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A Model For Graduate Crossdisciplinary Education

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1996 Annual Conference


Washington, District of Columbia

Publication Date

June 23, 1996

Start Date

June 23, 1996

End Date

June 26, 1996



Page Count


Page Numbers

1.22.1 - 1.22.6



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Paper Authors

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Nick Zelver

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John Sears

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Bill Costerton

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 1255

A Model for Graduate Crossdisciplinary Education

John Sears, Bill Costerton, Nick Zelver Center for Biofilm Engineering Montana State University, Bozeman, Montana

Technology has evolved to require detailed engineering of chemistry, biology, physics and mathematics to describe and apply many of today’s and tomorrow’s innovations. Thus, experts are brought together to interact in teams at technology and research centers. These teams must be able to cross the boundaries of disciplines to succeed. An engineer in industry often does not carry a specialty label, even though they are educated through specialty-labeled engineering departments.

The National Science Foundation has recognized that a change is needed in both educational and research functions at the University level to reflect this industrial evolution. Thus, its Engineering Research Centers and Engineering Education Division has established Engineering Research Centers, Educational Coalitions, and Industry-University Research Centers. Nationally, universities have picked up this theme and established research centers in almost all areas of technology and science. The intent is to develop new technology, aid U.S. national competitiveness, and to create a “new generation” of engineer and scientist. Then-NSF Director Erich Bloch in 1986 stated “I believe that when we look at the Centers in several years we will find new and very significant examples of the flow of ideas and people back and forth across the disciplinary lines of science and engineering,” and “continuing disciplinary strength is needed as well as continuing cross-disciplinary strength.” At the same time, former NSF Director H.G. Stever stated “’A new generation of engineering students has to be educated to think and function in the cross-disciplinary environment.” Thus, the policies of the Engineering Education and Centers Division of the Engineering Directorate at NSF require that each center develop, early in its evolution, very clear scientific objectives that lead toward practical engineering advances that enhance America’s competitiveness. These policies are also aimed at changing the educational “culture” at American universities.

By combining the vision and the interdisciplinary instincts of our founder, Bill Characklis, and the policies of the Engineering Directorate of the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Center for Biofilm Engineering (CBE) has established a novel paradigm that allows us to crosstrain graduate students from ten academic departments in four different colleges without sacrificing disciplinary rigor or eventual employability.

The Research Center Model Bill Characklis was the founding director of the Center for Interracial Microbial Process Engineering (CIMPE) which was established as an NSF funded Engineering Research Center (ERC) at Montana State University in 1990. Bill died in June of 1992 but, before his death, he conceived and began to implement a unique program of graduate student crosstraining. After Bill’s death the ERC was renamed the Center for Biofilm Engineering and we have continued and expanded the education program that he established in our capacities as continuing Education Director and new Director for the center.

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Zelver, N., & Sears, J., & Costerton, B. (1996, June), A Model For Graduate Crossdisciplinary Education Paper presented at 1996 Annual Conference, Washington, District of Columbia. 10.18260/1-2--6194

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