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Did you ever think you could take an entire class on health care reform, the fiscal cliff and the 2012 presidential election?

Cross Currents, an idea proposed by Vice Dean of Wharton Georgette Phillips, is a new set of classes being created that will focus on current events like these.

“The concept is twofold, one to pick a current topic, something really of interest that’s on the ground right now and [second to] tackle it from an interdisciplinary perspective,” said Vice Provost of Education and biology professor Andrew Binns. “That’s fundamentally the idea, it’s to take advantage of the diverse faculty we have in the context of how they think and what they think about.”

Classes are to be created by professors within the four undergraduate schools and the proposals will be reviewed by a committee including, but not limited to, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Dennis DeTurck, Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education in Engineering Beth Winkelstein and Associate Dean for Academic Programs in Nursing Kathlenn McCauley according to Phillips.

The undergraduate deans hope to offer two or three Cross Current classes a semester beginning in fall 2014.

Phillips, who originally proposed Cross Currents to her fellow undergraduate deans about a year ago, explained her inspiration behind the idea. “I started thinking about what Penn is really good at and one thing that I think is a treasure within our university is our geographic proximity [of different schools] that allows us to cross disciplinary and intellectual boundaries very easily,” she said.

The biggest issue, according to Binns, is encouraging professors to submit proposals. The original call for proposals was put out in late October last semester, which was too late for professors to have potential courses ready to go for submission. The submissions will also have to go through a review process before being implemented.

“The problem with getting something like this off the ground is that we have to solicit proposals far in advance from when the course will actually run,” Binns said.

Additionally the project requires that faculty be available to teach new courses, despite the already large number of courses that they already teach.

“It would be unique to have a class that is taught by different faculty that have different perspectives on the same idea,” said Phillips. “We really want this to be faculty driven, not top down but organic … [and we want] faculty that can collaborate across schools, that can offer a rich and much more nuanced take from different lenses.”

What is especially unique about the idea, apart from the focus on what is happening in real time, is that it will also incorporate Penn’s graduate and professional schools in its courses.

“It’s what different disciplinary perspectives think, whether it’s the perspective of a professional school or [the] liberal arts and sciences,” DeTurck said. “What we’ll be looking for is real integration so its team teaching as opposed to tag-team teaching.”

DeTurck also said that Cross Currents is about “specific, timely, even local and immediate issues.”

The structure of the classes will be entirely at the professors’ discretion, Binns explained. The only requirements for the proposals will be that it needs to be taught by a minimum of two professors from different undergraduate schools and that the class be focused on something currently happening.

“We don’t want to limit the enrollment because we’d love to get as many students as possible,” Binns said.

Binns further explained that this is an experimental idea and courses will be added or removed depending on how successful they are.

“When I first got to Penn 30 years ago there was a biologist and a physicist who decided to teach a one-year course on the evolution of the universe, starting with the big bang,” Binns said of a successful class. “Those two could do it but you can’t always replicate that.”

Ultimately, the program is about encouraging innovation on the part of faculty, Phillips said.

“I’m excited that our students will have the opportunity to grow intellectually by hearing different perspectives,” Phillips said. “There’s one professor in front of class, that’s all well and good, but wouldn’t it be interesting to see how someone else looks at the same topic without taking another class?”

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