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BW professors tout problem solving skills as key to success

Dr. Ed Meyer leads students in a problem solving exerciseProblem solving skills are today's key to career success. In study after study, top employers such as Google report that they value the ability to think critically and solve problems over so-called "hard skills."

As a longtime champion for problem solving as crucial to career preparation, BW physics professor Dr. Ed Meyer has worked diligently to incorporate classes into the university curriculum. In 2002, his efforts led to BW becoming the first university in the world to offer a problem solving course for credit. Now, two courses, Quantitative Problem Solving and General Problem Solving, have been added to the "core" offerings available to all students at BW.

Flexing mental muscle

Meyer, who has co-authored a textbook on problem solving techniques in the classroom and given workshops on the topic across the world, says these classes develop a student's ability to think hard and tackle perplexing problems. They prepare students for success not only by developing mental stamina, but by helping to provide a firm foundation in critical skills including team work, consensus building, adaptability and resourcefulness.

"When you think really hard about a problem, you develop mentally. Your brain grows; more neurons are added and the number of connections between them increases. Problem solving is a skill," states Meyer.

"After I took the theoretical physics class taught by Dr. Meyer and gained problem solving skills, I noticed that in every single other class I was much more curious about everything that was going on," says Kaylee Yuhas '16.

Skills prized by employers

"What students learn is something they can carry over to when they get a job. Employers aren't necessarily hiring someone because they can solve a quadratic equation. They're hiring people who can solve their problems and actually contribute and come up with new and innovative ideas," Yuhas continued.

Professor Meridith Witt, who joined the BW physics faculty in 2009 and co-teaches the problem solving courses, adds, "We gear most of the problem solving class activities toward group work, so the students have plenty of opportunity to grow in their communication skills, their patience and their empathy.

"We make clear to the students from day one that it does not matter what they know - just what they are willing to figure out," she continues. "When students can push through frustration and come to the table with a creative idea after trying numerous other approaches to solve a hard problem, I can't help thinking of the bright future before them."

Problem solving events for the community

Dr. Ed Meyer leads a problem solving workshopIn addition to the classes taught during the academic year, Meyer and Witt extend the opportunity to learn problem solving skills to younger students by offering summer programs through their Summer Gedanken Institutes for Problem Solving.

They will also host a free Problem Solving Open House for all ages on April 20, from 7 to 9 p.m. at BW's Center for Innovation & Growth (CIG). The event is open to the community but children under the age of 18 must be accompanied by an adult. Please RSVP to Meridith Witt at

Learn more in this video on the value of problem solving.

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