At first, the challenge presented to us for Ideathon, to ideate an “interdisciplinary research project aimed at addressing issues of inequity and/or accessibility faced by students in higher education today,” seemed a daunting task. Evan was doing computational modeling; Kevin conducting technological business; Emily performing English/Archival research; Charlie studying contemporary art, gender, and archaeology; and myself reviewing neurobiology literature. How could we integrate all these vastly different disciplines into a single idea for improving higher education—a field that none of us were studying?
I discovered through the process, however, that our six highly diverse minds were, in fact, our greatest strength in developing an interdisciplinary project. Not only were our fields of study different, but also our backgrounds and college experiences in general; thus, we were able to pool together many ideas for what diversity/equity issues to address with our project. For instance, since I have some incoming freshmen peers who have been contacting me this summer about entering Pitt, I was able to contribute my knowledge about their perspective transitioning from high school to college. Kevin also provided invaluable insight into how the student experience is different in the Business School compared to Dietrich. Pooling our different knowledge together, my group was able to discuss diversity/equity issues taking into consideration the multifaceted, highly nuanced aspects of these issues.
Since we were aware of the variety in our fields of study, I believe everyone made a conscious effort not to speak in technical jargon, which made communication quite easy. Since we were all working toward a common goal, I believe focusing more on “big-picture” ideas without getting into nitty-gritty, field-specific methods was also effective in facilitating interdisciplinary communication. Eventually, we decided to provide mentoring and other resources for first-generation college students. After deciding on a general topic to address, Emily, who has worked with the Pitt BRIDGES program in the past, and Evan, who understands most of the computational/artificial intelligence/machine learning aspects of developing such a program, were able to put forth more specific ideas that the rest of us were able to contextualize within the larger project.
The Ideathon has certainly made me gain a deeper appreciation for research in improving higher education—specifically, the interdisciplinary nature of the field. Although my research is in the natural sciences, I realized that many of the same methods I use in my research, such as literature review, can be transferred to other fields–for instance, conducting background research on the first-generation student experience for our problem/significance statements. I also learned quite a bit about my group members’ diverse projects/interests/backgrounds while working with them on a common interdisciplinary project. I thoroughly enjoyed putting our heads together during this Ideathon, and I look forward to continuing to work with people outside my field in the future as well!