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The Rush of Fusion
This article originally appeared in the Bentley Magazine.
We all know the rush of a conversation that leads you to make unexpected connections between different subjects — a fluidity of mind all too rare but always exciting.
Four first-of-their-kind “fusion” courses at Bentley University aim to make that synergy happen a lot. And according to early participants: mission accomplished.
“Students have been very engaged and responded very well to the course,” says Jeff Gulati (on left above), a political science professor who joined Economics Department colleague Bryan Snyder (right) to teach Faction and Friction: The Politics of Economic Policymaking. The six-credit course is one of two that launched in the spring semester; two more start in fall 2014.
Teaching in Tandem
Gulati notes that many of the great controversies in American politics are about economic issues. Accordingly, students examined the feasibility of economic policies in tandem with the political rationale that favors one approach over another.
He cites the example of supply-side economics, which might prove problematic as an economic policy, but remains attractive to politicians seeking to rally American sentiment around individual freedom.
Gulati and Snyder taught from separate course outlines, but regularly attended each other’s back-to-back class sessions and adapted material to incorporate freshly gleaned context. The courses also shared some assignments and exam questions.
“If you look at the syllabi side by side, the topics don’t jibe completely,” says Snyder. “But the courses do come together — especially with fiscal policy.”
He cites a final exam question about the North American Free Trade Agreement that required mastery from both disciplines: knowledge of trade theory and a handle on the political benefits of a trilateral pact.
Class discussions challenged students in new ways.
“There’s an interesting tension in this course,” Snyder notes. “In economics we require a different long-term burden of proof, while political science focuses more on the influence of the election cycle.”
Familiar Topics, New Eyes
The other fusion course to debut this spring pairs a Management Department course (Interpersonal Relations in Management) with one from English and Media Studies (Women in Film).
The subjects intersect more than you might expect, says Professor of Management and Psychology Aaron Nurick. He and Mike Frank, a professor of cinema studies, designed their respective course outlines with fusion in mind. Says Nurick: “We asked ourselves: Where are the points we connect?”
One place is psychoanalytic theory. Frank notes that interpersonal relations teaches students to be effective in the business world based on understanding how people work. It studies the use of space, language or nonverbal communication. Film studies does the same, but in a more subversive way, he says. It unpacks hidden meaning and asks: “Oh, do you see what is happening to us? Look at what’s going on.”
“Film studies really filters into what I teach about relationships in my class,” says Nurick. “I’m teaching the same material, but with a new set of eyes.”
Course participant Bernadette Hopen ’16 shares his enthusiasm.
“I really enjoyed how close I became to my fellow classmates and professors,” says Hopen, who majors in Management and the Liberal Studies concentration Ethics and Social Responsibility. “While the two topics are very different, they are taught cohesively. It felt like one big class.”