Christine McElreavy

Interview with James C. Whiting

For my Intro to Interdisciplinary Studies class, I was asked to interview a professor here at Plymouth State University. I chose James C. Whiting, a professor in the department of Languages and Linguistics, because he works in a field that I am going to be implementing into my Interdisciplinary Studies.

What do you teach?

I teach undergraduate linguistics classes and I teach graduate TESOL, which is teaching English speakers other languages and graduate TESOL teacher training classes. So, I work with undergraduate students who are doing the applied linguistics minor, TESOL minor, TESOL certificate, and graduate students who are working on the masters degree in TESOL.

What did you study in grad school?

I have a PHD in applied linguistics and I have a masters in teaching english to speakers of other languages.

What do you research now?IMG_1361[1]

My areas of research are advocacy training for prospective English language teachers and so part of being an English language teacher for non-English speakers is advocating for them with various populations outside of the classroom. So I’m interested in written recently in this last year on how do we train teachers to be effective advocates for their students. I’m also interested in how we increase family and community engagement with the classroom for English language learners and finally, I’ve been researching and I’ve published on different modalities for working with English language learners in the mainstream classroom.

What drew you towards Languages and Linguistics?

I started as a teacher for English for speakers of other languages, that’s what my masters is in and so I was interested in language, I was interested in other cultures, in immigrants. I worked with immigrants in New York City, I wanted to travel, I wanted to go over seas and so that fit in with that interest. And interest with language was part of that so that’s how it worked.

How do you work with scholars outside of your field?

I don’t have a lot of work with people outside of my field on projects, and I do a lot of my work solo to begin with. So my work has been primarily  by myself, or with people who are already in my field. I’m beginning a project right now that will involve, eventually, working with early childhood teachers and people who train early childhood teachers. So, there’s a natural connection there because there are a lot of English learners in public schools who are young and so training with early childhood teachers and then working with the people who train them is something I’m interested in.

How do you work with non-academics in your professional life?

I work with the grants office and I work with offices here at plymouth like at the college graduate studies so there I work with marketing people and admissions people and people who help me administer my program. I work with colleagues like the administrative assistant here in my program so these are all people that are connected with me in my scholarly work but are not necessarily academics.

Do you collaborate with anyone on your work?

I have. I have written with other people. I’ve published with other people. I’ve published with grad students. I’ve worked on projects with graduate students and with colleagues. I’m working with a colleague in Wisconsin right now on edited volumes so we’re proposing edited volumes for a journal. So I do and I also do a lot of work independently, partially that’s just my own nature.

What are the benefits and challenges of working with others on your work?

Well, you have to coordinate outside of your schedule. So, you can’t just do it when you want to do it and how you want to do it. My own personal tendency  is to work a lot of last minute stuff but that doesn’t necessarily jibe with working with people who might not necessarily have that schedule or be able to accommodate themselves to you. I would say that’s primarily it. I guess, when I’ve written with other people, trying to find a unified voice to something that we’ve written together so that my voice and that other person’s voice might be different and how do we make those work together.

Do you do any interdisciplinary work?

No, my work pretty much discipline specific. I don’t have a lot of, other than this early childhood work that I’m beginning now, most of my work has been within the field of English language teacher training and with other people who are in the same field as me.

What courses should students who major in your department consider taking that are outside of your department?

Well, there are two majors in my department, Spanish and French undergraduate and there are three minors so they all differ. My graduate program is the graduate major and I think what they should do and what they can do are different kind of things because of restrictions and flexibility. From my program, I would say when I train teachers, I want them to take classes in technology. I want them to be twenty-first century literate when they walk into a classroom so they know how to use different kinds of social networking to help promote, for example, English language acquisition. I would love to see students in my program take social work classes because I think there is an aspect of social work with English language teaching. I’d like to see all people who are in my program, which they do already, take language classes. For the Spanish and French majors, it’s hard to say but I think there are different things involved with that, history and sociology, things of that nature. So I can’t necessarily speak to that but to my majors.


It was such a great opportunity to be able to speak with James C. Whiting about his work and his research and how interdisciplinary studies fits into his life. It’s interesting to hear about how his work has been primarily to his discipline but has started to implement interdisciplinary work.


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Metaphor of Bilingualism and Interdisciplinary Studies

Metaphors are great. They are a creative way to help people understand what you are trying to say. Metaphors are also great to help communicate what interdisciplinary studies is all about. Allen F. Repko wrote about a few different metaphors related to Interdisciplinary Studies in his book Introduction to Interdisciplinary Studies but I will just focus on the metaphor of bilingualism.

Each discipline is like a language. It has its own vocabulary that has to be understood in order to communicate with other one another. When someone changes their discipline, it can be as challenging and time consuming as starting to learn a new foreign language. Therefore, bilingualism is like interdisciplinary studies because being bilingual means that someone can speak multiple languages and being in interdisciplinary studies means you work in multiple fields.


There are two drawbacks to this metaphor, though. The first one is that bilingual means that you have mastered two languages and insinuates that you can’t work in new disciplines without mastering them first, but this isn’t true. Interdisciplinary studies requires that you are competent in disciplines that apply to the situation so you can “access their insights and understand them” (Repko 44). The second and more important drawback is that people think that interdisciplinary work is just translating or sorting the vocabularies of different disciplines. The definition of interdisciplinary studies is, “the integration of insights from the relevant disciplines” (Repko 44). To be competent in interdisciplinary studies, you would have to be able to understand where conflicts come from using your knowledge from different disciplines.

This relates specifically to me because I actually want to learn multiple languages. I will be able to live through both aspects of this metaphor. Since I will be living through this metaphor throughout my schooling and work life, it will be a good reminder of what the purpose of interdisciplinary studies is.


Batram. Bilingual Keyboard. 2008. N.p.

Repko, A. F., Szostak, R. & Buchberger, M. P. (2014). Introduction to Interdisciplinary Studies. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
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Integrative Thinking in the Workplace

What even is integrative thinking?

Integrative thinking is defined as “the ability to knit together information from different sources to produce a more comprehensive understanding or create new meaning” in Allen F. Repko’s book Introduction to Interdisciplinary Studies. Integrative thinking is necessary for people in Interdisciplinary Studies. People who have a lot of knowledge in multiple disciplines and who can apply that knowledge are needed at many workplaces. People no longer expect to have the same job or even career throughout their life so being educated in multiple fields is key to being able to apply different skills to different jobs.


Since I am majoring in Interdisciplinary Studies, this relates to me because I will be studying several languages and cultures which requires different skills that I will bring together. Being in Interdisciplinary Studies has already changed my mindset about the world and how it works. I had never realized the role that interdisciplinarity had in our society or how important integrative thinking is for my future in my education and the workplace. Knowing about integrative thinking prepares workers for the reality of the workplaces’ need for more rounded thinking.


William. The Ball of Rubber Bands. 2015. N.p.

Repko, A. F., Szostak, R. & Buchberger, M. P. (2014). Introduction to Interdisciplinary Studies. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

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