Everyone knows the future of business necessitates at least some broad knowledge of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).  But not every student automatically gravitates toward these majors.  In many cases they are intimidated or repelled by them.

Michael M. Crow is the president of Arizona State University.  He believes a new approach to higher education is needed to accommodate this problem.  This is especially true given the trends of our increasingly technical world.  Crow explains (“Citizen Science U.” Scientific American October 2012, pp. 48–49):

“The prevailing approach to teaching . . . STEM, generally serves only to enhance gifted students already predisposed toward science and math.  These elite students may hearten their professors, but the other 90 percent are being shortchanged.  Science and math are foundational subjects of the liberal arts and also align with the increasingly rigorous demands of the contemporary labor market.” (p. 48)

Additionally, Crow recognizes some fundamental differences with the most recent generation of incoming college students.  These students often tend to be hyperconnected, multitasking, visual learners who are saturated in informational technologies.  Nonlinear thinking often trumps linear thinking for them.

Arizona State University realigned its approach.  Going so far as to eliminate some traditional academic departments (biology and geology for example), the university revamped its curriculum into a “transdisciplinary” approach.

The transdisciplinary approach seems to expose students to areas and disciplines that perhaps they never would have considered under the old paradigm.  Once exposed, some of those students have an epiphany of sorts prompting them to pursue a STEM major.  With this new approach over the last decade, Crow has seen many positive outcomes:

“We have seen a robust expansion in the number and diversity of graduates in traditional core disciplines such as physics and chemistry.  Through innovation and linkages with other fields, quantitative literacy throughout the university has improved significantly as measured by learning assessments.” (p. 49)

I think this is phenomenal.  I have always held one of the most important purposes of education is helping the learner comprehend the connectivity and interdependence among the disciplines.  What better way to accomplish that than to have a transdisciplinary approach?

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About James Meadows

Currently I serve as a training team manager for Johnson Controls at a customer-care center in Kansas City. Additionally, I am a business consultant, a freelance corporate writer, an Assembly of God ordained minister, a Civil Air Patrol chaplain, and a blogger. I believe we are living in the most fascinating times of human history. To maximize the opportunities these times present, I have a passionate interest in leadership development and organizational success, both of which I view as inextricably linked.

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