Kohler Fellows @ WID Build Academic Communities Without Barriers

Transcending disciplinary boundaries at a research university like UW-Madison is challenging, but one group of graduate students is finding unconventional ways to eschew their departmental borders in favor of a new approach to academic inquiry. The team of eight Marie Christine Kohler Fellows @ WID have disciplinary affiliations ranging from English to Neuroscience, but they come together at the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery, a hub of interdisciplinary research on campus.

The mission of the Kohler Fellows is to engage members of the WID community, the University, and the general public in a conversation about the value and possibilities of research beyond the confines of individual disciplines. They work to connect graduate and faculty researchers who are otherwise engaged in disparate fields of study while bridging the boundaries between the University and the broader Madison community. The fellows also aim to demonstrate the public import of specialist knowledge and to develop alternative models for knowledge creation and transmission.

In pursuit of these goals, the fellows have staged events, performances, and workshops organized around transdisciplinary themes. During the 2015-16 academic year, their events drew in diverse audiences and supported WID’s commitment to innovative, cross-disciplinary research. Read about a few of the events below.

The Kohler Colloquia: Dinner with a Side of PowerPoint

With individual fellows hailing from all corners of campus, developing an understanding of each fellow’s scholarly work proved to be rewarding and impactful. “Our collaborative dinner presentations provided an extremely rare opportunity to consider how our work – which ranges from 19th century poetry to organic waste transformation – speaks to each across the divide of disciplines and time,” says Lenora Hanson, a sixth-year PhD candidate in the English department. “They got us thinking about how our disparate vocabularies and methodologies actually overlap in unexpected ways.”

What is Waste?

Live on Madison’s own WORT Radio 89.9 FM, the Kohler Fellows engaged with the community by taking over Access Hour, a weekly evening program, for a panel discussion about waste, in every sense of the word. Enriched by the broad academic backgrounds of the fellows and calls from listeners, the panel’s discussion ranged from environmental biology to renewable energy, poetry, health and disease, and animal reproduction. You can listen to their discussion here.

Lo & Behold Screening

Lo & Behold: Reveries of the Connected World (2016), the latest film from acclaimed director Werner Herzog, is “an examination of the existential impact of the internet, robotics, AI, the Internet of Things, and more, on human life.” Following a sold-out screening of the film at the Wisconsin Film Festival, the Kohler Fellows hosted a panel discussion featuring University of Wisconsin-Madison faculty scholars from a range of disciplines across campus whose academic work spoke to the themes of the film. The experts at the exciting, and sometimes alarming, intersection of humanity and digital technology engaged the film’s audience and again brought the academic rigor of university experts to bear in a community discussion.

Applications for the Kohler Fellowship are currently open until July 1, 2016. Application and eligibility details, as well as additional program information, are available here.

— Nolan Lendved