Higher education leaders have been paying attention to the ambitious experiment unfolding at Plymouth State University (PSU) since the arrival of President Donald Birx seven years ago. The university, which celebrated its 150th anniversary last year, has been transforming its educational approach to cluster-based learning, in which students work in interdisciplinary teams to propose solutions to societal challenges. PSU reorganized 24 departments and three colleges into seven interdisciplinary clusters.
“I realized if we’re going to provide a 21st century education, we had to change the approach,” he says.
Through this first-in-the-nation approach, the university’s in-house student design company helped Country Cupboard Candies in Holderness grow its business. Students also worked with Lancaster businesses and community members to develop entrepreneurial ventures and attract younger workers. And economics students produced an economic impact study and designed marketing campaigns for Castle in the Clouds.
Students are currently helping to extend the I-93 tech corridor and partnering with the Town of Bristol to expand broadband there to open more economic opportunities, Birx says.
PSU, which offers bachelor’s degrees in more than 45 majors and 60 minors, and master’s degrees in more than 70 concentrations, has more than 3,700 undergrads and 700 employees. Those students, faculty and staff take the university’s motto—Ut Prosim, That I may serve—to heart.
The Marketing Association at Plymouth State University (MAPS) organized a Teddy Bear Toss that donated 1,300 new stuffed animals and more than $800 to Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth.
During the pandemic, faculty and students helped the White Mountain National Forest and Mount Washington Observatory predict avalanche activity on Mount Washington and managed and preserved the Beebe River Watershed.
PSU collaborated with the NH National Guard and Speare Memorial Hospital to create a surge site in its ice arena to serve COVID-19 patients and worked closely with the State of NH to ensure a safe return to campus.
Its meteorology program was awarded a NASA grant to study the atmosphere’s response to solar eclipses.
In 2021, PSU launched a new Climate Studies bachelor’s degree program and in February launched The Center for Cybersecurity. “We are trying to build a university of problem solvers that is relatable to the 21st century and vaults the region forward,” Birx says.