Building Bridges to Interdisciplinary Learning at Illinois
Integrating Education and Research
The Challenge to the American University
All of us in American higher education know well that the world – and with it the university – is changing. With rapid globalization, manufacturers of all sizes have developed the flexibility to move quickly to wherever they find a ready and available talent pool. Likewise, the world’s students, at all levels, increasingly migrate in an evermore deregulated global education sector. The great American university cannot rest easy: it must change to educate the next generation for this changed world. At Illinois, we have the unique opportunity to confront this challenge head on, to take full advantage of this critical historic juncture.
Illinois has long been at the frontier of interdisciplinary collaborations. Both our academic units and our interdisciplinary research institutes have spurred the next generation of innovation on this campus.
Why this Summit
The proposed summit aims to galvanize a campus dialogue on interdisciplinary research and education for students, staff, and faculty that will support and sustain Illinois as a leading institution of higher education.
We will ask what it means today and into the future to provide students with an exceptional education, including global knowledge and experience, which will enable them to be innovative leaders. The summit will be organized to generate concrete proposals for innovation in campus teaching and research.
Illinois is distinguished by its comprehensive excellence, including first rate engineering and science as well as strong social science, arts, and humanities programs. We benefit from federal, state and corporate investment in interdisciplinary laboratories with core foci ranging from computing to genomics, to energy, health and climate change.
Illinois is already distinguished by the extent of its interdisciplinary reach, from its programs in the digital humanities to its efforts to develop efficient biofuel-powered engines. However, our journey is only beginning.
Students at Illinois are "voting with their feet," opting for classes and new concentrations/majors/certificate programs (e.g., international studies in LAS; informatics; and Engineering’s new EASE program) that resonate with our transforming world. They are increasingly demanding cross disciplinary learning, research, and internship possibilities.
Multidisciplinarity is becoming foundational to the social, science, and technology systems and institutions that support our society. Increasingly, we understand that ours is a world animated by "atoms to systems" articulation and change. Whether designing a more fuel efficient vehicle or an artificial limb, we may well begin at the atomic or molecular level. Likewise, social and behavioral change, from climate control to global peace, must integrate humanistic, social, and technical research and reflection. And again, in the biological domain the so-called "animal on a chip," combining nanotechnology with micro-fluidics and biological materials, may soon reproduce the effects of chemical compounds on the human body. Further still, mathematical modeling and simulation will more and more frequently call on visualization artists and other humanists to effectively imagine a transformed world.
The challenge at Illinois is to provide a new generation of social scientists, humanists, scientists, and engineers, with the tools, technologies, and vision to work and innovate in this increasingly complex world. We must strike the right balance between innovation in large-scale, interdisciplinary/collaborative work and the maintenance of independent and individual disciplinary work.
The summit will result in a challenge to the University: concrete proposals to make Illinois a leader in interdisciplinary education and research. We envision a blueprint that considers what it will take to afford Illinois students, staff, and faculty interdisciplinary research and education opportunities in sync with a changing world.