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Student Experience

Student Experience

The Calhoun Discovery Program prepares students to be leaders in collaborative technology innovation for societal impact.

a faculty member sits with students at a table

Our Student Experience


Transdisciplinary studios
where students engage real-world problems through a collaborative process with the goal of innovating technology for societal change. Faculty and students from all participating disciplines, as well as experts from our industry and non-profit partners, work together in the studios. Students take one semester-long collaborative studio in their first two years and one studio per semester in the third and fourth years of study.  The Discovery Studios count toward disciplinary experiential learning requirements, including the senior capstone project.

Faculty and students from all participating disciplines, as well as experts from industry and non-profit partners, will come together for hands-on explorations of real-world problems.  The problem spaces that they tackle will span strategic areas of discovery for our partners, students, and faculty. The Discovery collaboration and prototyping lab is available to students, faculty, and partners 24/7 for collaborative exploration of these problems spaces. The exploration is also facilitated by a virtual platform for distributed collaboration.

Students take one semester-long collaborative studio in their first two years and one studio per semester in the third and fourth year of studies.  The Discovery studios count towards disciplinary experiential learning requirements, including the senior capstone. Capstone studios may be partly realized in partner facilities and locations. Summer and wintermester internships with partners may also be connected to the studios.

The Focal Areas of Each Studio

First-year studio (Fall):
Collaborative problem-setting; Global contexts for technology innovation spanning feasibility, viability, desirability, sustainability; Reflective making; Ethical dimensions of collaborative technology innovation for societal impact.

Second-year studio (Spring):
Collaborative problem-solving; Introduction to quantitative and qualitative research methods; Optimization and integration; Component prototyping; Ethical dimensions of collaborative technology innovation for societal impact

Third-year studios:
(Fall): Systems thinking and systems definition; Identification and analysis of stakeholder; Skills discovery and transdisciplinary team building; Rapid Prototyping.
(Spring): Collaborative innovation; Customer discovery; Evidence-based decision-making; Iterative Design; Troubleshooting.

Fourth-year (Capstone) studios:
(Fall): Systems building; Project leadership and management, including resource allocation and scheduling; Team management; Value propositions. Project pitching
(Spring): User experience; User Testing; Systems assessment addressing feasibility, viability, desirability, sustainability, optimization, and integration. Systems reflection and documentation

The Discovery and Knowledge Integration Process

As the students improve in their collaborative projects and discover their interests and strengths, they can select which area they want to focus on within their discipline and what concepts from other disciplines they want to learn. Everything the students learn in their discipline is continuously recontextualized by being connected to relevant concepts from other disciplines and to complex real-world projects. The students can potentially develop knowledge identities that merge two or more disciplines. This merging does not take the form of a list of multiple majors or minors. Instead, it is a set of embodied and socially embedded skills that the student can intuitively combine and apply to the complexity of their lived experience and to advancing comprehensive approaches to societal challenges.

In a traditional interdisciplinary collaboration model, each student is assumed to have a fixed base within their discipline and to be connected to experts from other disciplines through collaborative projects. In the Discovery model, the student is a life-long transdisciplinary learner who is able to recruit an evolving array of disciplinary toolsets across multiple disciplines as well as diverse collaborators to facilitate a meaningful exploration of life and society.

In the traditional disciplinary education model, the student takes their fixed-knowledge identity from their discipline: “I am an engineer” or “I am an artist,” for example.

In the Discovery model, the student takes their evolving knowledge identity from their explorations: “I am exploring inequality in education by combining my knowledge of engineering and arts through collaboration with social scientists, members of underserved communities, and business that are interested in serving these communities”.  

Or “I am currently exploring semi-automated air delivery for goods as a means of decreasing congestion and pollution in cities by combining my knowledge in business, design, and big data and collaborating with engineers and policymakers”. Thus, in our visual representation of the Discovery program structure, each student becomes a star with a transdisciplinary core and a unique and ever-evolving collection of disciplinary rays, with one of those rays being their disciplinary anchor.  

As participants’ knowledge evolves, the initial quadrants of knowledge in the Discovery model gradually shift and merge. For example, a great technological insight can come from a Discovery program student anchored in industrial design and a new policy perspective from a Discovery program student anchored in engineering. Through these collaborations, the students learn to look to the uniqueness of their colleagues, rather than to disciplinary tags, for structuring their collaborations.   

Customizable interdisciplinary general education. The Discovery Program offers over 40 one-credit Honors course modules that cover key concepts in the participating disciplines related to collaborative technology innovation for societal impact. Students choose the modules that best fit their interdisciplinary collaboration interests. All modules employ a flipped classroom format, combining rich faculty-student interactions both in person and online, which facilitates flexible scheduling. All modules count toward Pathways general education requirements.

Pathways General Education Requirements

  • Algorithmic thinking
  • Computing systems
  • Acquiring & analyzing data
  • Estimation, expectation, descriptive analytics
  • Prescriptive & predictive analytics
  • Matrix Computation and Calculation
  • Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning
  • Decisions & Simulations
  • Dynamic Systems
  • Hardware / Software Interface
  • Signal Processing
  • Transducers & Circuits
  • Power & Energy
  • Optimization & Robustness
  • Fundamentals of manufacturing processes
  • Security and Privacy
  • Operations Management
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Market Analysis
  • Iteration and [Continuous] Improvement
  • Supply Chain Management
  • Aesthetics
  • Interaction
  • Form
  • Contexts for Technology Design
  • Communicating Data
  • Professional Media Writing
  • Speech and Professional presentation
  • Visual Media Communication
  • Multimedia & Broadcast Communication
  • Online Collaboration tools
  • Human Environment Interaction
  • Human Condition and Structural Inequity
  • World Economy
  • Technology Systems + Economic Development
  • Social Construction of Theory
  • Systems & Systems Thinking
  • Community & Identity
  • Digital Media & Society

For a visual representation of all CDP courses with their corresponding pathway, 
select Fall Courses or Spring Courses below. 

Each student is assigned an Honors faculty advisor who helps the student connect their disciplinary education within their degree area to transdisciplinary education in technology innovation.

Advisors help students by:

  • Meeting with the students regularly and reviewing progress in the disciplinary degree and transdisciplinary honors diploma
  • Offering guidance to students on their applied projects and research ideas
  • Working with students to prepare proposals for Discovery Program research grants that support each student’s research interests.

The Calhoun Discovery Program student body is diverse in terms of disciplinary preparation, gender, race, and socioeconomic background. The generosity of David Calhoun and our industry partners allows us to be need-blind when recruiting students. The commitment of the program and of the University to a diverse and inclusive definition of excellence allows us to go beyond the traditional measures of performance (grades, SAT scores, etc.) when recruiting students. For example, we utilize the non-cognitive variables rubric promoted by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to consider our applicants’ broader potential, review student portfolios (when available), and use one-on-one interviews to explore students’ commitment to collaborative and community-focused work, open-ended exploration, and a reflective approach.

Specialized facilities and experiences. All Discovery students have exclusive 24/7 access to the Discovery Collaboration Studio and Prototyping Lab. Students are given individual storage space in the lab. All students also participate throughout their studies in the Discovery Distributed Collaboration and Learning Platform that helps students connect their learning to peer, faculty, and partner perspectives. Students working with industry and professional organization partners may also carry out part of their work at partner facilities across the United States. 

Check out sample four-year plans to see how the program could work with your field of study.

Note: these are sample plans and students will need to work with their college advisors and CDP faculty mentors to determine which modules they should take.

A significant part of the general education experience of the Discovery Program focuses on cross-training that facilitates diverse collaborations. A student will learn to connect key threshold concepts from their discipline with relevant concepts from the disciplines of other students with whom they will collaborate.

Each threshold concept will be taught through a one-credit module. Each module introduces the concept and its sub-concepts as well as connects the concept to the technology innovation integration model of the Discovery Program. All modules employ a flipped-classroom format, combining rich faculty-student interactions online and in person, which facilitates adaptive learning and flexible scheduling. Their placement in the categories below shows the initial anchor quadrant of each module. However, modules will have connections to all four quadrants.  Students can combine modules across quadrants to fullfil pathways general education requirements. As the program evolves, the number of available modules will increase and the content will change. For more information, read our Industry 4.0 Report.

Diagram of Stage 1
Stage 1

The four quadrants denote the knowledge components necessary for integrative technology innovation, covered by twelve participating disciplines and units at Virginia Tech. Their placement on the quadrants shows their approximate knowledge coverage.

Diagram of Stage 2
Stage 2

Interdisciplinary general education: students learn about the skills of their collaborators and develop crosscutting skills.

Diagram of Stage 3
Stage 3

Knowledge integration through applied transdisciplinary projects.

The First Phase of Calhoun Discovery Program

In its first phase, the Calhoun Discovery Program will engage a total of 200 students within the Honors College, with the first cohort of 50 students starting in fall 2019.  After four years of learning the process of discovery, innovation, and problem-solving, students will be prepared to face the real world. Under this new learning platform, students will graduate from Virginia Tech with the skills and knowledge needed to lead collaborative technological innovation and live out our motto Ut Prosim, “That I May Serve.”

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