Designing for the T-Shaped Student


Over the past decade employers and educators have placed increasing importance on the mastery of competencies beyond those focused on the academic discipline.    These include abilities that allow professionals to handle information from multiple sources, advance professional relationships across organizations or disciplinary communities, contribute innovatively to organizational practices and research design, and communicate with understanding across social, cultural, economic, and scientific boundaries.  Individuals with the abilities to bridge the traditional boundaries between disciplines have been referred to as “hybrid”, “boundary spanners”, or T-shaped professionals.  Therefore, it is critical that a vision for undergraduate education focus on preparing students with these fundamental competencies.

Designing for the T-Shaped Student Innovation Workshop

Selected Michigan State University faculty that have demonstrated an interest in inter-disciplinary research, teaching, and student learning joined design and planning professionals from SmithGroupJJR, educational leadership from Steelcase, and technology professionals 

from the Sextant Group in a comprehensive visioning session and workshop.  The group was tasked with envisioning a process that: Creates instructional spaces that, through their design and the availability of appropriate technology, facilitate student development of the abilities encompassed by the 21st Century vision of undergraduate education. A unique focus of this workshop centered around identifying the characteristics of the built environment that foster interdisciplinary learning.

Attendees participated in a one and a half day session that kicked off with an introduction by Michigan State University’s Acting Provost & Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs. The following day, members took part in interactive Visioning Session presentations focused on T-Shaped principles, trends in formal and informal learning environments and technology trends.  The session culminated with participants breaking out into five design charrette groups where they teamed with design partners, planners and technology specialists to begin developing design ideas, physical sketches, and program layouts for a new education model focused around the T-shaped student.