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By KathyWitkowsky
Rochester, Minnesota
I
t’s not unusual to see student artwork
displayed in the halls of universities. But student
science projects? To highlight his institution’s unusual
interdisciplinary approach to health sciences, that’s what
Stephen Lehmkuhle, chancellor of the newly established
University of Minnesota Rochester, chose to hang in the
reception area next to his office. The informational posters
explore specific health issues, their causes and their
possible solutions. Designed last year by students enrolled
in UMR’s first-ever freshman class, the two framed
examples—one on malaria, the other on melanoma—
resulted from a joint assignment in biology, organic
chemistry and writing, all required courses. As they often
do at UMR, students worked on the project in small
groups, which provides an interactive learning experience
and teaches them how to function as part of a team. Then
they had to present their findings to faculty—because
public speaking is another key life skill.
“It really epitomizes what we’re trying to do,” said
Lehmkuhle, who has set out to create what he calls “the
university of the future”: one that, as he puts it, “prepares
students for jobs that don’t yet exist, to solve problems
that aren’t yet known, using technologies that have not
yet been invented.” Indeed, he says, the world is changing
so quickly that much of what freshmen learn will be
outdated by the time they are juniors. So rather than
stuffing students
full of knowledge,
universities should
increase their
capacity, as well as
their desire, to learn.
That’s not a new
goal for educators.
But because he
was hired to
start UMR from
scratch, Lehmkuhle
(pronounced “lem-
cool”) has been
able to go about
achieving it in a
very intentional way. “What attracted me here was the
opportunity to create the change rather than manage
the change,” said Lehmkuhle, who left the University of
Missouri to take the job as UMR chancellor.
What Lehmkuhle and his vice chancellor, Claudia
Neuhauser, have created is an undergraduate curriculum
focused exclusively on the health sciences, with a strong
May 2011
Interdisciplinary Curriculum
Newly established University of Minnesota Rochester has a radically different approach to higher education
liberal arts component.
More crucially, it is
also based around, and
tracks, a set of student
learning outcomes
and objectives, rather
than faculty interests;
it employs state-of-
the-art technology and
best-teaching practices
to account for different
learning styles; and it
rewards tenure-track
faculty for effective
teaching as well as
research—research
in both their areas of
expertise and on their
students’ learning.
With just one
undergraduate
program—a bachelor
of science in health
sciences (in the fall,
it will add a second
undergraduate degree,
a bachelor of science in
health professions)—
UMR also turns the
traditional approach to higher education on its head by
mandating a rigorous, tightly prescribed curriculum for
its students’ first two years, then allowing them to broaden
into other areas as juniors and seniors, rather than the
other way around. That gives the school the ability to
ensure that all its students have the academic background
and skills they need before they focus on their so-called
“capstone” experience that will mark their final two years:
up to 30 credit hours of research, internships, study
abroad or other type of exploration in their chosen field.
It also means that UMR can coordinate its curriculum
so that concepts are picked up and reinforced throughout
a student’s education, combating what Lehmkuhle calls
the “Las Vegas” approach to learning that dominates
at traditional institutions, where “what goes on in the
classroom, stays in the classroom.” Too often, he says,
students study disparate ideas and concepts—and
subsequently forget them—because it’s not clear how
those concepts connect to other disciplines or are
otherwise relevant to their lives. Professors design
courses they want to teach, and academic departments
are financially rewarded based on course enrollments
Stephen Lehmkuhle, chancellor of the University
of Minnesota Rochester, has set out to create a
“university of the future” that “prepares students for
jobs that don’t yet exist, to solve problems that aren’t
yet known.”
Students at the
University of
Minnesota Rochester
often work on
projects in small
groups, which teaches
them how to function
as part of a team.
Photos by Tom Roster, Black Star, for CrossTalk