A newly endowed fund created to support interdisciplinary undergraduate research recognizes the importance of connecting diverse areas of thought to generate new ideas. It also reflects the experiences and passions of William Hrushesky ’69 who graduated cum laude with a major in philosophy, zoology, fine arts and anthropology, and was a teaching assistant in biology and histology.
The fund will be the Patricia A. Wood, MD, Ph.D., Spinoza Award Fund, in honor of Hrushesky’s late wife and their shared passion for the ideas of 17th-century Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza and his fearlessness at breaking boundaries to explore new ideas.
“Do not be surprised by new ideas, wrote Spinoza, because you know very well that a thing does not cease to be true because it is not accepted by many”.
Similarly, Wood broke new ground in cancer research, exploring the concept of medical chronobiology to create innovative approaches to cancer care. Together, Wood and Hrushesky found connections that hadn’t been explored before in medical research.
In recent years, Hrushesky has donated gifts for what was known as the Spinoza Prize, given by Syracuse’s Office of Undergraduate Research and Creative Engagement (The SOURCE) to an exploring undergraduate student. the philosophical aspects of problems arising in the sciences or other professional disciplines. To establish the price, he had contacted Danielle Smith, director of the honors program at Renée Crown University. She told him about the Linked Lenses: Science, Philosophy, and the Pursuit of Knowledge course, co-taught by philosopher Samuel Gorovitz and paleontologist/oceanographer Cathryn Newton and connected him with Gorovitz. This led to Hrushesky’s initial donations.
An award recipient brought philosophical principles to the blending of theater and technology; two others redesigned the interior of the spacecraft together. This new $50,000 endowment from Hrushesky ensures that these creative pursuits will continue in perpetuity, consistent with the mission of the Forever Orange Campaign for Syracuse University.
Hrushesky explains that the new fund will provide ongoing support for the kind of exploratory critical thinking that transforms learning into understanding: “In the Age of Enlightenment, the intimate connections between science, philosophy, art, music and literature are become evident; those deep and wide connections are now atrophying. This award should be given to ambitious students who see how these things are intertwined rather than separate. Patricia had this kind of all-encompassing perception, which fuels great creativity. She developed and gained approval for the first cell-based gene therapy for acute lymphoblastic leukemia, saving the lives of tens of thousands of American children each year. My intention is that his example will inspire future students to emulate him and that my gift will inspire other donors to establish endowment funds to support student research in other ways.
The endowment supports the kind of creative thinking encouraged in courses like Linked Lenses.
“Creativity is often fueled by the blending of new ways of ideas, images, perceptions, or processes that might have been considered unrelated to each other,” says Gorovitz, founding director of the current program. awards (2004-2010). “I am convinced that two things that we identify are related to each other, if we can just see deep enough and with enough imagination to recognize or invent the relationships.”
Gorovitz explains that students should be encouraged “to let go of the idea that you have to understand everything before you start talking, writing, drawing or composing. You may have lots of ideas; they may seem incompatible with each other. You must drop them in any order, do not filter or censor. It comes later.
This creative process is energized by La SOURCE, where the new endowment will be housed. Quickly founded by Newton in collaboration with 60 colleagues, it was launched in 2019 to spur discovery and innovation and helps coordinate support for the interdisciplinary and inclusive research that Newton says is so critical to student success.
“Each of us has superpowers, right? My own gifts aren’t necessarily the same as those of everyone on the team, and that’s frankly what makes us strong,” says Newton, Professor of Interdisciplinary Science, Dean Emeritus of Arts and Sciences and until recently Special Adviser to the Chancellor and Provost. for faculty engagement. “When you encourage original thinking and creative work, and look for ways to combine things that haven’t been combined before, you can have a powerful impact on the success of all students in diverse constituencies.”
Hrushesky says his beloved wife was always open to new ideas, welcoming conflicting arguments and data into the rigorous formation of evidence-based scientific breakthroughs. Her commitment to independent thought and intellectual rigor was similar to that of Spinoza, a brilliant young Spanish immigrant/ex-communicated Jew whose family and community fled the Spanish Inquisition to Holland towards the end of the 16th century.
Both Wood and Spinoza provide a compelling intellectual model for students, Hrushesky says.
Now retired from academia, Hrushesky is co-owner of Oncology Analytics, a company whose mission is to ensure cancer patients have access to evidence-based guidance to receive the right diagnostic tests and treatments at the right time for the right reasons. He and his colleagues are creating a suite of decision support products to help cancer patients from the moment of diagnosis through end-of-life care.
“We are deeply grateful to Dr. Hrushesky for his vision and commitment to supporting undergraduate research that is dynamic, innovative and meaningful,” said Ramesh Raina, Acting Vice President for Research. “These awards, named after people who were both thinkers and doers, will impact generations of students who want to make a positive difference in our world.”
Students interested in applying for the Patricia A. Wood, MD, Ph.D., Spinoza Award will apply through the SOURCE grant application process in the fall or spring. Visit the SOURCE web page for instructions.