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IIM allows students to choose their own paths

Published: September 19, 2008
Section: Features

Each year, about thirty to thirty-five percent of the incoming freshman class arrives at Brandeis undecided about their major. Over the next 2 years, the amount of undecided majors decreases as each explores and finds their path through one of Brandeis’ forty-nine majors – be it Economics, Classical Studies, Biology, or Music.

However, a handful of these undecided students choose not to go down any of these forty-nine paths but instead create their own path by declaring an Interdependent Interdisciplinary Major (IIM).

Since her arrival at Brandeis in 2005, Jennifer Kim, advisor to the sophomore class, has acted as the IIM coordinator. She created her own major at Mt. Holyoke University in Media and Society, similar to Communication and Media Studies, one of the more popular IIMs at Brandeis.

As coordinator of the IIM program, Kim has “the opportunity to talk with students who are just starting this idea of choosing a major, or maybe adding an additional major, based on interest that they’ve really gathered from various classes they’ve taken during their time here.”

Kim’s main role involves directing interested and committed IIM students through the logistics in creating their major. Since the process of getting an independent major approved has many different components to it, Kim considers her most important task helping students “tap into resources on campus like faculty, other courses to look at, and in some ways finding if [the IIM] is a viable topic or not.”

In order to get an IIM approved, one must write a proposal to be presented in front of the IIM sub-committee, which is made up of four faculty members, one from each of the four schools (Science, Humanities, Social Science, and Creative Arts), the Senior Associate Dean of Arts and Sciences for Undergraduate Education, and the IIM Coordinator in the Office of Academic Services.

The four parts of the proposal include:

I) A Completed petition included the list of the twelve completed courses for the major.

II) An essay describing why creating an IIM is more desirable than combining two majors or a major and a minor and how each course will contribute to the IIM.

III) A letter of support from all three-faculty advisors

IV) 2-3 examples of comparable majors offered at other undergraduate, liberal arts colleges and universities.

There are limitations however for creating your own major. One cannot create a major that is considered “pre-professional” such as marketing or city planning and must base their major off an undergraduate liberal arts college, and not a specialty school, such as a school of business, from a different university.

One of the biggest advantages for students creating your own majors according to Kim is “creating something that they’re really passionate about. They have their hand in what they want to do and they’re designing something that they’re really interested in.”

Saul Levy ‘10, who created his major in Communication and Media Studies, expressed his pride in directing his own education. “It’s a pretty special thing to be able to say that you’ve created your own major,” Levy said.

However Levy noted that much of the reward comes from successfully completing the “rigorous process to get it done. It takes a lot of time, and a lot of effort, and you really got to care about it. So the fact that I’m going to finish with a major that I’ve created, it’s kind of a rewarding thing.”

One of the downsides of the IIM program compared to the other major programs at the Brandeis is the lack of a solid IIM community among IIM majors.

“It’s difficult because we’re not a department, and once [an IIM major] has their IIM approved, the student is working directly with the primary advisor who is in a different department,” said Kim

Shoshana Wirshup ’09, the IIM Undergraduate Representative (UDR) whose IIM is in Urban Studies, acknowledged the difficulty of being an IIM UDR compared to any other major UDR.

“It’s so many different interests,” explained Wirshup. “It’s really hard to figure out what you want to do – I can’t necessarily bring in a speaker because it my speaker might only appeal to two people.”

However, Kim and Wirshup hope to build off a banquet for current IIM students and their advisors held last year for IIM majors, which they considered a first step in building the IIM community.

Over the last three years, about four to seven students have graduated with an IIM. Examples of IIM from the class of 2008 include Communication and Media Studies, Religious Studies, Mass Media Studies, Forensic Psychology, and Comparative Media Studies.

The number of IIM majors has decreased in the last few years to the inception of Environmental Studies program as a major last year. Having Environmental Studies as a major at Brandeis, “is really owed to the IIM because it really showed the university that Environmental Studies as a minor was not enough, and students really want to take it to a major,” said Kim.

For students interested in creating a major, the first step is often times the most difficult. Kim recommends first “writing pen to paper about what their idea is and what they want out of this.” The next step would be to “look through the bulletin and write a laundry list of all the different classes that peak their interest and feel that would fall under this larger umbrella, and then absolutely, start connecting with faculty members.”

One of the biggest future goals for Kim would be to see the IIM program grow.

“We definitely want students to know that this an option that’s here, especially those who are thinking about transferring because they don’t feel like they have a major here that they can work with. This is a topic they should definitely look into so we want to really get the word out that this is something that’s out there. It’s a creative way, it’s an independent way, it’s an innovative way to design something that fits with what their interests are while they’re here at Brandeis.”

The Fall 2008 IIM Information Session will be held on Tuesday, September 23 at 5 PM
in the Academic Services Conference Room, Usdan 130.