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BC’s Many Interdisciplinary Studies Promote Dialogue

Heights Editor

Published: Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01

Editor's Note: This is the final installment of a three-part series addressing the challenges and role of higher education in the post-recession economy.

 

The knock on academics by some has often been that it is difficult to understand the applicability of their research to the daily lives of individuals. A constant challenge for the universities and institutions that employ them has been how one makes research and the knowledge it offers come alive and be applicable to the lives of ordinary people.

Most universities establish research centers and programs to assist in understanding the applicability of the institution's generated research. While Boston College is no different in offering programs, and hosts 29 research centers to do just that, its competitive advantage comes in its interdisciplinary approach, placing material within a more comprehensive context of intersecting fields and the ever-changing global landscape.

"Boston College is home to some world-class centers and institutes that address critical issues for contemporary society," said David Quigley, dean of A&S. "Led by groups of faculty, these centers of excellence often connect several BC schools and make a substantial contribution on and off campus. As we work to ‘light the world,' our centers and institutes are doing essential work in bringing the expertise and resources of this great university to individuals and communities in need."

Quigley was quick to distinguish the Clough Center for Constitutional Democracy as one of the many centers at BC that promotes interdisciplinary dialogue on contemporary issues through conferences, lectures, workshops, publications, and engagement with undergraduates. The center focuses on the reflection of the promise and problems of constitutional government in the United States and throughout the world.

BC's Center for Retirement Research, researching an assortment of issues related to retirement security, has gained national notoriety, in part because of its commitment to making its research understandable and applicable to a diverse audience that ranges from individuals to financial planners to corporate and government retirement policy makers.  

"The Center is about improving the nation's level of retirement security. The retirement landscape has been changing dramatically in recent decades, with the risk and responsibility shifting from government and employers to individuals," said Andrew Eschtruth, associate director for external relations at the Center for Retirement Research. "We seek to reach all people involved in the retirement planning process with our research, from individuals to policy makers—both employers and government. Our goal is to reach out to anybody making decisions at any level in the process."

As a result of research excellence, and direct engagement with all members of the retirement planning process by adjusting the presentation of its research for various groups, the center has experienced considerable growth in its scale of operations during its 13 years of existence.

It has grown from two full-time employees in 1998 to 22 full-time employees today. That number does not include numerous undergraduate and graduate students aiding the center as part-time research assistants. The quality and intelligibility of the center's research has helped to establish it as one of the foremost authoritative sources on the retirement income debate, frequently cited in publications such as The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.

 "We are an academic institution with emphasis on communicating broadly with non academics," Eschtruth said. "Being an academic center gives us independence and respect when we present our findings. However, we are highly focused at communicating with a lay audience. While we do put research into journals, that is not our sole goal. We seek to communicate findings to the lay person and, by doing so, shape debates and decisions by a variety of people, not just economists. Our audience ranges from Congressional staffers to company benefit administrators to those in the retirement investment field. We are action-oriented."

BC's research centers are not the only institutions on campus that help to bridge the gap between theory and practice. The Global Service and Justice Program (GSJP), launched in 2010, strives to have students critically engage with concepts of community service and social justice throughout their time at BC. Its goal is to produce informed activists by developing members' visions of their role in the world—locally and globally.

The comprehensive program includes academic, service, language, and travel requirements.

Academically, the program requires enrollees to take a one-credit seminar during spring semester of freshman year on the philosophy of service and justice, a one-credit course during sophomore year about contextualizing service, and a Capstone-like course during senior year.

The academic component is augmented by a minimum one-semester commitment to an organization during sophomore year, and an international service experience of at least four consecutive weeks in their junior year.

The program also requires a minimum of two language courses beyond BC's language requirement. All the aspects of the program are to be related to the student's self-developed concentration.

The program assures its continued development and relevance of material presented in the seminars through an advisory committee of faculty and staff.

"By the end of their time, students in the program who are going into business, law, medicine, education, or any other field will have thoroughly investigated issues of service and justice and, no matter where they end up, will respond to those issues with deepened understanding and awareness," said Abby Berenson, assistant director of international summer and service programs and coordinator for GSJP. "They will be conscious on service and justice issues that surround them no matter what their profession may be. It is about preparation, practice, reflection, and continued response to service and justice issues. It will develop in the participants the larger concept of being a global citizen and how various fields and topics are related to forming the environment in which we live."

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