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Innovation and Leadership:
The Search for the Renaissance Professional1

August 27, 1998

I am delighted to be here to share in the celebration of Rose-Hulman's 125th anniversary. Your school has long been one of the shining lights in higher education.

When Sam Hulbert asked me to participate in a discussion about New Paradigms for Higher Education in the 21st Century, I was not sure that it was appropriate to use the plural of paradigm. But the more I thought about it, the more I became convinced that indeed we are talking about multiple paradigms.

We only need to look at the developments in the 20th Century to see the multiplying of paradigms. The creation of Rose-Hulman 125 years ago was part of the polytechnic movement in this country that created a significant paradigm shift in the 20th Century - a paradigm shift with regard to the content of professional education.

After the second World War, we saw some other dramatic paradigm shifts. The development of the community colleges represented a paradigm shift in the structure and organization of higher education. The GI Bill represented a paradigm shift in the financial structure of higher education.

In the last decade, the rapid growth of corporate universities has raised the possibility of a significant paradigm shift in the locus of responsibility for providing higher education.2

Developments in long-distance education and asynchronous learning promise a shift in the pedagogical paradigm as we move into the next century.3

As I was thinking about new pedagogical paradigms, I imagined this conference being held to celebrate your 150th anniversary in the year 2023. I might have begun the day at an electron center and asked someone to "beam me to Terre Haute." All of you might be sitting here in a cocoon of holographic images.

Or you, too, might be beaming in from elsewhere on the planet. Certainly the world of 2023 is likely to be much more electronic and interactive than it is today. The only thing that we know for sure is that Sam Hulbert would still be giving the welcoming remarks.

What I want to talk about today is a potential change in the professional education paradigm. A change that, if it occurs, will be driven by the need for the professions to play different roles in innovation and leadership. A change that will require creation of "Renaissance professionals." In the course of discussion, I want to tell you about an experiment that we have under way at IIT.

The year 2023 is a useful benchmark for this symposium, because the students we are educating now will have assumed leadership roles in the world. And we would all like to think that we are providing an educational experience that will enable our students to succeed as leaders.

How can we know what our students will need in 2023? We certainly cannot know what the world will be like, either socially, economically, politically, or technologically. We all have ideas about what it might be like. We all have ideas about the directions of change, and we certainly all have ideas about the nature of human beings and the characteristics that it takes for success.

We also know that predictions about the future are notoriously unreliable.

On the eve of the 20th Century, Lord Kelvin said, "Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible. And radio has no future." He may have known a lot about absolute temperatures, but absolutely nothing about the future of technology.

We all know IBM Chairman Thomas Watson's famous 1940s opinion that "there is a world market for maybe five computers."

Less well known is the 1975 statement by Ken Olson, founder of Digital Equipment Corp., that "there is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home."

Predicting the future has always been hazardous, and the smartest and most successful people have been very wrong. I doubt that Kelvin, Watson and Olson would have made better predictions if they had studied harder in college or taken different courses.

Higher education is not about teaching people to predict the future. It is about helping them to imagine and shape the future. It is about helping them to develop their talents to be leaders of innovation and responsible citizens of the world.

How do we do that? How do we prepare students to be leaders of innovation? How do we prepare them to "be the best that they can be," to quote the current U.S. Army recruiting slogan?

Let me begin with a quick description of what I think is the prevailing paradigm of liberal education.

In addition to whatever information, knowledge, or content they may acquire, our aim is to inspire our students to have curiosity, courage, imagination, and judgment:

  • The curiosity to learn--the joy of continuing to expand one's knowledge.
  • The courage to challenge the status quo and take intellectual risks.
  • The imagination to think about new ways of improving life.
  • The judgment to temper the imagination with a clear understanding of the realities of the world and the human condition, and the judgment to understand and fulfill the responsibilities of citizenship.

These are all goals of traditional liberal arts education. But what about professional education--a subject of particular interest to most of us attending this conference?

Professional education seeks to develop a fifth attribute in students: competence to solve problems by using a discrete set of techniques that reside within a particular profession.

Those of us engaged in professional education have historically struggled with the balance between this last attribute and the other four previous goals.

Law, medicine, psychology, and business have dealt with this tension by requiring completion of undergraduate work before entering professional school. Architecture has continued to shift toward a post baccalaureate model. Engineering and accountancy remain undergraduate professional programs and have faced a more substantial challenge in balancing professional education requirements and general education goals.

I would suggest that we have an even greater struggle ahead because we need to add yet another attribute: interprofessional capability. We need to teach our students to draw knowledge from across professional boundaries--e.g., for electrical engineers to learn from lawyers and architects, for lawyers to learn from doctors and mechanical engineers, for business students to learn from chemical engineers and psychologists. I would describe people who have interprofessional capability as "Renaissance professionals."

As professional knowledge has deepened, professional schools have become narrowing experiences for too many students. Professional education too often encourages the student to narrowly define professional activities and knowledge. Narrow professionals talk to each other, but often have difficulty relating their knowledge to the needs of a diverse society.

My theme today is that we are likely to see a paradigm shift. We are likely to be asked to educate Renaissance professionals who can operate across disciplinary boundaries and better relate their work to society.

Why is this likely to happen?

Professionals who have the ability to learn from other professionals will have a greater probability of developing the innovations needed to solve some of the world's most complex problems.

In health care, it is not only the health professionals but the engineers and lawyers, as well as business executives and government officials, who are working together to come up with new ways to deliver and finance health care.

It is nutritionists, biologists, chemists, and chemical engineers seeking ways to enhance food safety who need to work with lawyers and business executives to develop the rules for the processing and packaging of food, not to mention the importation of food.

The list of collaborating professions in almost every major field is quite long, whether it is the environment, food production, housing, world security, telecommunications, or space exploration. Such is the nature of getting things done in the "real world," and making innovative contributions.

Innovation is what enables us to have a rising standard of living. Simply accumulating more of the same inevitably reaches a point of diminishing returns.4

Innovation is the ability to get people to do things in a new way—to use new methods for achieving results.

Innovation is the art of using existing knowledge from seemingly unrelated areas to create valuable products, services and ways of doing business. It often takes a long period for someone to discover that existing clusters of knowledge can be combined in an innovative way.5

The development of the computer is a good example.

A number of diverse developments came together to make the computer possible. The binary theorem was developed in the 17th Century, and applied to a calculating machine in the first half of the 19th Century. At the end of the 19th Century, invention of the punch card made it possible to convert numbers into instructions. In the early 20th Century, invention of the audion tube created electronics. Soon thereafter, we had the development of symbolic logic enabling us to express all logical concepts as numbers. And during World War I, the concepts of programming and feedback were developed primarily for the purpose of anti-aircraft gunnery, bombsights and aircraft control systems. By 1918, in other words, all the knowledge needed to develop the computer was available.6

However, it took almost 30 years for someone to figure out how to utilize this knowledge to create the first operational computer in 1946.

Significant advances in materials science took the computer revolution from special air-conditioned rooms, to PCs on desktops networked to the Internet with optical fiber.

Innovation in business practices is also necessary, as Bill Gates has demonstrated. Gates' engineering prowess, embodied in MS-DOS, was inferior to that of Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, embodied in the Apple MacIntosh. However, Gates' strategic vision for linking technology to customer needs was superior not only to Apple's but also to IBM's, even though Jobs and Apple Computer had a technically superior product. Microsoft has demonstrated great capacity to rapidly respond to the profound challenges brought about by the explosion of the World Wide Web. They have relentlessly pursued a broad vision across the boundaries of technologies, industries, professions and cultures.

So innovation can take many forms and is not simply technical invention. As we develop our students' interprofessional capability, we should enhance their capacity to innovate. The question for us in higher education is how we can significantly influence our students' capacity to become innovators across the frontiers of the real professional world. Simply put: How will we teach interprofessional capability?

Some would contend that universities are not well suited for such an undertaking because we do not have the expertise within our faculty to succeed at such a venture.7

It is indeed a challenge, because most faculty members have been formally educated in a particular discipline and have developed deep knowledge in very narrow segments of that discipline. The career advice I received as a young professor was the same that most faculty receive: pick an area and become known as an expert in that particular slice of the field.

Despite the fact that we have all been raised in a higher education culture that values depth, there is considerable evidence that we can also develop the necessary breadth.

We have learned at IIT that faculty can teach interprofessional capability. A significant percentage of our faculty is now engaged in this process.

We are now entering our fourth year of a grand experiment at IIT that seeks to focus on creating an interprofessional learning and working environment.

For us, the concept itself stemmed from the deliberations of the National Commission for IIT chaired by Motorola's Bob Galvin.8 In late 1994, the Commission9 recommended that IIT find ways to link its six professional schools through what the Commission called an interprofessional approach.10

In four years, we have redefined our undergraduate curriculum in interprofessional terms. We have established new masters degrees reflecting joint professional interests, launched new research initiatives that are decidedly interprofessional in character, and, for the first time in our recent history, engaged as a technological institute in policy-related discourse that bridges linking science, technology, law, and all the professions.

Among these efforts are a collaboration between chemical engineering and the Stuart School of Business to offer a masters degree in environmental management; collaboration between electrical and computer engineering and business to offer a masters of electricity markets; and several joint programs involving our law school and Rush Medical School.

Our National Center for Food Safety and Technology has become a model for collaboration between industry, government and academia on food safety research and regulation issues.

Our new Advanced Emergency Telemedicine Institute reflects the convergence of technological advances in medicine, telecommunications, computer engineering, informatics, artificial intelligence, robotics, materials science, and perceptual psychology.

Our Institute for Science, Law and Technology's research agenda concentrates on three complex technology-driven issues: biotechnology and genetics; communications in cyberspace; and the environment.

Each of these topics provides a rich interprofessional environment for lively intellectual exchange among different disciplines and the foundation for student projects and classes that enable them to weigh social, ethical, economic, and legal issues and explore exciting technology trends.

But none of these things by themselves is unique to IIT--they are interdisciplinary forms with which there is great familiarity in higher education.

What is different is the change that is transforming the undergraduate curriculum at IIT--the introduction of interprofessional projects, which we call "IPROs." If there is a new paradigm for 21st Century professional education, it may well be the interprofessional idea.

At IIT, all students are now required to take a minimum of two semester-long interprofessional projects during the course of their undergraduate careers.

An interprofessional project is based on topics from sponsors that reflect the diversity of the work place and reinforce student course work. Projects come from corporations, IIT research programs, entrepreneurial ventures, non-profit organizations, and government agencies.

Each project team is led by a graduate student and guided by co-mentors from the faculty and the sponsor. Ideally, a team includes 10 to 15 students from all academic levels (sophomore through graduate school) and across several of IIT's professional programs.

Project experiences are certainly not a new idea in higher education. Rose-Hulman, WPI and Harvey Mudd are among the many schools that offer fine programs. What is different, and potentially a new paradigm, is that the teams of students are integrated vertically (spanning academic levels) and horizontally (to bridge professional programs).

Students from all six of our professional schools have participated in IPROs: engineering, architecture, design, law, business, and psychology. Humanities, social sciences, biology, chemistry, and physics are also in the mix.

The IPRO program effectively models the work environment students are likely to experience by combining in the team students of different skill levels, ages, and backgrounds. Students learn from each other, as well as the faculty and industry mentors. And, of course, the mentors learn from the students. A significant additional benefit is the opportunity for students to gain insight about career directions and for sponsors to get acquainted with our future graduates.

We conducted our first pilot interprofessional project, on high-speed rail, in spring 1995. Since then, the number of projects has increased to 16 per semester, with an anticipated steady state of 30 per semester by 2001.

Let me share with you one of our recent and most interesting IPROs, Project Bosnia.

The underlying premise of Project Bosnia is that Internet technology can help to rebuild Bosnian law libraries, the court system, and legislative processes. Further, Web technology can provide the means for Bosnian journalists and other members of the media to assure freedom of information by essentially replacing the mortar, bricks, paper, and printing presses destroyed in the war with virtual legal infrastructure, news boards and Web forums.11

The Project Bosnia team consisted of undergraduate computer engineering, computer science and psychology students, as well as law students. The project manager was a law school teaching assistant. And the mentor was Hank Perritt, dean of our Chicago-Kent College of Law.

In just one semester:

  • They convinced Sun Microsystems, U.S. Robotics, Cisco Systems and Motorola to donate all the equipment needed.
  • They designed and developed the networks.
  • They developed the software to enable the independent media to post and retrieve information from anywhere in the world.
  • They trained Bosnian journalists and wrote training materials.
  • They built the Bosnian legal information database and established it on a Web site.
  • They then took everything they had done and went to Bosnia and Serbia over spring break, and installed and tested all the equipment and software.

For the students involved, this was a transforming experience. And for Bosnia, hopefully, it was also a transforming event--supporting the people as they struggle to establish a functioning democracy.

In its 1997 report to the faculty on implementing the IPRO program, a faculty committee said:

"Students (and faculty) should be learning to express what they know in terms that are understandable to intelligent, interested non-experts." They must learn to talk to members of the other professions in understandable language.

This element of listening, understanding and acting together is, in my opinion, the crux of the interprofessional project experience. Ideally, students complete the project having understood the project's objectives and outcomes from perspectives other than their own, while at the same time having learned how to inform others about issues unfamiliar to them.

We have conducted approximately 75 interprofessional projects that have covered a wide range of subjects, from retrofitting auto engines to make them more environmentally friendly, to designing a new stadium for the Chicago Bears. Students have worked with hospitals to improve cardiac imaging technology, and on an electronic cough stimulator to assist paralyzed patients. They have developed a self-contained photovoltaic advertising sign that will soon be placed on the roof of one of our buildings. And they have collaborated in a major project to support one of our alumni in his effort to become the first person to fly around the world nonstop in a balloon.

Unfortunately, in his first attempt, he came down just after crossing the state line into Indiana--but now that Steve Fossett was forced to land in a thunderstorm, our alum, Kevin Uliassi, will have another chance this fall or winter to reach his goal. And he will be assisted by a team of students and faculty.

I know most of you are thinking about the challenges of teaching in an interprofessional way. I think the three most difficult things are learning to understand the vocabulary of other disciplines associated with the project; selecting a project that will actually provide a true interprofessional experience; and developing methods for assessing the learning outcomes of both the group and the individuals.

We just received a grant from the National Science Foundation to create faculty teamwork, leadership, and project management workshops and colloquia, for faculty, graduate students, and the undergraduate teams themselves. These initiatives, already under way, will become part of IIT's faculty enrichment programs, assisting faculty in expanding their interprofessional teaching and mentoring skills.

We hope to build on these workshops to establish a center that institutionalizes the IPRO program and creates a concentration of research and outcomes evaluation for the interprofessional concept.

I am inspired by the work our faculty has done to transform the interprofessional concept into reality. They have done a remarkable job of learning to guide student teams through a very unstructured format. It has been a difficult challenge, but each semester we build on our shared experiences.

And these efforts are inspiring our students to be Renaissance professionals.

The Renaissance professional is first and foremost a professional! This means he or she is fully grounded and credentialed in a particular discipline.

The Renaissance professional must be educated to work in a technological world, understanding that technological change in the content of work and the communications mechanisms is the norm. Graduates must appreciate the conceptual point-of-view of other disciplines and understand the language specific to those disciplines to enhance their own professional lives as innovators and leaders.

The Renaissance professional must be educated to live in a technological world; must be able to work with people and operate in diverse, dynamic workplace environments across cultures; and must anticipate how technology will influence individual lives as well as societal values and policies.

In short, the Renaissance professional has the confidence to face unexpected challenges, because of the capability of drawing knowledge from diverse sources in order to create innovative solutions to improve the world.

Our challenge for the 21st Century is to develop our students' capacity to apply innovative thinking to unfamiliar challenges. It is to inspire them to have curiosity, courage, imagination, and judgment. It is to inspire our students to have professional competence, to expand their horizons and apply the power of their professional knowledge across the landscape of industry and society.

Will the Renaissance professional be one of the 21st Century paradigms? I look forward to joining you at your 150th anniversary to find out.


1 These remarks were delivered at a symposium at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology: New Paradigms for Higher Education in the 21st Century, August 27, 1998. I am grateful to David Baker, Henry Perritt, Jr., Ellen Mitchell, and Tom Jacobius for their considerable help in developing this paper.

2 There are now an estimated 1,600 corporate universities in the United States.

3 There are already a significant number of large and rapidly growing providers of long-distance education, including the University of Phoenix, which has just created a joint venture with Hughes Network Systems; the Open University of Great Britain, which has just signed an agreement with Florida State University; Western Governors University; National Technological University; Globewide Network Academy; World Lecture Hall, and Athena University.

4 Paul Romer, Beyond Classical and Keynesian Macroeconomic Policy, Policy Options, July-August 1994.

5 Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolution.

6 Peter Drucker, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (Harper and Row, 1985), p.112.

7 There is also concern about whether there is sufficient time within existing curricula. Whether we have the time in the curriculum depends on how we are using our time. And indeed the way we are using our time is coming under increasing external scrutiny. We are now being asked by accrediting organizations to demonstrate through robust assessment mechanisms that we are spending our time wisely. We are being urged by the Boyer Commission to spend our time differently--to focus more on inquiry-based learning and less on traditional classroom forms of transmitting knowledge. The Sloan Foundation is providing major funding for technology based efforts to introduce asynchronous learning.

We are also being challenged by new, non-traditional organizations that are taking a fresh look at how to provide the most effective education to students. Two major examples are the Western Governors University and Phoenix University that has just announced a major alliance with Hughes Network Systems to develop programs around the world.

These efforts, as well as others, are leading to a substantial rethinking of the structure of curricula and how we teach. So, I think we should hesitate to accept any suggestion that we do not have time to teach interprofessional capability.

8 Bob Galvin, during his decades as CEO of Motorola, demonstrated interprofessional leadership, continually taking Motorola into new and successful ventures.

9 Among the Commission's 20 members were seven members of our faculty: Robert Arzbaecher, Sidney Guralnick, Margaret Huyck, Leon Lederman, Robert Selman, A. Dan Tarlock, and Patrick Whitney.

10 The National Commission's final report states:

The concept of interprofessional education is developed from the integration of math, science, engineering, and architecture (the drivers of economic growth) with law, design, business and psychology (the professional disciplines of corporate change, management and human interaction), and the humanities, social sciences and languages (the disciplines of communication, social context and multiculturalism).

The National Commission encouraged IIT's faculty to collaborate, across disciplines and colleges, to create a vision for a distinctive undergraduate education, modeled on real-world learning experiences. At the same time, graduate professional and research-based education would draw from the strengths of each of the disciplines to enhance learning and innovation in the context of societal needs.

11 The objective was to:

  • Create a legal Intranet in Sarajevo for use by the Constitutional Court and Ministry of Justice.
  • Create an Independent Media Intranet in Banja Luka to promote the free flow of information among the press, legal and governmental institutions, and the public.
  • Link the two systems "legal and media" across the two countries via the Internet

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