University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota

Research and Creative Collaboratives represent some of the most innovative work at the University. These self-initiated groups come together with the idea of working on a project of common interest—be it the development of a performance piece, the exploration of a concept or research area through different disciplines, or the creation of a supportive intellectual community. With the Collaboratives, the IAS promotes synergistic interdisciplinary activity transcending departmental structures.

Past CollaborativesApplication ProceduresInformation for Conveners

plusBackyard Phenology: Perceiving Cycles and Seasons in a Changing Climate

Christine Baeumler, Art, CLA
Steve Deitz, Northern Lights
Beth Mercer-Taylor, Institute on the Evironment
Rebecca Montgomery, Forest Resources, CFANS

(Phaino—Greek φαίνω (phainō), “to show, to bring to light, make to appear”)

We are proposing a new IAS Collaborative that will catalyze a diverse array of faculty, students, and community members from gardeners to ice fishers to observe how changes in our own neighborhoods, backyards, parks, workplaces, commuter routes, and vacation spots reflect the effects of global climate change. These collective observations, publicly shared, will provide important insights into how to mitigate, ameliorate and adapt to its consequences. Through this ambitious arts focused phenological approach to climate change that sees past, present, and future through careful observation of seasons and cycles, we hope to include diverse narratives of place that contribute to our scientific understanding of climate-induced shifts in our world. Many people, animals, and plants, and even the landscape itself have been experiencing climate changes long before many of us have had to face those consequences. As witnesses to our neighborhood backyard climate change, we will engage in critical dialogues about local and global consequences.

plusClean Energy Access

Massoud Amin, Technological Leadership Institute, CSE
Cameran Bailey, School of Public Affairs
Thomas Fisher, Metropolitan Design Center, CDES
Tim Nolan, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency
Hari Osofsky, Law

This new collaborative will establish long-term partnerships that support greater access to clean energy resources in Minnesota, with a particular initial focus on North Minneapolis. These resources include renewable energy, energy efficiency, smart grid and other demand response technologies, and green jobs. The Collaborative will be community-based and interdisciplinary, exploring the community needs, legal tools and obstacles, and funding resources available. By integrating law, public policy, design, and engineering approaches in partnership with state and local government, nongovernmental organizations, and business, this new collaboration has the potential to have a significant positive policy impact in the Minnesota, the Twin Cities, and North Minneapolis and to generate new interdisciplinary research.

To get involved with this collaborative, please contact Hari Osofsky (

plusDigital Games & Learning

Edward Downs, Communication, CLA
Nicolaas VanMeerten, Educational Psychology, CEHD
Keisha Varma, Educational Psychology, CEHD
Lana Yarosh, Computer Science, CSE

Digital games created for entertainment have proliferated across the world over the past thirty years, which has stimulated the adoption of this medium in other fields. For example, digital games are now commonly used in education, health care, and business. As a result of the many fields that digital games have been adopted by, the diversity of disciplines that actively study digital games and their users has also grown. Unfortunately, there is very little collaboration between these disciplines that study digital games and their effects on the people who play them.

This collaborative aims to solve this lack of interdisciplinary collaboration at the University of Minnesota by bringing together scholars from several disciplines and campuses through a series of events and workshops. We expect that our collaborative will produce the following outcomes:

1) Digital games and learning scholars in the University of Minnesota network will become more familiar with each other’s work
2) Scholars involved in this collaborative will become much more familiar with the research on digital games across disciplines
3) Scholars in the collaborative will develop interdisciplinary work through grant writing workshops

Through the efforts of this collaborative, we predict that there will be an increase in the amount and quality of interdisciplinary research on digital games and learning at the University of Minnesota. A variety of metrics will be collected to ensure that the collaborative is making progress toward its goal.

To get involved with this collaborative, please contact Nicolaas VanMeerten (

plusDigital Storytelling for Youth Empowerment

Jigna Desai, Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies, CLA
Kari Smalkoski, Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies, CLA

Minnesota currently has one of the largest educational achievement gaps and ranks last in the U.S. for racial integration. Most conversations around disparity and opportunity emphasize prevention techniques, reform, grit and resilience, and interventions that are imbued in social and cultural deficits. Discussions are most often framed by adults and focus on standard educational benchmarks to measure educational progress. This project challenges such frames in two distinct and significant ways: 1) we shift from a focus on “disparity” to one on “structures of inequality,” and 2) we emphasize “what youth know” and how can that engender impactful and increased learning and engagement. Firmly grounded in feminist, GLBTQ, and ethnic studies, this collaborative uses digital storytelling to empower youth as social change agents through the production and documentation of first person narratives while continually reflecting on the praxis of engaging youth through educational institutions.

Other participants in this collaborative are Heidi Barajas, Organizational Leadership and Policy Development, CEHD/UROC, Sean Garrick, Mechanical Engineering, CSE and Kong Pha, American Studies, CLA.

plusFused Realities II

David Gore, Communications, CLA, Duluth
Randel Hanson, Geography, Urban, Environment & Sustainability Studies, CLA, Duluth
Kathryn Milun, Anthropology, CLA, Duluth

The “Anthropocene” was proposed by Paul Crutzen to denote a) increasing anthropogenic transformations of Earth’s land, ocean, atmosphere, and biota; and b) to recognize a new, geological epoch in which human activities have ushered us out of the Holocene and into an emergent, unpredictable Anthropocene. The Anthropocene’s industrial triggers, which have historically benefited northern hemispheric societies, raise issues of distributive justice. They portend greater impacts for future generations, including planetary changes that are triggering a sixth mass extinction. Though framed as a scientific concept, the Anthropocene raises profound questions of politics, morality and justice that the Liberal Arts are well positioned to address.

To get involved with this collaborative, please contact Randel Hanson (


Gregory Donofrio, Architecture, CDES
Katherine Hayes, Anthropology, CLA
Kevin Murphy, History, CLA
Daniela Sandler, Architecture, CDES

The Heritage Collaborative seeks to: 1) develop curriculum and program structures that support interdisciplinary approaches to heritage education at the University; 2) build partnerships with heritage agencies and organizations to enhance faculty and student opportunities for community-engaged research; 3) increase and disseminate new ideas, knowledge, and potent theories about heritage pedagogy through research, participation at conferences, and scholarly publication. To date, a large cohort of participants has been engaged within the University and in numerous Twin Cities heritage organizations who have contributed ideas and commitments to the proposed curriculum and program structures for interdisciplinary heritage studies and public history.

In Fall 2017, the collaborative will launch a new master’s program, with PhD minor, in Heritage Studies and Public History (HSPH). A primary goal of this collaborative for several years, the new interdisciplinary program will have its administrative home in the College of Design (CDes), will share costs with—and include substantial involvement from faculty in—the College of Liberal Arts (CLA), and will be administered in partnership with the Minnesota Historical Society (MNHS). Students will take classes co-taught by MNHS staff and UMN faculty, and will have opportunities for paid internships at MNHS and other museums throughout the region and nation.

plusImprovising Ecosystems

Scott Currie, School of Music, CLA
Maja Radovanlija, School of Music, CLA
Diane Willow, Art, CLA

The Improvising Ecosystems Collaborative is motivated by our shared interest in creating new modalities for activating aesthetic, empathetic, and inquiring relationships with particular ecosystems at specific moments in time. Emergent in its form, our creative process has developed a rhythm akin to that of a call and response. When we visit ecological research sites and transitional spaces that shape feral, urban ecologies, scientists typically introduce us to their onsite research. In response, our collaborative of musicians, artists, composers, cultural knowledge keepers, and dancers explore the land attuned to sensory experience and intuition with a critical stance towards the perspectives that inform our varied disciplinary knowledge. We synthesize, interrogate, explore, and share these multiple ways of knowing through a form that can be best described as performed installations.

We have deepened our focus on improvisation through dialogues among the collaborative conveners, community collaborators, and students. Poised to work with Pauline Oliveros to delve deeply into our creative practices of improvisation and the relationships between improvisation and receptivity, we seek to shift this facet of our collaborative activities to the Fall of 2016 and continue our creative research with a visit to Itasca Biological Station.

product designplusInclusive Game Development

David Beard, Writing Studies, CLA, Duluth
Elizabeth LaPensée, Research for Indigenous Community Health Center, Pharmacy, Duluth
Nicolaas VanMeerten, Educational Psychology, CEHD

Inclusive game development is the process of actively involving players and community members in determining their own representations in games. The Collaborative welcomes all to contribute to discussions, research studies, and game jams to advance inclusive game development.

Digital games are a powerful medium for expression with their unique layering of play, story, art, and audio brought about through design and code. We are seeing an increase in diverse representations in games, but few directly involve the communities represented in the development process. Inclusive game development is a rising approach that refers to more directly involving players and community members represented in a game in the design and creation of that game. The intention of inclusive game development is to ensure that the game first and foremost meets the needs of the players, responds to and addresses issues that the community deems important, and more directly respects players as creators rather than simply consumers.

To boot up this vision, the Inclusive Game Development Collaborative will actively engage in the inclusive game development process by holding two unique game jams. A learning game jam for youth players of all backgrounds will take place in at the University of Minnesota, an Indigenous game jam for Indigenous communities will be held in at the University of Minnesota Research for Indigenous Community Health Center in Duluth, and an Indigenous game jam for Indigenous communities will be held at the Indigenous Comic Con. The game jams bring together allies and communities, including designers, programmers, artists, sound artists, writers, scholars, and players.


  • The University of Minnesota Duluth’s College of Liberal Arts pursues wide-ranging research, creative and humanistic inquiry, and community engagement.
  • GLITCH is an nonprofit organization based at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities that provides extensive programming to promote video games as a culture, career path, and creative practice.
  • The University of Minnesota’s Research for Indigenous Community Health Center located at Gimaajii in Duluth supports interdisciplinary research collaborations with Indigenous collaborators.


  • Elizabeth LaPensée, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Associate, UMN Research for Indigenous Community Health Center,
  • David Beard, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Rhetoric, Scientific and Technical Communication, Graduate Faculty in English, UMD Graduate Faculty in Literacy and Rhetorical Studies, UMTC Director of Graduate Studies, Master of Liberal Studies, UMD,
  • Nicolaas VanMeerten, Co-Founder, Director of Interactive Technology, Glitch Gaming,
  • Inclusive Game Design Facebook Page

plusMapping Inquiries into Mind and Consciousness Across the Academy

Michael Maratsos, Child Psychology, CEHD
Thomas Wolfe, History, CLA

Originally titled, “Beyond the Modernist Understanding of Consciousness,” we are an interdisciplinary and cross-college group of scholars interested in the state of relations between the sciences of the mind and humanistic disciplines, and have held a series of monthly conversations about texts that negotiate, cross, and examine this fluid boundary. We have renamed our collaborative, “Mapping Inquiries into Mind and Consciousness Across the Academy,” to signal the ways that our meetings have changed from a project of “going beyond” to “mapping terrains of inquiry” into mind and consciousness. We will invite several scholars to campus for spring 2017, and will begin the process of planning a course taught by members of our group whose goal is not just to juxtapose different ways of knowing and analyzing consciousness, but to actively break down the divide between them.

plusThe Pharmaceutical Nexus: Interdisciplinary Conversations and Methodologies

Margaret Flood, Surgery, Medical School
Dominique Tobbell, Surgery, Medical School
Sophia Strosberg, Geography, Environment, and Society, CLA

How are pharmaceuticals valued, and how are they dispersed? How are they defined and researched? Global histories power continue to shape a pharmaceutical climate of uneven drug affordability, ambiguous utility, and often-limited access. Seeking solutions, we propose an interdisciplinary approach–the only kind of approach that can truly address what some scholars have called the “pharmaceutical nexus.”

The pharmaceutical nexus consists of the modern globalization of pharmaceutical research, disbursement, and care. It is defined by its “political, economic, and ethical dimensions.”1 Our proposed interdisciplinary collaborative will draw together scholars from across the sciences and the humanities, not just to attempt to understand the nexus, but to learn how best to go about researching it. Through regular discussions, lectures, and workshops, we will cultivate a well-rounded foundation for current and future research.

Individually, we work in a range of fields, from geography to history to public health. Together, we advance the interdisciplinary methodology and cross-communication vital to comprehend, critique, and change the present pharmaceutical crisis. This collaborative addresses the Grand Challenge of human health as identified by the University’s strategic planning forum in 2015.

1Adriana Petryna and Arthur Kleinman, “The pharmaceutical nexus” in Global pharmaceuticals: Ethics, markets, practices, ed. Adriana Petryna, et al (Duke University Press, 2006), 20-21.

To get involved with this collaborative, please contact Margaret Flood (

plusPhilosophies of Life

Travis Workman, Asian Languages and Literatures, CLA
Suvadip Sinha, Asian Languages and Literatures, CLA

This collaborative seeks to engage in a sustained conversation on ideas of life and their critiques in our contemporary moment. Recent scholarship concerned with ontology and materiality provokes us to think that the way we define ourselves is profoundly shaped by how we conceptualize life. We are interested in this contemporary trajectory, as well as a critical exploration of the global history of vitalist thinking, including its colonial and postcolonial versions. A binary of life and what lies beyond it has shaped major trajectories in eighteenth and nineteenth-century continental European thought, and has also made an indelible impact on colonial and postcolonial spaces. Therefore, philosophies of life have often determined our understanding of and relationship to colonialism, nationalism, capitalism, ecology, gender, and race. In this context, we aim to discuss a critical rethinking of ideas of life, in order to challenge dominant humanist formulations of concepts such as justice, ethics, and democracy. This group will consist of University of Minnesota faculty members, lecturers, and graduate students from departments as diverse as Asian Languages and Literatures, History, Geography, Anthropology, Global Studies, Art History, and Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature. It will develop a truly interdisciplinary and comparative dialogue around works of philosophers, writers, and scholars from the Western and non-Western worlds.

To get involved with this collaborative, please contact Suvadip Sinha ( or Travis Workman (

plusPhysical Computing and the Internet of Things

Lucy Dunne, Wearable Technology Lab, CDES
Brad Holschuh, Wearable Technology Lab, CDES
Barry Kudrowitz, Product Design, CDES
Loren Terveen, Computer Science and Engineering, CSE
Diane Willow, Art, CLA
Lana Yarosh, Computer Science and Engineering, CSE

The Internet of Things (IoT) describes the network and data that emerge from adding physical computing components such as sensors, actuators, and network adapters to everyday objects. This new area of research promises to revolutionize our interaction with the physical world by providing levels of analytics and automation previously reserved for digital domains. While IoT is of increasing importance to both industry and research, University of Minnesota has yet to capitalize on this opportunity, perhaps because of institutional boundaries that slow our development in this area. IoT developments require collaborations between Computer Scientists who manage the data models and information flows of such a network and Designers who create physical computing objects to provide a compelling user experience. The goal of this collaborative is to enable such a collaboration and help develop students with the skills to lead IoT research and development in the future through two synergistic activities: weekly “hack” sessions where Computer Science and Design students learn new IoT and physical computing skills, and a monthly seminar to create a community and connect with relevant internal and external entities with IoT interest and expertise.

plusResearch for Indigenous Community Health

Derek Jennings, Pharmacy Practice and Pharmaceutical Sciences, Duluth
Michelle Johnson-Jennings, Research for Indigenous Community Health Center, Duluth

The Research for Indigenous Community Health Collaborative (RICH Collaborative) will advance research in self-determination, inclusivity, and intervention work that addresses health disparities for Indigenous communities. Interdisciplinary researchers in fields ranging from Health to Social Work to Family Studies to Game Studies to American Indian Studies will meet weekly at the University of Minnesota’s Research for Indigenous Community Health Center in Duluth to share their research as well as collaboratively develop, implement and publish research. Leading Indigenous researchers will participate in a public speaking series and contribute to the RICH Collaborative’s discussions as honored guests. In doing so, the RICH Collaborative will make strides in Indigenous health research while making international connections across students, faculty, community partners and universities.