Ithaca College Will Make You Ready
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Computer science and history are not commonly paired in the classroom. But at Ithaca College, professors Ali Erkan and Michael Smith have begun a collaboration that may help improve the way students learn.
The project began because of computer science professor Ali Erkan’s curiosity. He wanted to look at how students use wikis—websites developed collaboratively by a community of users who can add and delete information—so he could research and create a visual map of the way the students make connections between ideas. He asked himself, If students produce things that can be visualized as structures, will that allow us to understand understanding itself?
“I think computer science allows you to develop the tools to work on that question—but then you need a context,” Ali says. “I thought the humanities would be the best context to explore, and I had to find the right person to work with.”
Ali had just the person in mind—a history professor he had met during a bus ride in Ithaca a couple years earlier and had since interacted with on the IC campus. He emailed Michael Smith to share his idea.
“The fact that Ithaca, both as an institution and a community, is small enough that you can have these kinds of interpersonal connections that can then become more formal collaborations is something I really value,” Michael says. “In some ways I’m an odd choice because I’m a little bit of a digital skeptic, but when Ali approached me with this idea of using wikis as a way of representing knowledge—that you could kind of lift up the hood and see some structures in there—I was intrigued.”
Ali and Michael have been working with students in both their fields to further explore the project’s questions. They created a grant proposal and received a digital humanities start-up grant from the National Endowment for Humanities. They hope that by gaining understanding of how thought connections are formed, they can eventually help students improve how they research and learn.
Ithaca College has given them the support they need to make the project a success. “It is a teaching-oriented institution, so we’re encouraged to be innovative and emphasize teaching excellence in all sorts of ways. So this is a way to remain active as scholars and at the same time improve what happens in our classroom,” says Michael.
“There’s no quota for the amount of papers you have to write or the amount of money you have to bring in. Those things are in place at other institutions so that there’s more research productivity, but I think it ends up being a hindrance on the research,” Ali says. “We both feel liberated by not operating under those constraints, so we can simply follow our curiosity, and that becomes our optimum point of operation. Because we are curious, we are productive.”
>> More on this story: Untangling the Web
Odds are good the technology you’ll use 20 years from now hasn’t been dreamed up yet. For modern-day communications experts like Susan Cort, things like websites, blogs, and social media are industry basics today. But they weren’t when she was a student at Ithaca College.
“It’s funny because everything I’m in charge of now was not invented when I was at IC,” she says.
Susan coordinates public relations for an integrated communications company that helps clients with marketing solutions across multiple media platforms. Her position builds on a varied career as a TV news anchor and reporter, PR director for the Hershey resort, high school broadcast journalism teacher, and successful communications freelancer.
Despite the technological change she’s witnessed firsthand, she says IC gave her the foundation to understand how to communicate and tell stories regardless of media evolution.
“You’ll need to be flexible so you can take everything you’ve learned in school and in your career and apply it to whatever the next thing is--whatever the latest technology is and however people are communicating,” Susan says.
Hands-on opportunities at Ithaca helped Susan focus her passion for communications. She immersed herself in the college TV and radio stations, anchoring news programs, hosting shows, and working on coverage during the 1984 election. She also interned at CNN in New York City, the Canadian Broadcasting Company (during a semester abroad in London), and the New Jersey Nightly News in Newark.
“I had real-world experiences at 18, 19 years old,” Susan says. “When I was ready to get a job, not only did I have a fabulous education from a college that had a terrific reputation; I had experience. I had demo tapes that showed I could be a broadcast journalist.”
On a recent tour of the Roy H. Park School of Communications at IC, Susan says the evolution of technology between her time as a student and today boggled her mind. “The student guides were showing me the Macs and all the high-tech equipment they had there and I said, ‘Wow. When I was here, we sat in the hall and wrote our news scripts on electric typewriters.’ The whole group got really quiet. They couldn’t imagine that.”
Whether you graduated in 1986 or will graduate in 2016, the benefits of Ithaca College are constant. “The combination of a quality education and real hands-on experience make me feel like, as IC grads, we’re kind of unstoppable,” Susan says. “We can do anything we set out to do.”
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