As the public focus on colleges and universities shifts more and more toward the value and cost of a college education, MSU maintains its focus on ensuring its students are well educated and prepared for an increasingly globalized world.
MSU created the Centers for Integrative Studies (CIS) in three areas – arts and humanities, led by Kirk Kidwell; general science, led by Gabe Ording; and social science, led by Christina DeJong – in 1992 as an outcome of the Council to Review Undergraduate Education report. The report noted that the ideal undergraduate education should provide a set of interrelated experiences for the student, studied from freshman to senior year, so that, regardless of major, graduates of MSU would share a common body of information which will serve as a foundation for their lives as educated people.
Since its implementation in 1992, CIS has made changes to the curriculum in a variety of ways, mostly by adding topics relevant to today’s students. Over the past five years especially, CIS has been studying the Integrative Studies curriculum carefully by surveying students, faculty, and administrators to determine what is, and is not, working and by evaluating student learning across the dimensions of the Undergraduate Learning Goals. Additionally, CIS has worked with other universities who have changed their general education requirements to inform them of our approach and to learn more about cutting-edge educational models they are implementing.
The directors within CIS have been working to enhance the Integrative Studies curriculum by encouraging the implementation of approaches to teaching demonstrated to enhance learning and working to engage faculty in the development of interdisciplinary courses that are consistent with the original vision of the report from the Committee to Review Undergraduate Education.
“Our most recent pilot program brought together 12 faculty from the three core colleges to develop Integrative Studies classes that cross the boundaries of social science, natural science and the arts and humanities,” DeJong, director for the Center for Integrative Studies in Social Science, said. “Faculty worked across colleges to create new Integrative Studies courses that contained content from two or more core colleges.”
In response to a charge from then-Provost Kim Wilcox in Fall 2009, CIS has been exploring changes to Integrative Studies that would evolve the MSU model to more directly address the outcomes defined by the Undergraduate Learning Goals and their associated global competencies. The goal is for IS, as the common core of the undergraduate curriculum, to be a place where the knowledge, attitudes, and abilities encompassed by the Undergraduate Learning Goals - analytical thinking, cultural understanding, effective citizenship, effective communication and integrated reasoning – and associated Global Competencies are experienced in the context of challenges that face the global community.
“We know that an effective undergraduate education goes beyond formal academic work,” Douglas W. Estry, Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education and Dean of Undergraduate of Studies, said. “Developing communication skills, leadership qualities and a sense of community are essential components to becoming a truly educated person. Additionally, corporate leaders are increasingly seeking college graduates who can work across organizational, geographic, cultural and political boundaries and who are critical thinkers, effective communicators, leaders and innovators.”
The MSU College Employment Research Institute (CERI) studies what employers look for in college grads and continues to find that the corporate sector is looking for individuals with the abilities to bridge the traditional boundaries between disciplines, consistent also with the demands in graduate education. These individuals are referred to as “hybrid,” “boundary spanners,” or adaptive innovators.
In an effort to address the need for what have been defined as “T-shaped” professionals head on, MSU worked in conjunction with IBM earlier this year to coordinate the “T-Summit” which provided leaders from industry, academia, government, foundations, professional organizations, and other stakeholders with the tools necessary to discuss how to design educational models that foster and develop “T-shaped” characteristics that are in high demand today and in the future workforce. More information about the characteristics of T-shaped individuals and what was discussed at the 2014 T-Summit is available in the Conference Recap video.
“Our goal is to combine what we learned at this year’s T-Summit with ongoing innovation and assessment of learning in IS so that students are challenged to use their disciplinary and systems knowledge, along with their boundary spanning abilities, as they work with students from other disciplinary and cultural backgrounds to collectively address global challenges,” Estry said. “While the first T-Summit focused on deepening understanding of the ‘T’ metaphor and laying out the importance of partnership across all economic sectors in order to assist in developing T-shaped abilities, the second T-Summit, which will take place at MSU on March 16-17, 2015, will focus on establishing a common language and understanding of the desired competencies and how, through partnership, we can create a comprehensive curriculum and transform the learning environment in order to better prepare graduates to work in an era of rapidly changing technologies and the continuous need to adapt and innovate.”
The knowledge and abilities characterized by the T-shaped metaphor align with MSU’s Undergraduate Learning Goals. They focus on the need for educated individuals with the abilities to understand and work in an increasingly global environment. Therefore, the work Integrative Studies is doing to better align the core of the undergraduate experience with the Undergraduate Learning Goals and the T-shaped characteristics through work situated in a global context aligns well with workforce needs in the 21st Century.
As a national leader in higher education, MSU seeks to enhance Integrative Studies to be an essential element in undergraduate education in which all students are challenged to work with students from different disciplines, applying their respective knowledge to complex global problems that require solutions that can only flow from multiple disciplines.