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Alumni News December 2015

Date Released: 8 December 2015

The New Normal: Brandy Schillace (GRS ’04 and ’10 english)

Jessica Tremayne-Farkas 

Brandy Schillace, PhD (GRS ’04 and PhD ’10 english) best describes her childhood as an Adams family version of Little House on the Prairie.  She grew up in an underground house located north of Zanesville, Ohio, a rural area that skirted the abandoned Peabody Coal Mines. Her parents’ ill health and general seclusion of her home made her somewhat of a loner, and she’d often steal off to a nearby cemetery to read. You could say she’s never conformed to tradition.

When she took a leap of faith in 2012 and left a tenure-track position in academia in pursuit of a role she’d feel more connected to, colleagues thought she was crazy, but to Schillace, the leapitself felt “normal.” At least, that kind of risk-taking was in keeping with her aspirations, as well as her inspirations.

Today, Schillace works at the Dittrick Medical History Center and Museum, and teaches in the College of Arts and Sciences at Case Western Reserve University. She also helped develop a medical humanities curriculum for the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine, and is a published fiction and non-fiction author and blogger. She describes her current role at the university as being just right for her because it includes elements from a variety of disciplines.

How has your childhood influenced your career path?

“Between cancer and heart attacks, my parents’ health taught me that illness will strike the people that you care about. Both my brother and I gravitated toward medicine or healing as a component in our professional lives – because we were exposed to it growing up. I read a lot as a child, too, so historical literature also became part of my career choices.

What is a typical day for you?

It’s not as much like as job as it is a hobby I’m paid for. I do research, write, teach and I help create museum displays based on my findings. the things I do here allow me to be me, and I love what I do. Medical humanities is my niche.

What’s the appeal of the museum for you?

CWRU is more broad-minded than other universities. One exhibit at the museum, for example, teaches about the reproduction of knowledge about women’s bodies not just reproduction itself, or ‘this is how the female body works.’ The history of medicine is important for understanding how we came to be where we are in medicine today. Visitors can actually get close to many items, which enhances their experience and interest.

What are your goals for the Dittrick Museum?

With the university’s new medical school projects blossoming, I’m eager for the museum to be promoted more, to get the word out. At the moment, it is a bit of a hidden gem on campus, though we are located right on the corner of Adelbert and Euclid. For the students and community members who do utilize its offerings, they’re really getting a unique experience, learning about medicine and how it relates to this region.

What are some of the lesser known facts the museum teaches?

There are many important innovations that happened in Cleveland. Formula for infants was developed here, early uses of an X ray for medical purposes happened here—much of cardiology’s history has Cleveland roots, too. The museum allows you to step into this historical world to connect Cleveland with medicine. What we teach shows  not just medical successes— but even “failures” that lead to later successes. There’s a reason it’s called the practice of medicine. It is always evolving.

What was your primary interest in teaching?

I like to pass on knowledge. Many medical curriculums have reduced the humanitiesin medical training, but we promote it here. There are many misconceptions about medicine, death and history. Working with students to make sense of it all is truly rewarding.

How does your work outside of the university enhance your roll here?

I’ve written academic books, including “Unnatural Reproductions and Monstrosity: The Birth of the Monster in Literature, Film and Media,” (as co-editor) and “Death’s Summer Coat” – about the history of death and dying. I’ll soon be working with the Dittrick’s forensic archive for a third book, as well. I research almost without ceasing, and do my best to share those findings in my freelance work and my teaching and museum roles. My approach to life and understanding of death may seem unique, mostly because of early experiences of mortality and medicine. I endeavor to use my research in history and medical knowledge to engage others (students but also museum visitors). I try to take a hand-on approach to learning and thinking through artifact and narrative, helping students interact with our shared human story—or even with patients should they become  doctors.

What have you learned from your role at the university?

That it pays to chase what you love, not just what people say you “should do.” I’m very lucky. A lot of people do not love their jobs and many might be afraid to make changes. Things I’ve learned here: change doesn’t need to be enormous to have an impact, and change is always possible.

How does the location of the museum enhance its lessons?

Cleveland was an agent of change in an important point in our history, and it remains a leader in medicine, yet we are often overlooked – it’s time we talked about our accomplishments a little louder.

Innovation Summit Success

Case Western Reserve University hosted its inaugural Innovation Summit Oct. 26-28, welcoming more than 500 visitors to campus for three days of exploring the opportunities and challenges of various models of innovation.

Attendees included representatives from higher education, economic development, venture capitalism, government and community sectors. The summit featured more than 40 sessions and 80 speakers, including Atari and Chuck E. Cheese founder Nolan Bushnell, who kicked off the event by sharing his thoughts on how better strategic management skills and opportunities with crowdfunding are bringing about a golden age for innovators. Jim Clifton, the CEO of Gallup, addressed the need for extreme determination and an ability to spot disruptions in order to be a successful entrepreneur. And Burton D. Morgan Foundation President Deborah Hoover reviewed how Northeast Ohio’s philanthropy plays an important part in the area’s ecosystem of innovation.

The summit also included a workshop by the Make School Alliance with collaboration from the White House’s Office of Science, Technology and Policy to help set the national agenda for supporting making throughout the country. Another key highlight of the summit was a special launch party at the university’s new innovation and entrepreneurship center, Sears think[box]™ in the 50,000-square-foot Richey Mixon Building. 

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