Paper No. 4
Presentation Time: 2:00 PM


BOWEN, Brenda B., Department of Geology and Geophysics and Global Change and Sustainability Center, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT 84112,

Many of the grand challenges facing society today--climate change, depletion of natural resources, environmental degradation, global spread of pollutants--demand attention from those with earth science expertise. However, the complex links between these environmental challenges and social, economic, and political systems also require a new type of interdisciplinary awareness and education. Disciplinary paradigms, biases, and perspectives vary greatly, and interdisciplinary instructors must be willing to step far outside of their comfort zones in order to transcend these foundational differences in the classroom. But how do we really “transcend” our disciplines? Conflicting disciplinary norms, differences in methodologies, scope, expectations, traditional institutional academic barriers, different perspectives on what problems are important, differing assumptions about the desired results, and the overarching challenge of finding a jargon-free common language inhibit truly interdisciplinary initiatives. The Global Change and Sustainability Center at the University of Utah is working to promote interdisciplinary research related to environmental and sustainability issues and to produce leaders who are prepared to find creative solutions to the environmental and sustainability challenges facing our planet. We approach interdisciplinary graduate training through a sustainability-focused course entitled “Global Changes and Society.” This is a project-based course that includes students from a range of disciplines, including geology and geophysics, atmospheric science, mathematics, biology, civil and environmental engineering, mechanical engineering, geography, law, and city and metropolitan planning. The course aims to help the students learn to speak a common language in order to address sustainability questions practically, each bringing their own expertise to bear as they explore the connection between earth systems and human systems, and work to find real world solutions to “wicked problems”. In addition, we explore the uncomfortable territory between science and value judgments to better understand and prepare students for opportunities to creatively communicate the significance of their work to policy makers and the public.