Inquiring Minds

custom-designed major This summer marked the establishment of the Center for Interdisciplinary Inquiry, which will function as a laboratory for generating new interdisciplinary initiatives and assisting faculty in other colleges who want to develop interdisciplinary courses or travel-related courses. The Center will be directed by Dr. Scott Knowles, associate professor of history, and will be housed in the Pennoni Honors College. It will assume responsibility for several ongoing Honors College initiatives including the Great Works Symposium, the new Custom-Designed Major, and travel-integrated courses, such as last year’s trip to the Shanghai World’s Fair.

“The new Center places within a single administrative home a number of thriving undergraduate programs while also establishing the unit as a source of information for colleagues seeking to develop interdisciplinary academic programs,” said Provost Mark Greenberg. 

Dr. Greenberg says that the Pennoni Honors College is the logical home for the new Center. “The Pennoni Honors College always has been truly interdisciplinary, drawing students from across the University in symposia deliberately designed to bring together diverse disciplines and taught by faculty from across the University,” he said. “While other colleges and schools often cross disciplines, by teaching students from all majors with faculty from all disciplines, the Honors College fulfills its unique role at Drexel as the locus for interdisciplinary undergraduate teaching and learning. Because of this unique role, the College is perfectly positioned to sponsor the new Center for Interdisciplinary Inquiry.”

What is interdisciplinary education? Says Dr. Greenberg, “In my view it means recognizing the many contributions developed over many years by discrete disciplines while also learning that many of the problems we encounter and try to solve can only be understood — and addressed — from multiple perspectives, marshaling knowledge from two or more disciplinary fields in solving them. It's thus a sophisticated way of understanding how we organize knowledge and how best to draw upon what is known in understanding what is not yet known.”

The new Center for Interdisciplinary Inquiry has been described as an "incubator of interdisciplinary approaches." According to Dr. Knowles, this means that the Center will serve as a place on campus where both faculty and students can come with ideas for interdisciplinary research and courses. “We will be working to facilitate conversation, lectures, symposia, research experiences, and courses that grow out of ideas brought to us by faculty and students,” he said.

The Great Works Symposium and the Custom-Designed major will be at the core of CII. “In both programs,” Dr. Knowles said, “the core of the enterprise is interdisciplinary — bringing together subject matter and methods that stretch across college and major boundaries — taking full advantage of the tremendous strengths the university has in its many, many varied research centers, programs, and departments." 

As for travel-integrated courses, the CII will be working hard with students and faculty to develop ideas for courses that include travel components central to the course material. Coursework, research, and travel come together in the travel-integrated courses. For examples, the CII will be facilitating a course on the history of the Olympic Games, combined with a trip to the London Olympics in the summer of 2012.

“Our door is open to suggestions from faculty and honors students who have ideas on creative ways to integrate interdisciplinary learning and travel experiences,” said Dr. Knowles.