Deep Spring’s Neidorf noted that his students learn practical skills and engage in the kinds of soul-enriching academics that are synonymous with classical learning. If this message is paradoxical, that’s fine with him. “They’re not doing the work [on campus] for money, they’re doing the work for the sense of efficacy and intuition and initiative and problem solving and community on a practical level,” he said.
More schools are trying to entwine the emphases on tomorrow’s skills and deep thinking, treating education less as an avenue toward employment and more a life-long commitment to personal growth and inquiry. For example, thanks to a generous donation from music impresarios Jimmy Iovine and Andre Young (better known as Dr. Dre), one school at the University of Southern California is attempting to reshape higher education to offer students who’ve never known a world without internet a new standard of learning, almost as if someone cross-pollinated the best aspects of ASU and Deep Springs.
The USC program, called the Iovine and Young Academy for Arts, Technology, and the Business of Innovation, was founded in 2014. Its enrollment is minuscule, with around 25 students admitted each year, said Erica Muhl, the founding executive director of the Iovine and Young Academy and also the dean of USC’s Roski School of Art and Design.
The program does things differently. One project had the students design and build ships made of cardboard and duct tape that they were to row across a swimming pool at the university. “The only problem is they received almost hourly texts from the instructor changing the parameters of the build,” said Muhl, “so they were forced to respond both to real-word situations in terms of constantly changing parameters but also a client who is making unreasonable demands.” The project was inspired by a business case study of the Vasa, an expensive Swedish warship that sank minutes after its maiden voyage in the 17th century as a result of what experts believe was extraordinary meddling from the king, who changed the ship’s design elements multiple times.
The academy offers what Muhl muses is the longest degree name in the country: an undergraduate Bachelor of Science in Arts, Technology, and the Business of Innovation. The four-year program merges the arts, business, design, computer engineering, and the humanities, plus adds a guest instructor component that corrals an impressive carousel of artists, business leaders, and philanthropic leaders—such as the founder of Snapchat, a skateboarding mogul, the VP of creative affairs at Fox 21 Television Studios, and the editor-in-chief of Wired.
And those guests are put to work. Two weeks before the guest instructors visit, students are assigned design or business problems related to the speakers’ fields. After the guests make their remarks, students present their solutions to the problems that are then critiqued by the guest instructors.