Faculty Spotlight on Linda Strauss Spring 2007

Linda Strauss

Please welcome our very own Dr. Linda Strauss- magician, artist, historian and director of the Sixth College Core Sequence (CAT) Program!


  • Book: "Pride and Prejudice"
  • Movie: "Blade Runner"
  • Music: Chopin
  • Food: Dark Chocolate

Linda came to the interview with a deck of playing cards. She asked me to shuffle the cards and to confirm that it was a regular deck. Then she asked me to imagine myself 45 seconds into the future, selecting cards that she would then match. I envisioned this future moment as she pensively drew 3 cards from the deck. Linda asked me to deal any number of cards into a pile, so I set 9 cards face down. She asked me to divide the cards into 3 neat piles. In front of each pile, Linda placed one of the cards she had selected from the deck. She asked me to turn over the top card of any pile. I turned over the card on the first pile. She turned over the card she selected. Same number and color! I then turned over the top card on the remaining two piles. She turned over the cards she had selected. Both matches!

Where does your interest in doing magic tricks come from?

It's a research project I'm doing with some colleagues from upstate New York who are at Rochester Institute of Technology. We're studying the sociology and anthropology of close-up magic.

We're interested in finding out how the magician and the audience together create the magic. The magic happens when the audience participates, when they are astonished or surprised. The art of magic is really a relational art - how you build a relationship with the audience so they'll go along with what you're doing.

Apart from your responsibilites as the Sixth College Core Sequence director and your research interests, are there other activities you enjoy in your spare time?

One of the things I've been doing in my free time is painting in acrylics. For fun, I generally read mystery novels. I also enjoy playing with my two cats and taking long walks with Peter.

Do many students know that you and Professor Peter John are married?

Well, I made a point of it this year to tell students at the Orientation, so some of them know because they paid attention! Some of them are still kind of wondering because not everyone who sees each of us thinks we fit together in obvious ways. We've been married for 21 years.

What are some of the questions students ask you when they find out that you are married?

The funniest one was a student who said, "You're married to Peter! But, you look so normal!"

Do you remember what you said?

I said, "Thank you."

Where did you and Peter meet?

We met at Revelle College where we were both TAs in the Humanities program. Both of us were working late one night, and I went to Peter's office to ask to borrow a dictionary. We started talking, and we've been together pretty much ever since then. So you see, it's really important to use dictionaries! You never know what you'll learn when you pick one up!

You mentioned that you like to paint. How long have you been painting?

I used to paint when I was 12. I would have liked to study art in school, but at that time they tracked you away from art if you were headed for college. I used to paint mostly flower paintings for my mother because she insisted! Now I do portraits and landscapes. I used to do stained glass which I really like because it's all about working with light and color which are the aspects of painting I like the most. And, I like to do photography.

How does your interest in art making influence the way you approach the college theme of culture, art and technology?

I think one of the great things about Sixth College is that it actually asks students to learn how to make art and express themselves in media. Having done some of this myself helps me in designing projects and encouraging students to explore ideas with projects.

Drawing is a form of thinking; it's a way of asking questions; it's a way of seeing more deeply. You don't stay on the surface when you draw. You really have to think your way into something. This is a big part of what we're trying to do in CAT. Getting students to have a set of tools for thinking more deeply about things.

The arts help you explore interrelationships, how an object or person is situated in respect to the physical world and to other entities. Understanding these relationships is part of what we want students to think about. We don't want them to be viewing human beings or individuals in absolute isolation but we want them to see things relationally. All the arts are about relationships - relationships in space, in time, in social interactions, in light, and in sound. It's the same as magic happening out of the relationships built between the magician and the audience.

What are some of the biggest challenges for students in CAT? What help or advice would you give students who are in CAT?

You mean the KEYS TO CAT! One key is "be open." Open yourself to new ideas, open yourself to becoming interested, open yourself to learning something new. The biggest challenge in CAT is helping students understand that it's about learning. The whole thing is designed for learning, so they have to be open to that rather than focusing on: "What are my grades going to be?"

Another thing you can do is "think for yourself" instead of trying to figure out what we want you to say, what we want you to do, what we want you to write. Instead, be thinking about "what could I say if I was really interested in this project or this problem, and I wanted to look at it freshly?"

What would you tell a student who came to you and said, "I want to be open, but I don't know how. I want to think for myself, but I don't know how."

One of the things we try to do is set up opportunities for students to ask questions, and that is an important step towards opening your mind - being able to ask questions and to consider possibilities. Think about:

  • Turning something on its head once in a while, looking at something upside down, looking at something you take for granted and saying, What if I didn't take that for granted? What if I approached it as if it were something really odd instead of something that were absolutely normal. What might I learn?
  • Picking something that is an everyday habit or an everyday practice or an assumption of yours and stepping back and saying, "Why would someone do that every day, and what is this telling me?"
  • Starting to look at yourself, at your friends, and asking questions about why do we do the things that we do. And, taking the next step beyond the first answer and asking the question again. This is another key to CAT - being able to go to the next question and seek the next level of answer rather than being satisfied with the first and most obvious level.

Is there anything else you'd like students to know?

Well, I'd like students to know that I am actually a bit shy, so if a student feels that I seem difficult to approach, please remember that even though I'm shy, I love it when students visit me during office hours. I have a lot of different interests and I'm sure we'd be able to find something in common to talk about!

- By Beverly Gallagher