Fall Faculty Forum celebrates faculty research


The Fall Faculty Forum is an academic event hosted every year during Fall Family Weekend. Featuring faculty research and innovation, the forum consists of different panels centered around themes of exploration where professors can present their projects to students, parents and members of the community.

“New Modes of Communication” forum


At first glance, Japanese classical literature, data science, analysis of the hit TV show “Breaking Bad” and computer-aided language learning platforms don’t seem to have much in common. What brought these disciplines together for the Fall Faculty Forum, however, were the innovative ways Middlebury professors are  teaching and researching them. Christopher Star, Professor and Chair of the Classics department, moderated a forum entitled “New Modes of Communication,” which drew together presentations by Assistant Professor of Japanese Studies Otilia Milutin, Assistant Professor of Mathematics Alex Lyford, Professor of Film & Media Culture and Jason Mittell and Gabriel Guillén, Associate Professor of Language Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies. 

Each professor detailed their fascinating research and the implications of their work in the classroom. Milutin, for one, described her method of teaching Japanese classics through contemporary forms of Japanese media, like manga and anime, that typically draw her students to the department. In class, she often asks her students to determine the accuracy of recent depictions of classical Japanese literature by comparing them to their original counterparts. As she declared, “The past does not stay in the past,” a statement which has led her to develop a course and publish two articles about contemporary retellings of classical pieces. Her work, she said, has been embraced by her colleagues. 

Other professors are challenging the pedagogical norms of their respective fields as well.

Over the past few semesters, Lyford has introduced groundbreaking techniques to his courses at Middlebury by teaching data science in the form of a college writing course. Though the task of developing this course was daunting, his students can benefit from the opportunity to delve deeply into the discussion, writing and peer review inherent to college writing courses. According to him, this sets them apart from other data scientists, and their assignments — apps, for example — generally tell better stories about data than their peers who are not taking the class for college writing credit. 

While Lyford explores the promise of writing as a form of communication, the next presenter discussed the merits of diverging from writing into an entirely new form of communication. 

Mittell hopes to  change  the way people study film and media by developing a new form of film analysis: videographic criticism. In these audio-visual publications, critics are able to present their conclusions using actual scenes from films and TV shows, instead of having to recount this evidence in long paragraphs. He presented his fascinating video essay of “Breaking Bad,” a 12 minute piece that delved into the racial elements of Walter White, the protagonist of the show. Mittell also discussed the peer-reviewed videographic journal he founded, called [in]Transition, the first of its kind. Mittell is dedicated to bringing videographic criticism into his classes, and hopes to see it flourish as a critical form. 

The digital world is also of interest to Guillèn, who presented his research of language learning sites. Through his extensive investigation, Guillèn seeks to find out if online language learning platforms, like Duolingo or Rosetta Stone, actually work. His study revealed that most apps and platforms lack one of the three essential components of language: form, use and meaning. Guillèn argued that students need lexical breadth and depth to move towards speaking ability. According to Guillèn’s data, the classroom remains the most effective place to learn a new language. 

The research and pedagogy of these professors — just four of many who presented on Friday — reveal the thriving scholarship  at the college. They also prove that there is room for exploration and experimentation in their fields. 

Faculty presented to students, visiting family members and fellow faculty members on their research, ranging from the secrets of public speaking to contemporary Japanese media, at the forum.

“Searching for Answers” panel


As children we were natural “wonderers”: exploring, experimenting and letting our inquiries guide our growing understanding of the world around us. Sometimes, however, this child-like curiosity seems to waver — put on a low-heat simmer in the stovetop of our day-to-day lives. The Fall  Faculty Forum panel, “Searching for Answers,” challenged this simmering quest for new knowledge, and instead turns up the heat to inspire intellectual pursuit. 

Professor Michael Olinick of the Department of Mathematics weaved together a captivating presentation titled “Suicide, Accident or Political Assassination? The Enigma of Alan Turing’s Death.” He opened the lecture by quoting Marvin Minsky, who argues that “Turing is the key figure of our century.” Not only did Turing famously crack the German’s enigma code at  the height of World War II, arguably shortening the war by two years and saving millions of lives, but he also founded computer science, artificial intelligence and mathematical biology. In 1952, Turing was “convicted of gross indecency,” and was given the option to go to prison or undergo treatment to “cure” him of his homosexuality. He was chemically castrated as part of this conversion therapy. The details of his subsequent death remain a mystery that falls in the hands of scholars such as Olinick, who unceasingly research each and every detail, stringing together the facts in hopes of one day reaching the truth. 

Following the conspiracy-lover’s delight was “Of Trenches and Tombs: Experiential Learning in Field Archeology, Cyprus, Summer 2019,” presented by Professor Pieter Broucke of the History of Art and Architecture department and Meagan Tan ’21, an Architectural Studies major. Professor Broucke introduced the location of study, an island off the southwest coast of Cyprus that resides in the eastern Mediterranean ocean. The island is named  “Yeronisos,” which, broucke revealed, translates to “holy island” in Greek. 

“Holy island” indeed. Broucke pieced together, figuratively and literally, remnants of an ancient Greek civilization dating back to the “time of Cleopatra.” By diligently measuring corner blocks, he worked to “reconstruct the counters of the island,” discovering their function as the roof of a temple dedicated to Apollo. Tan flourished under the advising of Professor Broucke by embarking on a summer voyage to Yeronisos where she excavated shards of pottery, explored tombs and took part in field study courses alongside her peers. Intellectual curiosity can take you far and, if you’re really lucky, far enough to be under the ethereal glow of a Mediterranean sunset. 

Self-consciousness must be replaced by audience consciousness”

— Oratory Now! student coaches

Rounding out the history-heavy forum was Assistant Professor of Theatre Dana Yeaton’s presentation “Have We Found the Secret to Better Speaking?” Yeaton professed that his “passion for oratory” led him to go through innovation funding from the college to create Oratory Now! This student-driven group has become a “training program for our students who then train students in public speaking.” He then posed a question to the audience: “So…have we discovered the secret to better speaking?” His solution: Let’s find out! 

As an experiment, in came Oratory Now! coaches Matthew Fliegauf ’22, GiGi Hogan ’22 and Kate Hilscher ’20.5, who proceeded to lead the audience in a 15 minute exercise. They acknowledged that we are “afraid to look silly” when speaking in public, but that our “self-consciousness must be replaced by audience consciousness.” We must first connect with our bodies, and then with our audience. The coaches commented on why they coach, suggesting that one “can always keep improving.” 

And improve we shall when influenced by scholarly events such as these. As the forum drew to a close, all three presenters commented on the purpose of a faculty forum and what they personally gained from presenting. Professor Olinick sees the forum as a way to “generate ideas” in a liberal arts context, which Professor Broucke believes is “exploration in nature,” and that exploration “binds [the liberal arts education] together.” Professor Yeaton shared that for him, the faculty forum is a “genesis of teaching something else” where he “becomes a student” again, describing this process as “freeing” and “fulfilling.”