Welcome to the Office of Interdisciplinary Programs! Our office houses interdisciplinary research centers and academic programs in the College of Arts and Sciences. Interdisciplinary programs represent a key hub of learning, research, and community at Lehigh.
What do interdisciplinary curricular programs and research centers have to offer?
Across the globe, we are experiencing rapid changes to our environment and social, political, and economic structures. Climate change, global pandemics, population growth, and social inequality represent just a few of the world’s most pressing challenges.
Some refer to the key issues the world is facing as “wicked problems.” Wicked problems are issues that are so complex and intertwined that it is hard to grasp what exactly the problem is, or how to solve it. With wicked problems, the rules are always changing and a blinded focus on one aspect of the problem could be detrimental to another. Wicked problems are like a tangled mess of string; it is impossible to know which thread to pull first.
Pressing global social issues are complex and demand the knowledge and skills of multiple academic disciplines. Remaining confined to disciplinary silos will not lead to new ideas, creativity, or the development of holistic and effective approaches. Interdisciplinary methods and thinking are essential to create an environment for innovation essential to addressing wicked problems.
Why major (or minor) in an interdisciplinary program?
Most students get narrow vocational training for jobs few of them will ever have. A recent report found that over three-quarters of American college graduates go on to a career unrelated to their major – a trend that includes math and science majors. A rapidly changing, problem-plagued and complex world demands conceptual reasoning skills that can connect new ideas and work across contexts. This is what an interdisciplinary education at Lehigh provides.
Interdisciplinary is a broader movement across higher education, in which students have majors where they take several courses in different disciplines. In this integrative model, the knowledge, ways of thinking, and pedagogies from multiple fields, such as the humanities, social sciences, and mathematics and natural sciences, are brought together within the context of a single program of study. In interdisciplinary academic programs, professors help students make the connections between disciplines in an effort to enrich and improve learning.
Research shows that students who can understand and make connections across a diverse array of knowledge and skills typically have more rewarding lives and better employment opportunities. For example, surveys reveal that employers see talent as more than deep technical expertise or familiarity with a particular approach or subject matter. Rather, employers seek well-rounded individuals with a broad and holistic educational background who can comprehend and solve complex problems that transcend disciplines.
Very few employers indicate that acquiring the knowledge or skills needed for a specific field or position is the best path to long-term success. Employers report that when hiring, they place the greatest value on demonstrated proficiency in skills and knowledge that cut across college majors. The skills employers rate as most important include written and oral communication, collaboration, ethical decision-making, critical thinking, the ability to work with people from diverse backgrounds, and the capacity to apply knowledge in complex, multidimensional, and multidisciplinary settings.
According to employers, this combination of crosscutting skills is more important to an individual’s success at a company than the major she or he pursued while in college.
Interdisciplinary majors and minors, where disciplines are integrated in meaningful and thoughtful ways, encourage self-directed and explorative learning. These skills are better-suited to industry and prepare students for jobs, opening doors and providing a range of opportunities.