New ‘Wide Lens’ series showcases radical interdisciplinarity among UI scholars

“Wide Lens,” a series of short presentations, focuses the University of Iowa’s most involved scholars on a single topic.



Charlotte McManus, Arts Reporter

The Pecha Kucha style of presentation is a Japanese method that forces presenters to “talk less and show more.” In Pecha Kucha, which means “chit-chat,” speakers have 20 seconds per slide and 20 slides in total — which is how speakers presented for the first of the University of Iowa Obermann Center’s new “Wide Lens” series. 

The Obermann Center for Advanced Studies held the first of the “Wide Lens” events at the Stanley Museum of Art on Dec. 1. 

It was the first in a series hosting UI scholars and researchers who present short but insightful presentations on their specialized subject. The first event centered on global issues concerning water, particularly its capability in weather systems and its preciousness as a resource. 

Scholars across several disciplines presented, including Jean-François Charles, a composer and associate professor of digital arts and composition faculty at the UI. Rob Rouphail, assistant professor of history, Samantha Zuhlke, assistant professor in the School of Planning and Public Affairs, Terry Conrad, printmaking faculty, and Michelle Scherer, professor of civil and environmental engineering. 

David Cwiertny, a UI professor of civil and environmental engineering with a specialization in water and wastewater treatment and reuse, moderated the first event. He emphasized the series’ ability to dissect important topics from different perspectives. 

“We’re not going to solve global issues at a large scale with just one discipline. You need to value these different perspectives on the issue,” Cwiertny said. “In some areas, they need approaches that are far more social and human than technical.” 

He also mentioned that the “Wide Lens” series is a great comeback for scholars after the COVID-19 lockdown, which has made collaborative experiences “fewer and farther between.” He hopes that audience members realize the dynamism of the UI scholarly community. More simply, he hopes they feel joy.

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“Scholarship is fun,” he said. “We do all this because we enjoy it. I’m hoping that joy comes through for the folks that present because these people deeply care about the work that they do.”

Teresa Mangum, the director of the Obermann Center and professor in the departments of Gender, Women’s, and Sexuality Studies and English, said that “Wide Lens” is “radically interdisciplinary.” 

She said that while the UI’s wide range of experts is positive, some scholars get tucked behind their specializations and their department. Some may want to collaborate but don’t know about relevant research, and that’s where the Obermann Center comes in.

Along with Kristy Nabhan-Warren, associate vice president for research, and Roland Racevskis, associate dean for the arts and humanities, Mangum planned the first event. The next “Wide Lens” event will take place in spring 2023. 

Mangum hopes that as the series continues, audience members will enjoy it enough to pitch topics to her. 

She’s also appreciative of the new Stanley Museum for giving “Wide Lens” a space. 

“If you want to create an event, and you want the event to say that [the UI] is a wonderful place of imagination, creativity, discovery, and exploration, then you need to find a space to have that conversation,” Mangum said. “And where better than the art museum?” 

Like Cwiertny, Mangum emphasized collaboration in a post-COVID-19 world and the joy of scholarship.

“We forget sometimes, when we get so busy, to slow down and just appreciate what a joy it is to be in a job in a world where new discovery is our work,” Mangum said.