What draws students to programs that bridge traditional disciplines? Jobs, for one thing. Many students choose a multidisciplinary major because it enhances their chances of getting hired once they graduate. "People know it's hard to complete two majors; it makes you look like a go-getter," says Jennifer Spaulding, who graduated in May 1998 with a bachelor's degree in retailing/marketing and is now an assistant buyer for Macy's East in New York City. |
Pinyuen Chen, math professor and director of the graduate statistics program, says most students pursuing master's degrees in statistics are also doctoral students in another discipline, such as economics, psychology, geography, sociology, or forestry. "Universities like to hire professors who can teach statistics courses," he says, "while companies seek employees who can handle data."
Kristin Dadey, who graduated in May with degrees in law and public administration, points out another motivation for enrolling in dual programs. "You can get two degrees for the price of one," she says. While this isn't always true, earning two degrees concurrently does cost substantially less than earning them separately. The reason: At the graduate level, some required courses in one college can be used as electives in the other, and vice versa. Undergraduates, who pay a flat fee for tuition each semester, can sometimes earn a second degree without adding extra semesters.
But probably the main reason students seek programs crossing traditional disciplines is that one department can't fulfill all their interests. For example, Peter Englot, assistant dean of the Graduate School, says someone in his position would typically pursue a degree in higher education. "But I wanted to get a broader understanding of the American university, to put it in national and global social contexts," he says, so he enrolled in the CFE doctoral program in the School of Education. His interest in the history of education led him to design a program featuring education and Maxwell courses.
Bianca Wulff, a social science doctoral student, is studying conflict resolution through an interdisciplinary approach.
Tailoring programs to suit their interests may be especially attractive to older students who have been in the working world for a number of years. Many of these students have very definite ideas about what they want, and aren't willing to settle for something else. Social science doctoral student Wulff spent 15 years in the business world, where she learned that in any business one of the hardest things to deal with is other peoplecustomers, suppliers, subcontractors. Because she was interested in helping people resolve problems with each other, Wulff trained as a mediator. Then she decided she wanted to study conflict resolution in greater depth. Several universities offered conflict resolution in one departmentsociology, political science, or lawbut Wulff enrolled in SU's social science Ph.D. program because of its interdisciplinary approach. "Here I could do exactly what I wanted," she says. "I'd never be able to do this without having all these resources available." |
Professors and advisors involved in multidisciplinary programs say it takes a special kind of student to succeed in programs that involve more than one college and often require extra credits. Self-designed programs such as selected studies require students to be heavily involved in planning their sequence of courses. To succeed, students must be self-motivated and mature enough to pursue goals without the structure that guides most students.
Ivanick of arts and sciences says several students come to her each semester to discuss developing a selected studies major. Once they realize the amount of work involved, they don't typically return. "Students who persevere are strong academically and know their limitations," she says. "Students who want to do this need to have very clear agendas."
Rosanna Grassi, Newhouse associate dean for student affairs, says the main constraint on dual-major students in established programs is that they rarely have time for electives. But students who petition for a unique dual major, such as public relations and engineering, face greater difficulties. "Challenges for these students are significant, because they are trying to combine things that weren't meant to fit together," she says.
Despite the added commitment, many multidisciplinary students shrug off the extra time and effort involved in completing programs. "I'm one of those people who do better the more I have to do," says Carrie Bloom, a junior public relations and finance major. Sophomore Darlene M. Sterling, who is majoring in television-radio-film and marketing, says, "I don't think it's really toughyou just have to be dedicated and stay focused."