Aerial photograph of farm land creating a geometric grid of green rectangles

Summer Institute on Cross-Disciplinary Graduate Education

June 8–11, 2021

How can cross-disciplinary, project-based courses serve graduate students across the University? This question is under investigation at the University of Iowa by both the Andrew W. Mellon-funded Humanities for the Public Good PHD initiative and the National Science Foundation NRT-Funded Sustainable Water Development Graduate Program as well as implicitly in interdisciplinary degrees in many corners of the University.

In the past decade, groups of UI faculty members have taught “Big Ideas” undergraduate courses under the leadership of astronomy professor and now Associate Dean Cornelia Lang (CLAS). Artists, humanists, scientists, and social scientists joined students in exploring multi-disciplinary frameworks and methods for addressing a shared research topic. This Institute will ask how cross-disciplinary, project-based courses could also serve graduate students across the University.

This Institute invites faculty and academic staff actively involved in graduate education to share their perspectives on cross-disciplinary teaching and learning at the graduate level. We hope participants will choose to continue working together as a learning community through the 2021-22 academic year.

The Institute will focus on three topics:

  1. What local and global issues would benefit from multi-disciplinary opportunities for graduate students to learn together?
  2. How could courses and experiential learning opportunities address such issues as well as skills and values needed for cross-disciplinary collaboration such as leadership, role flexibility, facilitation, project and time management, humility, deep listening, moving creatively from mistakes, ongoing self-examination and collective assessment, and the crucial importance of equity and justice to meaningful outcomes?
  3. How might a learning community create intellectual space to imagine, design, create, and advocate for cross-disciplinary, team-taught workshops and courses that could serve existing interdisciplinary programs, ground new collaborations, and thoughtfully, reciprocally complement disciplinary graduate programs?

Participants will hear from researcher-teachers whose work engages interdisciplinary approaches to pressing issues such as environmental quality and health equity. We will learn from one another what project-based and participatory research means in each of our discipline(s) and reflect on our own practices as cross-disciplinary collaborators. How can we prepare students for the cross-disciplinary, cross-sectoral careers that await our students? Both organizers are exploring ways to incorporate ethics and practices of equitable, reciprocal, collaborative, community-based, cross-disciplinary research (including the arts) into graduate programs funded by our separate grants and will draw upon their projects as case studies. Participants are also encouraged to share their own case studies of past and future collaborative, experiential, community-based, and/or project-based learning experiences.


  • Andrew W. Mellon Funded Humanities for the Public Good Initiative
  • NSF NRT Sustainable Water Development at the University of Iowa
  • University of Iowa P3 Funded IowaRise Initiative

Institute Leaders:

  • David Cwiertny, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Director of the Center for Health Effects of Environmental Contamination and the National Science Foundation NRT-Funded Sustainable Water Development Graduate Program
  • Teresa Mangum, Professor of Gender, Women’s, and Sexuality Studies and English, Director of the Obermann Center for Advanced Studies, and Andrew W. Mellon Funded Humanities for the Public Good PHD Initiative