Discover what it takes to make it in the Faculty of Environment's groundbreaking new interdisciplinary unit

Eric Kennedy

Sitting in a bubble tea café in Suzhou, China while visiting Soochow University, recent Soochow University, recent Knowledge Integration (KI) graduate Eric Kennedy found himself enthralled in a passionate and interdisciplinary discussion about the environment and development, all the while explaining what his degree meant.  The experience, sandwiched between presenting his research at conferences in Italy and Wales, was just another typical day for this trail-blazing KI grad.

The experience says a lot about both Kennedy and KI; the Faculty of Environment’s newest department. KI is a program built around collaboration, encouraging its students to build bridges between – or across – disciplines, and it draws from some of the brightest, most-articulate and ambitious students in the country. But a program with an all-encompassing name like Knowledge Integration requires a bit more explanation.

 “It’s a new designation,” says Kennedy who learned about KI as a Waterloo Unlimited high-school enrichment program participant. “It doesn’t trigger current affiliations, giving us a chance to start with a blank canvas when we explain what we do in KI. In that sense, it becomes an opportunity for conversation.”

Often that conversation begins with KI’s unofficial mandate to produce students who are, “literate, numerate, articulate and play well with others.”

However, learning about whom KI students are as individuals tells more about the program than any motto. For instance, Kennedy, like most students in KI, has always been one of the brightest students in any classroom he’s been insomething that leads to its own set of challenges. 

“I had come out of high school math fairly well positioned. So I thought, why not go for honours algebra,” explains Kennedy. “I remember pushing myself through some particularly challenging assignments in a class full of honours math students. You’re not going to get that kind of experience if you’re just taking a variety of low-hanging, program-tailored electives to make yourself more interdisciplinary. There is a lot to be said of the mantra that struggle leads to success.”

Thanks to such high expectations, Kennedy and his classmates have had a fair bit of success. Their collaborative abilities were on display during the 2011 Knowledge Integration eXhibition. Following the class international field trip to visit Amsterdam’s many museums and soak up its culture, the cohort researched, designed, and mounted their own trans-disciplinary exhibition.

From a personal success standpoint, when Kennedy graduated this summer he was awarded the Faculty of Environment Alumni Gold Medal Award. The award is given to the top student graduating in the Faculty of Environment, based on academic achievement, scholarly research, and contributions to the university and broader communities.