Beyond Boundaries celebrates successful first semester, anticipates future growth

Noah Slaughter | Staff Reporter

Following a successful inaugural semester, the Beyond Boundaries program looks to continue providing students with new interdisciplinary opportunities while smoothing out some unforeseen hiccups.

The program, under the supervision of Program Director Rob Morgan, allowed 34 students to enter Washington University in the fall without a specific academic division for the first time.

Though individual Beyond Boundaries courses stressing interdisciplinary study have existed in the past, the 2019-2020 academic year was the first one to have a cohort of students within a dedicated Beyond Boundaries program. Rather than entering the University in one of its four undergraduate schools, students take special courses that extend across two or more academic divisions. They take part in the program’s seminar while also sampling courses within individual schools before deciding on a school in March of their freshman year.

According to Morgan, the program ran well in its first semester, especially by getting the students involved in courses and activities offered across the University, though he pointed out that there were some growing pains, such as small issues with their app. He is currently in the process of determining what else the Beyond Boundaries team can improve upon for future years.

“I am so pleased with how well it went,” Morgan said. “I shouldn’t be surprised, but I am anyway, about how engaged these students are.”

Freshman Elizabeth Joseph liked the uniqueness of certain aspects of the program, such as classes that brought in lots of guest speakers and others that emphasized design and creativity in different ways.

On the other hand, she found it somewhat difficult to dedicate so much space in her schedule to the courses. She also pointed out a few kinks with the program that arose since students aren’t in a specific academic division, such as not having access to the Plan It program in Arts and Sciences or having to take business school classes with an Arts & Sciences printing budget.

Overall, Joseph said she likes how Beyond Boundaries encourages students to take part in events that are offered across campus, and she plans to continue with the program next year.

“I think that it’s interesting how they executed it and tried to give us a lot of access to all the different parts of campus, including people from both the undergraduate side and the MFA programs, the med school or the law school,” Joseph said. “I think that’s a nice thing of them to do, and it kind of makes the program special. The flipside would be just the amount of class time that it takes.”

Beyond Boundaries students take a one-credit seminar in the fall co-taught by Morgan and Associate Dean for Undergraduate Residential Learning Jill Stratton, which was a discussion-based course featuring a variety of guest speakers from across the University. In addition to the seminar, students took College Writing and one Beyond Boundaries course, which are always co-taught by faculty from different schools and are open to any first year student. In the spring semester, students take another Beyond Boundaries course and a special “Bear Bridges” course.

Outside of class, all Beyond Boundaries students live in the same Residential College on the South 40, in Dardick House.

Stratton acknowledged some challenges in the first semester but, like Morgan, she was pleased overall. She said that, in future years, they may change the program by extending the seminar into the spring semester and may implement a peer mentorship program once there is more than one cohort of students.

“I think it’s been very successful,” Stratton said. “I think we learned a lot. The seminar was a great way that we brought in panels. Just think about it: In your first semester of college, you’re meeting with people from the medical school, the law school, alums, start-ups.”

In their second year, students remain active in Beyond Boundaries through a point-based system, in which different activities on and off campus, such as attending a guest lecture or a conference, receive different point values. Students report and track their points through an app that categorizes and displays various events at the University.

Next year, Morgan and Stratton also hope to grow the freshman cohort. For the class of 2023, 1,342 people applied for the program when applying to the University, which requires a Beyond Boundaries supplemental essay, and 34 students were accepted and matriculated. That number will grow to 50 for the class of 2024 and will expand incrementally over the next several years.

“I think the interest of students nowadays is that they want to customize, to an extent, their education, that they live in an on-demand world, and I think to an extent they are wanting an on-demand education,” Morgan said. “I think it’s really filling a need of sorts for certain students.”

Sign up for the email edition

Stay up to date with everything happening as Washington University returns to campus.