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Intersections: A Newscenter series showcasing the University of Rochester's cross-disciplinary approaches to teaching, learning, and research.


A Newscenter series showcasing the University of Rochester's cross-disciplinary approaches to teaching, learning, and research
Courtney Thomas is a student at the University of Rochester who has used the open interdisciplinary curriculum to creat his own major title Neuroeconomics.

Branching out with the Rochester Curriculum

Breadth and depth are the hallmarks of the Rochester Curriculum, which combines freedom with intentionality.

Undergraduate students at the University delve deep into their primary area of study. But sometimes the best ideas, inspirations, and advancements “come not from within a discipline, but from branching out,” as one professor says.

At Rochester, our undergraduates branch out academically through the University’s cluster system. A cluster is a set of related courses that fall within one of the three broad areas of learning: humanities, social sciences, or natural sciences and engineering. Students major in one area, and then pick a cluster in each of the two remaining areas.

The beauty of clusters? Flexibility and versatility. Clusters can closely align with a major, expanding a student’s perspective on and understanding of a subject. Alternatively, they can be completely distinct from one’s major, letting students explore new or intriguing topics. Either way, our undergraduate students experience breadth and depth across academic disciplines in a way more traditional college curricula simply can’t accommodate.

Read More ‘How come nobody else is doing this?’ A history of the Rochester Curriculum

Create your own major

Artistic and mathematical space. Cultural consumerism. Islam and the modern world. Sustainable urban development.

These are just some of the interdepartmental majors University of Rochester students created through the Multidisciplinary Studies Center.

Courtney Thomas and his self created major Neuroeconomics

Courtney Thomas '18


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Joseph Gray also created his own major titled Urban Studies

Joseph Gray '18

Urban Studies

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Graduation Requirements for interdisciplinary studies at the University of Rochester by the numbers. 128 credit hours earned, 2.0 or higher GPA, 2 Clusters, 1 required course

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On stage, in the lab

Pursuing mechanical engineering and violin performance degrees simultaneously is demanding but rewarding for Ivan Suminski '18, '18E. Suminski practices the violin two to three hours a day-while also playing six hours a week in orchestra, and preparing his senior design project.

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University of Rochester basketball player Brenna James plays a virtual reality game in the lab of BCS professor Duje Tadin in Meliora Hall. Tadin, along with professors Jeff Bazarian, and Feng Lin are using virtual reality brain training to assess how plastic the brain is. They're studying separate populations — a control group, athletes who have experienced a concussion, and older adults with mild cognitive impairments— to create therapeutic treatments that can be used at home for these populations.

Connecting disciplines to advance virtual and augmented reality

Virtual reality (VR) uses advanced display and immersive audio technologies to create an interactive, three-dimensional image or environment. Augmented reality (AR), meanwhile, uses digital technology to overlay video and audio onto the physical world to provide information and embellish our experiences.

At the University of Rochester, we’re crossing disciplines to collaborate on VR/AR innovations that will revolutionize how we learn, discover, heal, and create as we work to make the world ever better.

University of Rochester Brain and Cognitive Sciences professor Michele Rucci with Mr. T, a robot he and former students developed for use in their research into computational mechanisms responsible for visual perception

A professor and his robot study how we see

Meet Michele Rucci, a new professor in the University's brain and cognitive sciences department, and his robot “Mr. T.” Rucci and his robot are using eye-tracking tools and virtual reality to replicate the small eye movements experienced by humans. Using a combination of head- and eye-tracking tools, virtual reality, and robots, Rucci’s current research brings together aspects of neuroscience, engineering, and computer science to study how we see.

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Textual scientist Gregory Heyworth lights up the first drafts of history.

The future of the past

Trained as a scholar of medieval literature, English professor Gregory Heyworth has become—in a term he coined—a “textual scientist.” He recovers the words and images of cultural heritage objects that have been lost, through damage and erasure, to time. To rescue them, Heyworth and his collaborators analyze the images, digitally salvaging ancient manuscripts, maps, and other texts too delicate and precious to transport. They make the undecipherable, and even the invisible, legible again.

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Jane Marie Souza has served as the University of Rochester's liaison with the New York State Education Department and the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, providing academic guidance and support to all schools across the University.

Learning that spans the University

A program in music leadership offered by the Eastman School of Music pulls in expertise from the Simon Business School. A program offered by the Department of Biomedical Engineering draws heavily on clinical knowledge at the School of Medicine and Dentistry. Jane Marie Souza, associate provost for academic administration, explains how these programs are created and approved, and how she is working to allow students to access a more complete digital profile of their work across all schools.

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detail from 15th century atlas

Going beyond medieval times to explore early worlds

“Medieval times” often conjures images of knights on Crusades, castles surrounded by moats, or perhaps the dragons from Game of Thrones. But such images only scratch the surface of what medieval studies entails. The Early Worlds Initiative—an interdisciplinary research project at the University of Rochester—connects faculty studying social and cultural developments worldwide from medieval times to the early modern period.

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The sixth alumnus to receive the prize, Richard ’Thaler ’74 (PhD), is Rochester’s ninth Nobel laureate and the second in economics after former faculty member Robert Fogel, one of Thaler’s teachers.

'They might as well be studying unicorns'

Richard Thaler ’74 (PhD), was a multi-disciplinarian well before it was hip. Recognized by the Nobel committee in 2017 for his contributions to behavioral economics—a field that he helped create—Thaler’s research bridges the gap between economics and psychology, trying to understand how real people behave.

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From ecofeminism to consumerism in contemporary art—that the latest groups of Take Five Scholars at the University of Rochester are exploring as part of a fifth, tuition-free year of study.

Take Five offers students free path to pursuing passions

Since 1986, nearly 1,200 University students have pursued their academic passions through the Take Five Scholars Program, which offers a tuition-free year to complete a self-designed curriculum.

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Saxophone serenades surgeons

Music is not only a major part of Dan Fabbio’s life, as a music teacher it is his livelihood. So when doctors discovered a tumor located in the part of his brain responsible for music function, he began a long journey that involved a team of University of Rochester physicians, scientists, and a music professor and culminated with him awake and playing a saxophone as surgeons operated on his brain.

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Professor of English Bette London and professor of English at the Eastman School of Music Jonathan Baldo are this year’s Bridging Fellows at the Humanities Center. The Bridging Fellowships program supports University faculty involved in interdisciplinary study.

Humanities Center scholars examine memory through many lenses

From the post-Reformation trauma of Shakespeare’s history plays, to the poignant scrapbooks created by the families of British soldiers killed in World War I, the fellowships sponsored by the Humanities Center this year focus on the interdisciplinary study of memory and forgetting.

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Mt. Hope Family Center research associate Christie Petrenko, left, and electrical and computer engineering research associate Cristiano Tapparello have won a $1.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to support their work to develop a mobile app to provide health information for self-directed and peer-to-peer interventions for parents and caregivers of children with fetal alcohol syndrome disorder.

Building the right mobile app for caregivers of children with FASD

After years of working with patients and researching fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD), Christie Petrenko, a research associate at the University’s Mt. Hope Family Center, knew a mobile app might be just the tool she was missing in order to help families and caregivers of children with FASD.

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An interdisciplinary team of University of Rochester researchers is embarking on a project that would use different kinds of light sources to identify bruising on different types of skin tones before it is visible to the eye. This kind of early detection is often critical in domestic abuse cases.

Rochester team casts light on a hidden problem in domestic violence cases

The statistics are grim. Every minute across the United States 20 people are physically abused by an intimate partner. That’s more than 10 million women and men every year. One in 15 children will be an eyewitness to such abuse. Reason enough for researchers to try to find ways to curb this public health problem.

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There’s a lot of activity crammed into small space according to  assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Rochester, Llerena Searle, on Delhi. The students were participating in this fall's course on The City: Contested Spaces, an interdisciplinary first-year class taught by three professors from three different fields who explore how city dwellings and spaces fulfill different roles.

Looking at urban history as a fight for space, power

Chicago, Istanbul, Rome, and Delhi. The students in the 100-level course The City: Contested Spaces take a virtual tour of them all, while pondering an overarching question—can people’s lives be reshaped by redesigning urban spaces?

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Request more information about Rochester's unique programs.

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