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
How do you bring accounting and finance concepts to life? Try balancing and allocating a real $400,000 budget, for starters. When Brian Keefe became vice president of finance for the Student Government Association in his sophomore year, he did just that, drawing on what he was learning in his classes to make big—and much needed—changes.
“I ended up reworking the entire allocation system and writing a 34-page handbook,” he says. “Sharing the new policies and regulations with IC’s student organizations helped them come up with better budget proposals and better prepared the budget committee itself to allocate money more consistently.”
As a senior, Brian found another golden opportunity to combine his love of number crunching with his passion for running.
“I wandered into the Finger Lakes Running and Triathlon Company looking for a run-of-the-mill sales position. But after reviewing my résumé, IC alum Ian Golden [’99] made me an offer I couldn’t refuse: organizing the company’s finances, making inventory projections, talking with professional accountants, and analyzing account ledgers were all part of the job description. It was really powerful to go into the classroom and then take that knowledge back to the running store and apply it to a real company,” he says.
After graduation Brian took some time to pursue his dream of biking across the U.S. But thanks to his Ithaca experiences and a supportive alumni network, his accounting career is already off and running.
>> More on this story: "Running the Numbers" - Fuse
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