The Search for the Renaissance Professional1
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Let me share with you one of our recent and most interesting IPROs,
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
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
2 There are now an estimated 1,600 corporate universities in the United
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
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),
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