President's Blog

Learning in Davos


Most of us tend to spend the bulk of our professional time with people in our own discipline.  And when we go to a conference, we do the same thing.  Academics spend time with academics, politicians with politicians, business leaders with business leaders, doctors with doctors, lawyers with lawyers.

Yet, when we look at any of the big problems we face in the world–whether it’s economic opportunity, health, access to fresh water, or climate change–none of them can be tackled from one single disciplinary perspective.  The big problems of our time are so complex that they require multidisciplinary, multistakeholder, multicultural solutions.  The problems affect different groups differently.  The social complexity around the problems is at least as great as their technical complexity.  And even their technical structure is too complex to be understood through a single disciplinary lens.

At Mason, we’ve been exploring how we could educate new generations of leaders who have the capabilities to address these problems. Our Global Problem Solving Consortium is exploring the issue with partners around the world.  And the New Century College offers a nontraditional curriculum geared towards that outcome.

As we continue to ask ourselves that question, the timing couldn’t be better to attend the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Instead of spending time with other university presidents, academics and administrators–we’ll be a very small minority–, I’ll be surrounded by leaders in government, business, technology, media, arts, social services and many other industries from around the world.

Many of the most creative problem solvers I know, I have met here before.  And many of them admit that their own thinking was shaped by the multidisciplinary, global conversations and relationships forged at events like this. That’s why I believe the World Economic Forum could offer some clues as to the type of environment that can help educate the global problem solver we hope to produce at Mason.  Surround yourself with colleagues from different backgrounds and expertise in various disciplines. Listen to their points of view. Contribute your own. Engage in a dialogue. Consider new possibilities. Question your beliefs. And together arrive at ideas and solutions that can help make the world a better place.

I have been privileged to attend World Economic Forum events in Davos and around the world many times. These meetings have been invaluable in my own growth and have shaped how I look at the world. I have observed how different people from different industries and backgrounds approach issues and arrive at courses of action none of them had considered before. I also have developed friendships and relationships with individuals who had nothing to do with higher education but who have inspired me, mentored me and helped me grow.

My goal in Davos this year is to capture ideas that can hopefully help us create even stronger learning experiences for our students as they grow to become true global problem solvers.  Let the fun begin!