Interdisciplinary Design Project
Dr. Sam Hui’s little rectangular classroom on the second floor of the Run Run Shaw Building, filled with crooked rows of desks and seats, was packed with students in their final years of the Department of Mechanical Engineering (ME). This year, these students will participate in the Interdisciplinary Design Project (IDDP), a unique and mandatory six-credit academic course, based on problem solving and interaction with three other departments including the Departments of Architecture, Civil Engineering and Real Estate & Construction.
“The IDDP tries to give students from other departments some experience on collaborating different knowledge,” said Hui, a professor of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, and the Overall Coordinator of the IDDP. “It is important to have teamwork and to have people come together and work together on a particular subject.”
Every year, students from each department which in total, counts up to about 100, register for the course. After being grouped into teams of four, the team members will then discuss with each other to come up with an ideal design plan of a specific building in Hong Kong.
“Each year, the students will have different topics to work on,” Hui said. This year, the students will come up with a sustainable building design for an office building located at the West Kowloon Cultural District.
“People with different backgrounds can contribute their own knowledge to make the project more successful,” Hui said. “This is especially very important for building professionals because when students go out into the industry, this is the situation they will have to face.”
A professor from the University of Bath of England named Richard Frewer (Hong Kong University) introduced the project to HKU in the year 2001.
The project course is the first of its kind in Hong Kong. Although there are similar programs in other universities today, according to Hui, the IDDP is the most comprehensive among them all as it has all the building-related professionals within one campus.
Students like the course, too. “I’m excited. I’m looking forward to meet more friends from different engineering disciplines.” said Chan So Chun (Building Services Engineering, 3, HKU), a senior in Hui’s class who will participate in the IDDP this year.
Every year, up to 20 final-year students each from the Department of Mechanical Engineering and the Department of Civil Engineering, 25 to 30 from the Department of Architecture and 40 to 50 from the Department of Real Estate & Construction take part in the project.
This year, however, Civil Engineering students have other mandatory credits to fulfill so they won’t participate.
In order to stimulate more interaction between students with different knowledge, the IDDP encourages non-traditional methods of teaching and learning.
“This is a project-based course. Students must participate actively,” Hui said. “The students should also talk to the tutors to discuss any problems they have.”
With different knowledge and ideas colliding with one another, discussion and preparation is inevitable.
“Each disciplinary has its own responsibility. All of them are very important,” said Wyman Tsang (Building Services Engineering, 4 HKU), who completed the 2009 IDDP. “I think that the most difficult thing for me was to learn how to bargain and fight for what’s really good for the team’s design. I had to convince my teammates, and in order to have a good reason for them to choose my suggestions, I had to prepare well.”
This year’s IDDP will end in Nov. 2011. Students will give a final oral presentation for professors and businessmen with an interest in the building being designed. Three outstanding teams will be financially awarded.
Since the suggestions are made by students, there is a limit to how much the ideas can actually be applied on the buildings. However, Hui said, “The most ideal result is the student’s ideas actually being applied. Thus, that is what we continue to aim for.”
Interdisciplinary Programs Office
On Sept. 1, a dragon dance performance was taking place in the Hong Kong Jockey Club Atrium to celebrate the start of a new fall semester of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST). Amid the crowd, students from the Interdisciplinary Programs Office (IPO) stood behind a booth greeting new freshman, just like the other departments of the HKUST.
The IPO is an academic sector of the HKUST which lets students study in programs that integrate two or more studies.
The courses it provides are some of the most competitive and unique programs in both HKUST and all of Hong Kong.
“Today, we have more information every day. So we have to integrate part of the new knowledge together and this is why we have to enable more students to deal with different situations,” said Professor Chi Ming Chan (HKUST), the Director of the IPO.
The first academic program the IPO provided was the Dual Degree Program (DDP) which was established in 2003.
In this program, students earn two degrees: a Bachelor of Engineering in one of nine specific concentrations and a general Bachelor of Business Administration.
The students study the two Bachelor courses separately. “But on the top, the IPO provides additional courses called Technology and Management Courses to help students integrate the two components,” said Chan. As a result, unlike a double major, students in the DDP earn a separate diploma for each course of study.
“By studying these two disciplines at the same time we can broaden our worlds,” said Jasmine Park (DDP, 3, HKUST). “Studies in Engineering enable us to become more detail oriented, conceptualize ideas and actually construct it, that’s what engineers do. Whereas in business, once you have the idea, you can present it to the others and be able to make a convincing statement on why this is going to work.”
Since students must gain academic knowledge in two different fields, unlike the general 3-year university curriculum of Hong Kong, the DDP requires its students to attend its programs for another extra year.
In spite of its relatively long academic period, the DDP is popular among students making it one of the most competitive places to enter. Ever since it was established, the DDP has been ranked one of the top undergraduate programs in Hong Kong, in terms of public examination results.
Statistics show high salary of these graduates, as well. According to a press release announced in July 21, 2008 the average salary of the DDP students is $24,839 which is 54 percent higher than the university average, $13,604.
“Students trained in two different disciplines, if they can integrate their studies, they definitely have a unique advantage,” Chan said. “After the financial crisis, the companies are realizing that such integration is the lacking component of the society.”
Students of the DDP can also apply for corporate projects sponsored by companies to relate their integrated abilities to real-life situations. The IPO also hosts Case Competitions each semester. Students with high excellence are selected to participate in the Case Competition which brings together students from different countries and different fields to work together.
“A normal business case competition would have students merely searching the Internet to gain information,” said Matthew Luk (DDP, 4, HKUST) “However, my team had students from different engineering majors including Civil Engineering, Logistic Engineering and Electronic Engineering. Therefore, we could combine all our engineering knowledge to find out the latest technology and understand what were its challenges and advantages.”
The IPO is continuously increasing its number of students by making more program courses. In 2009, the IPO added the risk management and business intelligence program to foster risk managers who can also analyze information.
This year, it established the Division of Environment (DE), which offers undergraduate and postgraduate interdisciplinary programs that integrate environmental management and technology.
“The first patch of graduates came out in 2007,” said Shirley Tang the Program Manager of the IPO. “Up till now we have about 100 to 120 graduates.”
Today the IPO have about 200 undergraduate students and 60 post graduate students enrolling in its programs.
“An allusion that you make when you graduate is that you think that the specific knowledge you got inside the class is what makes you valuable,” said Professor Paul Forster, an adjunct associate professor of the DE. “But you find out relatively quickly that it is more about knowing where to go and who to ask the right questions. This requires you to understand the problems well.”
Professor Alexis Lau, an associate professor of the DE added, “We do not ask students to focus merely on one specific major. This is because that is not their strength. Their strength is that they know the others.”