HATTIESBURG – The humanities and science can feed off one another in more ways than commonly thought.
That was the theme of Dr. Terri Ruckel’s presentation “Poetry in the Biology Classroom: What the Humanities Can Do for STEM” as Pearl River Community College’s Humanities Teacher of the Year.
“The humanities stress the value of learning to think critically and independently,” Ruckel said. “No matter what major a student chooses, being able to read powerfully, write precisely and speak articulately decide the difference between being a mediocre student or being an exceptional student.
“I want to encourage those who love math and science to know that the humanities – poetry or music or history – offer methods for deepening comprehension and developing a level of empathy and knowledge that can be applied to real-world situations.”
Ruckel teaches English at PRCC’s Forrest County Center where she also serves as Honors Institute coordinator. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English from the University of Southern Mississippi and a PhD in English from Louisiana State University.
As Humanities Teacher of the Year, she was required to give a lecture on her field of study.
Ruckel acknowledged the world’s need for more science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
“But it is precisely because STEM is so powerful that we need the humanities now more than ever,” she said. “In your science, mathematics and engineering classes, you get the ‘facts.’ The humanities, at least the way I teach them, are more about questions than answers, more about personal and narrative reflection than empirical evidence.
“What is truth anyway? How do we know something is true? Or rather, why do we believe certain things are true and other things aren’t? How do we decide whether something is wrong or right to do? And what is the meaning of life? What is the point of life? … Yes, to be or not to be or how to be or how not to be … these are the questions – and they demand time and thought.”
She challenged other faculty to help bridge the gap between science and the humanities.
“In many respects, we cannot enter one another’s territory,” Ruckel said. “The divide is as real as a rift separating tectonic plates or a border separating nations. But a border is both a zone of exclusion and a zone of contact where we can exchange some aspects of our difference, and, like neighboring tribes who exchanges seashells, obtain something that is lacking in our own locality. Much is to be gained when scientists raid the evocative techniques of literature and when poets raid the language and mythology of scientists.”
Students in Dr. Terri Ruckel’s English classes at the Forrest County Center presented her with flowers and gifts following her presentation as Pearl River Community College’s Humanities Teacher of the Year.
PRCC Public Relations photo