Cluster hiring intends to foster cross-disciplinary connections

Geneseo officially undertook a cluster hiring initiative in fall 2014. Since they were hired, faculty members in the two existing clusters—Latin American studies and statistics—have collaborated on a number of interdisciplinary projects, many of which will begin in earnest this year. While Geneseo already offers 22 interdisciplinary minors and several faculty members are interdisciplinary themselves, faculty clusters represent a relatively new trend in higher education. Professors of history, political science, anthropology and Spanish comprise the Latin American studies cluster. The statistics cluster includes professors of mathematics, psychology and sociology.

“There was a sense that we might be able to demonstrate the uniqueness of the college … by doing a cluster hiring where four different departments do a search for Latin Americanists—each department framing the search around its own needs but also with the expectation that these new hires would work together once they were on campus,” professor and chair of the history department Joseph Cope said. “It connects, I think, to the institutional vision to build more interdisciplinary [learning] into the overall college curriculum.”

Assistant professor of Spanish Kyle Matthews is one of those hires. “We talk about Latin America as though it’s one place … but it’s such a variable place that no one optic is going to tell you everything about all of it,” he said. “You need to approach all these different places differently, but from a variety of angles.”

According to Matthews, the members of the Latin American studies cluster have collaborated on a documentary film showing and guest speakers in the past. The members will be bringing several more interdisciplinary Latin American experts to campus to speak during the fall 2015 and spring 2016 semesters.

“I’m very excited to see that get kicked off,” Matthews said. “These speakers will be talking about border crossings from Mexico … historical fiction in general and questions that a lot of people normally ask themselves in a number of different disciplines.”

“The hope was that [cluster hiring] would make Geneseo a more attractive place to work and allow us to recruit stronger candidates as well as allow for interdisciplinary work among students and faculty members,” professor and chair of mathematics Christopher Leary said. “We had needs in statistics, so it was a very good fit for us.”

Assistant professor of statistics Yusuf Kenan Bilgiç is part of the statistics cluster. According to Bilgiç, the members of the cluster have met for the past year and are planning several cross-disciplinary projects. These include collaborative faculty research, workshops for faculty and students on topics in statistics and a potential Wiki page containing statistics resources for people from different academic backgrounds.

A multivariate statistics course for mathematics, sociology and psychology majors is also planned for spring 2016 and will be co-taught by all three members of the cluster. “The goal with this course is that we will study advanced tools, come up with concrete data analysis projects and have a chance to disseminate our results,” Bilgiç said. “It’s cross-listed ‘experimental,’ but once the test passes successfully, I’m hoping to make it a course for the whole campus.”

Overall, Bilgiç expressed positive feelings regarding the impact of the statistics cluster. “I’ve had a chance to get to know what statistical tools are more important in psychology and sociology. So now I’m using this knowledge in my teaching,” he said. “Some of my students are from social science backgrounds, so they want to hear more connections in order to grasp the topics that are challenging.”

Leary expressed that he is not so sure, however, that the cluster has really impacted the college yet. “I think the [mathematics] department has benefited because we got a hire out of it,” he said. “The actual cross-fertilization is really just starting to show its benefits at the department level as opposed to the individual level.”

Still, Leary expressed hope for the future of clusters and cross-disciplinary work at Geneseo. “To ignore the possibilities of interdisciplinary work would be to really shoot yourself in the foot as far as attracting an interesting and vibrant student body, as well as an interesting and vibrant faculty,” he said.

Meanwhile, Matthews is focused on the global impact of interdisciplinary education. “It’s no longer sufficient for people to sort of lock themselves within their discipline and pretend that that’s going to be sufficient to impact the world in the kind of way that people are expecting higher education to impact the world,” he said.

Bilgiç echoed Matthews’ sentiment. “Historically, scientists did not study a single topic; they studied many topics,” he said. “If you want to stop a crisis in the world, you have to combine many disciplines to solve the problem."