I had the pleasure of speaking with Megan Sullivan, a 1996 alumna of the URI doctoral program in English. Megan is certainly a URI success story. In addition to being an Associate Professor of Rhetoric, Megan is now the Associate Dean for Faculty Research and Development at Boston University, as well the school’s Director for the Center of Interdisciplinary Teaching and Learning. She works out of the university’s College of General Studies (CGS), which offers students their first two years of core curriculum courses before they matriculate into their majors. CGS faculty work as a team, meeting every week to talk about what and how they are teaching. Courses are team-taught using an interdisciplinary approach. It is out of this approach, which has a focus on “doing undergraduate education well,” that the online journal IMPACT was born. Now as editor of that publication, Megan explained to me how it all started, and how she and her fellow editorial board members work to promote it.
IMPACT is an online, peer-reviewed journal, which “foregrounds interdisciplinary teaching and learning.” It has been published semi-annually since 2012. Each issue features at least one or two articles on interdisciplinary approaches to teaching, in addition to articles that demonstrate interdisciplinary scholarship, and reviews of interdisciplinary books. The focus of all published pieces is on thinking in an interdisciplinary manner. The editorial board of IMPACT is currently working to get it included in the MLA International Bibliography. Megan encourages all URI faculty and students who are conducting interdisciplinary scholarship to submit to the journal. In fact, IMPACT hosts an essay contest each year, with submissions due by the first Monday of December. I assured her that there were many of us thinking and working across disciplines at URI, and that she would be sure to hear from us in the near future!
Megan’s interest in interdisciplinary scholarship was already in evidence during her years at URI. Her dissertation topic focused on women writers, filmmakers, and dramatists in Northern Ireland. Although URI did not have an Irish Studies department, she said her faculty committee, headed by Mary Cappello, was very supportive. In fact Megan calls Mary, “a wonderful mentor and friend,” who recognized and nurtured Megan’s talent during her years at URI. She found it no problem to pull together a committee that met her needs.
Directly after defending her dissertation, Megan had her choice of two faculty positions at Boston University: one in Humanities and one in Rhetoric. Though she specialized in literature during her graduate studies, Megan chose the position in Rhetoric because it offered smaller class sizes and more stability for her at the time. When asked how her experience at URI had prepared her for that position, Megan said she had studied Rhetoric with Nedra Reynolds, and learned to teach Composition during her graduate program. Still, she always thought she would teach literature for her career. She does, however, incorporate Irish writers into her courses, and every other summer teaches a graduate or undergraduate course in Irish Studies, just to “keep her toes” in that field. Megan stressed that taking a position teaching writing has allowed her to explore a different path than she ever expected. Her advice to current URI graduate English students is to keep an open mind about the positions we seek upon graduation. You never know where they will lead.
I encourage you to check out the interesting work being published in IMPACT, and perhaps think about submitting a piece of interdisciplinary scholarship yourself.