Is Driven to Discover limited to science?

Does the campaign reinforce the U’s mission to be a top research institution or limit other forms of discovery?

by Lolla Mohammed Nur

âÄúDriven to Discover.âÄù
YouâÄôve seen those three simple words plastered everywhere: from campus sidewalks and posters to the front cover of your Gopher Guide and along the Washington Avenue Bridge.
Constantly, youâÄôre told that you need to be driven to discover something, maybe âÄúbecause Mars needs footprintsâÄù or simply âÄúbecause our economy demands discovery.âÄù
Why does the University of Minnesota insist on limiting its definition of discovery to research? Why must we think of research as just scientific and technological innovation?
Take, for example, the Driven to Discover sidewalk clings around campus. From, âÄúBecause cancer can be conqueredâÄù to, âÄúBecause a cure for diabetes can be found,âÄù almost all mention the importance of scientific or technological research. Only three out of 28 are explicitly related to the social sciences.
Also take the campaignâÄôs 30-second TV ads. One ad is about discovering how to stop the spread of a virulent wheat rust disease in Uganda, and another is about renewable energy. A three-minute video titled âÄúBecauseâÄù was launched by the campaign in September. Used in new employee and faculty orientations as well as outreach to high schools, it is rare in that it focuses on many academic fields and not just technology and the sciences.
But from the clip of NASAâÄôs first moon landing to references to sustainable energy, the focus on science and technology is hard to miss. And the fact that it was almost entirely filmed on the East Bank raises eyebrows.
This isnâÄôt to say that research should not be an integral part of the UniversityâÄôs mission, because we need professors who have solid research experience to teach. I participated in a research program which has enriched my undergraduate career in ways other experiences have not.
However, I notice time and again that the University frames itself as a leader in scientific innovation and discovery, while ignoring other forms of discovery and those students and professors doing excellent nonscientific research.
Research in the social sciences and humanities is just as valuable and applicable to our daily lives as that of the sciences. It may not be as profitable or tangible, but if our institution canâÄôt instill in its students an appreciation for the value of discovery in the social sciences, then what kind of message is being sent to students in nonscientific fields?
Also, discovery doesnâÄôt necessarily have to be about research. It can be philosophical, creative or that of the self.
âÄúDriven is supposed to mean aspiration and moving forward. Discover is that everyone here âÄî students, faculty, staff âÄî all have this innate desire to learn, and discovery is all about discovering this great education, research and outreach and everything that we do that benefits the world,âÄù said Ann Aronson, assistant vice president of marketing communications.
âÄúSometimes, admittedly, itâÄôs easier to tell the stories in the scientific areas because theyâÄôre more easily understandable, but this [campaign] is not meant to be all about the sciences at all.âÄù
Whitney Weber, president of Biology Without Borders, is a third-year senior majoring in Biology, Society and Environment who said she feels the campaign focuses too much on the sciences. She said she switched her college from the College of Biological Sciences because the overwhelming pressure to do scientific research didnâÄôt fit in with her personal goals.
âÄúFor me, discovery is self-discovery and my own interests. In CBS, it was for the sake of science and the purpose of research but not the self,âÄù she said. âÄúThe campaign is mostly science focused [and it] needs to be applied to students [who] are on [their] own discovery; it needs to be framed in that way too.âÄù
I was interested in hearing from other students, so I created an online survey asking students about their perceptions of the Driven to Discover campaign. Out of 75 respondents, three quarters were in either the College of Liberal Arts or the College of Education and Human Development, and the same amount said they havenâÄôt done research.
Two-thirds said they have heard of the campaign as one striving to market the University as a top research institution, but more than half said it doesnâÄôt apply to them, mostly because they see the campaign pushing research in non-CLA majors.
Most said they feel the University favors the sciences and engineering in terms of research promotion.
Another said, âÄúI feel [the campaign] is just propaganda. We do it in research all the time. Publish a paper in a popular magazine, tell people how it will be a good thing for this world of ours, and get funding.âÄù
My survey is just a glimpse into negative perceptions of the campaign among social science students. ItâÄôs clear that even though the campaign may be trying to represent diverse voices, itâÄôs not doing enough to showcase the various understandings of what discovery can be from the perspectives of undergraduates themselves.
If the University truly wants to reach out to students of all academic backgrounds, itâÄôs going to have to demonstrate that it embraces all forms of research and discovery.