article reminds me of fun ways to integrate and intersect disciplines, along with the value of attending professional conferences and community events.

I think applying these sort of learning opportunities throughout college academia would better prepare students for career decisions and choices, increase professional development throughout universities, and widen perspectives of college majors and disciplines.

Using Incident Command System (ICS), and learning from it

When I was stationed in California during 1997, there was a significant Mystery Oil Spill  that was leaving tarballs along the California coast from San Francisco, north to Oregon.  Oil was coating wildlife, leaving a destructive mess and killing thousands of birds and seals.  It’s far reaching impact concerned environmentalist, residents, and authorities.  It was during the Coast Guard’s response to this mystery spill, that I first worked utilizing the  Incident Command System (ICS).  This concept was developed in 1968 to assist firefighters and address problems that often occurred due to  “communication and management deficiencies, rather than lack of resources or failure of tactics.”

I had been properly trained to use ICS.  However, field application and training can vary, and as a newly assigned member at the Marine Safety Office of San Francisco Bay, I was a bit “wet behind the ears”.  After being placed into a watch rotation for the spill response, I quickly learned my role.  I was most impressed by watching the role of local, state and federal agencies all come together to provide expertise of weather, tides, historical knowledge, spill response and clean up tactics best applied to the varied area(s).  This was a live, and unfolding use of multiple disciplines coming together to serve, and truly being transdisciplinary to not only identify the source of the mystery oil, but minimize the impact to the coast of California and quickly address clean up and wildlife concerns.  The multiple agency response lasted several months and was intensely followed by the local community.  The impacted region included a large shipping port, an area of affluent recreational boaters and high tourism, and environmentally sensitive coastline.

photo courtesy of the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park.

The ship responsible was later identified as S.S. Jacob Luckenbach, which sank in 180′ of water 17 miles off San Francisco, in 1953.  When it sank it was carrying  457,000 gallons of bunker fuel.  It has been linked to both disasters of 1997-1998 and 2001-2002.  An estimated 51,569 birds between 1990 and 2003 were killed, including 31,806 Common Murres and 45 Marbled Murrelets; and 8 sea otters.

During other assignments, ICS was used to bring together multiple agencies and expertise to not only respond to an oil spill, but to handle the needs and preparedness for when a potential disaster could occur.  We used ICS during events such as the World Series, the New York Marathon, the President’s Inaugural Parade, and all natural disaster preparation and response.  ICS is used today by state, local and federal agencies from FEMA to Fish & Game, your local fire department and all military services.  ICS was one of my first exposures to a Unified Command, and is a great example of Interdisciplinarity.  I’m very pleased to take these real life experiences from my career, and see how bringing multiple disciplines together and being Interdisciplinary can be applied to my education.