New McCormick speaker series asks questions on creativity

Emily Chin, Reporter

The McCormick dean moderated a discussion Wednesday as part of a new speaker series launched by the school that aims to bring up thought-provoking questions about creativity across different fields of study.

The series, titled “Conversations at the Intersection,” is organized by the Robert R. McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science. It aims to bring interdisciplinary perspectives into the school and promote discussion about creativity and innovation, said Kyle Delaney, McCormick’s director of marketing and external communications.

“Northwestern is known as a highly interdisciplinary place, and this is really taking that and trying to gain even more benefit from it,” Delaney said. “This is just making sure we’re breaking down any walls that may exist between schools or departments to try to generate conversation across the University.”

At the first session of the speaker series, McCormick Dean Julio Ottino asked William Baker, a SOM Structural and Civil Engineering Partner, and Slavic languages and literature Prof. Gary Morson questions about how they perceive creativity. Ottino asked them whether or not they believed in epiphanies and if they thought constraints created creativity.

Despite differences in academic backgrounds, Baker and Morson gave similar responses to Ottino’s questions.

“They were in totally different fields, yet they didn’t seem to disagree on anything,” first-year Kellogg student David Lawrence, who attended the event, said.

Lawrence said he enjoyed the conversation about constraints and their role in creativity.

“I was interested in the topic, and they brought in people who were really interesting,” Lawrence said.

Ottino said after the event that he wished they had disagreed more, but he was pleased with the session.

About 50 people attended the series held at Ford Motor Company Engineering Design Center.

Delaney explained that McCormick has a tradition of doing interdisciplinary work, but it had never run a program specifically focused on creativity before.

“I think our overall goal is to provoke thought, for students to be able to think about the role of creativity to them, to their lives, and how they see things and how they see the world compared to how others might see the world and where there are commonalities and where there are differences,” he said.

He added that bringing in interdisciplinary panels allows McCormick to teach its students to be more “whole-brained,” meaning they use their right brains as opposed to only using their left, which are seen as focused on math and science.

Ottino said that having interdisciplinary knowledge enables people to improve upon others’ ideas and solutions.

“In a university, there are lots of interesting people around. We don’t do enough things that link people who are very different,” he said. “We thought creativity would be a thread that would cut across disciplines.”

The next session of the series will be held Nov. 12. The panel will feature architect Larry Booth, philosophy Prof. Sandy Goldberg and artist and art Prof. Jeanne Dunning. 

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