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The Problem Solving Initiative (PSI)

The Challenge

In their capacity as professionals, U-M students will be asked to solve problems and get results. In many situations, they will be asked to think creatively and address new or seemingly intractable challenges that require the contributions and insights of many different disciplines.

In light of these demands, how can we ensure that students develop transferable skills that allow them to assess challenges, collaborate across disciplines, understand stakeholder needs, generate innovative ideas, prototype, and arrive at solutions through testing and analysis?

Our Approach

Each term, the PSI offers new, problem-based courses that are open to all U-M graduate and professional students. In these courses, students develop problem solving tools, collaborate as part of a multi-disciplinary team, conduct research on and engage in advancing solutions to real-world challenges, and learn from faculty experts, guest speakers, and stakeholders. Courses are taught by faculty from across the university; ideally each course has faculty from at least two disciplines.

In the PSI, students have worked to advance solutions to a range of problems, including “fake news,” toxic airborne emissions, human trafficking, automation in the workplace, firearm violence, sustainable food systems, concussions in youth football, and more.

  • We offer topics that will appeal to students who have different interests and insights and represent diverse disciplines from a range of U-M schools and colleges.
  • PSI students learn and apply creative problem solving, design thinking, and socially engaged design tools throughout the term as they play a key role in directing their own learning.
  • In addition to providing students with a thorough understanding of the causes and consequences of a particular topic or challenge, PSI classes also give students a foundation of transferable problem solving skills that they can continue to build on and apply in the classroom, on team projects, and at their future workplaces.

Faculty members in PSI classes provide guidance and in-depth knowledge of class topics as they engage in problem solving alongside their students. Working with 18-20 students gives instructors the opportunity to work closely with students from many different disciplines on important issues and to connect with faculty experts from other schools and colleges who share similar research interests.

What We’ve Learned

  • Many people at U-M—faculty, students, administrators, staff—are genuinely interested in promoting opportunities for students to learn problem solving, design thinking, and teamwork skills.
  • Making connections with many different U-M departments, programs, and other units has been important, as we’ve learned about ways to improve our program, attract faculty and students, and forge new connections.
  • Students and faculty value, and seek out, opportunities to connect with people from all over campus, particularly when those opportunities allow them to learn how to problem solve and gain in-depth knowledge about ongoing challenges.
  • Recruiting students requires ongoing effort since most are not aware that they can take PSI classes, and some graduate and professional students face constraints on the number of classes for credit they can take outside their home school or college.
  • Advertising PSI classes is also a challenge, in part because there is no single channel to convey information about upcoming courses to all students on campus.

Next Steps

We plan to continue refining the structure of our classes and offering class topics that are of interest to students and faculty. In addition, we will continue to work with a range of collaborators across the entire campus to incorporate new ideas and build a network that benefits everyone working on related opportunities here at U-M.

We welcome the chance to be part of larger conversations on campus about new directions for graduate and professional education focused on problem solving.


Law School


  • Andrea Quinn, Program Manager, Law School
  • Bridgette Carr, Associate Dean for Strategic Initiatives and Clinical Professor of Law, Law School


To learn more visit The Problem Solving Initiative (PSI) page.