2004 - 2007 Phase IV PKAL Leadership Initiative (LI) Final Report

Interdisciplinary Seminars

PKAL LI Seminars: Interdisciplinary Learning

Key Questions:

  • Can the process of shaping an interdisciplinary undergraduate STEM learning environment be a means of professional development of faculty, serve campus-wide priorities for student learning, and enhance institutional distinction over the long-term?
  • What are the barriers to institutional transformation and how do we overcome them?
  • What is the “new shape of innovation”? How do scientific and technological advances push the frontiers of discovery and how do national initiatives catalyze the next generation of innovators?
  • What are the unique challenges and opportunities posed by interdisciplinary research and teaching? And, what are some “outside the box” approaches to meeting these challenges?
  • How do we create a culture of learning? What are the critical components? How do we get started? And, what are the lessons learned?
  • How do we create an environment conducive to change? What works?
  • How do individuals come to understand their own leadership strengths, interests and capacity for leadership?
  • What are the tasks and responsibilities of leadership?
  • How do we build an institutional team with shared commitment to transform the learning environment?
  • What works and what does not work in achieving systemic reform?
  • How do we incorporate global issues into programs?
  • How do we assess the impact on student learning?
  • What are the politics of change from the perspectives of all committed to institutional transformation?
  • In the nation's service- how does a robust undergraduate learning environment serves students, science, and society?
  • How does the physical aspect of learning environments foster or inhibit interpersonal interactions – one of the fundamental bases of learning?


  • Barriers to overcome to achieve a robust research-rich undergraduate STEM learning environment.
    • Lack of congruence (significant disparity) between expectations for new STEM faculty appointments in regard to ‘research-rich’ and research productivity with current culture within our STEM departments.
    • Lack of faculty experience and success with seeking external grants, leading to a sense of feeling threatened by the prospect of responsibility for a research-rich learning environment.
    • Lack of adequate infrastructure (instrumentation, spaces, budgets) to support a research-rich learning environment.
    • No policies for securing, allocating or reallocating funds to build a research-rich learning environment.
    • Cadre of research-inactive faculty whose views shape our culture; faculty confusion about relative import of research/teaching and learning.
    • Increasing pressure on faculty to make STEM courses for all students more engaging.
  • Needs (& opportunities) for overcoming barriers to achieving a robust research-rich undergraduate STEM learning environment.
    • Need to engage faculty with national conversations about undergraduate research—what it is, how and why it works.
    • Need to discover what is actually happening in pockets around the campus in facilitating undergraduate involvement in research.
    • Need to have general institution-wide discussions about contemporary research on how people learn and link those to specific discussions about the ‘why’ of a research-rich learning environment.
    • Need for institution-wide discussions about what research-rich means for our community, within and beyond the sciences; need to gain broader buy-in.
    • Need to maintain and advance nascent innovative programs beginning to achieve demonstrable success at the edges and reshaping our core, in a time of shrinking resources.
    • Need for a coherent “bottom-to-top” research-rich learning environment in all STEM departments that emphasizes discovery-based learning from day one.
    • Need to address students’ fear of ‘doing science.’
    • Need for strategies to “do it all”—to engage all students in discovery-based STEM learning, no matter their background while at the same time serving the students in the middle and the honors students most creatively.

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