Arkansas Tech University alumnus Bob Dickson had a vision to help faculty at his alma mater create an innovative new course that would bring together students from a variety of majors across campus.
He wanted the course to allow students to work together on solving a problem while learning critical thinking and communication skills as well as the ability to work with others regardless of their background.
On Tuesday, Feb. 21, Dickson saw his vision play out before him in Dean Hall room 207.
That is the site each Tuesday and Thursday afternoon for Collaborative Solutions, a new class at ATU that was made possible by Dickson’s philanthropy and passion.
“I talked to some people at Tech about a class that would promote critical thinking,” said Dickson while leading a classroom discussion. “That is probably the most important issue to me. You’re either going to think for yourselves and make your own decisions, or you’re going to follow someone else. Without the skills to critically think about things and review options and opportunities that you have, you will be a follower all of your life. The other side of that is that’s alright. We need to follow each other, but by thinking critically about concepts you can make a better decision about which group you want to follow along with or which group you want to lead.”
A 1968 graduate of Arkansas Tech with a degree in mathematics, Dickson began his career in education. He left the principal’s position at Harrison High School to pursue an opportunity in private business with Mass Merchandisers, Inc.
Now retired, Dickson looks back on his education as the foundation for all that he has been able to achieve. The Collaborative Solutions course at ATU is his way of paying forward the style of learning that benefited him to the next generation.
“The best learning tool that I was ever exposed to was in the fourth grade,” said Dickson. “Have any of you ever heard of Weekly Reader? We had it probably the whole time I was in elementary school, but I remember it in the fourth grade because we talked about questions like the space shuttle program. It was defined and outlined, and it materialized almost exactly the way we talked about it in our classroom. How are we going to define death in the future? That was another issue in Weekly Reader.
“One of the biggies I remember was the 32-hour work week,” continued Dickson. “It was absolutely going to happen. It never materialized. When does life begin? That was another one of these issues, and I remember these because the teacher actually allowed us to discuss them, to argue and to fight…not literally, but figuratively speaking. I think we’re good at solving specific issues, and we have great difficulty when the issues become complex and personal. From my point of view and I think from the point of view of all the people involved with this class, we would like to see you feel free to openly discuss issues that are complex and difficult…to think deeply about them, and to be able to defend and communicate your point of view to others. Whether you realize it or not, it’s preparing you to walk out of college and out into a bigger world.”
Dickson emphasized to the class that diversity of thought is part of that bigger world.
“The day that you walk out of this college, you are going to be in the real world and you cannot even begin to believe the number of ideas that are out there,” said Dickson. “There are concepts that may be radically different from how you see the world. Being able to discuss issues and to work with other people, regardless of whether they are like you or different from you, is key. That’s where the name collaborative came from in the course name.”
Dr. Caroline Hackerott, assistant professor of emergency management, is teaching the initial offering of Collaborative Solutions. The topic for the semester, climate change, was selected through a focus group of ATU students who expressed an interest in the interdisciplinary class.
In order to ensure representation from a variety of academic disciplines, upper level students from every discipline across campus were encouraged to enroll in the course.
Another group of ATU students will enroll in the course and take on another issue during the spring 2018 semester.
“You have to be flexible and take advantage of the opportunities you get, whatever they are,” said Dickson. “All of you are capable of all kinds of things…things you don’t even understand yet. But you have to be willing to seize the moment, and it’s not always easy. There are prices you pay. What all of us are trying to do is find out about ourselves and answer questions about ourselves. That is a part of life. If you respond to the things that come in front of you, you’ll learn to think critically whether you want to or not.”