IAH Podcast | Nichola Lowe, Associate Professor, City and Regional Planning


February 22, 2016 | Melissa Clay

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In one of the graduate-level courses Professor Nichola Lowe teaches, one starts with a real-life issue to solve: how to provide education for a manufacturing worker named Maddie.

Lowe uses the story from an Atlantic essay that discusses labor to prime her students to think outside typical paths to education that may not be possible for working-class workers.

“What we do in the class is after reading the essay, I break up the class into several groups,” says Professor Lowe. “Each group has to come up with a solution for promoting mobility for Maddie that is not dependent on removing her from her work environment.”

Lowe says she has been inspired by the solutions students create.

It’s no surprise then that Professor Nichola Lowe is a recipient of the Institute for the Arts and Humanities 2016 Academic Excellence Award for outstanding scholarship, creative activity, and contribution to the intellectual life of the College of Arts and Sciences.

In 2012, Professor Lowe completed a Faculty Fellowship at the IAH. “My main project at the time was the hidden talent/knowledge contribution of Latino construction workers. I really used that time to delve more deeply into that project.” She did some public writing and wrote for journals as well as advocacy groups. The fellowship was a catalyst for new research methods.

“I think it’s really valuable experience to get out of your comfort zone and to be in a place where you have to explain your work to people who are outside your field,” she says. “I think it ultimately helps you sharpen your ideas and your thinking… In my case it completely transformed my thinking around skill. As someone who comes form a background in planning, I often think of skill as something tangible, that was measurable…  [My cohorts in the fellowship] helped me see that skill is ambiguous that it is fluid that it is a social construct. That really helped me think about a different approach to workforce development.”

And when she is not teaching or researching labor issues? “I recently re-discovered my love of fiction… My absolute favorite was Bel Canto by Ann Patchett.” She also liked Donna Tartt’s Little Friend  and also The Goldfinch.

She enjoys playing board games with her seven-year-old son. “Two that we have been playing…One is called Loot. And another one is called Millbourne.”

One of the biggest challenges in getting as much done as possible? Sleep. But Dr. Lowe has applied herself to a solution there, too.

“About 5 years ago, I embraced alternative sleep patterns. There were a few articles by the New York Times and the BBC, based on research that looked at writings pre-electricity. Determined that the 8-hour sleep is a modern construct… Most people used to adopt first and second sleep patterns where they would sleep for about 4 hours, wake up for about two hours, and then sleep again for 3-4 hours. and so that is my sleep pattern.”

She discusses the schedule in the podcast.


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