Traveling to sunny Palo Alto to attend the a2ru Emerging Creatives Student Conference gave me jitters. Not only was I going to California for the first time, but I had glanced at the list of graduate and undergraduate students attending this first annual conference and was overwhelmed by fascinating breadth of study they all possessed. Yet, when I arrived at Stanford and began to talk with the students and faculty in attendance, I felt at ease—these people understand the importance of an interdisciplinary education, they understand what it feels like to be submerged two or three worlds at once.
Workshops, projects, panels, and informal discussions were all packed into the three days we had together. My most memorable experience was being able to work with other students on a project of our choice. My group was made up of engineers, musicians, economists, printmakers, neurobiologists, and actors, who all wanted to focus on social justice issues. We decided to create a new performance methodology that directly engages audience response into the performance itself, changing the nature of the performer/audience binary for the purposes of facilitator substantial conversations on local social issues within a community.
Another memorable experience was a workshop at the d.school (Stanford’s design school). We were introduced to “design thinking and began to look at ways to reshape problems to inform how we solve them. I believe this has a strong connection to policy studies—in order to design a program that benefits people, we need to start from a place of empathy and be able to creatively redefine problems to enact better solutions.
Students and faculty alike had a continuing discussion about collaborating and interdisciplinary work within the context of a university. Disciplines are fields that were created and then set in stone, literally, in the buildings on campus. Are these how academic fields are to be defined forever? Research universities like Maryland can become a beacon for students who are different, and want to challenge the siloed nature of academics. a2ru has given me the spirit and tools to begin that work. More importantly, it brought a set of diverse people together and made it possible to forge friendships and new projects that will continue to develop in the years to come.
Patricia Mullaney-Loss is a first year MPP candidate specializing in social policy. Her main areas of interest include arts education policy, arts policy, and cultural diplomacy. She was able to attend the a2ru conference through funding from the College of Arts and Humanities.
Image that accompanies this post is that of Patricia-Mullaney-Loss
Image to the left of this post is taken by Harold Burgess of the University of Maryland and was taken at the school Bootcamp.