There’s little to be seen or heard in the Undergraduate Science Building after 7 p.m. on a Wednesday. Vacuums are the most prominent obstruction in the otherwise empty, serene corridors of the building, closely followed by the heaving steps of tired students heading out for dinner or another round of coffee at Starbucks.

But if you stood on the top floor of the USB last Wednesday, you would have heard something almost profound amid the vacuums and footsteps. You would have caught snippets of a discussion about meditation, creativity, consciousness and the nature of knowledge, briefly interceded by the sound of a flugelhorn (a trumpet-like instrument from Germany).

You would have been intrigued, then perplexed, then amazed. You would have stood in front of the classroom emitting these noises, not understanding why a philosophical discussion so acutely relevant to the students of the University was taking place in this hidden corner of campus in late hours of the evening.

The discussion in question was one of many that will take place every other Wednesday this semester as part of an Honors 252 class, “Honors Natural Sciences Seminar — Creativity in the Sciences and the Arts.” Its title only skims the surface of what this class is truly about, at least for the casual observer. But creativity in the sciences and arts is a big component of what drives most of the class discussions and projects.

As part of the class, one professor from the sciences and one professor from the arts or humanities talk about their “Eureka moment” — the forces that drove them to pursue their respective careers and why they’re passionate about doing what they do. This discussion focuses on how creativity, and the convergence of science and art, plays a part in their careers.

In previous semesters, students themselves have examined unusual and intriguing examples of how science and art converge in everyday life — from creating projects based on the measurements and ratios required in the production of a cupcake, to filming themselves painting their own walls using time-lapse photography.

Biological Chemistry Prof. Stephen Ragsdale has taught this class nearly every semester since Fall 2009. Each week, the class alternates between seminar and workshop — where the talks from the previous week are further discussed to familiarize students with their classmates, but mostly, according to Ragsdale, with themselves.

“(In the workshops) personal things get revealed and students start to trust each other,” Ragsdale said. “Over time, the class becomes a safe zone for people to explore new things and make themselves vulnerable.”

With 27 students, small class size is perhaps the best way to go for a class that relies primarily on roundtable discussions. Ragsdale explained that Honors classes usually hover around 20 people, and despite being asked to expand, he wants to stick to his tried-and-tested class format.

But what about creativity calls for a class to be devoted to it? Creativity seems like a strange concept to teach, if it can be taught at all. In the University alone, it’s not uncommon for many science-minded students to think that what they do either has nothing to do with the arts or requires a far superior intellect, an illusion Ragsdale said his class aims to dissolve.

“I had an interest in science as well as the arts,” he said. “I have a feeling that they’re actually not that different. They offer different views of reality, but there are a lot of convergent principles.

“Over the time I’ve been teaching this class, I wanted to bring together scientists and artists to speak together in one classroom so that students could ask: ‘Is what (Professor Stephen) Rush doing in his jazz fundamentally different from what (Professor) Henry Pollack is doing when he’s studying climate change? Are they fundamentally different ways of viewing the world? Or do we just have certain preferences?’ ”

A student of the sciences himself, Ragsdale is no stranger to being bored by traditional science classes. He says it’s one of the reasons he started the course after its successful three-year run at his previous post at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln.

“I don’t consider that science is dry. I think it’s a very creative field. We’re always trying to build puzzles, and the cool thing is that they’re puzzles of our own mental construction,” Ragsdale said.

But he also believes that before experimenting and getting creative with science, you need to understand its basic fundamentals — a process that may not be easy nor engaging.

“I think that’s it’s a matter of what we think is most important for (a) student to learn … when you learn piano, they don’t just say ‘go and create this piece.’ It’s first learning how to play, putting your finger on some keys. It’s very didactic,” Ragsdale said.

Yet regardless of the class type, Ragsdale believes professors should find the right balance of “thinking and doing.” He uses various unusual teaching methods in his own classes to increase the students’ input into their own learning. He allows them to develop rules on the length and grading scales of essays and projects, claiming that students usually pick a tougher workload for themselves than he would think to assign.

“I think we just spend too much time teaching students facts and giving them tests on factual matters rather than asking the deep question,” Ragsdale said. “If all you do in a class is present lectures and give tests, I think that’s adverse to developing creative ideas.”

Science isn’t the only subject often considered less than thrilling. Edward Sarath, guest lecturer in Honors 252 and a professor in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance, encountered a similar problem when he joined his department in 1987.

“The School of Music in Michigan was, and still is, largely classical — that means, all the music has been composed by European composers who died two centuries ago. When you go to the Art school, it would be unthinkable to not create your own artwork. But in music, the norm is: ‘thou shalt not create,’ because we already have all this great music,” he said, during the first Honors 252 lecture of the semester.

Sarath now teaches jazz and contemporary improvisation at the University. He spoke of many facets of creativity during his guest lecture, specifically that we’re at a moment in time when creativity is crucial to solving the problems humanity is facing. He added that students need to condition their consciousness to meet the challenge.

“The history of science is a history of deep, deep thinkers. The innovative scientist is going far beyond the notion of conventional science and transcending the mainstream,” Sarath said.

The students enrolled in this class come from backgrounds as diverse as business and math, but almost all of them already share a love for the sciences and the arts. Amanda Harris, a sophomore in the Ross School of Business, said the multi-dimensional aspect of Ragsdale’s class echoed her own personality.

“I’m taking this class because I’m a very multi-dimensional person. I like all the different academic fields so I think it’s very interesting how he’s blending two that you often think are contradicting, because that’s also kind of how I see the world,” Harris said.

Whether graduates of Honors 252 continue to be creative, have “Eureka moments” or change the world is yet to be determined. But it’s clear that the class poses some important and complex questions, which Ragsdale hopes will be enough.

“People always write that they want to keep being creative in whatever they do in their lives,” he said. “So I hope that happens, I feel like it should happen, but we just get bogged down in things sometimes.”

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