SAIL Program Overview

Many faculty at ACM colleges help to engage new students with liberal arts education through structured first-year experiences and off-campus study opportunities. Yet outside of special majors, most students are rarely encouraged to engage with multiple disciplinary perspectives in the advanced coursework for their major. Just as rare are opportunities for faculty to engage in such multidisciplinary experiences. Though faculty are ideally positioned to model integrative approaches for their advanced students, they have little chance themselves to explore a new topic through immersive, multidisciplinary study with colleagues from other disciplines. The ACM Seminars in Advanced Interdisciplinary Learning (SAIL) addressed this gap.

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Program Details

  • This program was funded by a generous grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
  • Faculty at ACM colleges were eligible to participate in SAIL. All travel, lodging, and meals was provided.
  • Participants received honoraria upon completion of curricular development projects. Members of the faculty leadership team received additional honoraria.
  • SAIL took place annually for six years, beginning in 2012, with on-site portions occurring each summer at locations in the US and international sites.
  • The structure and participants for each seminar were determined through separate calls to ACM faculty.
  • The year before each seminar takes place:
    – A call for pre-proposals in the spring solicited first ideas about the topic, site, and leadership, and a follow-up process led to final selections.
    – Following selection of the topic and leadership team, a call for seminar participants was issued.

For questions, contact ACM Vice President for Strategic Initiatives Brian Williams (312.561.5922).

Seminar Topic

The topic provided the theme for the ten-day on-site portion of the seminar. It involved a compelling central question with a corresponding set of questions spanning the major divisions of study — math and natural sciences, arts and humanities, and social sciences — to facilitate multidisciplinary inquiry. Topics had clear relevance for the undergraduate curricula of ACM colleges and fostered multidisciplinary teaching approaches to upper-level students in the member colleges.

Each topic was:

  • Closely linked to a specific site;
  • Connected to enduring themes in the liberal arts and sciences curriculum to spark wide interest among ACM faculty and students;
  • Fostered collaboration across math and natural sciences, humanities and arts, and social sciences;
  • Was capacious enough to sustain participation across disciplines; and
  • Created insights and resources to promote innovation in the upper-level curricula of ACM colleges across institutions, disciplines, and departments.

Seminar Site

The on-site portion of the seminar took place at a site offering a setting for faculty to explore the topic in a new context that is propitious for understanding the topic. Preference was given to sites with existing consortial or individual college assets that could be tapped to help secure space and logistical support.

The sites:

  • Promoted and informed a unique and multidisciplinary understanding of the seminar topic;
  • Offered specific geographic places or physical evidence, as well as other resources for exploration of the topic;
  • Together with the topic, provided a set of resources and issues to facilitate multidisciplinary study and that could also be imported into college curricula; and
  • Ideally, offered access to consortial or ACM college assets and resources, as well as other networks, facilities, and people that the seminar could draw upon.

Locations of the on-site portions of the seminars:

Curricular Projects

A key goal of the SAIL seminars was to help students in their last two years of undergraduate education make connections across disciplines and synthesize the work of their disciplinary majors. In the academic year following the on-site portion of the seminar, participants used the seminar content and structure to develop innovative new courses, sequences, or modules geared towards upper-level students on their home campuses.

Readings, guest speakers, facilitated discussions, and field trips during the onsite portion of the seminar not only expanded the multidisciplinary and topical expertise of faculty participants, but also set the stage for faculty to extend the breadth and intellectual coherence of liberal arts education for juniors and seniors at their own institutions. As a whole, the seminars built participants’ instructional capacity and prepared them to augment their teaching with integrative new curricular resources related to the place-based learning of the on-site seminar.

Curricular projects were completed by all members of the seminar group, including the leadership team. Participants could design collaborative projects collectively, as a campus team, or individually, as they preferred. All completed projects are available on the ACM website.

Leadership Team & Expectations

The leadership team convened and facilitated the overall seminar including the on-site portion. The team members had appropriate topic and site expertise, or a plan to make it available. Each leadership team included three individuals representing each of the three disciplinary divisions (math and natural sciences; arts and humanities; and social sciences).

Proposals for leadership could come from a three-person teams from the same or multiple ACM institutions. A chair was appointed to direct the activities of the leadership team and serve as the primary liaison with ACM staff.

Responsibilities of the leadership team:

  • Design the content and structure of the overall seminar especially the on-site portion, and make on-site logistical arrangements that serve on-site curricular goals;
  • Design and, where possible, implement a new, integrative, multidisciplinary curricular resource for juniors and seniors at your home campus and posting it on the project website like other participants in the seminar;
  • Lead the substantive interaction among faculty participants to develop and complete their curricular projects;
  • Design (with input from the seminar group) a project capstone — a volume, website, or other broadly accessible academic resource — and present these outcomes in a forum such as a panel at the annual AAC&U meeting.

Desired Qualifications of the leadership team:

  • Advanced knowledge of the seminar topic and of the site and its relevant assets;
  • Related academic experience, including teaching experiences, scholarship, and research;
  • Experience with similar faculty development activities, cross-disciplinary teaching, and/or off-campus study courses or seminars;
  • Ability to work well together and coordinate logistical arrangements, to implement a grant-funded project.

Seminar Composition

  • In addition to the three-person leadership team, each seminar group included 12 ACM faculty members in multidisciplinary teams of three.
  • Participation from each college was limited to three people (including the members of the leadership team).
  • Teams consisted of three faculty members from a single institution, each from a different disciplinary division. Teams were expected to maximize the impact of the seminar on the home campus, promote collaboration across disciplines on single campuses, and provide the broadest base of expertise for the seminar group.
  • Proposals showed how team members would collaborate in the design and implementation of their proposed curricular innovation.
  • Faculty rank was open, but the seminars were expected to be especially helpful for mid-career faculty in a position to develop new, multidisciplinary expertise in the topic and new curricular innovations on their home campuses.

Selection Process for Faculty Participants

The SAIL Steering Committee composed of three ACM Deans chose the strongest applications based on their potential for both contributing to and learning from the seminar. The committee looked for a clearly articulated vision for using the seminar to design and test multidisciplinary curricular innovations for students on the applicants’ home campus. Committee members also considered the applications as a whole to select a group representing a broad range of disciplinary expertise.

Participant Requirements and Expectations

  • All seminar participants must be available for the full duration of the on-site seminar and take part in all scheduled activities during the seminar.
  • All participants, including the leadership team, must be able to commit to the preparatory and follow-up work. Release of the honoraria will be contingent on the completion of curricular projects.
  • Prior to the on-site seminar: Participants were consulted on the design of the seminar and were expected to complete preparatory reading and writing assignments.
  • Following the on-site seminar: An important outcome of the SAIL seminars was new courses, sequences, or modules for helping upper-level undergraduates make connections across disciplines and cultures and to synthesize the work of their disciplinary majors. While campus-specific procedures and schedules may preclude projects from being fully implemented in academic year following the on-site seminar, participants were expected to deploy pilots or create detailed designs for implementation and to submit required reports to ACM detailing their progress. Participants were expected to post their projects online in a form that will allow other faculty to use and build on them.

Funding and Support

Travel & Lodging

The Mellon grant fully funded economy travel to and from the site, and all lodging, meals, and local travel during the on-site seminar for all participants. Travel to and from the site, and accommodations on site, were arranged in advance and coordinated by the leadership team and ACM staff.


All seminar participants, including the members of the leadership team, received an honorarium of $2,500. Receipt of the honorarium was contingent on (1) full participation in the work of the on-site portion of the seminar and (2) the completion of a curricular project in the ensuing academic year. For more details, see the participant expectations.

The leadership team received an additional honorarium totaling $6,500 for their roles in the overall two-year period of planning, designing, and leading the seminar, and guiding participants through the curricular follow-up after the seminar. The members of the leadership team determined how to allocate the funding among themselves in a manner that best supported the internal organization and distribution of work.

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