Discovery for All: Integrating Research into Writing at All Levels

BY Linda Kinstler | April 26, 2022 | Spin-Offs

In a hallway of Doe Memorial Library, tucked between a set of windowed double-doors and a display case, stands the laser-cut likeness of a former Cal student. She is depicted sitting and smiling at the camera, her hands folded in her lap.

Her name was Yoshiko Uchida — she was a senior studying English, history, and philosophy in 1942, when the US began interning Japanese Americans en masse. Uchida’s father was questioned and interned first, and then taken to a camp in Missouri. She knew her turn would come soon, so she took out an ad in the Daily Cal asking someone to take care of her dog while she was away.

Students in Patricia Steenland’s College Writing seminar, “Images of History,” discovered Uchida’s story as part of their research in the spring of 2019. “I asked students if they would be interested in exploring how the internment happened on campus, because there were over 500 students who had to leave, and that history wasn’t really visible,” Steenland said.

The class selected three figures to focus on — Uchida as well as alumna and artist Miné Okubo, who was also interned, and former Provost Monroe Deutsch, who protested the internments and helped Japanese American students continue their educations. They arranged to place the glass monuments in the spaces where each figure worked on campus, “so that students now would encounter them as a presence,” Steenland explained. “It was meant to make the history visible.”

Okubo’s figure stands in the Environmental Design Library in Wurster Hall, Deutsch’s was originally displayed in California Hall but now resides in Steenland’s office.

Funded by a Creative Discovery Grant from Berkeley Arts & Design, Steenland’s class was part of a Library of Congress pilot initiative designed to bring research-based learning into introductory courses around campus, to encourage undergraduate students to devise and pursue their own research questions from their very first weeks at Berkeley.

In 2020 Steenland worked with Professors Vesna Rodic and Richard Kern of the French Department, Ramona Naddaff of the Rhetoric Department, and librarians from Bancroft Library and the Library of Congress to win a Berkeley Discover Department Innovation Award. The award allowed them to begin adapting the discovery approach of the Library of Congress pilot program to bring about a “profound transformation of Berkeley’s beginning courses in Reading & Composition and in Foreign Language.”

“Our thinking was, what if you take these beginning requirements and transform them so that they are discovery-based experiences, in order to reach students from diverse backgrounds from the moment they walk onto campus?” Steenland said, explaining that the new courses would immerse students “into inquiry-driven, experiential learning, problem-solving, and archival work.”

Five other projects received Innovation Awards. Robert Full, Eileen Lacey, and Tyrone Hayes, all professors of integrative biology, won an award to develop a program called “Discovery for All: Empowering Inclusive Communities in Integrative Biology,” designed to broaden the range of undergraduate students who enter their field. Professor of Astronomy Eugene Chiang won an award to develop curriculum reforms designed to “emphasize on-the-fly, order-of-magnitude thinking and inductive reasoning skills crucial for research,” and to develop a Physics and Astronomy Scholars Program to support peer mentoring and student leadership opportunities. Teams in Electric Engineering and Computer Science, Chemistry, and Education, Social Welfare, and Public Health also won awards.

The grant program is a critical part of the campus-wide Discovery Initiative that aims to introduce all undergraduates to research-driven learning. Erica Bree Rosenblum, professor of global change biology, serves as the Discovery Initiative’s faculty director. “We have launched a campus-wide initiative, with seed funding, staffing and creative vision for a future where every student will have a personalized and empowered discovery journey,” she told Gretchen Kell, Berkeley’s director of special projects and outreach. 

Steenland, Rodic, Naddaff, and Kern’s was the only winning Innovation Award proposal from the humanities. “We were interested in transforming the classroom into a place of inquiry, and doing that by allowing students to practice generating and pursuing questions that are of genuine interest to them in order to spark the genuine joy of discovery,” Rodic said. “It is a powerful way of transforming what requirements mean.”

Her students used a discovery framework to explored French approaches to sustainability, focusing on the French Charter for the Environment, which supports the right to a “balanced environment,” and which was added to the French constitution in 2005. They considered how France’s overseas territories, which are especially threatened by climate change, responded to the charter, and examined the steps French government had taken to address sustainability. They also video conferenced with students from Aix-Marseille University in France to discuss their findings.

This academic year, Steenland and Rodic are working with three cohorts of instructors — lecturers and GSIs in College Writing, Foreign Languages, and other departments—who are teaching introductory humanities requirements and want to bring discovery into their classrooms. Each cohort is participating in a year-long collaborative workshop designed to help them encourage first and second-year Berkeley students to find and pursue their own intellectual interests. “The hope is that, out of these discussions, people will start bringing the changes back to the classroom and then will report back to the group, like an active lab,” Steenland explained.

Michelle Baptiste, a lecturer in College Writing, is part of the collaborative workshop and also participated in the Library of Congress pilot program. “In the background is the idea that juniors and seniors are not the only ones who should be doing research,” she said. In her own courses, she has applied the discovery approach by asking students to close-read archival newspaper articles and images — Baptiste encourage her students to “observe first”—to contemplate the artifact before them and and ask themselves: “What perspectives are absent?”

Naddaff, who is also Director of The Art of Writing at the Townsend Center for the Humanities, plans expand the Discovery initiative develop mid-level writing courses that would help students continue pursuing their own research as they select their majors.

“The question isn’t, ‘How do we introduce them to research in their field?’” Steenland said. “The question is, ‘How do we introduce them to research as a curiosity-driven process, outside of the discipline of the major?’” Explicitly designed to help students from diverse and underprivileged backgrounds find their own place in the intellectual community at Berkeley, the Discovery initiative is already reshaping what writing requirements look like on campus.