The Tracks initiative, which is funded by the Chalmers Foundation, offers elective Tracks courses for Chalmers students in years 2–5 and for Chalmers alumni. Within the framework of Tracks, a learning environment is being developed on Campus Johanneberg, which will include different project rooms, workshops for different materials, and computer resources for machine learning, among other things. The inauguration is planned to take place early 2022.
Sustainable development requires cooperation
In May 2019, the first pilot of Tracks started and today the courses are in full swing. Chalmers students from 31 of 40 master's programmes were represented in Tracks courses the first year. The idea is that students will meet and collaborate across programme boundaries and take on relevant challenges with a basis in real-world problems together.
"I believe that many young engineers today want to contribute to sustainable development and the problems we face are often complex system challenges. If we are going to be able to contribute to a sustainable transition, we must be prepared to work together with different skillsets," says Tracks student Emilia Sandolf, a master’s student in Industrial Ecology.
In Tracks courses, students get to try an interdisciplinary approach, something which is uncommon at technical universities. The subjects in the courses vary a lot, covering everything from current challenges in the healthcare sector or the transport industry to issues linked to ethics and AI.
Kathryn Strong Hansen, teacher and responsible for the course Emerging Technology – Ethics Through Fiction, explains her own view of the Tracks concept:
"For me, Tracks is all about sharing! Students from different backgrounds and disciplines are sharing ideas and perspectives. The fact that they have different takes on the challenges we address in the courses is really expanding the discussions, we all learn a lot from each other."
Flexibility and professional skills are required
Young people today want more choices and greater flexibility in their education. The system at Chalmers today allows some individualisation for the student, but it is limited. Engineering and architectural educations have traditionally been organised by discipline – mechanical engineering, chemical engineering and so on. Deep subject knowledge is necessary for qualitative architectural and engineering work, but architects and engineers also need to develop knowledge and skills in interdisciplinary working methods, ethics, communication, and entrepreneurship, for example. This is something that Monica Ringvik, technical manager at Astazero, member of the Tracks advisory committee, and Chalmers alumni, emphasises:
"When I went to Chalmers, we often had lab tasks to execute from A to Z, which was good since deep subject knowledge is of course very important in working life. But through Tracks, the students also get the opportunity to develop additional skills, such as teamwork, the confidence to network, work independently and solve abstract tasks together with others. It is a different kind of knowledge that employers really demand today", she says.
Close connections to both research and industry
Tracks brings many perspectives and representatives together, not least from areas of society and industry that are linked to the course subjects. Airbus are involved in the course Structural battery composites, and the course which develops the technology linked to the Chalmershindret showjumping fence
has close links with the Swedish equestrian sector, including the Swedish Equestrian Federation and industry representatives.
Another Tracks course with a focus on the healthcare sector
has so far worked closely with representatives from different parts of Region Västra Götaland. Offering students opportunities to develop their professional skills in close collaboration with working life and society is an important ingredient in Tracks. There is also a close connection to the latest research at Chalmers, and the Tracks courses are therefore a great preparation for an academic career.
Leif Asp, Professor and head of the Tracks course Structural battery composites
, says that the students in his course get to work together with researchers on real and current research challenges.
"The courses are both research-related and research-preparatory. In my course the students got to read many scientific papers as well as try and tackle major interdisciplinary research questions. The Tracks courses give students the opportunity to work with larger challenges than they usually would, which is very inspiring," he says.
Kick-start your career
Emilia Sandolf, a biotechnology student, chose to read the Tracks course Design of Sustainable Infrastructure & Urban Transformation to try something new.
"In our course, we were given the task of developing Chalmers Campus area in a sustainable way with a focus on both technology and architecture. During the course I blogged about our project, discussed issues about infrastructure and urban spaces, something I have never done before in my ordinary educational programme. Tracks broadened my imagination of what I can work with as an engineer," she says.
Emilia’s team worked on developing a solution for a more appropriate flow of people on campus, which resulted in a proposal to update the Chalmers app "Campus Maps" where they came up with the idea to use sensors to collect information about movement patterns and use the information to, for example, show where there are rooms and study places with vacancies. The knowledge can be used to optimise the use of premises and reduce congestion. According to their idea, it could also be possible to automatically optimise ventilation and temperature and in that way save energy.
"As a student, I think you should dare to take steps outside your comfort zone. You cannot develop if you don’t challenge yourself. I think the Tracks course was a great way to challenge myself in a safe environment. The course was a little bit like a bridge from the world of education towards life after graduation!"
Monica Ringvik at Astazero echoes this sentiment:
"I think Tracks can give a great competitive advantage to students’ future careers. I think they get a kick-start from the experience of tackling real challenges in teams with mixed skills within Tracks. In fact, I believe that this is a competitive advantage for Chalmers in general. The investment in Tracks can really attract new people to the engineering profession."
Text: Julia Jansson
Film: Torgil Störner