Document Type

Conference Proceeding

Publication Date


Subject: LCSH

Interdisciplinary approach in education, Engineering--Study and teaching


Business | Dental Hygiene | Engineering Education | Nutrition | Operations Research, Systems Engineering and Industrial Engineering | Other Medicine and Health Sciences


More and more universities are pursuing interdisciplinary academic activities that span across department and college boundaries. Administrative structures to facilitate such programs are difficult to establish within traditional university frameworks consisting of disciplinary departments and colleges. Often interdisciplinary programs are housed in a traditional disciplinary department or college, or in a standalone center reporting to a college dean or the provost. The difficulty of these structures is obtaining broad buy-in from faculty across departments and having disciplinary degree programs include interdisciplinary coursework.

To overcome the difficulties described above, an innovative shared department structure that fosters collaborations to advance interdisciplinary education has been deployed at the University of New Haven. Three shared departments have been established over the last two years: (1) a college-wide department to support interdisciplinary coursework in the first two years of engineering programs; (2) a university-wide department to support entrepreneurship and innovation; and (3) a university-wide department to support health sciences.

The shared departments typically have faculty whose tenure home is a traditional disciplinary department. Faculty membership is based on interest and activity level in teaching interdisciplinary courses, participating in interdisciplinary co-curricular activities, and performing interdisciplinary research. A few faculty members may be appointed full-time in a shared department. Like traditional departments, the shared departments have chairs to lead and coordinate activities. Faculty membership can vary from year-to-year depending on their level of activity in the shared department. The shared departments are responsible for approving interdisciplinary courses within their jurisdiction. The chairs of the departments are responsible for reviewing the performance of instructors teaching the interdisciplinary courses, and for providing feedback to disciplinary department chairs on the performance of faculty who are members of the shared department.

To date the shared departments have facilitated the following: (1) an Entrepreneurial Engineering Living-Learning Community (LLC) for freshmen; (2) an Innovation and Entrepreneurship LLC for sophomores; (3) an integrated technical communications program across all engineering and computer science programs; (4) an integrated approach to developing entrepreneurial thinking in students across all engineering and computer science programs; (5) the development and teaching of courses on entrepreneurship; and (6) startup weekends and a business plan competition with students drawn from across the university.

The detailed structure of the two shared departments and the lessons learned in establishing and operating them is described in this paper.


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Publisher Citation

Harichandran, R. S., & Kench, B. T., & McGee, S. J., & Collura, M. A., & Nocito-Gobel, J., & Skipton, C. D. (2017, June), Establishment of Innovative Shared Departments to Advance Interdisciplinary Education. Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. © 2017 American Society for Engineering Education.