Integrated learning

Knowledge Integration program shapes leaders for a complex world

It’s getting clearer every day that our most complex global challenges need solutions that cut across traditional boundaries, which means training future leaders like Tiffany Lin (BKI ’15).

Lin was recently a research associate at Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society, where her research interests were at the intersection of the internet, corporate responsibility, social structures, artificial intelligence and human rights.

“I always had that tug between two areas. I love math and physics, and I love coding and being on the computer all the time. But I also love design and art, and the world of stories,” says Lin, a graduate from the Department of Knowledge Integration (KI).

With a special interest in online “fake news,” Lin was able to combine computer science and social science during her time at Waterloo. This allowed her to understand not only how internet algorithms work from a coding perspective, but also how they can create narratives that shape how we see the world.

What is KI?

KI draws students who could excel in engineering or history

KI draws students who could excel at engineering, science or history, but are attracted by the broader education the degree offers. “It’s designed to give them breadth of knowledge across the disciplines, a specialization in something they’re passionate about,” says Rob Gorbet, director of the Department of Knowledge Integration.

An electrical engineer by training, Gorbet represents the program’s strong connection to world-class engineering at Waterloo. Other faculty members include a philosopher, a computational social scientist and a physicist.

“Learning in KI is a balance of knowing and doing. Across the curriculum and in every core course, there’s theory and there’s applied, and the doing is often in groups,” Gorbet says.

The culmination of this group work is the four-part museum course in which students go to a museum-rich European city. On their return, they spend seven months creating a museum exhibit that explores a societal problem.

“A big part of KI is encouraging intrinsic motivation, that willingness to learn on one’s own and pursuing the different opportunities … One of the biggest gifts that I received from KI was that confidence to pursue opportunities that may be outside of the box,” says Zainab Ramahi (BKI ’15).

Zainab Ramahi

Ramahi, currently a student at the Berkeley School of Law, learned to listen and appreciate different voices in the KI program.

“If you’re advocating as a lawyer, you’re working with people who have diverse interests, even diverging interests, but are still working together for a particular cause,” she says.

Community activists need to learn through direct service, but also be able to take that bird’s-eye policy view.

“You cannot have one without the other, otherwise you are fundamentally misinformed,” Ramahi says. “Not to be over-dramatic, but I think KI is what this world needs.”

Watch how KI is valued in the workplace