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Creating Meaning: Undergraduate Pursues an Intellectual Question across Boundaries

Duke senior Kelsey Graywill knew she wanted to take a nontraditional approach to her education. “When I was applying for colleges, I specifically looked at schools that I saw had established resources for doing interdisciplinary majors or programs,” she told interviewer Brian Southwell on the Measure of Everyday Life radio show. “I had this fantasy, where maybe one day instead of students picking a major, students will pick a question; then you design your whole program around answering that intellectual question and working at that intersection.”

A group of people stand and smile

Graywill designed her own major, which she titled Creating Meaning: Empirical & Evolutionary Neuroaesthetics.

For the past two years she has taken part in an interdisciplinary research project through Bass Connections, collaborating with Duke Global Neurosurgery and Neuroscience and Uganda’s Mulago National Referral Hospital to improve neurosurgical patient outcomes.

Graywill and her teammates received the Duke Global Health Institute’s award for best poster among Bass Connections projects for Improving Hand Hygiene through Accessibility in an LMIC Neurosurgical Ward.

“I think that the way that a lot of traditional jobs are being phased out of the workforce,” said Graywill, “we’re going to need more and more students to be looking at intersections and collaboration across disciplines.”

Graywill also teaches a Trinity College House Course on graphic medicine and is part of Melissa & Doug Entrepreneurs, a year-long fellowship program through Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship in which undergraduates create their own startups. Graywill’s company, The Art Clinic, seeks to bridge the gap between art and science to improve health literacy, awareness, quality of care and empathy. Her current product, Brainability, uses art to monitor health status.

The Measure of Everyday Life’s program on Reinventing Higher Education featured a discussion with Cathy Davidson, a former English professor and vice provost for interdisciplinary studies at Duke who now leads the Futures Institute at the City University of New York. She is the author of The New Education: How to Revolutionize the University to Prepare Students for a World in Flux. Davidson also took part in a public event at Dukewith Ed Balleisen, vice provost for interdisciplinary studies.