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Lessons Learned by INFEWS-ER’s virtual resource center for transdisciplinary graduate student training at the nexus of food, energy, and water

Published by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, St. Joseph, Michigan

Citation:  2019 ASABE Annual International Meeting  1900876.(doi:10.13031/aim.201900876)
Authors:   Richard K Koelsch, Luis F Rodriguez, Shannon C Banner, John Classen, Dan C Cotton, Alison Deviney, Jill M Heemstra, Jacek A Koziel, Deanne Meyer, Anna-Maria Marshall, Anand Padmanabhan, Daniel J Steward
Keywords:   Food, energy, water, FEWS, transdisciplinary, multi-disciplinary, cohort challenge, collaborative learning, virtual learning, online learning, wicked problems.

Abstract. The intersection of food, energy and water systems (FEWS) produces many of the wicked problems our students will face during their careers.  These challenges present unique opportunities for educators preparing students who will build and implement the solutions.  While the technical competencies of these students continue to be important, the ability for this next generation to be skilled in working with multi-disciplinary teams towards trans-disciplinary solutions is essential.  Successful solutions require students to have a broader set of competencies for working on these wicked problems. A student‘s transdisciplinary tool box may need to include competencies such as systems thinking, high performing teams, networking with a diverse group of stakeholders, and communicating science across disciplines and with lay audiences.

Our goal is to create a virtual resource center, the INFEWS-ER, which provides educational opportunities to supplement graduate students‘ education in the development of these transdisciplinary competencies.  A National Science Foundation Project engaging faculty and graduate students from multiple institutions has hosted two symposiums to define critical transdisciplinary competencies, conducted two surveys to further refine our ideas, developed educational modules around several previously mentioned transdisciplinary skills, and piloted two graduate student “cohort challenges” that combined these educational modules with a FEWS challenge. These experiences are designed to be delivered through the web environment allowing graduate students from multiple institutions and disciplines to assemble around a FEWS challenge of common interest. The purpose of this paper is to share our early experiences relative to delivering a transdisciplinary learning experience for graduate students.

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