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Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Fort Thomas Professor Leads Exciting University Program

Fort Thomas Student Agrees
Professor Rudy Garns. Courtesy Rudy Garns

The future ain't what it used to be, quipped Yogi Berra. And Yogi would probably approve of the Integrative Studies program at Northern Kentucky University and its energetic, quick witted visionary director, Rudy Garns. 

Rudy, a twenty-six year veteran at NKU, philosophy professor, and Fort Thomas resident, loves this program because students get to have a greater say in how they craft a more personal university experience. It blends the best of traditional university education with the interests of the student and the fluid skill set needed for the future.  

Rudy gives a little background. So universities are divided into colleges, which are divided into departments, which reflect different disciplines, which are really just communities of specialists dedicated to certain narrow kinds of problems. We think knowledge is organized this way and so we organize universities this way. Most students major in a discipline. But not all important real-world problems can be addressed with a single speciality. In fact many of the big problems confronting the world — poverty, health care, environmental sustainability, war, and economic and and political inequality — are complex and need insights from different disciplines. 

The Integrative Studies program offers students an opportunity to study more complex problems by learning to integrate knowledge, skills and methods from different traditional disciplines. They take some advanced courses in at least three disciplines and then integrate what they are learning into a Capstone project. Students love it because they can identify some problem or issue or topic that they are passionate about and design a major that makes them experts on that topic. Ideally a career and a path through college should be tied closely to what most interests you. That’s not always defined by a single disciplinary or professional major. It’s like what Dr. Seuss said, Only you can control your future. 

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Integrating so many disciplines could be a bit overwhelming to craft a challenging and beneficial course of study. The challenge is that universities like NKU — their budgets and procedures — are organized around disciplines. Something interdisciplinary often runs against the grain. But I’m very fortunate to have generous colleagues who understand the importance of interdisciplinary work. The faculty, staff and advisors have always put students first; so if Integrative Studies is the right place for a student, we get them there. It’s also gotten easier because NKU has embraced the importance of healthcare as an interdisciplinary problem. (We call it ‘transdisciplinary’ because it requires we go beyond academic disciplines and partner with community stakeholders as well.) The new Health Innovation Center will be a physical home to lots of innovation and education that requires interdisciplinary research and input. 

The program allow students to explore interests. This major is not meant for everyone.  The ideal student is one who has identified strong interests, who has a career goal, is a self-starter, and is a bit of an entrepreneur. Like Quinn Docter who is combining political science, international relations, Spanish, and art with a concentration in ceramics. Here is the link to the program.

Quinn Docter. NKU website with permission

Quinn says about college I was overwhelmed by all the new stuff I could learn. Honestly I wanted to just learn it all…. So, when I knew there was a type of major where I could choose more than one area of study, I was all in.

She was drawn to the program by The emphasis on seeing everything that I learn is connected some way or another. I  have always been able to connect different areas of thought and see the cause and affects of seemingly unrelated actions. What I love about integrative studies is that it not only allows me to study and build skills sets in multiple minors, but it also encourages the way I already perceive how the world works - everything being integrated. I just get the exciting task of deciding which four connect with one another. 

With this major, I've really been able to learn more about myself and build skill sets that actually interest me. If I get to create my own major, now I can create my own meaningful career. In a way it's pretty entrepreneurial from the start and can carry on throughout life. 

She says, It’s definitely a major that allows you to be creative, flexible, imaginative, risky, bold, and can gear you in the right direction of being the best possible version of yourself, if you are willing to go for it.

 Rudy says about Quinn, This is the perfect program for her. She has lots of interests. Her studies are not flimsy or whimsical. They are grounded in who she is.  And she just happens to be the face of the Integrative Studies program online.  Rudy adds, There are more students like her than we realize

Rudy says that The general mindset of CEOs right now is that they want students who are adaptable, who have transferable skill sets, who can collaborate, write…integrate, move across different fields, and communicate all of that. It is creating lifelong learners and productive citizens for a fluid and ever changing changing future. 

Leigh Steinberg, the man who inspired the Jerry McGuire movie, said It is soooooo necessary to get the basic skills, because by the time you graduate, undergraduate or graduate, that field would have totally changed from your first day of school. And now there is a university program to help develop those skills. 

Collaborating students. From NKU Integrative Studies website. With permission.

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