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Interdisciplinary innovation

Minerals can be understood with Chemistry, matter and energy needs Physics to explain it, and Geology is necessary to comprehend the physics behind Seismology or the Chemistry behind Mineralogy.

By | Bryan Donoghue

When the disciplines of Physics, Chemistry and Geology combine it creates a greater understanding of how the sciences are interconnected. Humboldt State’s professors and faculty understand that, and continue to operate their interdisciplinary program, Stars to Rocks.

The program is modeled after Humboldt State’s successful pilot program, the Klamath Connection. Katlin Overeem, the HSI STEM lead coordinator said Stars to Rocks is for first time freshman in the Chemistry, Geology or Physics departments. Aside from showing the relations between the three majors, Overeem said Stars to Rocks teaches time management, how to take notes, and introduces students to various resources on campus like the learning center, multicultural centers, and the peer mentoring program.

Taken from Humboldt State HSI Stem Flickr

“Students have the tools that they need to know how to succeed as a student at HSU,” Overeem said. “This interdisciplinary strategy creates a more cohesive approach to learning for the student.”


The ability to articulate your science is a crucial skill. Kevin Boston, a Forestry professor with Stars to Rocks is a believer in, “we learn better when we write about it.”

“I’m teaching this material in critical thinking really about how to think and reply critically to Environmental Science kind of problems in general, that was sort of the approach I was going to take for the class,” Boston said. “We learn to be better writers by being better readers.”

This is a sentiment shared among other faculty members, like Overeem. Overeem explains one of the components of the program is block scheduling, which means that their courses are already set up for them. Freshmen in the Stars to Rocks programs get to be in the same sections of their courses together, and that allows the faculty of the program to show how a variety of disciplines is needed in order to be a successful scientist. The set of courses are all GE courses.

“Even if a student decides at some point that Chemistry isn’t right for them, all the courses that we put them into will count towards another degree at HSU,” Overeem said. “The ability to properly communicate your science is a really important component of being a scientist as well. So we’re able to work with these other departments like English and Communication and build these bridges across campus between departments that don’t typically interact.”

Zane Comden, a senior Physics major at Humboldt State sees benefit in the public outreach the program is involved in, and finds it to be a great way to show how all these disciplines are interconnected.

“There’s a lot of openings in the field for public outreach and stuff like that, Especially considering that people want to know where their tax dollars are going when it comes to things like publicly funded research,” Comden said. “When it comes to sciences like that, you can’t really have Geology without Chemistry and you can’t really have Chemistry without Physics, and underneath all that you can’t really have Physics without Math.”

Taken from Humboldt State HSI Stem Flickr

Aside from the interdisciplinary aspect, Boston finds the program to be a great way for students to stay on a good path.

“You would see a number of students that’d struggle in their first year. Good students get into bad habits,” Boston said. “The first year experience from high school to college, and the freedom associated with college can effect students differently. Good students in high school can struggle mightily in college.”

Boston said drugs and alcohol uses can become common in certain students, and that can contribute to performance problems.

“I think this is an interesting opportunity to address some of those issues for students and make the first year more valuable to them. It’s a very interesting pedagogical approach,” Boston said.

The program continues to be a success according to Overeem, and will continue next year. For those looking to join Humboldt State University next semester, Overeem will be communicating with Oceanography and Marine Biology professors to pilot Rising Tides, a new interdisciplinary program.

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