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From the Dean, Spring/Summer 2012

Innovation at the Intersections

Our world of letters, arts and sciences is built on a foundation of academic disciplines and departments. However, we reach our full potential only when experts from different fields — students and faculty — start working together to address important questions and global challenges.


In our lifetimes, we have seen the boundaries of many fields of study shift and sometimes disappear. We have also learned that real innovation and progress often occur at the intersections of our traditional academic disciplines.

One of USC Dornsife’s great strategic advantages within American higher education is that our academic departments are not organized into separate colleges of the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences; instead, we house all the core academic disciplines under one roof.

And over the past few years we have capitalized on this strategic advantage.

When we decided to explore the local effects of climate change, we built a team with expertise in marine science, interdisciplinary environmental studies, the social sciences and the cultures of coastal communities. When we decided to build on thework of our extraordinary USC Shoah Foundation Institute with a research programfocusing on the prevention of genocide, we assembled a team of USC Dornsife facultyand students with expertise in such fields as history, international relations, psychologyand literature. To investigate fundamental questions regarding the impact of scienceand technology on society, we brought to the table not just scientists and sociologists,but humanities scholars who have devoted their lives to studying the age-old questionof what makes us fully human.

In USC Dornsife, we also expect our undergraduate students, whatever their majors, totraverse traditional academic boundaries as they pursue their natural curiosity. Some endup in labs where they explore connections between neurobiology and creativity. Othershave traveled to China to see how culture shapes responses to advertising. We have also justcreated two important new programs in “cognitive science” and “human and evolutionarybiology” in which students take an interdisciplinary look into our own nature.

Intersections can be confusing, exhilarating, intimidating and life-changing. But Iurge you to follow the lead of our students and faculty and seek them out.


Howard Gillman
Dean of USC Dornsife
Anna H. Bing Dean’s Chair