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Waterloo Quality

Exploring ‘space between disciplines’

"Languages are not about conjugating verbs, but getting to know someone, allowing you to connect with people and their stories."

When Eric Kennedy entered the new Bachelor of Knowledge Integration (BKI) degree program in September 2008, he hoped to discover a way to combine his disparate passions: emergency medicine, music, politics, and the outdoors.

After completing his first year, his enthusiasm for the unconventional program is palpable. And he’s not alone. While other university programs aim for a low drop-out rate, BKI is bucking the trend. The first year class started with 32 students. They’ll begin the second year as a class of 38, achieving a negative attrition rate.

As for Kennedy, not only has he been able to find links between his key interests, but he has discovered new ones, as well.

Using creative exercises, BKI students tease out connections between seemingly unrelated disciplines, ideas, and experiences, he says, to inspire new solutions, bridge problems, or glean fresh perspectives.

“Knowledge Integration provides a space of intersections, where different disciplines and theories can interact. The cool stuff,” adds Kennedy, “happens in the space between disciplines.”

Instead of focusing on political science as a career direction, “I’m now looking at global governance, at social innovation approaches… that employ a systems attitude toward seeing the components of problems and their relationships.”

New interests in math, computer science, and French may also influence his future path.

“I was a reluctant French student in high school,” Kennedy admits. “For me, it’s a lot of hard work; it doesn’t come easily.”

After taking a French course to fulfill his BKI second language requirement, he followed it up with a summer immersion experience in Quebec.

“Suddenly, languages are not about conjugating verbs, but getting to know someone, allowing you to connect with people and their stories. The kinds of doors that open are incredible.

“I’m far from bilingual,” he says, “but I’ve gained a love for the language because I was pushed by the BKI program.” In his second year, Kennedy will be taking another French course, even though it’s not required.

Besides French immersion, he managed to fill his summer holidays with a creative mélange of wilderness first-responder training, travelling in Quebec, camping with a friend, and working in the Shad Valley program.

The most important lesson Kennedy has learned: “Education is not just something that happens to you. It’s an active journey of information flowing in and action flowing out.”

> Centre for Knowledge Integration

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