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David Helfand, a longtime astronomy professor at Columbia University, will give the keynote talk at Middlebury's first Fund for Innovation Festival.

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Columbia Astronomer David Helfand to Give Keynote at Innovation Festival [video]

March 29, 2017

MIDDLEBURY, Vt. – David J. Helfand, a faculty member and chair of the department of astronomy at Columbia University, will give the keynote talk at Middlebury’s first Fund For Innovation Festival on April 6-7 at Middlebury College and the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. He will speak in Wilson Hall at 4:30 p.m. April 6, with live streaming to the Monterey campus.

The author of nearly 200 scientific publications, Helfand is well known for pushing innovative models of teaching and learning–especially in teaching science to non-science majors. At Columbia, where he has mentored 22 PhD students during his career, Helfand instituted the first change in the university’s core curriculum in 60 years by introducing science to all first-year students.

In 2007, Helfand helped create Quest University, Canada’s first independent, non-profit, secular university, and later served as president and vice chancellor of Quest from 2008-2015. Helfand says that Quest, which has no academic departments or majors, began with the question: “How do we create the most effective and engaging education for students who will graduate into a rapidly changing, globalized world?”

Watch David Helfand's TEDx talk.

“Our answer was to center education around the formulation of good questions and the processes by which one attempts to address them, rather than focusing instruction on the delivery of information,” says Helfand. Quest courses are taught seminar-style in month-long blocks.

Helfand returned to Columbia at the conclusion of his term at Quest and now chairs the astronomy department. His 2016 book, A Survival Guide to the Misinformation Age “provides the essential tools informed citizens must acquire to combat the tsunami of mis- and dis-information that threatens rational approaches to personal decision-making and the formation of sensible public policy.”

“Professor Helfand is all about educational innovation," said Provost Susan Baldridge. “When the College faculty viewed his Ted talk on this topic in September 2016 as a kickoff to the Envisioning Middlebury process, his ideas resonated so much that we thought it would be exciting to dive deeper into those ideas.”

The Festival will be an opportunity for the campus community to talk with Helfand and others about educational innovation, and learn more about innovative projects taking place on Middlebury campuses, including the new Motion Capture Lab and a China Field Research course that included students from Middlebury and Monterey.

Learn more about the Fund for Innovation.

On Friday, April 7, in Middlebury, the festival will continue with an informal continental breakfast with Helfand. At 8:30 a.m., Helfand will join Middlebury faculty members Jessica Teets and Orion Lewis for an educational innovation mini panel, followed at 9:15 by brief workshops with the motion capture lab or Oratory Now, Middlebury’s student oratory club. Other FFI projects will have exhibits at Wilson Hall, including Arts in the World: Student Trek to Los Angeles; China Field Research; Heritage Language; PopMuse; and Prison Education Program. In Monterey, a parallel set of panel discussions and project demonstrations will be held for faculty, staff, and students at the Institute.

“We hope that people will be inspired by the work that has been done, and will have enthusiasm for the kind of innovation the Fund can help support in the future,” said Baldridge. “With greater awareness of the fund and what it can accomplish, we hope members of the community will begin to imagine how they might initiate innovative efforts at Middlebury.”

Faculty, staff, and students at both Middlebury and Monterey are encouraged to participate in the FFI Festival. All Middlebury events will be held in Wilson Hall at McCullough Student Center. At Monterey, Helfand’s talk will be live streamed to 499 Van Buren and Friday’s events will take place at the Digital Learning Commons.

About the Fund for Innovation

The Ron and Jessica Liebowitz Fund for Innovation was established in honor of Middlebury's 16th President and his wife in March 2015 by a group of donors who believe that a distinctive culture of creative thinking is essential to the Middlebury community. The FFI is committed to the idea that creative work should serve the institution's needs. In order to remain relevant and timely in meeting those needs, the president has the discretion to define the fund's annual scope and focus.