FRSM100 - Katrina Interdisciplinary Research Course

George Middendorf, Biology
Howard University


Interdisciplinary Approaches to Undergraduate Research is an undergraduate course designed to equip students to understand not only how research works, but the context in which it is produced and used. Adopting a variety of interdisciplinary approaches, the instructors will work with the students to examine the process and methodology of research, including methods used in the design, analysis and interpretation of experiments. Current research advances will be stressed, including use of mathematics, statistics, and computer modeling. Readings from primary and secondary literature will supplement the assigned texts.
Hurricane Katrina will be the focus of this course. We will examine a variety of aspects, including how and why Katrina had such an impact, as well as environmental, legal, economic, sociological, and demographic processes associated with decision-making before, during, and after August 2005.

Course Size:

Course Format:
Lecture and lab

Institution Type:
University with graduate programs, including doctoral programs

Course Context:

This was an introductory course with no pre-requisites that satisfied a college-wide requirement. Many, but not all of the students were non-science majors. The course was considered demanding for a 100-level course, yet was popular with students.

Course Content:

As will be seen from the syllabus, the course exposed students to an extraordinarily wide variety of disciplinary areas and approaches. Students, working in teams, developed and conducted independent research projects.

Course Goals:

The course provided opportunities for students to engage in interdisciplinary ways of thinking about research, to become self-directed life-long learners, and to conduct, write about, and present research.

Course Features:

Upon completion of the course, students were be able to generate research questions by analyzing a problem from more than one disciplinary perspective, infer what researchers from two or more disciplines would need to know to solve a problem, access, evaluate, and synthesize needed information effectively and efficiently, analyze the interaction of economic, legal, social and ethical issues surrounding the research, use information ethically and legally, formulate logical research questions or hypotheses, design a viable research study, using appropriate research methodologies, interpret primary sources, data, or artifacts from the perspectives of the discipline(s), compose a research report that fulfills the purposes and conventions of scholarly writing, and prepare a presentation that demonstrates satisfactory oral, written, and visual communication skills.

Course Philosophy:

This course, designed as a response to Hurricane Katrina, was college initiative to foster interdisciplinary understanding and teaching. It was team taught by members of a wide variety of departments, including art, biology, economics, history, philosophy, physics, political science, psychology, social work, and sociology-anthropology. Students were taught skills that allowed them to perform a scientific assessment while also relating the science to a relevant and personal societal need. The intensive nature of the course required a financial and logistical commitment from all of the departments involved which while ultimately precluding its repetition, fostered the development of other interdisciplinary courses and programs in the college.


Evaluation of student performance was divided into three categories: classwork & homework (30%), examinations (30%) and research project (40%).


FRSM100 - Katrina (Microsoft Word 53kB May17 15)

Teaching Materials:

References and Notes:

Gore, A. 2006. An Inconvenient Truth: The Planetary Emergency of Global Warming and What We Can Do About It. Rodale Press. 325 pp.

Tidwell, M. 2006. The Ravaging Tide: Strange Weather, Future Katrinas, and the Coming Death of America's Coastal Cities. Free Press. 208 pp.