Scm Interdisciplinary Learning F Rgb


Santa Clara University has long been a bastion of interdisciplinary learning. A new fund is taking cross-collaboration to new heights.


Picture a well-run machine. Every cog in perfect place and every axle performs its own specific purpose. Institutions may adopt a similar system—clearly defined, specialized roles acting in siloed harmony.

But people? No way. We aren’t machines. We have varied interests. We can be adept at more than one thing. Engineers create art. Farmers build tech. SCU lives this.

Here, artists, biologists, economists, engineers, historians, and psychologists converge. Students earn degrees without forsaking other interests. Collaboration is elemental and constant. Interdisciplinary learning and research enable Broncos to examine issues from different perspectives and tackle complex problems.

To further enrich this atmosphere of collaboration, the Whitham Family Collaborative Research Awards Fund started with a generous donation from Jacqueline Whitham ’21 and the Whitham Family Foundation. The fund supports projects emphasizing interdisciplinary approaches with a focus on artistic engagement.

This year, three projects received grants, addressing fields of interest including photographing atoms, Indigenous history, and climate change. The teams aim to produce outcomes to benefit the world.

Whitham’s own undergrad experience inspired the fund after she struggled to pursue all her passions—science, engineering, and art. She persevered, knowing that an interdisciplinary education would only serve her future endeavors.

Through minoring in art, she discovered improvement in her capacity to communicate across disciplines and visualize scientific concepts.

“Art was a creative outlet and really fed into helping me understand so many concepts. I want to help people who want to walk similar paths,” says Whitham. “It’s exciting to see the connections being made between individuals in arts and others in the sciences who probably wouldn’t have had this opportunity to come together.


Consider the plight of chemistry professors explaing the rearrangement of atoms during chemical reactions.

With atoms unseen to the naked eye, or even a light microscope, it’s challenging for students to conceptualize the basic building blocks of, well, everything.

So at Santa Clara, chemists are partnering with artists to “visualize the unseeable.

Chemistry Professor Korin Wheeler, Associate Professor of Photography Takeshi Moro, and several students from their respective departments are creating images of nanoparticles.


Moro’s design expertise and Wheeler’s academic focus on safe nanomaterial usage in commercial products converge in a project to artistically depict the beauty of atom clusters interacting with light, while exploring the risks and rewards of these emerging technologies.

Recognizing the irony behind creating photographic art of something unseeable, the two are excited to explore what “tangible outcome” might take shape, whether on paper, canvas, or video.

Moro approached Wheeler to apply for the Whitham Fund after collaborating in 2015 on cyanotypes—stark blue photographic prints using coated paper and light— that involved metal complexes used in Wheeler’s lab.

Wheeler says she’s delighted to continue offering students valuable interdisciplinary experiences.

“There’s a bravery to doing both science and art and a need to collaborate in both fields. My students and I can do the science. The artists will be able to guide us,” says Wheeler. “This is exactly why you come to a school like Santa Clara.”

—Tracy Seipel

Ohlone Hut


Lee Panich isn’t worried about being replaced by technology. In fact, that’s kind of the point. For years, the anthropology professor has been leading walking tours of the Muwekma Ohlone tribal history that permeates Santa Clara’s campus.

When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit, he transitioned the tour to Google Earth. With the return of in-person visitors, Panich missed the mobile-friendly experience from that time of quarantine.

In 2022, Panich joined forces with computer science and engineering Associate Professor Kai Lukoff, Associate Professor of English Amy Lueck, Muwekma Ohlone representatives, and students to adapt the virtual tour into a comprehensive augmented reality experience, allowing visitors to explore Indigenous stories at around 20 campus locations in real time on their phones.

For instance, around the Palm Drive fountain, you can hold up your phone and see a village of houses made of tule reeds from local marshes.

The AR tour also displays the names of 7,612 Indigenous people who died at Mission Santa Clara and features multimedia portraits, biographies of Ohlone elders, uncovered artifact photos, and more.

Utilizing cutting-edge resources available at SCU like the Imaginarium virtual and augmented reality lab, Community Heritage Lab, and Human-Computer Interaction Lab, the team collaborates on tasks that include creating 3D models and designing animations.

“Indigenous people don’t just exist in the past—they are in the here and now, co-designing these immersive experiences,” says Lukoff. “This project is a perfect combination of great technology and meaningful stories that need to be told.”

The team aims to unveil more tour stops soon, with a public launch aimed for May 2024.

—Nicole Calande


Does your morning ritual include a quick glance at your phone’s built-in weather app? Used to determine whether to throw on a light jacket or stock up on sandbags.

But what about those whose livelihoods are intricately tied to the weather but cannot access locally relevant forecasting? This is reality for smallholder farming communities in Central America who are at the mercy of rising temperatures, droughts, or extreme rain, spelling significant crop losses over recent decades.


At Santa Clara, an interdisciplinary team formed to help these farmers proactively manage climatic events. Professor Iris Stewart-Frey in the Environmental Studies and Sciences Department, Professor Ed Maurer in the Department of Civil, Environmental, and Sustainable Engineering, Director of Programs and Partnerships Allan Báez Morales of the Frugal Innovation Hub, and Assistant Professor Qiuwen Li in the Department of Art and Art History joined forces to create the climate app “NicaAgua” through a partnership with the Nicaragua-based community organization CII-ASDENIC.

The app offers short-term rain forecasts at a community level, alerts to hazards like flash flooding, and offers long- term forecasts for drought or planting preparation.

The Whitham Fund is enabling the team to extend science research and improve functionality of the app as well as create artistic representations of the data for a better communication of climate information.

“We cannot address local challenges posed by a complex is- sue like climate change without bringing together the work of multiple disciplines,” says Báez Morales. “With the Whitham Fund and Santa Clara’s support, we see corporate-focused computer engineering students from India learning from Spanish-speaking farmers and designing with art students for a nonprofit project in the U.S., all under the shared vision of socially impacting Latin American communities. … I think that is just beautiful.”

—Francesca D’Urzo ’24

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