Provost: Interdisciplinary studies new focus for NU

Michelle Ma

University Provost Lawrence Dumas offered students a sneak preview of Northwestern’s “Highest Order of Excellence Two” initiative Tuesday night when about 30 students from Shepard Residential College gathered in the dorm’s basement lounge as part of an informal fireside.

Sitting in a circle with students, Dumas explained how offering more options for interdisciplinary studies can benefit all members of NU’s community.

“I’d like to say five years from now, if you’re a student or a faculty member and want to pursue more creative work and push boundaries (in interdisciplinary work), Northwestern is the university of choice for students and faculty,” said Dumas, who highlighted a few opportunities NU officials hope to offer students and faculty in the years to come.

The first Dumas called an “immersion experience” that will create more opportunities for students to propose individual or small group projects across academic disciplines, with the approval of faculty members.

These projects potentially could extend to internships or study abroad programs, Dumas said. The result of a student-initiated project could be an academic paper and a summary of the experience, he added.

The explanation of these small group proposals was the most interesting part of the fireside, said Becca Hartman, a Weinberg sophomore.

“I see it as an expanded research program,” Hartman said. “I would love to do something with philosophy and religion.”

Dumas also highlighted initiatives to provide capabilities for faculty to test their interdisciplinary ideas at NU while not losing sight of expanding opportunities within each individual academic discipline.

“We want to tweak the balance between interdisciplinary pursuit and disciplinary pursuit,” Dumas said. “We want to feed faculty that want to do research in a new way.”

If faculty members bring forward ideas about connecting academic departments, the proposals must be exciting, fit into the NU atmosphere and benefit students, Dumas said. Student input into the program offerings is also a crucial part of the process, he added.

If faculty members and students sustain their commitment to an interdisciplinary proposal, they can receive some seed money to develop their projects, Dumas said.

Another focus of the “Highest Order of Excellence Two” is what Dumas called “enabling infrastructure” to give students and faculty a more central staff to answer questions.

Instead of many specialized offices, Dumas explained that the Student Financial Services building — recently opened at 555 Clark St. –can help students with all financial transactions as a “one-stop shop” instead of making students travel among offices to find the one that will help them with their specific aid issue, he said.

As part of expanding students’ opportunities to experience more interdisciplinary options, Dumas addressed program ideas to enhance their sophomore year at NU.

Sophomores — left out from freshman seminars and junior research possibilities, among others — might be able to participate in yearly themed academic programs that will complement course work done in other classes.

During a question-and-answer session at the end of his presentation, Dumas responded to many students’ questions by suggesting they accept opportunities to give feedback when asked to fill out CTECs and online surveys.

Reach Michelle Ma at [email protected]