Spring 2017


New Interdisciplinary Curriculum Focuses on Problem Solving

Professors Daniel Crane, Alicia Davis, and Bridgette Carr, ‘02.
Professors Daniel Crane, Alicia Davis, and Bridgette Carr, ‘02.

On a rainy day in late March, students from five top-ranked U-M schools and colleges, including the Law School, assembled in a makeshift conference room in a small utilitarian building on North Campus to ask questions about data collected by autonomous vehicle networks. 

They confidently used shorthand references like “V2V,” “V2X,” and “DRSC.” The students, accompanied by Daniel Crane, the Fredrick Paul Furth Sr. Professor of Law, were waiting to board a self-guided shuttle bus—the only one of its kind operating in the United States—for a trip through Mcity, the University’s 32-acre proving ground built for testing driverless cars.

The class, which is exploring development of commercial and regulatory uses for connected and  autonomous vehicle data, is one of two pilot courses offered this semester through the Law School’s new Problem Solving Initiative (PSI). 

These aren’t regular classroom courses, clinics, or practice simulations. PSI courses provide a platform for the development of creative solutions to difficult challenges in business and society by giving students a framework for analyzing and solving complex problems. 

Through a team-based, experiential, and interdisciplinary learning model, small groups of graduate and professional students work with top-notch faculty to explore and offer solutions to emerging, multifaceted problems. 

The small-group classes, comprising students from several U-M graduate and professional schools, give participants a unique opportunity to receive guidance from accomplished instructors and leading experts in business and policy. The format allows students to represent the unique perspective of their academic disciplines while collaborating with faculty and outside experts to propose solutions to challenging issues.

“Until now, the Law School’s experiential opportunities have focused primarily on addressing client matters, not large-scale problems,” says Alicia Davis, associate dean for strategic initiatives and professor of law. 

“Our graduates, whether they are in a small or large firm, a multinational corporation or a startup, a nonprofit, or any level of government, will be expected to work with multidisciplinary teams to solve tough challenges. These classes teach law students not only to spot issues for their clients, but also to offer a range of creative solutions, and give them experience doing that.”

The second PSI pilot class focuses on identifying and supporting human trafficking victims in the child welfare system, and includes students in law, public health, public policy, and social work. It is co-taught by Clinical Professors Bridgette Carr, ‘02, who also directs the Law School’s Human Trafficking Clinic, and Vivek Sankaran, ’01, who directs the Child Advocacy Law Clinic and the Child Welfare Appellate Clinic.

“PSI epitomizes Michigan Law’s spirit of innovation and collaboration,” says Davis. “We are excited to see its impact on our students and society as it continues to grow.”

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