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Discovering the necessary skills, knowledge, and experiences for training the next generation of interdisciplinary, solutions-driven researchers
The need to train early-career interdisciplinary, solutions-driven researchers has never been more apparent than today. For this reason, educators at the Universities of Maine, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island have collaborated on the design and assessment of an interdisciplinary, multi-university course to develop critical skills, content knowledge, and experiences necessary to conduct interdisciplinary, sustainability solutions research. We developed a series of learning outcomes identified as central to successful solutions-driven research. These course learning outcomes are organized into three major sustainability science competencies: (1) systems definitions, which focuses on improving students’ abilities to build a deep understanding of dynamic social-ecological systems; (2) problem definition, which focuses on the skills necessary to identify and communicate sustainability problems by combining systems knowledge with multiple stakeholder perspectives; and (3) decision space, which focuses on the abilities required to create and communicate adaptable decisions to mitigate sustainability problems. We designed a course rubric from these major competencies to assess student expertise through student participation in course surveys, reflective writing prompts, student-led discussions, and oral presentations. By the end of the course, we expect to find that interdisciplinary student groups who were provided opportunities to improve their skills in critical thought and communication through paired, small group, and class-wide discussion will have developed a greater ability to comprehend complex sustainability problems from multiple perspectives. By purposefully designing class time and homework in an interdisciplinary fashion, focusing on skill-building for interdisciplinary work, and providing a dynamic framework for learning, students are expected to better understand, develop and participate in diverse approaches for solutions-driven sustainability research.