Building a Science and Society Curriculum

January 13, 2022
graphic of laptop with education bubbles.

Interdisciplinary education is the core of our mission at the Center for Science and Society (CSS). Every semester, the CSS website shares a list of over 130 classes combining science and society at Columbia and Barnard across 30+ departments. We also support the development of new co-taught and interdisciplinary courses, an effort led since 2020 by Postdoctoral Research Scholar and Assistant Director of Co-teaching, Madi Whitman. “Co-teaching offers opportunities to shake up taken for granted disciplinary norms and concepts and ways to work creatively in addressing challenges in science and society,” says Whitman. Whitman is working with faculty members to develop the curriculum for new cross-disciplinary minors at Columbia and an introductory course in science and society. “These minors are intended to equip students to navigate through the major challenges of our era, such as climate and global health crises, technological controversies, and ongoing questions around knowledge and truth.” Visit the CSS course list for some of our current course offerings.

This year, the Center has provided two types of course development grants for lecturers and faculty across the University as well as faculty and scholars within CSS. Through this initiative, the Center has directly funded courses integrating topics in history, environmental science, philosophy, artificial intelligence, studies of race and culture, and more. Our research clusters also sponsor courses employing an interdisciplinary curriculum, hands-on learning techniques, and contemporary applications of knowledge. As we welcome the new year and new semester, take a deeper dive into these supported courses (some still have open seats for spring) and learn more from the instructors.

2021-2022 Co-teaching Course Development Grants

Maureen Allwood (Adjunct Associate Professor of Population and Family Health)

“Students will explore the scientific evidence underlying the impact of childhood adversity on health and social functioning across the lifespan, strategies to address both the causes and consequences of Adverse Childhood Experiences, and trauma-informed approaches and systems.”

Lecture course to be offered in Spring 2022. 

Mingfang Ting (Lamont Research Professor) and Maya Tolstoy (Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences)

“We propose to use the Seminar in Race, Climate Change, and Environmental Justice to develop the type of just, decolonized pedagogical environment largely absent in Columbia’s natural and physical sciences. We intend to expand our seminar beyond a speaker series into a course that will train graduate students across the natural sciences in best practices for democratizing knowledge and access to science.”

Graduate seminar offered in Fall 2020 and scheduled for Fall 2022. 

Applications for co-teaching grants are accepted on a rolling basis throughout the 2021-2022 academic year. Learn more via our call for applications

CSS Research Cluster Courses

Craig Blinderman (Associate Professor of Medicine) and Robert Pollack (Professor of Biological Sciences)

“Life at the End of Life is a unique course at Columbia University composed of both a voluntary caregiving experience in a local nursing home, Terence Cardinal Cooke, and a weekly seminar which covers topics that range from the philosophy of palliative care, ethical issues at the end of life, spirituality, and narrative medicine. Each student is paired with a long-term companion who becomes another ‘teacher’ in the course, as the students learn about caregiving, vulnerability, suffering, and the potential for healing.”

Undergraduate and graduate seminar to be offered in Spring 2022. 

Marwa Elshakry (Associate Professor of History)

“This course will examine a number of themes in the history of science, technology and medicine in the modern Middle East, from energy infrastructures and communication and transportation systems to modern medical, agricultural and environmental developments.”

Undergraduate and graduate seminar to be offered in Spring 2022.

Other Supported Courses

Lisa Dolling (Teaching Professor and Associate Dean at Villanova University) and developed with Undergraduate Student Collaborators Ellie Hansen and Kimia Heydari

“Today more than ever, when we increasingly rely on scientific information to guide our habits and actions, we need to be aware of the many roles (both positive and negative) that rhetoric and persuasion play in our attempts to make informed and responsible decisions.”

Undergraduate and graduate seminar to be offered Spring 2022. 

Pamela H. Smith (Associate Professor of History and Founding Director of the Center for Science and Society) and Madi Whitman (Postdoctoral Research Scholar and Assistant Director of Co-teaching)

“Have science and ‘scientific truths’ always been so contested? Join this interdisciplinary co-taught course to explore the shifting boundaries between science and pseudoscience from deep historical perspectives, ranging from alchemy to artificial intelligence.”

Undergraduate lecture to be offered in Spring 2022. 

2021-2022 Course Development Grants

Elizabeth Bernstein (Professor of Women's Studies and Sociology)

“This course draws upon a variety of interdisciplinary literatures—including feminist, critical race, and queer studies; science and technology studies; disability studies; and medical sociology and anthropology—to explore some of the ways in which our bodies have served as both the repository and substratum of recent social, political, and economic transformations.”

To be offered in Spring 2023.

Rhiannon Stephens (Associate Professor of History) and Jason Smerdon (Lamont Research Professor)

“This course examines how Africa’s climate has changed in the past and with what consequences for the people for whom the continent is home. It looks at the scope, duration and intensity of past climate events and their impacts. Central to the course is the human experience of these events and the diversity of their responses.”

To be offered in Spring 2023.

For more information on our course development initiative, please visit our course development overview. Make sure to peruse our list of science and society courses across Columbia and Barnard as well.