Interdisciplinary Learning…I can almost see all of your eyes rolling at just the thought of these words together. This term represents perhaps the most overused buzzword in higher education today. For more than a century, the “modern” social science disciplines like Sociology, Economics, Psychology, and Anthropology have battled each other professionally and intellectually. In a very literal sense, college and university faculty argue with each other and with administrations to justify expanding their particular departments. More generally, debates continue about which discipline best prepares students to study and understand the world around them. In fact, traditional higher education in
Since the 1960s, however, a new way of looking at the world has begun to earn a place in the academy. Pitzer, founded in 1963, has always embraced the interdisciplinary approach to learning. Interdisciplinary learning is an acknowledgment that people are multi-faceted, that the world does not conform to traditional academic disciplines. As a result, we are looking for students and faculty who agree that the learning process is best served when we ask what traditional disciplines can do together, rather than how they differ.
One of the ways you can see this value manifested on campus is in the structure of our Field Groups. Most colleges and universities place their faculty within traditional departments. We’re not most colleges. At Pitzer, faculty members can choose to identify with different Field Groups, allowing for a freer exchange of intellectual perspectives. We have professors here at Pitzer who may have been “trained” in graduate school as Anthropologists or Neuroscientists, but they choose to teach courses in History or Psychology. Further, we don’t physically separate our faculty by subject area. You won’t find the “Sociology building” on campus, or the “English/World Literature” building either. You will find Economists sitting next to Psychologists and Poets sitting next to Mathematicians.
Another example of Interdisciplinary Learning has been the rise of the “Studies” in higher education, and particularly at Pitzer. Several of our Field Groups and majors fall into inherently interdisciplinary categories such as Media Studies, Chicano/Latino Studies, Political Studies, and Organizational Studies (to name but a few). The idea behind these degree programs is to provide room for students to explore a subject from a variety of perspectives. For example, in Environmental Studies when we talk about water usage in the
For prospective students, we’re interested to know how the idea of Interdisciplinary Learning helps you look at your world. What are the theoretical and methodological tools that you need to take on challenges in your community? What kinds of multi-dimensional issues pique your interest? If you could create your own major, what would it include?
If you are excited to answer these questions, then you have gone beyond the buzzword. I encourage you to think about how your education will challenge you to find questions and answers in curious places. Tell us how you see the world, its problems, its successes, and why you want to continue your explorations at Pitzer. Read faculty bios and course descriptions at the various institutions that you’re considering right now; if they’re not assigning readings from different fields, then they’re not interdisciplinary. If they’re not assigning men and women on their reading lists, then they’re not interdisciplinary. If they’re not assigning ethnically and racially diverse sources, then they’re not interdisciplinary. Put institutions of higher education to the test.
Thanks for coming back to Admission Unpeeled. There’s a lot more information coming in the days ahead so stay tuned and keep reading!