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Northwestern University

Data, Culture and Nature

New faculty advance Weinberg College’s interdisciplinary strategy

In an effort to reimagine the interdisciplinary arts and sciences for the 21st century, Weinberg College Dean Adrian Randolph has identified three thematic priorities — Data, Culture and Nature. 

To realize its ambitious plans around these priorities, the College has launched a robust faculty recruitment initiative that has resulted in the addition of dozens of top-flight scholars. Their work crosses traditional disciplinary boundaries, introduces fresh ideas and connects people in new ways.

“We are fortunate to be welcoming to our campus a number of stellar teachers, researchers and thought leaders with the energy, knowledge and curiosity to redefine what the liberal arts education can be,” Randolph said, adding that many of the recent hires further enhance the College’s faculty in terms of gender, racial and ethnic diversity.

The College’s administration has received concerted assistance in these efforts from the office of Provost Daniel Linzer.

“Outstanding scholar-teachers are the heart of any great university, and we want to see our schools across Northwestern ambitiously recruiting the very best,” Linzer said.

A Data Revolution

Computers have not only transformed our everyday lives — they have also ushered in a new and decisive moment in the collection, analysis and use of information. To succeed in this environment, today’s students need new quantitative skills that combine statistical analysis and computational understanding.

In response, Weinberg College will enhance research and teaching across the arts, humanities, and social and natural sciences by focusing resources and expertise on computational modeling and data analysis.

Incoming linguistics professor Jennifer Cole exemplifies the College’s efforts to energize its curriculum and research in this crucial area. Using computational models, Cole, who comes to Northwestern from the University of Illinois, explores how information about spoken language is encoded, acquired and processed in the mind.

When Cultures Meet

As goods, ideas, information and people flow with increasing speed, the need for deep intercultural understanding increases.

With its initiative in the area of Culture, the College recommits itself to the intellectual and social diversity at the core of its mission by placing a special emphasis on local and global cultural meetings.

Two new faculty members in the Department of Psychology are working in the area of diversity science, and other new faculty in the Department of History and the Department of Sociology are ramping up the College’s Native American and Indigenous Studies initiatives.

Other new hires include Leslie Harris, who is joining Northwestern from Emory University. Harris’s research focuses on complicating ideas about the history of African Americans in the United States and discovering new ways to communicate those ideas to the public.

The Nature of Things

One of the most enduring challenges facing the human race is understanding its position with regard to nature.

The College’s Nature initiative targets the natural world, seeking fundamental understandings of the physical environment as well as humans’ dynamic and constantly evolving relationship with it. William Dichtel and Gerald Gabrielse underscore the College’s daring efforts in this complex area.

A MacArthur Fellow, Dichtel joins Weinberg College after serving on the faculty of Cornell University. He is an organic chemist and rising star working with new materials at the nanoscale. Gabrielse, of Harvard University, is one of the world’s leading physicists. He makes super-precise measurements of fundamental particles — work that has fundamental implications for the study of antimatter.

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