Davis Center for Figure Sense continues building on momentum
The Davis Center for Figure Sense is entering a new chapter with the appointment of Felix Meschke as associate director and a second $250,000 gift from longtime School of Business supporters Roger and Julie Davis.
The Davises established the center in December 2015 after noticing a trend among employees: People who were able to fully evaluate evidence and use it to make decisions — those who had what the Davises called figure sense — were more effective in their roles. The Davis Center for Figure Sense aims to help business students develop those skills, which will benefit them both personally and professionally.
Associate professor Meschke joins center director Steve Hillmer in helping the business school incorporate figure sense into the curriculum.
“The idea is that students will be exposed to this thought process across multiple classes,” Hillmer said.
Hillmer started his work at the center by collaborating with faculty to develop a set of learning objectives. Then, he began helping colleagues incorporate figure sense practices into their assignments, which are usually presented as short word problems. This approach was first introduced in several statistics labs in fall 2019 and has since been incorporated into select accounting and information systems courses.
Meschke likens having figure sense to being a carpenter rather than simply building Ikea furniture — while many can follow the instructions to assemble a dresser, carpentry relies on the craftsman’s ability to take their skills and experiences and apply them in a variety of situations and circumstances. Similarly, students shouldn’t just know how to plug numbers into a formula to get an answer; they need to be able to apply their knowledge more broadly and thoughtfully to address whatever challenges they may face.
To that end, the goal isn’t to change what instructors are teaching, but rather to shift how students are approaching problems, Hillmer explained. Students are encouraged to think about what they know, what they want to find out and what steps are needed to bridge that gap. Students also are asked to consider what they expect the answer to a question to be, and after the problem is solved, whether the answer is consistent with what they expected.
Assignments are designed to instill two main habits: Developing a strategy for solving a problem before immediately jumping in, and looking for mistakes or unusual values and taking appropriate action.
Thanks to the new gift from the Davises, Hillmer and Meschke will continue to work to identify and integrate figure sense methodologies into more courses and activities in the school in collaboration with fellow faculty members.
“Faculty are really supportive of this,” Hillmer said. “It’s just a matter of working with faculty to understand how to incorporate the habit of figure sense into their classes.”