Transformative Ideology: Edwards College Experiential Centers

Transformative Ideology

Three new Edwards College experiential centers break down disciplinary boundaries to create truly collaborative experiences

The life of the humanities involves innovation, immersion in groundbreaking ideas, and a constant search for new ways of learning and knowing. The Edwards College follows that model in earnest, with three recently established experiential centers as shining examples. The Intercultural Language Resource Center (ILRC), the Center for Inclusive Excellence (CIE), and the Intelligence Operations Command Center (IOCC) are each, in their own right, exclusive and interdisciplinary learning environments that drive students to dig deeper in their research, thinking, and expectations. Together, these centers represent the Edwards College mission of preparing students to engage in the world as critical, ethical, informed citizens.

A Multicultural Mission

The Intercultural Language Resource Center (ILRC) makes languages and international cultures come alive for students. By expanding students’ modes of engagement, and introducing them to resources and opportunities that will foster their curiosity, the ILRC connects students to the fullest potential of a multi-lingual life and career. The center is funded at 50 percent by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Undergraduate International Studies and Foreign Language Program (UISFL), awarded in 2019 to Gary Schmidt, founding director of the ILRC and professor of German in the Department of Languages and Intercultural Studies. The ILRC was established in 2021 in Brittain Hall 209, and it has already become a welcoming, active environment where students can practice language skills and learn more about cultures by playing games; participating in conversation groups; working with tutors; attending guest speakers, film screenings, and other special events; and learning about language-related scholarships and study abroad trips.

Xinyi Tan, ILRC director and assistant professor of Chinese and French in the Department of Languages and Intercultural Studies (LIS), said the ILRC plays a critical role in a central purpose of higher education.

“College is a place where you expand your vision,” said Tan. “You get out of your comfort zone, and you start to make connections with people around you and even beyond this campus. Students are required to take a language. This is a space where they can work on their proficiency, getting help from their peers and use resources. But it’s also just a place to hang out, to get immersed in different cultures through featured events and, eventually, to gain empathy and understanding toward other cultures.”

Tan also emphasized the interdisciplinary nature of the ILRC. She and assistant director Ron Green, professor in the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies with a specialty in Asian religions, meet monthly with UISFL grant key personnel within the Edwards College. This group of faculty members, representing disciplines including political science, intelligence and national security, English, philosophy, and religious studies, discuss “opportunities across disciplines with a language component,” said Tan. Because language acquisition and cultural understanding are critically applicable to so many fields, the ILRC has established strong connections with programs college-wide.

Senior Nicky Patino, theater and LIS major, attended a Spanish game event at the ILRC one week and came right back the next week for a Chinese New Year celebration.

“This is my new favorite place,” said Patino. “Its diversity and welcoming atmosphere drew me in. I’m meeting people who are tutoring German, Chinese, Italian – it’s just a great place to hang out and learn things.”

One world, many voices

The Edwards College’s Center for Inclusive Excellence (CIE) is another interdisciplinary initiative, established in 2021, that allows students, faculty, and community members to expand their perspectives on given topics by conducting research through a lens of inclusivity. CIE student Fellows gain extensive training in research and project development and are paired with three faculty Fellows, each on a two-year appointment. After an initial research course, students participate in the faculty Fellows’ individualized scholarly research.

The first cohort of faculty Fellows include Elizabeth Baltes, associate professor of art history in the Department of Visual Arts; Eric Schultz, assistant professor of clarinet in the Department of Music; and Wendy Weinhold, associate professor of journalism in the Department of Communication, Media, and Culture. With the theme “Narratives of Democracy,” the CIE faculty team-taught HFA 190: Global Issues, Local Communities, in which they explored sweeping questions of knowledge and authority within their respective disciplines and scholarly areas of specialization.

“We were drawing connections among music, journalism, and portrait statue monuments,” said Schultz. “These may seem like disparate fields, but the connections we have made among them are astounding. In fact, it often seems as if we are having the same conversation with different disciplinary vocabularies, and because of this, something interesting happens in this class: students start to see a larger truth about democracy. Who gets to write the pages of our history books? Who gets monumentalized and why? Why does representation matter?”

Sage Short, senior English major and CIE Fellow, said her work within the CIE, including her interaction with peers from different disciplines, is engaging and empowering.

“All our differing perspectives blend together nicely, creating an atmosphere where everyone gets an opportunity to voice their concerns and express their wishes for the Center and our group projects,” said Short.

CIE Director Jen Boyle noted that the concepts of “interdisciplinary,” “inclusive,” and “excellence” are pillars of the research program.

“We understand that working across disciplinary boundaries not only makes us more agile as thinkers and professionals, but it also allows us to ‘de-mystify’ how knowledge is packaged for us,” said Boyle. “The revealing and exciting discovery for me working on this initiative is how truly inclusive – across all registers and meanings – research and education can really redefine the power of and audience for the amazing work we do at public regional institutions like the Edwards College and CCU.”

Speaking of Intelligence

The opening of the Intelligence Operations Command Center (IOCC) in Spring 2022 was the ultimate realization of a student’s query back in 2015.

“’We need a space where we can actually practice intelligence in a real work environment,’” recalled Joseph Fitsanakis, director of the IOCC and professor in the Department of Intelligence and Security Studies, of his conversation with Ben [last name omitted for security reasons] ‘17. The student was a founder of the Chanticleer Intelligence Brief, a student-operated intelligence agency within the Intel program, and he understood the necessity of producing work within a realistic professional realm.

Students in the Intel program learn to gather and analyze information about a specific topic within a given time period and then brief others on that topic in the context of a distinct scenario. “So, you have two major activities of intelligence,” said Fitsanakis. “Collection and analysis, or learning about the topic and connecting the dots; and then communicating, or explaining what you learned in a way the decision maker – whether it’s a CEO, a governor, the President of the United States -- can understand,” said Fitsanakis.

Comprised of a classroom/computer lab and an adjacent briefing room, the IOCC allows students and faculty to simulate the work of intelligence within an authentic environment. With its admonitory blue light, hubs of computer screens, six-screen international television news center, 12-seat briefing table, and 8-time-zone dedicated clock, the facility is an intentional blend of news desk, FBI analysis lab, and Situation Room. Fitsanakis ultimately hopes to keep the IOCC open and operating 24/7 so that students can monitor international news and activities in real time, “because intelligence never sleeps.”

In addition, intelligence knows no disciplinary boundaries. In addition to politics, intelligence might focus on “Economics,” said Fitsanakis. “I have people looking at the Turkish economy right now, the Chinese economy. Public health issues, energy markets, so many aspects of Covid. Intel can be applied to anything.”

In collaboration with the ILRC, the IOCC has identified Critical Language Officers that will work with Intel students on critical missions that involve a language component. The language officers will read news and other materials in the original language and incorporate that information into the intelligence report.

“And so there’s this kind of collaboration in that respect,” said Fitsanakis. “The world is a village – a local village. We’re trying to help the students understand that by allowing them to access all these resources.”

While the development of the facility took seven years, Fitsanakis is certain it has been, and will continue to be, worth the wait.

With the addition of the ILRC, CIE, and IOCC as experiential, interdisciplinary centers focusing on both local and global perspectives, the Edwards College is preparing students to understand the complexities and scope of the modern professional stage.