Fifteen years of Knowledge Integration at Waterloo

Monday, April 1, 2024
Students holding up Knowledge Integration hoodies

Empowering interdisciplinary solutions for global challenges

Estimated reading time: 3:10

Classifying the problems facing the world as 'complex' may seem like a simplification. Issues such as climate change, access to healthcare, inequity, and cybersecurity are not only individually challenging but also interconnected. Solving these interdisciplinary problems needs knowledge and expertise from fields like science, arts, technology, philosophy, and design-thinking. This requires experts who can engage in meaningful dialogue, analyze information, work collaboratively, and excel at integrating knowledge. These skills form the foundation of the University of Waterloo’s Knowledge Integration (KI) program, which recently celebrated its 15th anniversary. 

Waterloo at 100, our new vision for the future of the University, is centered around bringing people from different disciplines, departments, and faculties together to address the challenges the world faces. This is exactly what Knowledge Integration has been doing at the University of Waterloo

Vivek Goel, president and vice-chancellor of the University of Waterloo

The Knowledge Integration Exhibition (KIX) showcases capstone projects of Bachelor of Knowledge Integration (BKI) students, part of the three-course museum sequence. As part of this course students visit a major European museum city to immerse themselves in the culture and museums to study exhibit design. This year’s KIX exhibition cohort traveled to Barcelona, Spain. Students then spent last fall developing their themes, learning objectives, and experiences which turned into a 30-page storyboard that ultimately transformed into a five complete museum exhibits, centered on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): 

Wink Wink, Nudge Nudge: Insights into subconscious actions. 

Imagine That!: Why the Make-Believe Matters 

Don’t Buy It: Anything can be made to look green. Are you buying it? 

Oh, The Places We Go: What is your happy place? 

Dream On: Discover the creativity and capability of your dreams. 

People exploring the Imagine That! exhibit at the Knowledge Integration Exhibit 2024
People exploring the Imagine That! exhibit at the Knowledge Integration Exhibit 2024
People exploring the Oh, the Places We Go exhibit at the Knowledge Integration Exhibit 2024
People exploring the Dream On exhibit at the Knowledge Integration Exhibit 2024

Amy Laughlin, a fourth-year KI student and teaching assistant for the museum course, reminisced about choosing her university degree. “Thinking back to when I was in high school, KI felt so appealing because of the museum course,” she said. Students in KI also learned that Brett Purcell, president of Nevada Learning Series, made a generous donation, announced at the reception, that would support KIX exhibits and events for the next five years. 

The BKI is the only Bachelor of Knowledge Integration in the world, and the skills students develop are transferable to any industry, with KI alumni going on to complete graduate degrees in fields like humanities, science, engineering, and medical school, and graduates working in a variety of sectors, from consulting to teaching. 

Katie Plaisance, associate professor and chair of KI recounted a conversation with an advisor in graduate school about her future while she was completing a doctorate in philosophy. “I told him I wanted to be part of a tight-knit program, with highly engaged students and colleagues who love to teach, but I also wanted this program to be embedded in a large research university where I could collaborate with faculty members from a wide variety of disciplines and teach classes that are interdisciplinary,” she said. Her advisor laughed and said that such a program doesn’t exist. She vividly remembers the moment she called him after joining KI to say, “It does exist! It’s just in Canada.”  

Josh Dolman, a 2018 KI alum and current teacher at Southwood Secondary School, spoke about the impact of KI on his life. “I first participated in Waterloo Unlimited while in high school, with students from across Canada, and that experience completely transformed my life,” he said. It was one of the four times he attended Waterloo Unlimited, an enrichment program to which BKI can trace its roots. As his remarks and the reception ended, Josh recited a quote that for him was the essence of KI and his time in the program. “There’s a saying that a man can never step in the same river twice for the river has changed and so has the man. KI isn’t the river it’s a canoe. It’s a canoe that you bring into any river to help you navigate the waters, and you take it with you wherever you go.”