Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Connecting the dots 2001-2014

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In a conversation with one of our deans after a faculty meeting, I discovered something: apparently, I had always been an advocate of connected learning đŸ™‚

It all started with how my manager introduced me today at an all-faculty meeting, where she talked about how I had been doing faculty development since 2003 but was now joining ( I joined in January, but there was no opportunity to introduce me) as an associate professor of practice. She asked me to stand up and I got the most awesome welcome (applause, smiles, it was absolutely positively heartwarming and beautiful). Anyway, she talked about a lot of my recent achievements, research, etc., and my virtual life… But since some other folks were going all the way back to undergrad years, she also added that I was the first recipient of our university’s “Zewail Prize” for undergrads.

Talking to one of our deans afterwards (who was the committee chair back when faculty were making decisions about who would win that prize) he told me about how and why they chose my essay (published here under a silly title “Globalization of Science” which i will forever regret… The naive title, not the essay),as one to set the tone for future awards. I talked to him about how I thought all applicants’ essays should be published, recognized, even if they did not win the award. But we also talked about something else: about how far I have come in the spirit of that essay.

Let me explain

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(i’ll change this photo later to one with Dr. Zewail)

Back in 2001, in this essay, I suggested it was becoming time to

move back to the idea of collecting all our knowledge and science in one place: but definitely not in one individual, since that would be inconceivable with the vast depth and breadth of knowledge we have today. The way to do this is for scientists from different fields/areas and different countries to collaborate openly, with the support of corporations and governments, to make radically new advances in technology that will benefit mankind, to work together for one goal and to share in the benefits.

Basically, I was saying that only marginal improvements to research would occur if we continued to work in silos without interdisciplinary international collaborative work. That’s not necessarily true, but it was my way of expressing the value of a liberal arts education.

My undergrad thesis (group project) as a computer scientist was the embodiment of interdisciplinarity: a genetic algorithm (biology) onto a neural network (psychology & cognitive science & medicine) that learned to predict changes in foreign exchange prices (finance). Wow. W were all computer scientists but imagine if we had been from different disciplines, too, working on that, as a joint capstone course…

I end the essay with this (kinda romantic) ending:

If we put aside politics and pride, stop trying to prove that “this country invented that”and “this field is the father of that”, we could create a global scientific community that will in the end, benefit us all in ways we had never imagined, ways as unexpected as the tractor’s benefit to the farmer.

But my point is this: I took these ideas to heart. I graduated and changed disciplines to education and I now collaborate from people all over the world to do all kinds of research, writing, activities, that I hope will be useful to others in some for or another.

And I just wanted to share this.., inspired by Alan Levine’s talk yesterday about “wondering about wonder” which was kinda nostalgic, but also where he talked about the usefulness of blogging for oneself, for keeping track of ones thoughts (and feelings?) at different moments in time. And I wanted to capture this beautiful moment of this beautiful day, for me.

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