About Our Programs

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What is a field school?  Many disciplines train students to conduct research. Archaeology, forensic anthropology and geology are some common disciplinary orientations for field schools. Depending on the branch, students get practical experience in ethnographic observation, digging, excavating, and identifying and classifying objects and conditions. While students learn the research tools of a particular discipline, they do not necessarily learn how to use these tools alongside researchers from other disciplines. It is also rare to have a field school program that trains students in multiple disciplinary perspectives.

What is the Field School for Social Innovation?  Our field school is different. We train students to see and engage with the world through the lenses of anthropology, engineering, design, entrepreneurship, public policy, architecture, and other disciplines and professions. Students apply their new skills to field work and collaborative projects in the social innovation sector. Our goals are the following:

  • Creating a new generation of integrated thinkers
  • Offering an alternative model for host community engagement through immersion in social innovation ecosystems.
  • Giving students the tools to think, act and talk across and between disciplines

Why social innovation?  It is true that these research and observation skills are useful for understanding every type of human behavior. We chose social innovation due to its comprehensive scope. Whether students are interested in economic development, human rights, reforming education, ending poverty, fighting disease or protecting the environment, these are all challenges that call for significant social innovation. Understanding the innovative human responses to these challenges allows students to reframe these problems as opportunities to create solutions. In addition, the social innovators themselves are visionaries and inspiring role models. No one tells their stories better than they do.

How are field courses designed?  To date we have organized field courses that focus on a particular city or region (the Aegean region in Turkey), as well as courses that have a thematic focus on social ventures that work on the same or similar issues (a comparative study of environmentally focused social ventures in Providence). Sometimes student demand determines the design, and sometimes the curriculum draws students with certain interests.  There are Field School Fellows in each location and they are brought in when their perspectives are relevant to the topic or region being explored. Assignments and field experiences are tailored to student groups according to their needs and level of expertise.

Who is the teacher?  We would like to think that experience is the teacher. We coordinate the development of the curriculum and the progression of experiences. Field School Fellows are practitioners from different disciplines who will participate as facilitators of various perspectives. The social innovators and their ventures provide the field sites and function as research participants and facilitators.

Can I get college credit for your courses?  Our curriculum has been approved by the Anthropology Department at Brown University, and we are currently working with other institutions to provide courses that will count for academic credit. For now, the easiest way to get college credit for the courses is to submit a petition for independent study at your home institution. This will keep the bureaucracy of transfer credits and matriculation to a minimum. We are university professors by day, so we know how this works. If you need a detailed course description to submit for approval, we will be happy to provide one. Please refer your academic adviser to our website. Academic advisers should feel free to contact us for more information.

What’s up with the locations?  We chose to start our programs in our own back yards – Rhode Island and Turkey. We have longstanding professional and personal contacts, deep knowledge of language and cultural contexts, and a passion for sharing the communities we love with others. As we expand our offerings, we are committed to working only in communities where we can create an authentic learning environment for our participants. In other words, participants will be leaving the “study abroad cocoon” to engage with the community in meaningful ways.

Why do I need to travel to study this?  Humans have a tendency to look past what is familiar, assuming that once we have solved the business of understanding a place, a problem, or a group of people, we’re finished and can move on with confidence. Studying an unfamiliar environment puts us in a state of heightened awareness and observation. Once you have experienced that, you will be able to return to your familiar environment with a fresh perspective (also known as reverse culture shock). Exploring social innovation in a foreign context will shed light on the fact that innovation everywhere is culturally embedded. With locations in the US and abroad, participants have the option of experiencing different worlds by traveling near or traveling far. In either case, you will develop a template of factors to consider when creating products and services that address social challenges.

Are these programs right for me?  Our programs challenge the status quo of a compartmentalized higher education system and the habit of educating the future workforce based on the needs of a machine-based manufacturing economy. Whether you are an educator looking to experiment with new pedagogical models, an adult learner who wants to develop some professional ambidexterity, a high school or college student who wants to explore new ways of learning and integrating knowledge, or a student of social innovation of any age, these programs are for you. The programs are for you if you are curious about our locations. Come for the field methods or come for the field sites. You will leave the program as a more creative learner with the vision of an innovator.