People may remember Hennessy’s reign most for the expansion of Stanford into Silicon Valley. But his principal academic legacy may be the growth of what’s called “interdisciplinary education.” This is the philosophy now promoted at the various schools at Stanford—engineering, business, medicine, science, design—which encourages students from diverse majors to come together to solve real or abstract problems. The goal is to have them become what are called “T-shaped” students, who have depth in a particular field of study but also breadth across multiple disciplines. Stanford hopes that the students can also develop the social skills to collaborate with people outside their areas of expertise. “Ten years ago, ‘interdisciplinary’ was a code word for something soft,” Jeff Koseff says. “John changed that.”
Yes, yes, yes! I believe interdisciplinary collaboration needs to be encouraged at more schools. I love Stanford’s approach and it resonates with me— I feel like the past, present, and future of my education and experiences fits this philosophy.
Among the bolder initiatives to create T-students is the Institute of Design at Stanford, or the d.school, which was founded seven years ago and is housed in the school of engineering. Its founder and director is David Kelley, who, with a thick black mustache and black-framed eyeglasses, looks like Groucho Marx, without the cigar. His mission, he says, is to instill “empathy” in his students, to encourage them to see the human side of the challenges posed in class, and to provoke them to be creative. Stanford is not the only university to adopt this approach to learning—M.I.T., among others, does, too. But Kelley’s effort is widely believed to be the most audacious. His classes stress collaboration across disciplines and revolve around projects to advance social progress. The school concentrates on four areas: the developing world; sustainability; health and wellness; and K-12 education. The d.school space is open, with sliding doors and ubiquitous whiteboards and tables too small to accommodate laptops; Kelley doesn’t want students retreating into their in-boxes. There are very few lectures at the school, and students are graded, in part, on their collaborative skills and on evaluations by fellow-students.
I have been long-distance crushing on Stanford’s d.school for the past few years and was finally able to visit (and explore!) this summer. My schedule prevented me from seeing students-in-action, but I was able to see some older projects and soak up the atmosphere. I’d love to return as a student one day.
Must-see spots on the Stanford campus?
(The trip is wonderful.)
I plan to spend my Monday exploring as much of Stanford as possible. Do any of you have specific building/facility recommendations? Feel free to send a message or email.
WSJ: What proof do you have that teaching innovation is actually working?
Garth Saloner: One of the things we’ve been doing is we’ve run a variety of classes that are collaborative across the university, with our students together with students from the medical school and engineering school and law school. They’ll work on problems, and we have a large number of these that have come up with solutions and have gone into the field.
One example is the story of Embrace. It was a multidisciplinary team [of students] from the business school, medical school and engineering school. They went to a rural village in Nepal and found out that 20 million low-birth-weight babies are born a year [world-wide] and that four million die a year and that’s essentially because they don’t have baby incubators. That’s a real problem.
So you come back here and ask what do we do about it? Long story short: They invented a baby sleeping bag that in the back has this material [that can be warmed up]. Parents can throw it into boiling water and bring it up to a desired temperature and slip it back into the bag and it is a fully functional baby warmer. And they’ve gone out as a company.
One of my very best friends was just accepted into the graduate engineering program at Stanford AND I’M SO PROUD! adslfjdasflkj this is awesomeawesome.
He’s still waiting on MIT and some others, but STILL. STANFORD! So proud!