Scenario 3: Inquiry—Cross-disciplinary Breadth

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Main Concept

Offers breadth and engages inquiry through a significant cross-disciplinary experience, based on a broad curriculum of inquiry-driven courses representative of the range of research and teaching in the College. This concept develops interdisciplinary, creative problem-solving skills by enabling students to experience how diverse fields and perspectives engage with a problem, issue, or debate. It is anchored by a new common course—a required introduction to liberal studies and epistemology.


Compared to the current menu-driven structure, this concept simplifies and integrates by substituting a set of cross-disciplinary engagements with disciplines, problems, materials, and learning experiences.

It provides:

1) A proxy for breadth --through a managed requirement for cross-disciplinary courses across a prescribed range.

2) A significant advance in integrative and synthetic learning through cross-disciplinary teaching and learning.

3) A common integrative, meta-cognitive experience that supports student learning in this cross-disciplinary mode, in the form an introductory A&S course.

4) Experiential learning opportunities emerging from the problem-solving curriculum.

Two Essential Requirements

Requirement I:  Thinking across the disciplines

First and second-year students select four courses from an evolving curriculum of cross-disciplinary creative problem or issue-based (ICPS) courses overseen by a standing committee. Each course is assigned to a broadly conceptualized distribution area; students must select courses from at least three areas. This curation and student course selection ensures the breadth of students’ engagement with disciplines, within a cross-disciplinary curriculum.

Models [Requirement I has two possible models]:

A.Thinking Matters model: A set of ICPS courses—five or six offered per semester—focused on “thinking matters” or significant issues, problems, or topics. These courses are oriented toward active learning and cross-disciplinary thinking. Classes would involve lectures (preferably team taught), but would also integrate small group seminars (led by TAs) to stimulate discussion and possibly engage experiential learning components, as well as oral and written expression. The medical school case study model might be loosely followed, with relevant subtopics covered in some detail as they pertain to the problem or topic at hand. Short argumentative writing assignments or presentations would be expected throughout, culminating in a paper or project addressing the central issue of the course. These activities might replace or be integrated with the freshman writing seminars (see below).

ICPS courses would be curated so that each semester the range of disciplines is as broad as possible; the curriculum would be created and managed by an administrative group, might include competitive application by faculty collaborators or departments, and might be accorded support for innovative teaching tools and for aspects like visiting speakers or events.

B.University Courses model: This model would adapt some versions of current or prospective University Courses to the above plan, simplifying implementation and start-up. This model would omit the seminar component described above. Courses would be proposed by departments or groups of faculty, might utilize the University Courses imprimatur and administration, and would be managed and curated by an administrative group, as above.  [See sample curriculum appended below from current/past A&S University Courses.*]

Rationale [for Requirement I]:

Learning as managed through this requirement is integrative [compared to traditional distribution requirement menu]; topics match up with current themes, new thinking, and major contemporary challenges; courses introduce concepts of disciplinarity and metacognitive awareness. Areas of knowledge are gained in an exploratory, problem-directed manner that involves small group interactions and potential experiential components.

Optional changes:

  1. 5-6 courses could be required over the course of the degree, instead of four in the first two years. [this would require a larger curriculum of ICPS courses]
  2. Seminar component of the Thinking Matters model could be fulfilled by current FWS seminars whose topics could be adapted to parallel the ICPS courses.
  3. Some ICPS courses could satisfy major requirements, thereby reducing overall graduation requirements.

Requirement II: “A&S 101”

A new first-semester 2-credit course focusing on disciplinary and cross-disciplinary knowledge-creation, metacognition, and epistemology. This course should be designed and taught by one (or two collaborating) professorial faculty members and managed through some combination of lectures and sections. Though the course may introduce selected visitors and provide information about particular initiatives and programs, it should have a coherent structure and rationale, which connects directly with ICPS teaching and learning concept, and includes reflections on problem-solving processes, disciplinary and cross-disciplinary conceptualization, and ethical practices in learning, scholarship, and knowledge-creation.

This course would be intentionally and creatively engineered to provide an exciting and distinctive learning experience. It might utilize unconventional teaching methods or tools, gather students in focused groups or active sets, manage unusual opportunities to interact with or experience specialist expertise or outcomes, and lead to further creative learning experiences in the A&S curriculum.


Rationale [for Requirement II]:

Provides a common experience for first-year students. Supports A&S identity; promulgates A&S values of inquiry, curiosity, and exploration; and prepares students for the ICPS learning experience. Contextualizes A&S educational values in relation to theories of cognition and an understanding of epistemology. Provides for reflection and metacognition.

Optional changes:

  1. Eliminate A&S 101, or include it as an option and not a requirement.
  2. Increase A&S 101 to two semesters (4 credits) instead of one for greater continuity.

Corollary Requirements

Experiential Learning Requirement

At least two experiential learning activities – e.g. Independent Research, Creative Writing, Artistic or Architectural Projects, Capstone Project, Engaged Cornell, Global Cornell.


Linked directly to and emerges directly from the active learning, experiential premises of the “Thinking” concept and the ICPS course experience. Provides a “real-world” learning experience where students must express creativity and practice the skills of their chosen disciplines.

Optional changes:

  1. Encouraged, but not a requirement.
  2. Aspects of existing courses could count – e.g. creative writing, art projects, laboratory courses.

Communication or “Expanded Writing” Requirement

“Communication 101”—a new 2-credit spring semester course taught in small sections to teach written and other modes of communication—e.g. oral communication, different writing technologies, data, and images.

Together ICPS and A&S 101 replace the FWS. 


Provides a common experience for first-year students and the foundation for writing and other communication assignments in the ICPS courses. Teaches core practices of communication so that the ICPS courses can focus on exploration of their topic.

Optional changes:

  1. No Communication 101, or not required—retain FWS
  2. Two semesters (4 credits) instead of one.

Quantitative Reasoning Requirement

Initially this requirement would be fulfilled by certain designated courses. More flexibility could be added such that courses in Math, Statistics, Economics and/or Computer Science would suffice.

In subsequent years, establishment of more general quantitative reasoning course(s) could follow. Topics could include, statistical analyses of data, uncertainty and probability, rates of change and non-linearity, and regression analysis.

Intercultural Knowledge Requirement

Fulfilled by designated courses, or study abroad in some cases.

Language Requirement

Fulfilled by

  1. Language study of one language at 2000-3000 level or
  2. Linguistics at 2000-3000 level
  3. Study abroad—long or short-term experience

Learning Goals

In this scenario, learning goals are achieved in a holistic manner, with the realignment toward cross-disciplinary inquiry, discovery, persuasive expression and meta-cognition taking special emphasis. ICPS courses are developed specifically to foster critical, integrative and synthetic thinking across disciplinary boundaries. The integration between ICPS and the FWS is designed to develop persuasive expression in this context, supported further by the Communication 101 course. Discovery and Civic Engagement will be central elements of the experiential learning experiences, with opportunities (if not requirements) available for each. Discovery may also occur to some extent through the ICPS and major courses, although this is expected to vary. Quantitative reasoning will be developed by a specific course requirement, or through the major. Intercultural knowledge and scientific literacy will be emphasized in the chosen major or at minimum achieved through the breadth requirements of the ICPS courses.  Epistemology, meta-cognition and ethics in scholarship will be directly addressed through A&S 101.


Sample Courses that reflect the ICPS concept (from current offerings):

Karen Pinkus and Natalie Mahowald, “Humans and Climate Change” -- COML/EAS 2021
This course explores the human dimension of climate change. Of course, changes in the climate are natural, but it is almost universally acknowledged that humans have contributed to an unprecedented speeding up of the processes with potentially cataclysmic effects. Drawing on disciplines including cultural studies, history, economics, climate science, philosophy, anthropology, political/labor theory, and sociology the first half of the course asks the question “What did humans do to cause climate change?” and the second half of the course asks “what can humans do to mitigate and adapt to climate change?” A course packet of readings will include works on climate and industrial history, policy-making, biodiversity, ethics, technology, agriculture, design and environmental justice. Students will also be required to watch several films (There Will be Blood, Anderson 2007; The Day After Tomorrow, Emmerich 2004) and read short pieces of fiction or poetry. In addition to short-essay response prelims, students will work together in small groups to produce an interdisciplinary project on a future city or social space.

Andrew Chignell and William Starr, “The Ethics of Eating”—Philosophy 2411
We all face difficult moral decisions on occasion. This course introduces students to the idea that we face such a decision several times a day in deciding what to eat. How should facts about animal life and death inform this decision? Is the suffering involved in meat, egg, and dairy production really bad enough to make the practices immoral? How do our dietary choices affect local and non-local economies, the environment, and other people generally? Finally, given the deep connections between eating practices and various ethnic, religious and class identities, how can we implement a reasonable food policy for an expanding world population while also respecting these important differences? The goal of this course is not to teach some preferred set of answers to these questions. The goal is rather to give participants the basic tools required to reflect clearly and effectively on the questions themselves. These tools include a working knowledge of the major moral theories developed by philosophers, and an understanding of basic empirical issues related to food production, distribution, consumption, and disposal. In addition to readings, lectures, and required sections, the course will involve trips to some local food-production facilities, as well as supplemental lectures by experts from Cornell, Ithaca, and beyond.

Janice Thies, Peter Davies, Peter Hobbs, Ronald Herring, Sara Evanega “The GMO Debate: Science, Society, and Global Impacts”— Government, Plant Biology, Plant Breeding, Soil and Crop Sciences (BSOC/GOVT/IARD/PLSCS/STS 4303)
GMO' is the political framing of some aspects of biotechnology, the broad term for tools used to alter living organisms for human purposes. Genetic engineering (recombinant DNA technology) is one class of methods now in use. Social movements have arisen to block both the testing and commercializing of rDNA products, positing a spectrum of negative consequences. Objections center on the issues of food sovereignty, ownership of transgenic traits and the genetic background in which they are placed (intellectual property), environmental uncertainties/risks, control of the food supply by multinational corporations and human health. Students will evaluate prominent arguments and political positions in relation to scientific findings and cultural norms. We seek to understand precisely the dimensions and dynamics of contention: what is at stake? Why does the controversy reach global dimensions? What are the concrete interests involved? Who wins and why? Students will learn how biotech crops are developed, and how regulatory systems assess their human and environmental safety, before diving into the controversy.

Current University Courses curriculum in A&S (sample courses for Model B: University Courses Model):

  • American Cinema—Haenni—AMST 2760/ PMA 2560/ VISST 2300 
  • Blaxploitation Film and Photography--Finley--ARTH ASRC FGSS PMA 3505/AMST 3515/ VISST 3505
  • Chemical Ecology --Kessler, Agrawal, Raguso, Thaler--BIOEE BIONB ENTOM 3690
  • Controversies about Inequality--Haskins--SOC PAM ILROB DSOC 2220/ GOVT 2225/ PHIL 1950
  • Ethical Issues in Health and Medicine—Hilgartner, Prentice—STS BSOC 2051
  • The Ethics of Eating –Chignell, Starr--PHIL 1440
  • A Global History of Love—Ghosh/Loos—HIST Asian Studies FGSS 1930
  • The GMO Debate: Science, Society, and Global Impacts--Thies, Davies, Hobbes, Herring, Evanega--GOVT CSS BSOC BIOPL IARD PLSCS PLBR STS 4304
  • Hip Hop: Rhythm, Words, and Life—Pond, Van Clief-Stefanon, Gosa—MUSIC English ASRC 2390
  • History of American Capitalism--Baptist, Cowie--HIST AMST 1540/ ILR 1845
  • The History of Exploration: Land, Sea, and Sky--Norton, Squyres --HIST ASTRO 1700
  • Humans and Climate Change--Pinkus, Mahowald --EAS COML 2021
  • Imaginative Arts of Migration—Haenni, Adelson—PMA 3481/GERST 3581/COML 3580/VISST AMST 3581
  • Introduction to Human-Environment Relations—Evans—DEA COGST PSYCH 1500
  • Medicine, Culture, and Society-- Langwick--ANTHR BSOC STS 2468
  • Networks, Crowds, and Markets--Easley, Kleinberg, Tardos--ECON INFO 2040/ SOC 2090, CS 2850
  • Personal Genomics and Medicine --Aquadro--BIOMG 1290
  • Plagues and People--Laura Harrington, Marina Caillaud--ENT 2100/BSOC 2101
  • Psychoanalysis, The Unconscious, and Mental Life--McNulty--FREN 3560/COML 3781
  • Punk Culture:  The Aesthetics and Politics of Refusal--Peraino, McEnaney--COMPL MUSIC PMA AMST 2006
  • Race and Social Entrepreneurship: Food Justice and Urban Reform—Rooks—ASRC 4330/AMST 4033
  • Science Fiction--Banerjee--COML ENGL 2035/STS 2131
  • The Science of Social Behavior --Ceci, Macy--HD SOC ILR COMM 4580 
  • Six Pretty Good Books: Explorations in Social Science--Ceci, Macy--SOC HD ILR 2580/ COMM 1840
  • Taking America’s Pulse:  Creating and Conducting a National Survey --Enns, Schuldt—GOVT COMM 3189

Essential Components

These areas below reflect specific, focused educational items or goals that will be relevant to this scenario. They may involve particular pragmatic dimensions or consequences, or require specific organizational planning within or beyond the college.

  1. A&S common course (variously defined)
    Options include an overview of the college/curriculum, an introduction to careers and professional training opportunities, a topics course or a cross-disciplinary/inquiry course that models liberal educational learning goals, etc. Size options include large seriatim lectures or small seminars.
  2. Capstone or “culminating experience” (variously defined)
    E.g. encourage capstones within majors, or create a set of “common experiences” options where students can apply their liberal arts education in a variety of ways.
  3. Community engaged learning and/or research
    See the “civic awareness/engagement” learning goal (Liberal Education Learning Goals).
  4. Diversity and inclusion
    See the “intercultural knowledge/multicultural competency” learning goal (Liberal Education Learning Goals).
  5. Experiential learning
    Options include: undergraduate research, capstone projects, community-engaged experience, study abroad experience, field work.
  6. Global education or study abroad
    See the “intercultural knowledge” learning goal (Liberal Education Learning Goals).
  7. Persuasive Expression/writing/communication
    See the “persuasive expression” learning goal (Liberal Education Learning Goals).
  8. Language requirement
  9. Quantitative reasoning
  10. Sexual violence prevention
    Note the role of student affairs in supporting/shaping this aim.
  11. Online education


Please comment. General and specific responses to individual Scenarios are especially useful. You might also propose a hybrid “scenario” based on two of the given scenarios, or a significantly different sort of “scenario,” not represented here.

Review Scenario One.

Review Scenario Two.