Board of Trustees approves new transdisciplinary studies degree

Pilot students in the transdisciplinary study program work in the Design Lab.

A proposed degree in the College of Technology, approved today (April 10) by the Purdue University Board of Trustees, is aimed at preparing students both for their first jobs and for new tasks they’ll perform decades later.

Designed by a team of faculty from the colleges of Technology, Liberal Arts, and Education and Purdue Libraries, the proposed degree is a Bachelor of Science in Transdisciplinary Studies in Technology. With Board approval, it now moves to the Indiana Commission for Higher Education for full approval.

“Consider the new smart watch from that popular, fruit-themed smartphone maker,” suggests Jeff Evans, interim associate dean for undergraduate programs in the College of Technology. “To conceive, design, and manufacture a product like that, many, many disciplines are involved,” he said, including technical innovation leadership plus mechanical, electrical engineering, computer graphics, computer information, and construction management technologies. “Broad knowledge of the humanities is needed, too. That’s what this new program is designed to achieve.”

The proposed degree program will provide students with technical skills for the early years of their careers and the adaptability which they’ll need later on to create products and services which touch multiple technical and humanities disciplines.

“More than ever, companies want people with cross-cutting knowledge, with both technical competence and training in the liberal arts, who can demonstrate the ability to apply what they know in entirely new situations,” Evans said. “Over 90% of employers recently surveyed said that cross-cutting abilities like complex problem solving, communication, and critical thinking are more important than job candidates’ undergraduate majors.”

According to Richard Dionne, assistant professor of theatre in the Patti and Rusty Rueff School of Visual and Performing Arts in the College of Liberal Arts, the new program aims “to produce graduates who are balanced, well-rounded, and ready for what industry says they want. How do you get that balance?” The answer, Dionne said, is to “practice all the time, in every semester. That’s what the transdisciplinary studies program is designed to do.”

The program is characterized by practical, small-team project experiences in active learning rooms. Students will be able to pursue their own specific interests, learning from their teammates while experiencing multiple Technology disciplines. Students will also create online portfolios, sharable with potential employers, which document the competencies they’ve mastered. Professors will serve as mentors and guides.

“In traditional plans of study, electives happen mostly in later semesters,” Dionne said. “With transdisciplinary studies, exploration opportunities occur during every semester, providing that balance.”

By working with faculty mentors from multiple colleges, including Technology and Liberal Arts, students in transdisciplinary studies will focus not only on the “what” and the “how” but also the “why.” “Companies say that ethical judgment, integrity, and intercultural abilities are as important to them as specific skill sets,” Evans said.

“The faculty and students in our pilot transdisciplinary studies program are helping to lead the way in our efforts to transform our whole College,” said Gary Bertoline, dean of the College of Technology. “By approving the degree proposal, the Board of Trustees has recognized that this new program will benefit future Boilermakers and industry partners alike, and we’re grateful to them.”