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Igniting Innovation

Faculty Perspectives on the GEMnasium

From philosophy and human rights to mechanical engineering and sustainability studies, the collaborative hands-on GEMnasium has incorporated 14 academic disciplines and 34 educators into its transdisciplinary learning community in its first three semesters alone.

The collaborative faculty — which number 14 in the spring 2019 semester — are committed to examining complex real-world issues in innovative ways. In the GEMnasium, innovation isn’t simply about products and process, it’s about people. GEMnasium faculty members weigh in about how the GEMnasium innovates people, not products:


“The GEMnasium innovates people by encouraging transdisciplinary engagement — not just across the academic departments, but in relation to staff-run programs, and community initiatives. Everyone’s at the table here — and that makes our purpose really to innovate human relationships in response to human problems right here in our community.”

Jana Bennett, professor of theological ethics, Department of Religious Studies

“To me, innovation is about using what is around us, perhaps right in front of us, in ways that solve problems or improve the world. The GEMnasium facilitates people, those in the space, to take a new approach or a different view and solve problems in an attempt to improve the world. Whereas in traditional academia, we sometimes immerse ourselves in a single discipline and pursue expertise, the GEM is a space to embrace ambiguity, ask and accept what we don’t know, and then work with others to figure it out. Innovation of people vs. products isn’t about a profit, it’s about progress.”

Anne Creceliusinterim chair, Department of Health and Sport Science

“The space itself helps to innovate both students and faculty alike. Faculty had to consider how we can exploit the space to best help our students learn and collaborate. In the end, the best approach relied upon students to define how they wanted to use the space, rather than dictate how it should be used. Second, we had to consider how we could leverage the content/products/questions being developed by students in other classes/disciplines into our courses. Third, we had a responsibility to not just our own class, but all classes in the GEMnasium. We thus had to make sure that our students were both leveraging the ideas, thoughts and questions of other disciplines, as well as creating content and responding to other classes. Collectively, these required faculty to make innovative leaps from their normal approaches of teaching.” 

Kevin Hallinan, professor, Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering/Renewable and Clean Energy