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Original publishing date: Oct 17, 2022

Through these interviews we would like to introduce our new CUCo board members to you. This is the last interview in this series of 4.

Firstly, just tell a little bit about yourself. A little bit about your career path, what drives you?
Both of my grandmothers and my mother were educators, so I kind of always knew that I wanted to stay within that terrain. I attended a special high school in the US focused on experiential learning that emphasized less memorising facts and more going out into the world as a learner and openly and responsibly engaging with those you encounter. I then designed my own major as an undergraduate, which was super-uncommon, bringing together women’s studies, religious studies, history and human geography. So, I guess I had a pretty inter and trans-disciplinary mindset right from the start. I also studied and worked many different countries – Canada, Morocco, Belgium, Portugal, Scotland, Malaysia – before coming to the Netherlands. All these experiences very much shape how I understand myself both as a person and as a scholar. It comes as no surprise, I guess, that, as a cultural geographer, I mainly study the shifting ways in which people are recognized and included – or not – when they cross international borders, or that I have a preference for using more participatory, transformative and experiential methods in my work.

Let’s say CUCo gave you the money for a UCo project no strings attached, you can go do your own unusual research project, what would you look at?
A lot of the work that I have been doing these past few years – like Roots Guide and Migrantour – makes use of the power of storytelling. I’m fascinated with what happens when people critically re-craft the stories they have been told about themselves and others. I run a philosophy of social science course, where students with diverse academic backgrounds are exposed to different epistemological approaches. I can see their horizons expand in a handful of weeks. So, if I had UCo, I’d like to explore what happens inside us – emotionally, chemically, socially – when we become aware of the ‘ideas we use to think other ideas’ (Strathern).

What do you hope to learn as a Cuco board member?
CUCo’s focus on unusual interdisciplinarity embodies so many things core to my own values: multi-perspectivity, doing the work to forge common ground, etc. And yet there’s sometimes a gap between my beliefs and practice. I am hoping to learn from my involvement in CUCo how to more regularly put into practice those values.

What do you hope to bring to CUCo?
I’ve always done collage – where you bring together and arrange diverse images, colours and textures to make something completely new. In that vein, I can bring to CUCo my fascination with and commitment to facilitating creative co-learning encounters that can support and enable scholars to find beauty, resonance and inspiration in unexpected places.

Where would you like to see Cuco end up?
I would like to see the Spark learning journey be accessible to staff from all Dutch universities who desire the opportunity to develop their interdisciplinary competences in a supportive environment for experiential learning. Honestly, I think that ‘doing research’ is often portrayed and internalised as somehow being divorced from ‘learning’ – with learning being something that students do. I want CUCo to play a role in helping scholars – and their employers – to really be able to see themselves again as learners.

Would you consider yourself to be an unusual researcher?
Our current system mainly recognizes and rewards scholars for deepening their knowledge in their particular domain, not really for crossing or blurring the boundaries of domains. While fellow scholars might think it’s cool or brave that you’re trying to do something different, nobody really know how to support you. That’s why I like CUCo.

What do you see as the added value of interdisciplinarity, and specifically unusual interdisciplinarity?
We as scholars have a responsibility to foster conditions and competences that enable active citizenship – our own and that of our colleagues, students and others in society. And one of the important citizenship competences and practices is multi-perspectivity: to be open to and then to try to understand the perspectives of others unlike yourself, and to acknowledge that those perspectives are as valuable as your own. Humility is required to practice multi-perspectivity. It’s a muscle we have to keep training through practice. And that particular muscle is hard to find underneath the weighty hubris required to get ahead in conventional academic contexts. So that’s the added value to me: through engaging in unusual interdisciplinarity, we learn to humbly open up to learn from, and eventually make together with, others distinct from ourselves.

CUCo works across four institutes, what do you expect to notice from that? What differences do you expect to see?
Geographically, being in different parts of the country is a challenge for meaningful, sustained collaboration. The marginal presence of the social sciences and humanities in three of the institutes (TU/e, WUR and UMC Utrecht) also may mean that scholars in more technical fields may have limited awareness and appreciation of the relevance – or even the existence of – domains beyond their own. It’ll be important to support more balanced unusual interdisciplinary encounters in order to not simply instrumentalise social scientists’ and humanities scholars’ knowledges.

Final question: What is your favorite animal?
[Laughs] The reindeer. I didn’t know they actually existed until I was in my early teens. I thought they were part of Santa Claus stories. Okay, they can’t fly. But there’s still something magical about them to me. I guess that’s the power of a good story.

Meghann Ormond

Associate Professor – Wageningen University

Meghann Ormondis Associate Professor in Cultural Geography at Wageningen University & Research.. Deeply invested in and concerned with how differently mobile people’s roots, rights and vulnerabilities are recognised and included in the places they visit and in which they live, her work focuses on how shifting visions and practices of citizenship and belonging impact transnational mobility, heritage, health and care relationships. Meghann places great emphasis on societal engagement beyond the realm of academia. She regularly develops and supports initiatives together with non-governmental organisations, policymakers and industry actors on issues related to migrant heritage, health equity and accessible tourism. The author of over 35 peer-reviewed publications as well as curator and co-founder of initiatives like Roots Guide and Migrantour Utrecht, Meghann also tries her best to bring about a more humane kind of university in which people of diverse backgrounds can learn from one another and thrive. In light of this, she is co-founder and co-coordinator of the CSPS Transformative Learning Hub at WUR, a member of the Wageningen Young Academy, and a co-developer of Centre for Unusual Collaboration (CUCo)’s interdisciplinary research training programme. She also teaches on and coordinates MSc and PhD-level courses in the philosophy of social science and (transformative and participatory) qualitative research methods. 

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