College promotes faculty inventiveness

While students left for the three month vacation this summer, the College undertook a new intellectual project titled Williams Thinking. The project consisted of a lecture series by professors and speakers from the humanities, social sciences and science and math departments at the College. 

According to the Williams Thinking website, these 20-minute lectures were “aimed at exploring ideas that matter in today’s world,” emphasizing a wide pool of subject matter that was made understandable and accessible for all ages. Each of the six intellectual lectures have been posted on the series’ website for public viewing, along with an introduction speech by President Falk that highlights the key points of the Williams Thinking series.

The project was a joint venture between the Office of Communications and the Office of Information Technology (OIT), with conversations between the two groups starting last fall. Professors were approached starting in January with the idea of creating public lectures.

“I was approached by folks in the Instructional Technology group at OIT about doing a public presentation about ‘any subject’ I felt passionate about and could fit into a 20 minute framework,” said Professor of Physics Protik Majumder, who prepared a talk titled “Musical Acoustics and Sound Perception.”

“It sounded intriguing, though I did not know what to expect,” Majumder said. “I understood that they were interested in having a range of intellectual disciplines represented and that I would be one of two scientists speaking in the series.”

Majumder believes that the series will be important in showing both the  breadth and depth of intellectual life at the College. “I learned a lot and thought a lot during each talk,” he said. “As a busy physicist, I rarely have the pleasure of simply sitting and listening to folks in very different fields talk about their work. I hope the broader community felt the same way about these talks.”

Professor of Biology Wendy Raymond, whose talk was titled “Molecular Fossils,” also spoke of the Williams Thinking series as “appropriately highlight[ing] Williams faculty members’ combined roles as scholars and teachers.”

“I really like the idea of giving people, people anywhere, a glimpse of what we do,” said Dean of the Faculty and Professor of English Peter Murphy, who gave a lecture titled “Daily Culture, Daily Storytelling.” “These talks are a little taste of what the faculty does everyday. And the brevity of them seems very important. Busy people can absorb them without a huge investment of effort. They are a great way to advertise not just Williams, but liberal arts education more generally.”

The hope seems to be for the project to grow over time. “Other people should do them!” Murphy concluded.

The series was filmed and produced largely by College students involved in the Video Internship Program (VIP), a summer internship at the College. The internship’s mission was to train students in professional video production and creation using professional equipment, and being responsible for producing video to real clients. “Immersion in a professional role” was the goal of the inaugural year of the internship. Students who participated in this internship were Allison Graebner ’14, Dhyan Adler-Belendez ’13 and Peter De Riemer ’13. This summer was “successful to the point where we may want to expand it,” said Tamra Hjermstad, media studios and technologies coordinator at OIT. Hjermstad, along with Trevor Murphy, instructional technology specialist, and Philip Remillard, media services manager, assisted the students in everything from video editing and software use to project management and the logistics of shooting a professional event.

The VIP internship came during a summer where the OIT lost one of its long-standing internships, Williams Instructional Technology (WIT), due to a loss of funding. However, this reduction turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as it “enabled the VIP program to flourish,” and “not only enhanced [the student’s video production] skill set, but also taught them how to communicate in a visual medium,” Hjermstad said.

The Williams Thinking series has brought to campus a way of intertwining technology with intellectual curiosity and education, with the goal of helping the faculty to “do what they already do as well as reach out to a wider audience,” explained Jonathan Leamon, director of instructional technology. “The new media is a way that we [at OIT] can contribute to the intellectual work at the College,” he said.

Currently, the College does not have a professional video production staff, nor a department for capturing professional video content. Leamon hopes that the Williams Thinking project will open the door to  further endeavors into the collaboration between video production, technology and enhancing the College’s mission of education.

“It’s an exciting time for us,” Leamon said. “This is one way we can magnify the expertise of the faculty.”