Background and Context

Instrumental Analysis and Introduction to Urban Studies, two courses meeting at Vassar College.
Christopher Smart, Associate Professor and Chair of Chemistry, Pinar Batur, Associate Professor of Sociology and Director of Urban Studies, and
Stuart Belli, Associate Professor of Chemistry and Director of Environmental Science.

Role in the Undergraduate Curriculum

Vassar College's curricular requirement has five components: each student must fulfill the Freshman Course requirement, the quantitative course
requirement, the foreign language requirement, major requirements, and a divisional distribution. The divisional distribution is to facilitate a balanced
learning experience between science, social science and humanities. In Freshman Courses, small groups of first-year Vassar students and a professor examine special topics and stress the effective expression of ideas in both written and oral work. By the end of the sophomore year, Vassar students expect to take at least one course that demands a significant amount of quantitative analysis, such as offered by Mathematics, Computer Science, the natural sciences and/or social sciences. Vassar also expects students to demonstrate proficiency in a foreign language. Vassar students declare their majors by the end of the sophomore year. Students have a choice of four paths to the bachelor's degree: concentration in (1) a department; (2) an interdepartmental program such as Biopsychology or Geography/Anthropology; (3) a multidisciplinary program such as Urban Studies, American culture,or Cognitive Science; or (4) an individually tailored course of study in the independent program. Within the major field, requirements range from 10 to 17 courses. Our respective courses, Introduction to Urban Studies and Instrumental Analysis are required courses for the major, but are attended by non-majors as well. Because of our approach to bridging across disciplines, our course also serves to foster the balance encompassed by the divisional distribution requirement at Vassar College.

The Chemistry Department at Vassar College consists of 8 full-time Ph.D.- holding tenure track faculty with 3 full-time M.S.-holding lecturers. Housed in the Seely G. Mudd Chemistry Building, the department maintains a full array of modern instrumentation, including 300 MHz NMR, GC/MS, FTIR, MALDITOF/ MS, ICP/AES, UV/Vis/NIR Spectrophotometer, EDXRF, several HPLCs and capillary GCs with an assortment of detectors, and potentiostats for electrochemical measurements. The department graduates between 5 and 12 Chemistry majors a year and about the same number of Biochemistry majors. A majority of our graduates go on to graduate school in Chemistry. Instrumental Analysis is an intermediate level course normally taken in the junior year. The course is taught by Stuart Belli primarily for chemistry majors but is open to and has been populated by Biochemistry, Biology, Environmental Studies, Art History, Anthropology, and Biopsychology majors. It is a course for learning modern instrumentation for chemical analysis. The course consists of lecture and laboratory; the lectures focus on analytical methods and instrument design, the laboratory is designed to give experience with the instruments and illustrate methods of analysis. About half of the lab time is devoted to individual projects
focused on real samples, such as analysis for pesticides in local honey or the measurement of heavy metals, PCBs and PAHs in a local stream.

At present, the College offers ten fully developed multidisciplinary programs, each of which concentrates on a single problem or series of problems that cannot be approached by one discipline alone. The integration and coherence of each multidisciplinary program are achieved through work at ascending levels of complexity. Urban Studies is a multidisciplinary program at Vassar, approved by the faculty in 1970s. The Urban Studies program involves about 40 faculty, representing nearly every department on the campus, and fosters dialogue between disciplines, the sciences, social sciences and humanities, to examine the urban context. It has 45 majors and offers approximately 20 courses each year. Through faculty seminars, guest speakers, as well as curricular developments, the program is a facilitator for exploring how to bridge the gap defined by C.P. Snow between the disciplines. Snow argued that "we can educate a large proportion of our better minds so that they are not ignorant of imaginative experience, both in arts and in science, not ignorant either of the endowments of applied science, of the remediable suffering of most of their fellow humans, and of the responsibilities which, once they are seen, cannot be denied." Within this sprit, Urban Studies offers several courses that are co-taught
by scholars of different disciplines. For example, the 100 level course, "Introduction to Urban Studies" is designed to survey theory and research on the process of urbanization along with changing urban policy, and to explore the variables that influence the connection between the science and policy making regarding the urban past and future. This course is coordinated by one instructor, but co-taught by five members of Urban Studies program, including by professors of Chemistry and Sociology, Chris Smart and Pinar Batur.

How does the course advance or engage institution wide initiatives or objectives?

We feel that our method of teaching fits well with our college objectives:

"Vassar's statement of academic purpose, adopted by faculty and trustees, is a definition of the qualities it seeks to develop in its students:

  • Achievement of depth and range of knowledge in a single discipline or in a subject approached through several disciplines. The quality sought is not only the mastery of a body of facts, but the attainment of skill in the conduct of inquiry and the satisfaction of having gained knowledge.
  • Recognition of the different kinds of knowledge and their scope and relevance to one another. It is necessary for an educated person to understand the relationships between the past, the present, and the future as well as those between people and their social and physical environment.
  • Immediate experience of creative ideas, works of art, and scientific discoveries.
  • Development of the powers of reason and imagination through the processes of analysis and synthesis and the use of all our human resources - to speculate, to feel, to inquire boldly, to enjoy, to change, to create, and to communicate effectively.
  • Increased knowledge of oneself, a humane concern for society, and a commitment to an examined and evolving set of values.

To achieve these purposes, Vassar offers a curriculum that honors the values of liberal learning as it challenges us to lead energetic and purposeful lives. We aim, therefore, to support a faculty dedicated to teaching, scholarship, and artistic endeavor; to educate-in the humanities, the natural sciences, and the social sciences-distinguished, diverse students motivated toward intellectual risk; to promote clear thinking and articulate expression; to stimulate integrative learning through multidisciplinary studies that communicate across cultural and curricular perspectives; and to commit both students and teachers to coherent and cohesive approaches to learning.

In the largest sense, Vassar seeks to educate the individual imagination to see into the lives of others. As such, its academic mission cannot be separated from its definition as a residential community composed of diverse interests and perspectives. The differences among us are real and challenging. Contemporary life requires more than ever the skills and wisdom that liberal education has always promoted: the exercise of informed opinion and sound critical judgment; a willingness to engage in ethical debate in a spirit of reasonable compromise; the achievement of balance between emotional engagement and intellectual detachment; the actions of personal integrity and respect for others; independent thought and an attendant resistance to irresponsible authority. It is our mission to meet the challenges of a complex world responsibly, actively, and imaginatively."
Taken from the Vassar Catalogue, (2004).