Building a framework
Launched by the Brown Learning Collaborative in 2017-18, the Problem-Solving Fellows Program is the first expansion of the Fellows Program since the introduction of the Writing Fellows in 1982. Geared towards STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) departments, the program helps students learn—and practice—a myriad of problem-solving strategies and methods.
“Teaching others how to understand and solve unfamiliar problems is essential to leadership in all domains,” says Dean of the College Rashid Zia '01. “By helping their peers develop problem-solving skills, our fellows are simultaneously strengthening their own capacities to adapt to new situations, challenge assumptions, collaborate in teams, and ultimately apply their knowledge to build lives of usefulness and reputation beyond Brown.”
The main component of the program is the course, “Theory and Practice of Problem Solving,” where the Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning not only prepares students to become more effective problem solvers, but also to improve their skills as peer teachers. Concurrently or after completing the course, fellows work as undergraduate teaching assistants in courses across the curriculum.
A diversity of thought
Despite the focus on STEM departments, the program puts a sizable emphasis on the human element of problem solving. Students are taking a deep dive into learning theory and exploring how people absorb, process, and retain knowledge.
“We encounter problems daily because we are constantly making decisions, like choosing what to eat for breakfast or deciding how to spend your weekend,” says Christina Smith, assistant director for undergraduate instructional development at the Sheridan Center, who developed and teaches the Problem-Solving Fellows course. “We're helping fellows understand the why behind the decisions they make as students, educators, and problem solvers. Being reflective, understanding your identity, and incorporating cues from your environment are all skills that can be applied to other areas of their lives outside the classroom.”