Arizona State University

Can we redesign education to face the challenges ahead?

When Michael Crow became president of Arizona State University (ASU) in 2002, he wrote A Manifesto for the New American University and defined eight “design imperatives” for rethinking the current university model. In his text, he wrote about excellence, accessibility, and purpose, and discussed the importance of understanding the great challenges we face as a society and about the role the university plays in making change possible.

Michael first invited me to ASU to speak about the Institute without Boundaries. He asked me, ”How many students are in the Institute without Boundaries?” I replied, ”About a dozen.” When he told me, ”We’re going to do that with 90,000 students,” I was knocked out—I love that way of thinking.

Michael’s Manifesto became the foundation for ASU’s Challenges Campaign. Our task was to bring ASU’s design aspirations to life around the campus. This had to be more than a document tucked away on a dark shelf in the library. It had to influence the everyday life of students, staff, faculty, and board members.

I proposed that we use the challenges all around us, orienting the whole university toward purpose and entrepreneurial learning. That was the experience model that worked so well at the Institute without Boundaries. By focusing on specific challenges as accelerators of education, students seek learning across multiple disciplines instead of a single narrow field.