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NYU Abu Dhabi Will Experiment With Interdisciplinary Programs

Science and engineering degrees at Middle East campus will start with two-year foundation courses

by Rachel Petkewich
March 23, 2009 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 87, Issue 12

In 2010, New York University will welcome the first students to its new Abu Dhabi campus in the United Arab Emirates. The campus will offer a full liberal arts program, including science and engineering degrees. The overall program will be significantly broader than the limited degree offerings provided by most overseas campuses of U.S. universities, according to university officials. NYUAD will take the opportunity to test out new interdisciplinary science and engineering curricula.

The NYUAD program is one of the largest examples of the growing penchant for U.S. universities to go global. Along with making their names more internationally recognized, universities that establish overseas programs can add to their overall research capabilities and economic development efforts.

Though students study abroad for a semester or two and professors may travel to teach occasional summer chemistry or engineering classes at a U.S. university's overseas campuses, degree programs are usually housed on main campuses.

The U.S. universities in Education City in Qatar are among the few branch campuses in the Middle East to offer science classes and engineering degrees. Science and engineering will definitely be part of the curricula at NYUAD as well, and the programs will experiment with removing some of the boundaries that delineate traditional disciplines, according to Michael D. Ward, chair of the chemistry department at NYU's Washington Square campus in New York City, and Sunil Kumar, dean of graduate research at the Polytechnic Institute of NYU (formerly the Polytechnic University of Brooklyn in New York City). Both men are involved in planning the new campus.

"At this time," Ward says, "we anticipate opening a School of Science & Engineering at NYUAD, which will offer undergraduate degrees in the traditional science subjects such as chemistry, physics, and biology."

The campus will also offer a degree in integrated engineering as part of the experiment. NYUAD planners decided to emphasize interdisciplinarity throughout the science and engineering programs because "we believe that innovation and invention come at the boundaries between disciplines, and that students enrolled in NYUAD will be better prepared with such a program," Ward explains. Kumar says that if this integrated curriculum works with a small group at NYUAD, it may eventually be transferred back to NYU's Washington Square campus.

During their first two years, undergraduate students who plan to major in science will take foundation courses designed to integrate biology, chemistry, and physics. As students advance in their studies they will enroll in concentration courses more specifically related to their declared major, similar to a traditional curriculum. The engineering program will consist of two-year foundation courses, more advanced courses attended by all engineering students, and finally concentrated courses in conventional engineering subject areas such as chemical engineering.

All science and engineering students at NYUAD also will be expected to perform capstone projects of an interdisciplinary nature and global scope. In that respect, Ward says, "the engineering program emphasizes innovation, invention, and entrepreneurship and, as such, will contain many opportunities for design projects that cut across disciplines, from the sciences to the liberal arts."

NYUAD plans to offer a comprehensive set of undergraduate degrees and also intends to introduce graduate degrees. Ward says the graduate programs will center around research institutes, the details of which have yet to be determined.

Undergraduate classes will begin in fall 2010 at NYUAD's temporary facility in downtown Abu Dhabi while a permanent campus is being completed on Saadiyat Island, just off the coast of the capital city. Abu Dhabi's government has committed to provide land, funding, and financing for the development, construction, equipping, maintenance, and operation of NYUAD.

Professors are currently being hired to start teaching in August 2009. They will work for a year at the Washington Square campus to get a sense of the university before transitioning to Abu Dhabi.


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