Convergence in STEM
To “advance scientific and technological innovation in service of humanity” is one of the goals of Santa Clara University’s Integrated Strategic Plan. How does an institution set out to make itself into a formidable generator of knowledge and human advancement? One answer lies in the University’s STEM initiative — and in the convergence that initiative has set in motion.
Acting on the premise that siloed spaces create siloed thinking, SCU is in the midst of creating a commons that will physically unite the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields—along with the Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship and the Center for Sustainability— in one location on campus. According to Godfrey Mungal, dean of the School of Engineering, the new STEM complex will “allow classrooms, laboratories, makerspaces, and informal gathering areas to foster convergence and enable greater collaboration.” That collaboration, paired with disciplinary depth, will distinguish SCU faculty and students as innovators in all they do.
One of the most distinctive aspects of the initiative is its impact on undergraduates. While many universities emphasize collaborative research at the graduate level, Santa Clara will have the ability to engage students in cross-disciplinary studies early in their education—increasing their enthusiasm, confidence, and ability to chart a direction for themselves with an awareness of the broader context surrounding their learning.
Amy Shachter, senior associate provost for research and faculty affairs, considers how the convergence paradigm will affect teaching within each discipline. “Instead of conveying a mindset that says, ‘This is chemistry, this is biology, this is materials science, this is electrical engineering,’ a professor might say, ‘Let’s talk about how electrical currents move through biological systems,’ encouraging students to approach a discussion from multiple perspectives. With those perspectives comes deeper understanding.”
And with Santa Clara’s Jesuit ideals, convergence takes on another dimension. “If you add the ethical and cultural perspective,” says Shachter, “you ultimately come up with more practical and applicable solutions to real-world
problems.” SCU students take their classroom learning and research projects to some of the farthest corners of the world, where they learn about people’s cultures and conditions firsthand before returning to campus to discern and discuss their experiences. The result? Innovations that are affordable, usable, and culturally welcomed by those who need them most. Innovations that truly serve humanity.