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NASA Helps Purdue Launch Multidisciplinary Education Initiative

Charlotte Tuggle

It will take more than engineers to put men on Mars.

That was NASA administrator Charles Bolden’s response to Purdue’s “Systems Collaboratory” program during a recent trip to campus. The initiative is designed to broaden the scope of student understanding in areas other than their major.

For example, an engineer or agriculture student taking communication or political science classes to add what Purdue Provost Deba Dutta calls a “human element.”

Dutta says today’s industries want this type of educational diversity.

“Even in building cars, they have multidisciplinary teams with members from social sciences because you’re trying to understand, you’re making a product that might actually be in operation outside of the U.S. or in regions where the cultural ways are very different than what we are used to here,” Dutta says.

Bolden says for NASA, working with different centers around the world demands strong communication and political understanding skills.

“We need to be able to understand more what they’re thinking, how they’re thinking, what’s the best way to communicate with them because they’re not going to be like going to another NASA center where you can just start talking acronyms,” Bolden says.

Bolden says industries now favor applicants with experience in both STEM and arts courses. He says traditionally, engineers and scientists haven’t needed education in social sciences. But he says today’s marketplace requires it.

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