Cross-disciplines is where it all comes together at New School

By Julie Novacek and Alex Wang

The New School is in the process of making some extraordinary changes. The university has always encouraged its students to become active, just and imaginative agents of change throughout the world. Now, it is seizing the opportunity to build on that tradition, and prepare students to meet new challenges posed by this era of globalization.

Today’s leaders need multiple skills and a broad vision to design real solutions to global issues, from environmental sustainability, population growth and immigration to the politics of capitalism and democratization. By developing an innovative cross-disciplinary curriculum that takes full advantage of the university’s eight diverse schools, The New School is building on its strengths to give students those necessary tools.

The university currently specializes in three main areas of academia: design, liberal arts and performing arts. The new curriculum will allow for more crossover between the three so that an undergraduate interested in video game design, for example, might benefit from a cognitive psychology course, while an aspiring politician might welcome an acting class. In addition, while The New School continues to provide serious training for designers, actors, classical and jazz musicians and other artists, the business side of the arts is also being emphasized to give graduates the background needed to transition from “aspiring” to “professional.”

The cross-disciplinary approach also means the university has the ability to implement new programs — including M.A. and five-year B.A./M.A./M.S. tracks — and provide instruction for new careers that have emerged as a result of globalization. In fall 2007, for example, the university is launching a MATESOL degree. The program, a master’s degree in professions related to Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages, stresses the key political, cultural and ethical concerns that teachers of English now face. And to take the global nature of the program one step further, it can be completed entirely online or online combined with a summer residency.

Another fall 2007 launch, a one-year Master of Science program in global finance, prepares students to work in the structuring, trading, accounting and regulation of financial markets. It also furthers the university’s commitment to international initiatives and joins graduate programs in international affairs and the India China Institute, a think tank established in 2004.

Curricular changes such as these require a strong commitment to resources and facilities. Already, new exhibit and community spaces, like the Sheila C. Johnson Design Center, are being built, and libraries, computer labs and practice rooms are being enhanced. Plans are also underway to expand the university by creating a cutting-edge building that fulfills both the academic and community needs of the university.

The key component to the school’s progression, however, remains supporting and growing the faculty. Traditionally students at The New School have had the advantage of small classes that are often taught by working professionals at the top of their fields. Over the next five years, the university plans to double its full-time faculty, giving students even more access to today’s great scholars, designers, artists and thinkers. Many of these will be “joint-hires” — professors who teach collaborative subjects at more than one school.

Students in design and the social sciences have already benefited from instructors who examine the connection between the two. For example, joint courses that were taught this year include “Economics of Technological Innovation and Design,” “Psychology and Design: Human-Computer Interaction” and “Phenomenology of Light and Architecture.” Exploring new topics has the potential to raise important questions and offer students a new perspective on established but evolving fields of study.

This is an exciting time for the university and its community of students and faculty. Look in the window of 65 Fifth Ave. at 14th St., and you can see undergraduates at Eugene Lang College who are currently in the midst of building a traditional four-oared boat — and learning about harbor geography, estuary ecology and the politics of the contemporary urban waterfront in the process. In Hurricane Katrina-ravaged DeLisle, Miss., you’ll find a brand-new laundromat and information center designed and built by 13 Parsons architecture students. Near and far, New School students are learning to make a difference.

Moving forward, The New School means to enhance its reputation as an institution where faculty put their ideas into practice, and where students achieve groundbreaking work.

The eight schools that make up The New School are: The New School for General Studies, The New School for Social Research, Milano The New School for Management and Urban Policy, Parsons The New School for Design, Eugene Lang College The New School for Liberal Arts, Mannes College The New School for Music, The New School for Drama, and The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music.

For more information, visit www.newschool.edu.

Novacek and Wang are writers in the Department of Communications and External Affairs at The New School.