What We Do.
The Center for 21st Century Studies is a transdisciplinary program that embeds summer nomadic study abroad into a calendar year course sequence designed to offer VT undergraduates what they need in order to fulfill their deepest ambitions for transforming themselves and their world.
By engaging students in research on the world’s most urgent issues, we aim their education at solving the great riddle of how we assure a future in which our grandchildren will prosper. By working and learning in key representative settings around the world, our students become adept at partnering across cultural boundaries, bringing the best of both worlds to the needs and distinctive character and history of each place they’ll work in their careers.
We no longer live and work in a world of hermetically sealed off national and regional silos. Each place is connected to everywhere at once by email and cell, satellite and web. Every sizable company is global, every issue is international, and there is no “local” without the “global” being everywhere in evidence.
We can’t afford graduates who don’t already know how to understand different cultures, work in relation to their traditions and values, and think creatively about the opportunities in partnerships that cut across what now divides minds and hearts, unravels the best laid plans, frustrates the best intentions. The Center for 21st Century Studies reinvents university education by bringing together all our best but scattered efforts into a bold solution to what ails our stymied leadership in the world.
Because the problems we face are so complex, the center teaches students how to bring together the thinking tools from all the disciplines in which they have studied. The scientist, the engineer, the humanist, the entrepreneur, the social scientist, the artist—each offers vital ways of moving beyond the limitations of tunnel vision. Our version of the transdisciplinary means more than convening a panel of different experts, but of becoming, ourselves, the whole assembly at once.
Curriculum. Participating students earn a minor in 21st Century Studies by working through a three-part curriculum carefully integrated around key lines of issues and insights. We’re reinventing the three R’s to name what we’ll achieve step by step in this process:
- Rethink—an introductory course in which students rethink what they thought they knew about themselves and the world and choose the issue they’ll research. Tradition mixes in many often contradictory ways with modernity; development projects are complicated by governing structures, cultural traditions, and historical conflicts; living in the digital era remixes the way things affect each other, changing the rules and making new ones possible; and it’s no longer an ivory tower pastime, but more like a survival guide in cultural literacy, to read between the lines of drawings and literature, architectural designs and urban plans, plays and dance and music. Thinking all this at once is the rethink of thinking itself.
- Reinvent—planting yourself elsewhere in the world and seeing yourself, your origins, and this new place in its terms transforms you profoundly. It reinvents you and the way you see and work in the world. Our immersive mode of travel goes far beyond tourism to a process of watch, work, learn, and reinvent. Instead of photoshoots at tourist traps or simply taking traditional courses elsewhere, we travel to three sites and immerse ourselves in how different cultures deal with the same 21st century issues we encountered in our introductory course. As we travel, we read material from the place we’re living, learn through home stays while engaged in grassroots development projects, attend performances and lectures that help us interpret how a culture thinks about itself and the world, and gather contacts and materials and insights into the specific issue we’ve made the central focus of a year-long research project.
- Reflect & Reveal—you have to be able to say your new understanding, whether in words or drawings, images or performance, before you truly own your experiences and can offer something that will benefit others. Our Capstone Seminar brings together the experiences of the entire minor along with the best that scholars have to say on the issues students deal with in their culminating project.
We think it’s these real world experiences that really change individuals and prepare them to be a new kind of leader for a new century. As the world changes around us, different cultures, political and economic systems, and world-views affect our everyday lives and careers. The Center for 21st Century Studies and its unique program for study abroad will enable our students to develop the cross-cultural understanding and the skills they will need to become leaders in a global context.