Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) Program. The National Science Foundation (NSF) established the IGERT program to produce Ph.D. scientists and engineers with interdisciplinary training, discipline knowledge, and technical, professional, and personal skills (e.g., communication, ethics, teamwork, leadership) that are useful to both academic and nonacademic careers.6 IGERT grants are awarded competitively to university faculty, and projects can be funded for as long as 10 years. The projects are organized around an interdisciplinary science theme but include opportunities for hands-on experience, work in other countries, and professional development (e.g., internships) that complement academic preparation.
A number of IGERTs have touched on the core or emerging areas discussed in this report. For example, the Sensor Science, Engineering, and Informatics project at the University of Maine is examining all aspects of sensor systems, from the science and engineering of new materials to the interpretation of sensor data. The objective is to use knowledge from sensorgenerated data to drive development of sensor systems and advances in sensor materials and devices, and vice versa. A recent IGERT with an explicit geospatial focus was the Integrative Geographic Information Science Traineeship project at the State University of New York, Buffalo. The project facilitated interdisciplinary research in geographic information science, environmental science (e.g., integration of spatial databases with regional models to forecast environmental changes), and social science (e.g., integration of spatial analysis and spatial statistics with GIS to detect crime or disease hot spots). As part of the project, the IGERT team provided a rapid, large-scale damage assessment following the 2010 Haiti earthquake.7
A 2006 assessment found that the IGERT program has had a measurable impact on students, faculty, and institutions (Carney et al., 2006). Students in IGERT programs reported feeling well grounded in their discipline but better prepared to work in multidisciplinary teams and to communicate with people in other disciplines compared to their non-IGERT peers. In addition, IGERT faculty increased their interdisciplinary work, leading to new collaborations, research ideas, and courses, and, in some cases, to stronger institutional support for interdisciplinary approaches. For example, some IGERTs have become self-sustaining Ph.D. programs after NSF support ended (Box 6.1).
University of Southern California (USC) Joint Games Program. Games have moved beyond simple entertainment to become tools that support a variety of applications, including military recruitment and training (e.g., America’s Army game;8 NRC, 1997) and training in human geography. For example, “Sudan: Darfur is Dying” is a narrative video game that simulates the experience of 2.5 million refugees in the Darfur region (Figure 6.2). Players deal with threats to the survival of their refugee camp, such as possible attack by Janjaweed militias. They can also learn more about the genocide, human rights, and the humanitarian crisis in Darfur.
Games are inherently multidisciplinary, requiring designers, engineers, and artists to come together to design the gameplay and visuals and to program the software. Games programs at universities also have an interdisciplinary element. A good example is the USC joint Games Program, which was created by Michael Zyda, a member of this committee. The Department of Computer Science at USC offers a bachelor’s program in computer science (games) and a master’s program in computer science (game development; Zyda, 2009). The master’s program requires computer science students to take three game design courses in the School of Cinematic Arts, which are aimed at getting designers and engineers used to working together and learning each other’s strengths.
Students interested in joint game building spend their last year building games in large teams of designers, computer scientists, and artists from a wide range of departments (Figure 6.3). The joint Games Program 491 course begins in the spring with a call for game designs. A panel of industry and faculty members chooses which designs will be developed, and the leads for the game designs chosen flesh out their game design and recruit their teams by the first day of fall classes. During the fall semester, the teams develop a playable prototype. In the spring semester, midcourse corrections are made
8 The America’s Army game, initially built to support Army recruiting, now has more than 13 million registered players and has become the core platform behind many Army training systems. See <http://info.americasarmy.com>.