Many Georgetown students are attracted to a Washington, DC, higher education experience because it offers contact with scores of institutions, organizations, and agencies that are devoted to improving societal conditions. Many of the Georgetown faculty also understand this fact and take advantage of these organizations to enrich their own scholarship.
Increasing numbers of faculty wish to use their talents in scholarly efforts aimed at ameliorating important problems. Students seek internships in DC institutions tackling these problems. As Georgetown evolves in its efforts to enlarge its impact on the world’s unsolved problems, we need to attempt to increase its use of every resource in its environment. It is fortunate, as a university devoted to a mission of serving others, that Georgetown is located in such an environment. Indeed, the combination of a mission of changing the world and a location compatible with the mission is nearly unrivaled.
We might also ask whether we could facilitate these activities within Georgetown. One wonders what next steps might be logical to increase the university’s impact on the world.
One impediment that Georgetown faculty have faced in working in interdisciplinary teams has been addressed by creating new graduate programs that offer preparation for careers in fields that are more problem-oriented. This can be quite effective when there are well-conceived professional job families that are devoted to some problem area. It permits faculty to work together with others having similar interests despite not assigned to the same department, school, or campus.
Many research universities have supplemented these educational programs with interdisciplinary research institutes. The research institutes are spaces where faculty from different units, all interested in the same problem area, can gather to work collaboratively. I’ve written about the Humanities Center as an example of such a unit.
One could imagine a set of such research units as a way to enrich the liberal education life of our students. In this design, students would pursue a major area of study to learn the lessons of going deeper and deeper in a knowledge domain. This would be similar to the current protocol. In addition to that deep specialization, however, would be opportunities to work in one or more problem areas. The student and faculty work groups in the problem area would be deliberately multi-disciplinary. A student in anthropology might be working next to a student in computer science in tackling real world problems. Their faculty leaders in this work would also represent different disciplines. In addition to the transcript noting the courses in their major, it would (probably in digital form) present the experiences they had working in the problem area, as well as work products of the experience.
Students would be citizens of multiple education/research groups – a major field and (several) problem groups. Faculty too could have such dual membership. The Georgetown of this design would have purposeful structure designed to facilitate the formation of women and men for others.
How could we evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of such a design?