Acquisition, Discovery and Application of Knowledge

Educational Goals


Core Component 4b: The organization demonstrates that acquisition of a breadth of knowledge and skills and the exercise of intellectual inquiry are integral to its educational programs.

As examples of how the University, through its programs, encourages students to engage in intellectual inquiry and to acquire a breadth of knowledge and skills, in this section we will focus on academic program requirements, including distribution requirements; opportunities for students to engage in research; interdisciplinary offerings; and a sample of the range of opportunities that invite students to expand their intellectual horizons.

Academic Program Requirements

College of Literature, Science, and the Arts

In the fall of 2008, more than 16,000 undergraduate students were enrolled in LSA, which represents two-thirds of the undergraduate population. To complete the basic requirements for a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) or Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degree in LSA, students must complete 120 credits of course work, of which 100 credits must be from LSA courses. In meeting the minimum 120 credits, they must complete the following requirements: First-Year Writing Requirement, Upper-Level Writing, Quantitative Reasoning (QR), Race & Ethnicity (R&E), Fourth-term proficiency in a language other than English, a 30-credit Distribution Requirement, the requirements for a concentration (major) program, the requirements of a minor program (optional), and additional elective credits to reach the credit minimum.

Through its 30-credit Area Distribution Requirement, LSA adds intellectual breadth and diversity to the academic experience of the majority of University undergraduates. By meeting this requirement, students come to better understand and appreciate the major disciplinary areas of learning--the natural sciences, social sciences, and the humanities. The college’s aim is that through this coursework, students develop a coherent view of essential concepts, structures, and intellectual methods that characterize these disciplines. Another goal is for students to begin to develop the skills and experiences necessary to consider how developments in one area of endeavor have an impact on another.

Since the college uses its Distribution Requirement to give students greater intellectual breadth, to fulfill this requirement they must enroll in courses outside their concentration department--above and beyond the courses they must take to meet their concentration requirements. Students must complete seven credits in the Natural Science (NS), Social Science (SS), and Humanities (HU) areas of study, for a total of 21 credits, plus three additional courses in any three of the following five areas: NS, SS, HU, Mathematical and Symbolic Analysis, or Creative Expression, for a total of nine credits. Interdisciplinary courses may also be applied toward meeting LSA’s Distribution Requirement.

The remaining course requirements focus on the specific skill areas of writing, reasoning, and an appreciation and understanding of diversity. In addition, the option of fulfilling both a major and a minor provides students with the opportunity to broaden their knowledge base and intellectual exposure during their undergraduate studies at the University.

As described in the section on Learning, LSA provides a full array of academic advising services to its students through the Newnan Academic Advising Center to help its students navigate through the many choices they must make about their academic programs.

College of Engineering

In the fall of 2008, more than 5,000 undergraduates were enrolled in the College of Engineering, or about 20% of all undergraduates at that time--the second largest population of undergraduates at the University. The college offers fifteen undergraduate degree programs, each of which includes a common set of core requirements plus requirements unique to the major or field of specialization. A first-year student may declare an engineering degree program as early as his or her second term.

Two of the undergraduate learning outcomes that the College of Engineering has articulated for its students are particularly relevant to this section of the report. These two outcomes are a broad education necessary to understand the impact of engineering decisions in a global-social-economic-environmental context, and a recognition of the need for and an ability to engage in life-long learning. The college gears some of the content of the courses it offers to these learning outcomes. In addition, the college requires each of its students to enroll in 16 credit hours of humanities or social science courses. Students may pursue combined degree programs between the College of Engineering and four other schools and colleges: LSA, the Ross School of Business, the School of Music, Theatre & Dance, and the School of Art & Design.

Other Schools and Colleges

Four other schools admit first-year students: the School of Art & Design, the School of Kinesiology, the School of Music, Theatre & Dance, and the School of Nursing (see undergraduate admissions website). Generally speaking, first-year students who enroll directly into programs in one of the schools and colleges have already chosen their focus of study. Nonetheless, to varying degrees these students also enroll in courses outside of these academic units for greater academic depth. Several other schools admit students with more advanced standing, including the schools/colleges of business, public policy, education, dentistry, and pharmacy. The Schools of Natural Resources and the Environment and Information collaborate on undergraduate majors with LSA. In summary, nearly the entire University dedicates significant faculty resources to the instruction of undergraduates.

As would be expected, LSA provides the greatest amount of instruction to students who are enrolled in other programs. In 2007-08 LSA generated more than 570,000 undergraduate student credit hours (SCH), with nearly 100,000 of these hours of instruction to students outside the college. For graduate student instruction, the percentage is higher (~14,000 hours of a total of ~50,000 student credit hours taught by LSA to students enrolled in other programs).

Students Engaging in Research


Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program

The Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP) is a nationally recognized program that provides opportunities for first- and second-year students to be directly involved in research with University of Michigan faculty members, postdoctoral research fellows, and graduate students. During the 2008-09 academic year more than 1,100 students participated in UROP. Since faculty members in all schools and colleges can act as UROP research sponsors, students have a wealth of research topics from which to choose. First-time UROP students complete assignments under the supervision of designated research sponsors and also participate in mandatory research seminars.

The UROP program provides funds to help cover the cost of research supplies, travel to conduct research, and travel to present research at a conference or to participate in a creative performance. For University sponsors and community sponsors, the program may provide research support for undergraduate research assistants, supplementary funding for out-of-pocket expenses that the sponsoring units incur, and funds for student wages, along with options for students to earn academic credit.

UROP also encourages students to continue their research experience by participating in a summer research fellowship. Summer Research Fellowship Programs are designed for students seeking an intense research experience in traditional laboratory settings and in the community. These fellowships give students a chance to undertake individual research projects, learn firsthand about the life of an academic researcher, think about academic and post graduate careers, and develop strong mentor relationships. Summer programs are available throughout the United States and are funded by government and private agencies. Most are hosted by U.S. colleges and universities, pay a stipend and travel costs, and provide housing. In many cases, students will use the summer to conduct work that forms the basis for an honors thesis or that contributes to a published article. In the summer of 2009, UROP worked with 75 summer research fellows who were selected from a competitive pool. The fellowships require students to work 40 hours per week on a research project for 10 weeks, attend research seminars, and present their research findings at a symposium in the fall.

In addition to UROP, the University runs more than 20 summer research experiences as part of Rackham’s Summer Research Opportunity Program for undergraduates. Many of these programs offer an intensive introduction to research methods, research ethics, and opportunities for future graduate study.

Student Research Experiences

The results of the survey of 2008 graduating seniors showed that almost half of the students who responded said they had a research experience on campus. While participation in UROP played an important role, a full 87% of students engaged in some form of research through their classes, and 61% undertook some research of their own initiative. Most of the respondents worked in partnership with faculty members, and slightly over 25% reported that they worked on research with a graduate student. More than half of the respondents reported that they worked in laboratories, while others did research analysis, fieldwork, or statistical analysis (see below).

What type of work did you perform? (n=689)

Participation in UROP accounted for about a third of the research conducted by students, typically for one or two terms. Almost as many students reported doing their research through other campus research opportunities. The most common origin for collaborative research was coursework, with nearly a quarter of this group completing research in every term. About half of the respondents reported conducting research through independent study.

Source and frequency of research experiences (n=684)

The role of research experiences was echoed by alumni cohorts that were surveyed in 2009, who responded similar levels of participation (2009 Alumni Report). These outcomes, collectively spanning more than 10 years of graduates, demonstrate the tradition of research as a key component of the experiences of University of Michigan undergraduate students.

Research Theses and Dissertations

Another research activity that students engage in is the thesis or dissertation. A select number of undergraduates write a thesis, many Master’s degree students prepare Master’s thesis, and doctoral students either produce a dissertation or another significant body of work relevant to the field of study.

Honors Program Thesis

Although undergraduate students who are not part of the LSA Honors Program may pursue an undergraduate thesis, we offer the Honors Thesis as an excellent example of the importance of this opportunity. With a few exceptions, such as in the Departments of Math and Computer Science, graduation “With Honors” requires the completion of a Senior Honors thesis. This thesis consists of detailed, original research that the student completes in the senior year in his or her field of study. Typically, students conduct their research and writing under the direction of a professor who shares the student’s area or areas of interest.

Students may use their Senior Honors theses to fulfill the Upper Level Writing Requirement in LSA. In line with LSA Honors Program guidelines, students must draft and rewrite their work on a regular basis. A faculty advisor helps the student bring the thesis into its final form. In all, each student produces at least 50 pages of closely edited writing.

Doctoral Dissertation

Education in a Ph.D. program, which the Rackham Graduate School oversees at the University of Michigan, consists of two distinct stages. First, graduate students in doctoral programs take coursework to prepare for advance research. When a doctoral student successfully completes this coursework, meets other program requirements, including preliminary exams, and demonstrates readiness to do original and independent research, the department admits him or her to candidacy.

The doctoral candidate then forms a dissertation committee that must meet the guidelines of the Rackham Graduate School. The dissertation committee consists of at least four members, three of whom must be regular members of the Graduate Faculty, as defined by Rackham, two of whom must be from the doctoral candidate’s home program, and one of whom is a cognate member who is familiar with the campus standards for doctoral research and holds at least a half-time appointment in a Rackham doctoral program outside the student’s home department or program. Dissertation committee members are expected to have specific and complementary knowledge of a student’s area of research, and to provide guidance and support throughout the research and writing process.

Interdisciplinary Activities

Interdisciplinary activity is one of the great strengths of the University of Michigan, which has long promoted and supported cross-disciplinary efforts of faculty members and students. As part of the University’s reaccreditation report in 2000, we completed a self-study on advancing collaborative, integrative, and interdisciplinary research and learning. As noted in that report,

Michigan’s distinction as a great public research university may be attributed both to the great pluralism and quality of its academic departments and professional schools, and to the way in which its faculty and students cross these borders and make a whole of its many parts.
[2000 Reaccreditation report; p. 4]

Interdisciplinary research and learning is advanced through a number of programs and initiatives. The Office of the President, the Office of the Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs, the Office of the Vice President for Research, the Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies, and other offices promote and facilitate interdisciplinary activities and nurture efforts by faculty members and students who work at and across disciplinary boundaries. A sample of those activities that touch upon degree programs, teaching, structured collaborations, and faculty appointments is below. Examples of other interdisciplinary programs that draw on faculty members in several schools and colleges include the Organizational Studies Program, the Department of Biophysics, the Program in American Culture, the Program in the Environment, and the Center for the Study of Complex Systems.

Interdisciplinary Junior Faculty Initiative

A major effort mentioned earlier in the section on Future is the Interdisciplinary Junior Faculty Initiative that President Mary Sue Coleman launched in 2007. Under this initiative, the University plans to hire up to 100 interdisciplinary scholars into junior faculty positions, supporting salary and start-up expenses. Thus far about 40 positions have been approved, based on more than a dozen successful cluster proposals.

Life Sciences Institute

The Life Sciences Institute is another key example of interdisciplinary activities at the University. The institute is a hub for collaboration among scientists from a variety of life science disciplines focusing on the biological problems of human health. By bringing scientists with different backgrounds and approaches together in an open-laboratory facility, the institute sparks new ideas and projects that accelerate our understanding of life and our progress toward treating disease. The institute creates opportunity for all University faculty members and students to engage across fields and other academic boundaries, and to actively participate in the regional community of life sciences industry to promote economic development through the development, licensing, and spin out of new technologies and discoveries.

Student-initiated Degree Programs

Students increasingly have intellectual goals that encompass a combination of fields but that do not exist formally as a degree program at the University. The Rackham Graduate School encourages and supports students who seek cross-disciplinary exploration and training, and allows well-qualified students to design their own Ph.D. programs as student-initiated degrees. A student-initiated Ph.D. program combines studies in two departments or programs that lead to a single Ph.D. degree citation (e.g., a Ph.D. in Anthropology and Near Eastern Studies).

Multidisciplinary Learning and Team Teaching Initiative

In 2005 the president committed $2.5 million to support team-teaching efforts and interdisciplinary degree programs at the undergraduate level over a five-year period. An underlying premise for the Multidisciplinary Learning Team Teaching Initiative was that to prepare for a life of productive endeavor in the 21st century, undergraduates at the University of Michigan must learn to solve problems across disciplines and to launch inquiries in uncharted territories of knowledge and practice. They must also examine the assumptions in any single academic discipline and integrate material from outside the patterns they learn about. Finally, they must locate issues within larger frameworks of thought, negotiate multiple perspectives, and develop habits of critical questioning and creative problem solving.

To help address this need, the president’s Multidisciplinary Learning and Team Teaching (MLTT) initiative provided substantial support for several new high enrollment courses or course sequences as well as three new degree programs. Through funded courses and programs, a variety of team teaching models have surfaced that support long-term sustainability. Diminishing levels of support will be provided by MLTT as home departments absorb these courses and programs. Below are two examples of initiatives: a course and an academic program that benefitted from the MLTT initiative.

  • Creative Process is a four-credit course open to all University of Michigan students that provides an experiential and conceptual foundation for cultivating creativity across academic fields. Through the course material, students recognize and demystify creativity--to become more confident and creative makers and doers. Students learn that creative expression in any field is not an event but a process that involves the interplay among creative impulse, media, modes of expression, and shared meanings. The course also allows students to develop a conceptual and contextual foundation for understanding the creative impulse and the processes of creative work. The course is taught by interdisciplinary teams of faculty members from the School of Music, Theatre & Dance; College of Engineering; College of Architecture and Urban Planning; and the School of Art & Design.
  • The Program in Informatics is an innovative interdisciplinary undergraduate concentration that draws on the expertise and disciplinary breadth of faculty members in the School of Information, the Computer Science and Engineering Division in the College of Engineering, and LSA. Informatics deals with the structure, behavior, and interactions of natural and artificial systems that allow users to collect, analyze, process, and communicate information for specific and explicit sets of goals, such as effective decision making or scientific analysis. Faculty members and students in the informatics program help design new uses for information technology that reflect and enhance the way people create, find, and use information--taking into account the social, cultural, and organizational settings in which people will use the solutions.

Rackham Graduate School Interdisciplinary Workshops

The Rackham School of Graduate Studies sponsors an ongoing program of interdisciplinary graduate student and faculty workshops. The program has two goals: to encourage students and faculty members who share intellectual interests but who do not necessarily have an easily available common forum to exchange ideas and collaborate, and to help advanced doctoral students create working groups that support them in developing research projects and writing their dissertations.

The groups are self-organized by the participants, have an ongoing core membership, meet regularly throughout the academic year, and have an interdisciplinary goal or end product. Groups may apply for funds to support group activities and compensate coordinators. Workshop topics have included American Politics, Human Microbiome Symposium, East Asian Gender Forum, Networks across Disciplines, and Visual Culture Workshop.

Interdepartmental and Dual Degrees for Graduate Students

In addition to doctoral programs located in a single department, school, or college of the University, the Rackham Graduate School offers a number of Interdepartmental Degree Programs. These doctoral programs, leading to a single degree, bring together faculty members from two or more departments, schools, or colleges. Faculty members across the University have initiated more than 20 Ph.D. programs that integrate different disciplines and fields, and that have been officially approved by the Rackham Executive Board. Some of these have been in existence for more than 50 years.

The graduate school also administers dual degree programs. Students in a Rackham dual degree program pursue a course of study leading to two degrees in two areas of specialization. These degrees may be either both in the graduate school, or a degree in a graduate school program plus a master’s or professional degree administered by another school or college in the University.

Many of the University’s professional schools also have dual degree options available for students who wish to pursue two fields of study. For example, the Law School offers 10 formal options for a dual degree with the J.D., and the Ross School of Business offers 24 options for a dual degree with the M.B.A.

GROCS Student Research Awards

The College of Engineering’s Grant Opportunities-Collaborative Spaces (GROCS) gives grants for student-initiated research projects that use digital media in an academic activity. Project teams must be interdisciplinary, and one project goal must be to enhance collaboration.

Examples of Other Intellectually Enriching Opportunities

In addition to the examples of practices and structures above, the University engages in many activities that provide students with the opportunity to branch out beyond the boundaries of their own fields of studies. These include theme semesters, lecture series, offerings in institutes at the University, and other collaborative, interdisciplinary opportunities, a few of which are described below.

  • Theme Semesters connect the intellectual and cultural strengths of the University of Michigan to the issues that define the world today. Through special courses, guest speakers, performances, and other public events, as well as a common reading program for all entering first-year students, faculty members and students from across campus explore complex issues in ways that promote new perspectives and greater insight. The roots of the theme semester concept reach back to 1980 when LSA and the School of Music collaborated on the program Experiment in Education: the Eighteenth-Century Semester. Theme semester topics since then have included The Environmental Theme Semester, Detroit 300 Theme Semester, Cultural Treasures of the Middle East, ChinaNow, Energy Futures, and, in the winter of 2009, The Universe: Yours to Discover.
  • The Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies in the Ross School of Business provides various grants. The Business Design Grant, which is available to all University students regardless of their degree program, is for students who have developed a brand new technology or an idea for a product or service, or who have identified a market need but aren’t sure if a business can be created around it. The relatively low-barrier application process encourages students from across the University to apply for the chance to engage in formal business development activities. Students examine the product, technology, or market need to see what potential business can be proposed to exploit the opportunity. This stage of the program is managed by the Center for Entrepreneurship. Additional grants are available to business school students and to teams that include at least one Ross School student to undertake feasibility studies and company start-ups.
  • The College of Engineering’s Center for Entrepreneurship, in partnership with units and organizations inside and outside the University, hosts the contest 1,000 Pitches to encourage ideas about new businesses, inventions, and non-profit organizations. University of Michigan students, staff, and faculty may submit pitches, each of which consists of a video clip no longer than three minutes. In fall 2008 the categories were social, environmental, high tech, health, global business, local business, and green campus.
  • Established with support from School of Art & Design alumna Penny W. Stamps, the Distinguished Visitors Series brings emerging and established artists and designers from a broad spectrum of media to the school to conduct a public lecture and engage with students, faculty members, and the larger University and Ann Arbor communities. All programs, which are free of charge and open to the public, take place on Thursdays at the Michigan Theater in downtown Ann Arbor. The fall 2009 Schedule provides a snapshot of the nature of these events.
  • In 1995 the Department of Physics in LSA began sharing some of the latest ideas in the physical sciences with the public in the Saturday Morning Physics lecture series. Designed for general audiences, the lectures offer an opportunity to hear scientists discuss their work in easy-to-understand, non-technical terms. The multimedia presentations include hands-on demonstrations of the principles discussed, along with slides, video, and computer simulations.
  • Institute for the Humanities Lecture Series. The University’s Institute for the Humanities is a center that fosters innovative, collaborative study in the humanities and arts. Each year the institute provides fellowships for Michigan faculty members, graduate students, and visiting scholars who work on interdisciplinary projects, as well as an array of public and scholarly events, including weekly brown bag talks, public lectures, conferences, art exhibits, and performances. Information about events at the Institute, including its weekly brown bag lectures, can be found online.

Student Organizations at the University

Maize Pages, the University’s directory of student organizations, lists more than 1,100 student organizations. These organizations run the full gamut of interests. By nature, they are connected to academics (often discipline- or academic field-based), student governance, politics, service, social activities, recreation, athletics, religion or spirituality, Greek Life, race and ethnicity, personal identities, the media, performance and entertainment, or are otherwise linked to a wide variety of interests. Student organizations are a prime example of the ways in which students take the lead in expanding the academically- and personally-enriching opportunities available to University students.