PKAL Faculty for the 21st Century

Karen Anewalt

F21 Class of 2005 Statement

Karen Anewalt is Associate Professor of Computer Science at University of Mary Washington.

How are colleagues from different disciplines coming together to reshape the undergraduate STEM learning experience?

Individual scientific disciplines do not exist in a vacuum. More than ever before, researchers are exploring problems using technology and techniques from multiple disciplines. The technology associated with the computer science discipline has become especially pervasive. Much scientific research is now conducted with the aid of software and computer modeling. As a computer scientist, I find it exciting to see how my discipline assists and influences research in other disciplines. Because interdisciplinary research has become common practice, it is important and natural for instructors within Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) disciplines to emphasize the cross-disciplinary nature of scientific research when interacting with students.

I have been involved in interdisciplinary teaching at my institution. As a participant in a National Science Foundation (NSF) Course, Curriculum, and Learning Improvement (CCLI) grant to develop educational materials for a cross-disciplinary course in e-commerce, I taught a computer science course in Web programming in partnership with a business professor teaching a course in Internet marketing. The course was a particularly rewarding experience for both the faculty and students. The students in both disciplines were able to collaborate on an interdisciplinary team project and came to appreciate the challenges of working with colleagues from another field, as well as the impact of other fields on their own area of study. Fostering the view of a discipline as being intertwined with other areas of study alters students’ perceptions of their field and introduces them to research and career opportunities that they may have otherwise not considered.

I believe that collaboration between colleagues in different disciplines as encouraged by the Project Kaleidoscope initiative can make a real difference in the undergraduate experiences of science students, particularly computer science students, through efforts to:

  • Introduce students to a “research-rich” undergraduate learning environment.
  • Show the interdisciplinary nature of 21st century science and engineering.
  • Encourage all students to study STEM fields and to consider careers in these fields.

The ability to view one’s research as part of the larger scientific research community is invaluable. The ability to effectively communicate with scientists from other disciplines is also an important skill and one that requires practice because scientific disciplines tend to use discipline-specific language to describe and discuss problems. Introducing students to interdisciplinary research at the undergraduate level provides students with the opportunity to explore unique research opportunities, recognize the contribution of their discipline to the greater scientific community, and hone their communication skills before pursuing graduate studies or careers. It is in these respects that I feel that teachers in STEM disciplines can partner together to have a lasting impact on the experience of STEM students.