STEM-Oriented Alliance for Research (SOAR): An educational model for interdisciplinary project-based learning

Primary author: Jacob Murray
Co-author(s): Soobin Seo; Lucrezia Cuen-Paxson; Mark Beattie

Primary college/unit: Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture
Campus: Everett

This work details the development, design, and implementation of an interdisciplinary project-based learning approach. The project offers a transformative educational experience to students at WSU Everett merging coursework across three different academic disciplines. STEM education has been challenged by industries to incorporate business and communication experiences that prepare students for the workplace.

Phase one developed an interdisciplinary course launched spring 2019. A total of 59 students (28 Business, 10 Communication, and 21 Electrical Engineering students) participated in the project, working on seven industry-sponsored projects. While all students were required to work together, each discipline was responsible for separate deliverables. Electrical Engineering students designed prototypes, Business students designed marketing plans, and Communication students created videos and infographics. Initial results showed high levels of student satisfaction, enjoyment, and unique educational experience. However, students rated the group structural components relatively lower.

Phase two developed additional structure to our project. We built a roadmap which details major milestones and events including a kick-off event, escape room team-building activity, interdisciplinary workshop, business pitch, and a final pitch and poster presentation. The course assignments include project vision and summary; product description, significance and rationale; market description; business pitch; and a press release and product pitch.

Preliminary data suggests collaboration in interdisciplinary project-based learning does initially produce disorientation, some trepidation and confusion. However, ultimately these disorienting dilemmas lead to transformative learning, increased confidence and cohesion among disciplines. The results of this work will inform educators creating interdisciplinary project-based coursework that meets the growing demands of the workplace.