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Ron Walters

Coming Together: Faculty Participate in Transdisciplinary Class

Faculty members had a chance to be students again, thanks to a creative approach to interdisciplinary learning. The opportunity came through a graduate class called Design Thinking.

Idaho alumnus Ron Walters has been teaching a half-semester undergraduate class entitled Design Thinking Unlimited during the current academic year. The course brings together business, education and art and architecture students. As a result of his success with students in the course, Walters expanded his offering to include an exploratory class that includes faculty from nearly every college.

“The class provided a unique opportunity for faculty to engage in Design Thinking methodologies with others from multiple disciplines,” says Walters. “As students, they were energized by the different perspectives and the opportunity to address problems in a very different way.”

In the graduate class, Walters’ faculty-students use their problem solving skills and focus on problems not necessarily related to their field of study. Faculty-turned-students focus on broad topics like redesigning Congress to help his students think outside the box. Walters says the class has developed some surprising and unique solutions, since the faculty members are coming at the problem with a fresh perspective.

The class also helps bring together faculty from the various colleges in a different way, without specific agendas. Walters says this increases networking opportunities and the resulting discussions help faculty members discover shared interests, which can lead to new interdisciplinary connections and studies.

“When students graduate and go into their professions, they find themselves working with people from many fields,” says Walters. “Gaining this experience while they are in school gives them a head start.”

Walters is used to working with enthusiastic students; he says he is not surprised by the fact that faculty in his class have met the challenges with equal energy, interest and enthusiasm.

Read more about the transdisciplinary class While faculty members enjoy the course, the classes also provide potential for colleges to share resources when it comes to teaching and use of facilities. Because budgets are shrinking everywhere, Walters believes there is also value in being open to new approaches which allow us to get more from the resources we have.

“In this new world we are having to look at things in a different way,” says Walters. “Owning our own destiny is important, we need to step back and take a look at the big picture and bring our resources together. The result can also increase, not decrease, outcomes for both students and faculty.”

Since the University is shifting toward that cross-discipline thinking, Walters says it really highlights the entrepreneurial spirit the University is working towards through forging partnerships.

The College of Art and Architecture alumnus has worked in several areas of strategic planning, architecture and business; he even started his own business shortly after graduation, which became a pioneer in the development and use of Geographic Information Systems and other environmental and community involvement initiatives in the early days of the movements.

After reconnecting with the University and chairing the College of Art and Architecture Advisory Board, Walters saw the opportunity for introducing transdisciplinary learning and design thinking into University curriculum, based on his four decades of very diverse experience. The results of the undergraduate classes have been called “transformative” by the students.