The very model of a modern major
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After four years of studying journalism and graphic design, Gallatin senior Chad McCabe will get a degree in neither. But he isn't worried: With still eight months to go, Mr. McCabe already has a job offer at the newspaper where he interned last summer. Indeed, students report that graduate schools and potential employers are not thrown by the lack of a recognizable major. "When I tell them I've designed my own program," says McCabe, "they say, 'Cool!'"
Similarly, the lack of a specific bachelor's degree does not seem to harm graduate-school prospects. CUNY reports that 45 percent of its graduates have gone on to earn master's degrees; 12 percent have received doctorates.
Although some students headed for medical school prefer to get a science degree, sophomore Laureen Ojalvo thinks Gallatin's approach "will be beneficial in the long run, in that I'll have more breadth than a chemistry or biology major."
Not everyone, however, thrives in individualized study programs. "I was not disciplined enough," says Judit Vega, a junior who is thinking of transferring out of Gallatin to a traditional department. "It's been good, but I need a more structured program." Senior Jessica Tumposky agrees that "some students get very scattered," but she adds, "for me this is better. It forces me to take responsibility. Besides, our world is so complex that I don't see why you should limit yourself."
For sophomore Sarah Best, this has meant developing a program on mythology and poetry. "Both myth and poetry explore the world through metaphor," she says, explaining that her focus grew out of an independent study on the history of language and consciousness.
No one is totally on their own
But as the dean of the Gallatin School, E. Frances White, points out, 17-year-olds don't "just come in and take what they please." They work closely with advisers to choose courses from throughout the university and other institutions if necessary. Typically, individualized programs also include internships and independent study.
The same is true of graduate programs. Doctoral and undergraduate studies at The Union Institute in Ohio offer flexibility to suit a predominantly adult population. "But academic competence is hard work," says acting vice president for academic affairs Edward Wingard. Because of the interdis- ciplinary requirement, he says, "the net result is that our learners do more work than at a traditional institution."
Interdisciplinary means more than just an academic mix-and-match, explains Mark Rosenman, vice president of The Union Institute's Office of Social Responsibility in Washington, and himself a PhD graduate of the program. "In a multidisciplinary approach, you look at the problem from a variety of perspectives and report back. In an inter-disciplinary approach, you create some coherence from all those perspectives."
Students also learn skills that prove vital in the current job market. "It's the process of developing the program that's important," Dean White says. "So that when you land in a new career you know to look at your sources, you know how to ask questions and how to go about answering them."
And, as in Palmer's case, you also aren't afraid to break new ground. After CUNY, he applied to law school and received a scholarship at West Virginia College of Law. He practiced as a criminal defense lawyer, and later began to teach. Soon he discovered that there was no textbook on West Virginia law. So he wrote one. He is now working on his fourth book and is a law clerk at the Supreme Court of West Virginia. As Palmer says, "There are students like myself for whom these individualized programs are perfect."
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society