Crossing Boundaries: Elevating Equity in Interdisciplinary Evaluation (Part I)

In a Two-Part Blog Series, Two Seasoned Evaluators Share their Insights on How Program Evaluation can Promote Equity in Higher Education

In today’s world, where challenges don’t adhere to disciplinary boundaries, the ability to merge ideas and expertise is more than just nice to have—it’s essential. It sparks innovation, builds inclusivity, and paves the way for progress. In higher education, this approach does more than enrich academic research; it prepares students for a future where adaptability and creativity are vital to thrive in their future careers. Organizations like the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health have championed the cause, underscoring the importance of interdisciplinary research and mentoring programs for students and early career faculty. Yet, evaluating these collaborative efforts—particularly through the lens of disciplinary diversity and equity—poses unique challenges and opportunities.

As program evaluators working closely with academic teams, we’ve embraced the goal of integrating interdisciplinary research and collaboration into the heart of higher education. This work isn’t about ticking boxes; it’s about exploring the mix of disciplines involved, discovering the teams’ strengths, and addressing the barriers of cross-disciplinary work head-on. Each project we engage with is as unique as the team behind it, necessitating evaluations that are equitable and rich in diverse insights.

In this post (part one of our two-part series), we explore our process for evaluating interdisciplinary collaborative programs—how we assess these programs in a way that fuels creativity, tackles complex issues, and champions equity. Drawing from the wealth of existing literature and our own experiences, we share insights with the hope of sparking broader discussions in the academic community.

Understanding and Embracing Disciplinary Diversity

Given the focus of this post is on interdisciplinary collaboration, you might be wondering how we navigate disciplinary silos in higher education. The academic community has long understood the downsides these silos present—they can dampen morale, slow down productivity, and create a less efficient organizational culture. More importantly, silos give us insight as to what divides us and how we can break these barriers down. The real crux of interdisciplinary work is navigating both the structural roadblocks (like funding across departments) and the conceptual ones (like conflicting academic philosophies) that can stymie collaborative progress.

As evaluators working with academic teams, our job is to piece together the rich variety of strengths each member brings. This is akin to putting together a puzzle where each piece’s uniqueness contributes to the bigger picture. The process we go through isn’t about checking boxes; it’s about making sure we are helping to create spaces where everyone’s voice is heard and valued. If you’ve ever participated in the search committee process, you know that an important step in creating inclusive environments is to address our implicit biases. One way we have done this as evaluators of the NSF grant that initially funded Faculty Success is by incorporating frameworks, such as the Uncovering Bias training offered by the Office of Inclusive Excellence. It has been a great tool to help us see beyond our usual evaluation metrics, teaching us to appreciate the complex dynamics of teamwork in new ways.

By welcoming the different backgrounds and viewpoints within our teams, we’re not just doing our part of a fairer evaluation process; we’re also setting the stage for richer research and more meaningful collaboration that steps out of traditional academic boundaries. Deliberately mixing diverse perspectives doesn’t just make our evaluations better—it can make our entire academic community more inclusive, dynamic, and impactful. Looking ahead, it’s clear that embracing an interdisciplinary approach in our evaluations of collaborative programs like Faculty Success is essential. This is how we ensure that our collective efforts are as inclusive in practice as they are in theory.

In this first blog post of our two-part series, we highlight the value of moving beyond traditional academic silos to build teams that promote equity and are well-positioned to address complex challenges. Our next post will discuss the value of adopting a cross-disciplinary approach to evaluation as well as the importance of engaging faculty in the program evaluation process.


Author Information: This blog post was co-authored by Laura Sample McMeeking (she/her) and Christine Bell (she/her). Laura is an Associate Professor and the Executive Director of the CSU STEM Center, serving as the internal evaluator for the NSF Advance grant supporting Faculty Success. Christine is an evaluator and researcher at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research and the external evaluator for the NSF Advance grant supporting Faculty Success.