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Bachelor's Degree With Individual Concentration

Spring 2008 Newsletter
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Dan Gordon:
BDIC's New Director and a Man With a Plan

By Kate Cessna

When Daniel Gordon officially became the interim director of the BDIC program in early February of this year, his versatility and professionalism immediately became apparent to those around him. The peer advisors, faculty supervisors, and administrative staff who had anxiously anticipated Dan's arrival quickly came to know our new director as a hard-working jack-of-all-trades with a deep appreciation for the nuances of the program, with which he was already impressively familiar. Dan's first day working in the office was a testament to his eagerness and sincerity. After arriving 35 minutes early and introducing himself warmly to everyone in the office, Dan wasted no time drafting an e-mail to all current students in which he described his background and encouraged recipients to provide feedback about individual experiences within the major. By giving each of us an opportunity to answer questions such as, "What do you think BDIC could be doing better?", and, "What are you interested in doing to help make BDIC better?" Professor Gordon challenged us to think critically and constructively, and demonstrated his personal commitment to incorporating our suggestions and solutions in future renovations of the program.

Less than three weeks after his initial e-mail, Dan drafted and sent to all students his "BDIC Planning Thoughts," a progressive agenda containing a list of goals which includes increasing generation of publicity related to the program (both on and off-campus), expanding the involvement of the director and faculty members in the development of concentrations, and articulating a more clearly-defined, mutually agreeable synergy between BDIC and Commonwealth College. Although such grand designs may seem the characteristics of a man whose gaze is fixed steadfastly on the figurative horizon, Dan Gordon, a professor of history, has forgotten neither the inherent worth of connections to the past, nor the value of maintaining them. Evidenced by his vision statement's aim of developing, "inter-generational connections that are beneficial for all," Dan's commitment to forging links between students and alumni has promising implications for the expansion of the department's career and internship networks, and his ambition truly embodies the spirit of BDIC.

It is no wonder that Dan strives to bridge the gap between current students and alumni; he has recently occupied both ends of that spectrum. Now, as a professor, Dan does the instructing, but it was not long ago that he too was a student, earning an advanced degree in law from Yale. In his recent article, "Specialization vs. Generalization in Education" featured in the March 10, 2008 edition of the web publication Public Humanist, Dan wrote, "Today, everyone has a responsibility to ask themselves whether they are reaching as high and wide as they could in their education... we need more academic degrees that produce versatile problem-solving competence, and fewer degrees that merely attest to specialized expertise." Dan's words reflect experience- his own academic endeavors have been as variegated as the curricula pursued by the BDIC students whose program he now directs. With an original preference for European history, Dan has recently branched out, teaching courses in U.S. Constitutional history and comparative law. Co-editor of the journal Historical Reflections, Dan's past publications have encompassed a diverse array of subject areas in addition to history, including philosophy, literary studies, sociology, political science, and law.

Professor Gordon, already a tireless advocate for the BDIC program, took time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions about his family, hobbies, the Sox, and of course, BDIC.

Q: Tell me a little bit about your family life. Do you have any pets?
I am married to Catherine Epstein, who teaches history at Amherst College. We are both from Massachusetts. My parents both grew up in Springfield. I grew up with my mother in Newton. My father has also been a big influence because I have seen him do hundreds of push-ups on one hand at the age of 60 and other amazing things that are not “physically” possible but come from a kind of energy that some people are able to create for themselves and for others. I don't have that level of vital energy but a little of it goes a long way and I think I can add something to BDIC. Catherine and I also have three children, ages 2, 7, and 10. I am very involved in their activities such as sports. I am the secretary of the Amherst Hockey Association and do some other volunteer stuff. No pets.

Q: What do you like to do in your spare time?
I enjoy playing classical guitar. I will be watching a lot of Red Sox games.

Q: Who is your favorite Red Sox player?
I really like Dice-K (Daisuke Matsuzaka).

Q: What about the BDIC program initially piqued your interest?
I'm a history professor but I've always enjoyed philosophy, literature, law, and religious studies as much as history. I think putting a professor in one department and saying, “There you are, you're a historian (or a philosopher, or whatever),” limits our creativity and produces over-specialization and burnout. So I like the interdisciplinary character of BDIC and the chance to talk to people who are doing entirely different things.

Q: What has been the most challenging part of your job as director so far?
I was not involved in BDIC before, so it's a challenge to show everyone who has been involved for many years that I can make a large contribution. But I also think that as an outsider I can ask fresh questions and bring new perspectives. As a newcomer my energy level is very high. Since I have no past history with BDIC, I need to prove myself by working very hard now. So it's a challenge to combine being BDIC director with being a full-time history professor (which I still am right now).

Q: What has been your favorite part?
I like arriving at BDIC in the morning, having a cup of coffee, and enjoying the BDIC atmosphere—the informality and open exchange of ideas with people as they arrive. 

Q: What changes do you plan to make to the program? How will these changes enhance the major?
Two areas where I wish to move things forward are the curriculum and alumni relations. Regarding curricula, I'd like to see more faculty involvement in selection of BDIC courses. I plan to teach an interdisciplinary seminar next year- the idea is eventually to merge this seminar with the proposal class, and Linda and I would teach jointly. I'd like to see more faculty involvement in the junior year writing seminar too. 
About alumni, I'd like BDIC students realize that BDIC is not just being in a program for a few years, but is a lifelong network of learning opportunities. So I plan to encourage alumni to be mentors to our students, to help our students find jobs, and so forth. I expect to have a good number of alumni at the BDIC graduation ceremony. This will give things an intergenerational feeling. I want to promote this feeling in as many ways as possible.

Q: Do you have any advice for new students on how to maximize their experience in BDIC?
I think how a student defines the concentration is really important. I want to encourage students to have wide-ranging concentrations that combine things that most people think are entirely separate, like history and finance or religion and neuroscience. Some concentrations do strike me as a bit narrow or too professionally driven at the expense of intellectual depth and innovation. I hope we can have a lot of discussion about this over the next year or so.  

Q: What is your ultimate vision for BDIC?
BDIC is in very good shape right now, thanks to the previous director, Jose Ornelas, and the faculty supervisors and of course Linda Roney. I'd just like people all over New England to recognize BDIC as a special place that promotes interdisciplinary thinking and very enterprising students.
I circulated a BDIC information sheet in one of my classes and I noticed that some students were laughing as they looked at it. They don't know that BDIC has the most professionally successful group of alumni when you weigh artistic creativity, commitment to justice, and economic success all together. In the very near future, a lot of people are going to know—I can envision that. I can guarantee that.

Q: Any words of wisdom for graduating seniors?
Graduating seniors should show the same spirit of independence that they've shown by being BDIC students. Don't be afraid to be different. Don't hesitate to be the ice-breaker who raises an issue no one has mentioned. Also, don't be afraid to take on extra work, even when people around you are complaining about being overworked. Be the first person to tell others that you will be happy to help them out any time. Be proud of your degree and explain it carefully to potential employers: they will often be impressed by your originality. Keep studying, reading, and learning new things. And stay in touch with us at BDIC.

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