Early in the summer, Hazel Sive, the new dean of Northeastern’s College of Science, told me about a favorite book of hers: The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben. She shared this extraordinary thing from the book: tree roots connect with those of nearby trees through a vast and enduring system of fungal filaments called the ‘wood wide web.’ Through this intricate system of network connections, older trees share sugars with younger trees, trees send their excess resources back into the network for others to use, and they communicate with each other about potential dangers like insect infestations. This relationship between the trees and the filaments is largely based on mutualism, where each species has a net benefit.
I have been thinking lately about the wood wide web and the parallels to D’Amore-McKim. We are just one part of an elaborate network within Northeastern’s Global Network. I would argue that business theory and practice is essential to nearly all disciplines, especially as the world around us becomes more and more deeply affected by digitization. Therefore, D’Amore-McKim has the unique ability to connect all of the colleges at Northeastern to us and to each other through our joint efforts to create transformative use-inspired research and develop impactful leaders. But that can only happen if all Northeastern leaders work to foster a conducive environment for interdisciplinary academic research through appropriate systems and incentives; our emphasis on humanics is helpful in this effort as we work to solve the grand challenges of our time. At the end of the day, rejecting functional silos and embracing interdisciplinarity thought is our path to pre-eminence.
We can only create the next generation of principled leaders by giving them tools from various disciplines and enabling them to question conventional wisdom so they can learn to solve problems with concepts from different fields and experiment courageously; this will help them make informed decisions that will drive significant progress and impact. D’Amore-McKim has taken steps in this direction, and the market is responding positively. For instance, our MBA x concept was created on the principle that interdisciplinary thinkers can analytically and creatively solve some of today’s most challenging problems in revolutionary ways. During this year’s MBA orientation, we heard from students that interdisciplinary learning options were a main reason for choosing Northeastern for their graduate studies. In the undergraduate domain, 30 percent of our fall freshman selected one of our many combined major options, and combined majors make up more than 46 percent of our total new 2020-21 enrollment.
As I’ve said many times, digital transformation is changing how we live and work, so we must radically rethink how we prepare our learners in response. I’m confident that thinking across disciplines is the key to training our next generation leaders, and prospective students are responding well to this concept. Our corporate partners tell us the same; they tell us that the most-needed skills for rising leaders are the truly human skills that can’t be readily duplicated by machines, such as critical thinking, curiosity, creativity, entrepreneurial thinking, collaborating, and complex problem solving. We have enabled our students to make connections between ideas and concepts across different disciplinary boundaries, including lessons in data management and technology, and it will most certainly provide them with a unique foundation for future success.
Dunton Family Dean
D’Amore-McKim School of Business