“The individual [may achieve] something truly perfect in the field of science only in case he is a strict specialist,” said Max Weber in his essay from 1922 titled Science As A Vocation. “A really definitive and good accomplishment,” he continued, “is today always a specialized accomplishment.”
This is no longer the case.
Innovation, revolutionary thought and impactful progress now happens at the crossroads of two (or more) distinct ways of thought. But don’t take my word for it – take Albert Einstein’s: “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Our university education must not just be a process of learning about different subjects. Instead, it must be about learning how those different subjects relate to each other. We must not strive to think perfectly – there is no such thing. We must find ways to think differently.
How do we go about doing this, you ask? There is no specific answer – that is the point. It is completely up to you! You are in charge of building your own interdisciplinary education; following a curriculum won’t cut it anymore if you want to make a difference. You must learn to see the world with a unique perspective built through your own particular combination of experiences and influences.
At the University of Southern California, this renaissance ideal is very much promoted to students through several programs that help personalize and broaden our educative scope, which is precisely the reason why I came here. Valuing a well-rounded education, I almost committed to a 3-2 Engineering & Liberal Arts program at a phenomenal liberal arts college, but I found an equally appealing offer in USC’s Thematic Option Program. Not only do I get to participate in smaller classes with high-achieving students and passionate teachers, but I’m also given the opportunity to attend various cultural events around Los Angeles that amplify my in-class experience. Additionally, through the Engineering+ Program, I am able to take two minors (Social Entrepreneurship & Communication Design) that have opened doors to me in five different schools – five different environments, five different mindsets. Lastly, my involvement around campus has allowed me grow in ways that are best achieved outside the classroom – athletically, musically, spiritually, politically, philanthropically, culturally, and as a leader. I’ve diversified and intensified my activities broadly around USC not because I am singularly interested in each thing, but because, as a whole, I believe they come together to build something special. I am confident that my education transcends the bounds of a few classrooms, or even this campus. My education is global, and I am preparing myself to change this world.
All this I do to accomplish my ultimate goal at USC, which is attempting to acquire Weltanschauung. That’s a word that intellectuals use at their cocktail parties to make an impression. I bring it up at this point not because it’s fancy (although I love long German words) but because there isn’t really an equivalent word in the English language. It refers to a particular philosophy or view of life, to the worldview of an individual or group. (Hint: the key word there is “group!”)
Please let me quote an awesome person once more. (Last time, I promise!)
In his aptly titled book, Talent Economics: The Fine Line Between Winning and Losing the Global War for Talent, Gyan Nagpal, the highly decorated CEO of PLGA Consulting, said, “Breakthrough innovation occurs when we bring down boundaries and encourage disciplines to learn from each other.”
We must realize that becoming interdisciplinary isn’t a personal endeavor. It is a universal goal. The engineering discipline is unfortunately intimidating by social construction and consequently scares away developing thinkers or is ignored by self-proclaimed successful and comfortable people in other fields. So it is up to us engineers to go out of our technical boundary, to tear down these physical walls and reach outside. What will we find? Everything! There are infinite possibilities to what engineers can do when they discover something new. It is our job to open windows into our own work, and also to knock on doors that lead to other people’s work. We must not be afraid to put ourselves in the unknown waters of the various areas of study. After all, we engineers are probably the only ones who can build a sturdy enough ship to survive the storm!
It might sound like I am asking you to go out as missionaries and preach the Principia Mathematica to non-believers, but all I am really saying is that you need to start asking questions to people who think differently than you do. It is only through this interdisciplinary interaction that we will truly discover the best ways we can give shape to our society.
Looking back now at our old German friend, we can confidently say that his view on making an impact has now become outdated. Nevertheless, he was right about one thing: “Nothing is worthy of a man unless he can pursue it with passionate devotion.” Well said, Weber. Well said.
In summary: go out and discover what you love; find ways your passions overlap; meet people who are equally passionate, but about different things; and, together, make something new.Meet Pablo