University Major Mueller ’13 Says Wesleyan’s Interdisciplinary Culture Critical to Success

Zöe Mueller ’13

Zöe Mueller ’13

She doesn’t always develop scholarly work inspired by concrete and rebar, but when she does, Zöe Mueller ’13 credits her Wesleyan experience with making it happen.

A University Honors recipient and author of a 300-plus page thesis that marries urban design, anthropology, sociology and architectural history, Mueller studied abroad in Brazil and worked in Detroit and Cleveland on a Paoletti Travel Research Grant. These experiences framed her work, which explores American communities riven apart by the interstate highway system in the 1950s.

“It got started when I was studying abroad. My host family in Brazil lived above an elevated highway, the Minhocao, and the first morning I woke up and pulled up the window shade, and looked down at what was usually a commuter highway, with people all over it, walking, biking,” Mueller said.

The vision of this novel use of a public works project got Mueller thinking about places where superhighways drive people apart but could be used as community space. (She admits that growing up in Cambridge and Boston during nearly the entire chaotic lifespan of the epic “Big Dig” project gave her a personal impetus toward urban design.)

Her thesis, “The Interstate System in the American Cultural Memory: The Creation and Contestation of the Highway Spaces of Cleveland and Detroit, Postwar to Present” was the capstone of a university major.

Mueller says Wesleyan’s interdisciplinary culture and support of scholarship were critical to her success.

“The university major was crucial. It allowed me to take a constellation of courses. … Wesleyan is really incredible in the creative energy it produces, and I think that the intellectual atmosphere here has been my support system,” Mueller said.

The next step for Mueller is Next City in Philadelphia, a nonprofit producing daily online coverage of cities from an “urbanist” perspective, where she will intern this summer while applying to graduate school in urban design.