Instead of solving for X or writing a thesis about information warfare, what if college students were designing drones that could solve the world’s declining oyster population? Or creating a way for U.S. intelligence agencies to counteract information warfare through social media?
That’s the idea behind James Madison University’s revolutionary JMU X-Labs program, which has undergraduate students solve authentic, real-world challenges for clients ranging from the Smithsonian Institution to the Department of Homeland Security and NATO.
Working in cross-disciplinary teams, students apply design-thinking strategies to solve complex challenges with important implications for health care, global safety, food security, and other weighty issues.
In the process, these students not only build deeper knowledge within academic disciplines such as science, engineering, and public policy; they also learn creative problem solving, teamwork, and other critical workforce skills—while making a difference in the world.
“I wish education was more like this,” says Cassandra Hagstoz, a JMU student who graduated last spring. “It’s so much more rewarding.”
JMU X-Labs consists of a dozen cross-disciplinary courses, including Drones, Community Innovations, Hacking for Diplomacy, and Medical Innovations. The courses are open to undergraduate students from any major, although they are advanced-level courses targeting juniors and seniors in particular.