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Lessons Learned in Transdisciplinary Graduate Education: Claremont Graduate University’s Decade-Long Experiment

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Transdisciplinary Higher Education


Claremont Graduate University is engaged in a decade-long experiment in transdisciplinary graduate education that contributes to a growing, global understanding of transdisciplinarity in higher education, its pedagogy, structure and governance. It is a case study in how transdisciplinarity has been envisioned, institutionalized, and measured at the graduate level. The case study is unique in that the program is graduate-only and social science and humanities based. Positive findings include: (1) fostering faculty and students to experiment with methods, ideas, and applications not provided by departmental courses and curricula; (2) fostering creation of new courses that become core curriculum; (3) fostering innovative dissertation topics; (4) fostering transdisciplinary faculty research projects; (5) fostering transdisciplinary student projects; (6) creating an on-going transdisciplinary intellectual dialogue on campus. Main negative findings: (1) some transdisciplinary courses fail; (2) difficult to sustain faculty leadership across the disciplines; (3) institutional support is inconsistent. (4) a vision remains to be fully defined.

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  1. 1.

    First and foremost, I want to thank Alana J. Olschwang, Director of the Office of Institutional Effectiveness, without whose work this assessment and report would not have been possible. I also want to thank Jacob Adams, Provost of Claremont Graduate University, for his support for the t-program. I also want to thank the participants of TheALTAS 2016 Transdisciplinary, Transnational, Transcultural International Conference, held at Xi’an Jiaotong Liverpool University, Suzhou, China, May 29-June 2, 2016. In particular, I benefited from comments from Dr. Paul Gibbs, Dr. Basarab Nicolescu, and Con Kenney.

  2. 2.

    Special appreciation to Dr. Daniel Stokols for his presentations and consultations with our faculty in 2013 on transdisciplinary research and team science. Transdisciplinary approaches in the applied sciences, particularly the health sciences, have been in practice for many years; recently, the emergence of the fields of study and the science of team science provides evidence of the importance of collaborative team work across scientific specialisations. See National Research Council. (2015) Enhancing the Effectiveness of Team Science. Committee on the Science of Team Science, N.J. Cooke & M.L. Hilton, Editors. Board on Behavioral, Cognitive, and Sensory Sciences, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

  3. 3.

    In the Educational Effectiveness Review from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges site visit to Claremont Graduate University in March 2014, the review team declared that Transdisciplinary Studies is a ‘key element of the Claremont Graduate University brand’ and ‘has the potential to serve as a powerful intellectual engine for key aspects of the university’s mission.’ However, the team also observed ‘the success of the programme is contingent upon the active involvement of a critical mass of faculty’ as well as ‘the energy and practical and administrative skills required for everyday operations.’ The team’s recommendations for Transdisciplinary Studies at Claremont Graduate University were for the university to build on the current momentum by enhancing leadership, faculty engagement, and programmatic capacity.

  4. 4.

    It was the vision and gift of George and Ronya Kozmetsky and its reception by President Upham and Claremont Graduate University that led to establishing the George and Ronya Kozmetsky Transdisciplinary Program at Claremont Graduate University in 2004.

  5. 5.

    James Blaisdell, 3rd president of Pomona College.

  6. 6.

    Steadman Uphman, ‘In Celebration of Claremont Graduate University and Our Unfinished Business.’ Speech given at Claremont Graduate University’s Convocation, September 2, 2003. (http://Claremont Graduate

  7. 7.

    Elements included here are taken from a report by Alana J. Olschwang, Director of the Office of Institutional Effectiveness, who deserves special recognition for her thorough work for this study.

  8. 8.

    An advisory committee post-review was convened and, rather than define transdisciplinary as ‘an approach to knowledge, research, and problem solving that takes the core ideas, methods, concepts, and history of at least three disciplines and uses them to study a broad range of problems that no one discipline alone can address’, the working definition is now ‘an approach to problem-centered research and teaching that draws upon the ideas and methods of multiple disciplines and extends our knowledge beyond any single discipline-specific domain to create new, integrative, and transformative solutions.’

  9. 9.

    George Kozmetsky, Creative and innovative management: A new academic frontier in Creative and Innovative Management: Essays in Honors of George Kozmetsky. A. Chanres and W. W. Cooper, (eds) (Cambridge, MA: Ballinger Publishing Company, 1984), p. 4.

  10. 10.

    ESRI is a software company located in Redlands, California. It uses ArcGIS, a location platform to connect people with maps, data, and apps through geographic information systems (GIS). See ESRI

  11. 11.

    Thanks to Dr. Hovig Tchalian, Assistant Professor of Practice and Director, Drucker Advisory Services, Drucker School of Management, Claremont Graduate University, who provided the details.

  12. 12.

    Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862), Autumnal tints (1862), in The Writings of Henry David Thoreau, vol. 5: 286, Houghton Mifflin (1906).

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Easton, P. (2017). Lessons Learned in Transdisciplinary Graduate Education: Claremont Graduate University’s Decade-Long Experiment. In: Gibbs, P. (eds) Transdisciplinary Higher Education. Springer, Cham.

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