University of Rochester

Rochester Faculty Get Freedom to Build Bridges to New Fields

October 26, 2005

A select group of University of Rochester faculty will jump from the relative comfort of their academic specialties to new territory this college year.

As Bridging Fellows, astrophysicist Adam Frank is teaching and discussing the intersection of science, myth, and religion. English scholar Jeffrey A. Tucker is delving into visual arts and culture for a course on comic books and illustrated novels. Music educator Donna Brink Fox will turn her study of organizations and entrepreneurs into new vistas for musicians and music organizations next semester.

All three faculty members will cross boundariesówithout leaving their home institutionóthrough an interdisciplinary program that's flourished for 25 years. They receive a sabbatical leave, but instead of working with colleagues at another university in an area akin to their specialty, the fellowship keeps them within the University of Rochester doing something quite distinct from their usual work.

"Bridging Fellowships are not the typical leave," says Provost Charles E. Phelps, who chooses the fellows for a semester or a yearlong project. "We take advantage of cross-disciplinary perspectives and promote collaborations that echo throughout our institution for years."

Fox, the Eisenhart Professor of Music Education at the Eastman School of Music, will study organizational theory and entrepreneurship in spring 2006 in a search for interplay between the William E. Simon Graduate School of Business Administration and the Eastman School. Beyond her primary interest of early childhood education, she has held numerous leadership and administrative posts at the University for the past 20 years.

Proposals by Frank, professor of physics and astronomy, and Tucker, associate professor of English, describe their desire to flesh out ideas for projects conceived years ago. Frank plans to write a book for popular audiences on science and myth.

"Regardless of their level of education, many people say they want to know what science tells us about where we came from, where we are going, and who we are," he says. While working with students and faculty in the Department of Religion and Classics, Frank will continue his study of how science functions as myth "by providing an aether of ideas, concepts and, most importantly, stories through which we all move with varying degrees of awareness."

Tucker's plans for a new course focused on comic books would teach students "the elements of the genre, how those work together to tell a story, and the cultural significance of the genre throughout its history." By bridging with the Graduate Program in Visual and Cultural Studies in the Department of Art and Art History, Tucker will gain additional background and familiarity in the study and teaching of the visual arts.

Since Bridging Fellowships began in the 1980-81 academic year, 59 have been awarded.

"The original intent to contribute to a faculty member's scholarly work while adding to the vitality of the University community has surpassed our expectations," says Phelps. "Scholars seek these opportunities and realize, as one historian wrote in her proposal, 'that it is high time I learned more from (my Rochester colleagues) than I can just by reading their books.' "