Abstract Detail

Education and Outreach

Soper Gorden, Nicole [1], Pierce, Joanna [2], Carter, Lucia [3], Cessna, Beth [4], Mickey, Shane [5], Spencer, Kelly [6].

Growing potatoes (and other crops) on Mars: Piloting a collaboration and problem-solving assignment in an interdisciplinary "Science and Science Fiction" class.

Employers of future college graduates consistently list problem-solving and an ability to work collaboratively as two of the most important skills they want in new employees. Interdisciplinary courses offer a particularly appropriate venue for incorporating both problem-solving skills and teamwork with students from disparate disciplines. At Mars Hill University, a small liberal arts college in western North Carolina, we require upper-level interdisciplinary courses as the “capstone” of the student general education experience. Through recent revision of these courses, we have added a collaborative problem-solving project, with the goal of giving students the skills and experiences to be more competitive in the job market after graduation. We used literature research, student and employer surveys, and student learning outcomes to craft a Collaboration and Problem-Solving (CAPS) assignment. In fall 2020, I piloted the assignment in my interdisciplinary “Science and Science Fiction” class. The assignment asked students to design a self-sufficient space colony either on Mars, on the moon, or in orbit around Earth. They had to address a variety of aspects, including everything from how to choose colonists to the physical structure of the colony. Since I am a botanist, the project included extensive discussions of how to grow sustainable food in different colony styles, with initial conversations sparked after watching The Martian, in which the main character grows potatoes on Mars to survive. The CAPS assignment was excellent at both making students engage more deeply with science sources and encouraging them to borrow from the creativity of science fiction. For example, colony designs included everything from slow centrifuge hydroponics to tank-grown algae to underground garden complexes as ways to grow plants for food. Surveys of students participating in the pilot assignment indicated they found the project engaging, better appreciated the value of interdisciplinary collaboration, and felt more comfortable knowing how to approach solving a new problem in the future. Results from this pilot assignment have since been used to create a CAPS assignment template for other instructors of these general education interdisciplinary capstone classes to adapt to their own class subject matter, and we have seen early success with students gaining important skills in these classes. Over the next few years, we will continue to track student employment success after graduation and collect data from exit surveys of graduating students.

1 - Mars Hill University, Biology, 100 Athletic St, Campus Box 6671, Mars Hill, NC, 28754, United States
2 - Mars Hill University, English, 100 Athletic St, Mars Hill, NC, 28754, United States
3 - Mars Hill University, History, 100 Athletic St, Mars Hill, NC, 28754, United States
4 - Mars Hill University, Business Administration, 100 Athletic St, Mars Hill, NC, 28754, United States
5 - Mars Hill University, Art, 100 Athletic St, Mars Hill, NC, 28754, United States
6 - Mars Hill University, Art Therapy, 100 Athletic St, Mars Hill, NC, 28754, United States


Presentation Type: Oral Paper
Number: EO2011
Abstract ID:901
Candidate for Awards:None

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