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Parallels between STEAM+ and a faculty Honours program

By Elizabeth Machkovska, Bachelor student Human Geography and Spatial Planning at Utrecht University, the Netherlands

I had the pleasure to be invited to listen to a Steering Group meeting in the STEAM+ project in October 2021. From there on, I got the opportunity to study the process of STEAM+ as part of an undergraduate research project coordinated by Marca Wolfensberger who is involved in several talent programs at higher education. The premise of STEAM+ intrigued me as I fuel my broad academic interests by taking courses outside of my major.

From a student perspective, a few parallels can be drawn between the STEAM+ and another Honours talent programmes. I have enrolled in such program in my first year of university. The set-up of the Innovation Labs is applicable to the structure of the honours projects. During the Geosciences Honours College (GHC) at Utrecht University students from four disciplines come together in order to inspire and learn from each other*. Each group project there are new insights I gain from the other disciplines. One would assume that disciplines from the same faculty would easily find common ground, however there is still a variety of uninterchangeable theories and different skills and methodologies applied, within those separate studies. The students do agree on the fact that each discipline has an equal contribution to the projects. As a student from a gamma oriented study, there are technical, physical and environmental components I am confronted with when considering, for example, a layout for a futureproof neighbourhood. The collaboration with beta disciplines is then truly impactful and instructive. Our joint contribution has less parts of a solution missing. Geosciences cross disciplinary boundaries willingly, as their knowledge is quite context dependent, working with dynamic and social systems. The STEM-studies are considered closely connected as well, but does this relation manifests itself during the collaborative effort in STEAM+ Innovation Labs?

Regarding the link between an Honours programme and STEAM+ Labs, interdisciplinary approach of the GHC is one step prior to the transdisciplinary STEAM+ objective. However, the real life component of transdisciplinarity is present at the GHC similar to its implementation during the STEAM+ Labs. The students intend to ‘give back’ to the society. This can be related to the Klaipeda Innovation Lab, throughout which the ideas were tied to the Sustainable Development Goals. There is both academical and emotional awareness among students who would like to make a positive impact through their field of education. Aspiring geoscientists speak the language of sustainability and see themselves as the citizens of an Anthropocene world. Do you find like-minded peers among STEAM+’ers as well?

I am curious whether representation of various academic fields differs when comparing collaboration of disciplines from the same faculty in GHC to the involvement of studies from different faculties during STEAM+. Which disciplines are more inclined to participate in the Labs? At the GHC, there could be an unequal mixture of disciplines involved in the program. Some bachelor programs are either over- or underrepresented. For the sake of the program it is desirable to have a balanced enrolment, so that each group has a contribution from diverse fields. However, in practice, it might depend on the type of research the transdisciplinary team is working on whether this skewed distribution is perceived as off less or more importance.

The talent development aspect is integrated throughout the whole programme. Diverse outcomes of projects are requested, such as video’s, podcasts, presentations, websites and posters. In addition, students acquire new skills by organising the seminars, debates, and other types of substantive and fun activities for the fellow students. Part of the programme is then created by the students who organise themselves with some guidance from the teachers. How does the co-creation work in the STEAM+ projects?

From a broad perspective, the Honours education lines up for the new role for universities, which emphasises (a positive) societal impact through the academic research. The STEAM+ projects pave the way for the new forms of education where there is diversity in both disciplines involved and in didactics applied. The STEAM driven learning environment integrated in the bachelor programme would inspire and prepare the students to think of a holistic approach to the real life challenges.

*Those disciplines are Earth Sciences, Global Sustainability Science, Human Geography & Spatial Planning and Nature Science & Innovation Management.

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