Lilly Fellows Bring New Courses To Life

November 1, 1997

Ariadne Ducas (N 98), W.J. Keith (T 98) and Lauren Warak (N 99)

Eight young, tenure-track faculty members are offering new courses as varied and interesting as their own research. They are the 1997-98 recipients of the Lilly Endowment Teaching Fellowships, which provide designated junior faculty members with $3,000 grants to start up new courses based on their research or topics of special interest.

For the past six years, Tulane has offered these fellowships, which were initially funded by the Lilly Endowment Inc., but are now fully supported by the university. For Rosanne Adderley, assistant professor of history and African and African Diaspora studies, New Orleans is an ideal place to teach her Lilly-funded course.

Adderley is "an African Diaspora comparative cultural historian," and will teach two courses, one devoted to the history of African-American culture in the United States and another in Caribbean cultural history. The courses will address cultural issues that are often only briefly touched upon in survey courses, two of which she taught last year.

"At the end of last year, I looked back at my last two semesters and I realized how little time I had in the introductory African-American survey and how many things I wanted to cover," she says. "I wanted to develop a course where we could focus on issues such as the roots of cultural forms of music and folk tales without the burden of also having to keep up with the political narrative."

Also of interest to Adderley was the influence of New Orleans on African Americans and people from the Caribbean, as well as how these two groups changed cultural aspects of the city.

"What better city to do a comparative history of African-American culture?" she asks. "New Orleans is precisely the city that makes people sit up and question what their vision of African-American culture is. To teach this kind of material in New Orleans, well, it's lagniappe."

Another Tulane professor seeking to immerse his students in a specific culture is Christopher Dunn, assistant professor of Spanish and Portuguese and African and African Diaspora studies. Dunn, who says he considers himself more a cultural than literary critic, has entitled his course, "Music, Culture and National Identity in Brazil."

The course, which will be taught in Portuguese at the 300 level, will emphasize the importance of musical and cultural trends such as samba, bossa nova and Tropicalmsmo, and their impact on the literature and people of Brazil from the mid-19th century to the present. Dunn says he finds the study of Brazilian music important because music, as a form of popular culture, brings together different aspects of society.

"Music is important to a society anywhere," he says. "But in Brazil, it has been able to bring together the popular and the erudite. Smart people are making this music."

Sharon Brown-Hruska, assistant professor of finance, took the Lilly fellowship as an opportunity not to create a new course, but to make improvements on an existing course, "Risk Management and Financial Innovation." Brown-Hruska says changes in the field necessitate updating the course.

"The field of financial risk management has undergone substantial change in the last decade," she says. "During the decade of the '80s, there was a proliferation of new financial products to manage risks."

She says the course will address these new products, such as derivatives, to "teach students the practical skills that are needed to understand and manage financial risks in the corporate environment and in personal finance."

After taking the course, Brown-Hruska says, students should have a practical understanding of complex financial products and how companies and individuals can use them to protect themselves from losses. When the opportunity arises to combine travel, research, teaching and personal interests, the end result can be a kind of homecoming.

With the help of a Lilly fellowship, faculty member Gaurav Desai will visit his homelands of India and Africa to conduct research for his new course, "The Literature and Cultures of Asians in Africa." Desai, assistant professor of English and African and African Diaspora studies, will combine his interests to teach a seminar in the fall next year focusing on the migrations of Asians to Africa. Desai says he is interested in "the ways in which the cultures have interacted over time and how that gets manifested in literary texts. There have often been tensions between Asians and Africans, but there have also been moments of coalition."

During the summer, Desai plans to go to Kenya, South Africa and India, where he will collect relevant literature and texts for the course. Another Lilly fellow, Calvin Mackie, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, will be using his grant to create a new twist on an old class. He has created a Web site to complement "Fluid Dynamics," a fall course that is required for all third-year engineering students. Fluid dynamics is the study of fluid at rest or in motion, and the course concentrates on the principles and properties of fluids.

A problem that typically arises in this class, Mackie says, is a conflict of interests among mechanical, civil and biomedical engineering students. Mackie says he is "supplementing the course with a Web site to give students access to information concerning their respective interests."

Not only will students be able to focus on their specific interests concerning fluid dynamics, he says, they will also be able to use the Internet to obtain visual information that will enhance the in-class lectures.

Julie Whitbeck, assistant professor of ecology, evolution and organismal biology, is offering a science course that is not just for scientists. "Global Change in Our Environment" will be geared to anyone with an interest in the environment, she says.

"The goal of the course is to span differences in knowledge, bringing together different students' expertise to assess questions in an integrative way," Whitbeck says.

The course will focus on global-scale changes in the composition and dynamics of the atmosphere, oceans and terrestrial ecosystems. She plans to discuss the global threat to the Earth's ozone layer and the effects of localized industrial pollution.

"Any change in the percentage of a gas in the atmosphere in one region has global impact," Whitbeck says. "For example, the release of sulfur dioxides from smokestacks by industrial Midwest companies has a big impact on vegetation east of there."

To draw on the multidisciplinary knowledge of her students, Whitbeck plans to organize them into focus groups according to their discipline. Each group will tackle different aspects of an issue and then report its findings to the whole class. Another environmental course to be offered next year encompasses a different area of study.

Sara Singleton, assistant professor of political science, will develop a course on how people use and misuse their local environments and the local and global consequences that follow. Singleton's research concerns the co-management of natural resource systems by local users and state and federal managers.

Her forthcoming book is about one such system in the Pacific Northwest, where many of the area's salmon fisheries are co-managed by Indian tribes working cooperatively with state fish and wildlife departments, federal regulatory councils and the Pacific Salmon Commission. Singleton's course will also investigate a number of other political science issues relating to environmental problems, such as the role of social-justice issues in environmental policymaking.

Singleton says, "One component of the course will involve a series of in-class exercises in which students are assigned roles as stakeholders in particular environmental conflicts. They must then negotiate a framework agreement aimed at establishing a set of environmentally sustainable policies to govern resource use."

Another Lilly fellow will introduce an uncommon course to Tulane's undergraduate offerings. Melanie McGrath, assistant professor of psychology, will begin a course on women's health this spring. Entitled "The Biopsychosocial Perspective and Women's Health," the course will be one of only a few at the undergraduate level nationwide that concentrates solely on women's health issues, she says.

"The biopsychosocial model acknowledges the wide array of factors that influence an individual's health," she says. "It is an interactive model that is very broad-based rather than presenting only the medical and biological aspects of health."

The course will focus on gender differences in health issues, as well as health issues specific to women, such as breast and cervical cancer. Some of the topics McGrath will discuss are women and AIDS, eating disorders and reproduction. A "self-change" project is among the list of requirements for the course. McGrath plans to have each student, whether female or male, design and report on a program intended to change an unhealthy habit.

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000