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Examining work as an ongoing research project is the main thrust of a new program at Old Dominion University which also blends the knowledge of liberal arts coursework with classes that focus on expanding professional skills.

The Bachelor of Science in Interdisciplinary Studies program, with an emphasis on Work and Professional Studies (WPS), instituted in 2002, takes a popular interdisciplinary approach to the study of work. A program briefing will be from 5:30-7 p.m. Wednesday, April 7, in room 149 of the Perry Library.

The 75 students currently enrolled in the program come with a variety of workplace experiences -- they are teachers, real estate agents, postal employees, call center managers and military personnel, among others -- and represent the diversity of a multigenerational workplace. They build on existing workplace skills and knowledge, integrating prior experiences with new learning and enhancing their ability to contribute and adapt more quickly to the rapidly changing work environment. Finally, they document and reflect on their learning and work experiences in an ongoing e-portfolio development project to be used as a lifelong education and career tool.

"Most people in most workplaces feel unempowered," said Lucien Lombardo, professor of sociology and criminal justice and one of the program's founders. "When you give people opportunities to think about what they do, it's an empowering experience. They get a sense of how important what they do can be regardless of what type of work they do."

The degree program coursework focuses on issues related to adults as they advance in their careers, move from one job to another, re-enter the workforce or go into the workforce for the first time. An investigation into the meaning of work is a vital part of the curriculum, as returning students acquire new skills and knowledge needed in the workplace. The integration of theory with practice enables the program's graduates to confidently and effectively compete in the new marketplace through an examination of the world of work in the 21st century.

The program offers a mix of interdisciplinary theory and concept classes; a class focusing on interdisciplinary approaches to workplace issues; and a "capstone" course for interdisciplinary studies majors, in which they link all of their coursework in one comprehensive project. The project may be research-based, an internship or a combination of the two. The presentation portfolio gives students a document to demonstrate their new skills.

Interdisciplinary learning is hardly new; universities developed programs in the 1940s in American Studies and Women's Studies in the 1960s, for example, both of which remain popular areas of study. But interdisciplinary programs have gained respect among students, faculty and employers in the past decade, and have expanded beyond arts and humanities to sciences, business, engineering and education. Today's college students, including returning adult students, are less likely to pursue a major in one discipline, and more likely to study a mix of disciplines, Lombardo said.

Many believe that the answers to today's societal and workplace challenges - issues like AIDS, poverty, pollution - will come from across diverse subject fields, and that it's incumbent on higher education to provide programs that prepare students adequately.

ODU's Work and Professional Studies emphasis is divided into two areas: one which provides the student with a framework for the study of the experience of work itself, and another, which focuses on ways in which theory is applied in day-to-day work situations.

After students complete the program, they will be able to implement concrete methods for working with people and systems. Also, they will have knowledge and skills in: innovative problem-solving and critical thinking; work-related research methods; effective communication across national and organizational boundaries; management applicable to a diverse workforce and workplace environments; leadership; and presentation.

The WPS program counts students' professional work experience as a valuable part of their learning and credentials and offers flexibility for adult students with family and work commitments.

More information about the WPS program is available on the Web at http://www.odu.edu/al/wps/.

For more information about the briefing, contact Bill Barker at (757) 683-4316 or wbarker@odu.edu.

This article was posted on: April 7, 2004

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Old Dominion University is an equal opportunity, affirmative action institution.