University Majors: Select Few Choose Major Alternative
e that none of the 47 majors, 11 interdisciplinary programs, or 11 certificates offered by the University are going to cut it. These students pursue the University Major, an option that allows them to design their own, interdepartmental curriculum, creating a specialized area of study. Past majors have included self-designed programs in Urban Studies, Postcolonial Studies, and Translational Molecular Biology.
Ariel Schwartz ’12 has created a major in Disability Studies, an option not available otherwise through the University. She sees the University Major as a great way for students to take initiative and study what they love.
“It’s just a cool opportunity for Wesleyan students to do what they do best, like be creative and think critically,” Schwartz said. “People have such diverse interests here, and why not give them the opportunity to put together a course of study for themselves with those diverse interests and diverse perspectives?”
Students who pursue the University Major must have a clear idea of what they seek to achieve through their program. It is a self-selective program for students with a strong vision—students who apply are expected to have passion and drive for their unique field.
The process of becoming a University Major requires effort and perseverance.
“It’s been a challenging and intense process,” said Andrew Ribner ’14, whose proposal got accepted in November, and who is now doing a University Major in Educational Psychology and Learning Theory. “I wouldn’t say that it’s been easy, though there’s no one difficult part. There are just a lot of parts that go into it, so it takes the dedication of finding the advisers, writing the proposal, creating the curriculum.”
Maggie Feldman-Piltch ’14, who hopes to do a University Major in The Ethics of Capitalism and Consumption, agrees that the process requires tremendous determination.
“You really need to be disciplined and not be afraid to track a professor down and argue for why you should be in their class, and you can’t be afraid to stand up to your class dean, or your adviser, or 35 professors who tell you no,” Feldman-Piltch said.
Feldman-Piltch has recently been trying to find a second adviser to oversee her major.
“I spoke to 36 professors, and my 36th professor was the one who was like ‘I’d love to be your adviser,’” said Feldman-Piltch.
She is still waiting for support from a second faculty member from the Sociology department.
“Part of it is that there’s a lot of turnover with Sociology professors here,” Feldman-Piltch said. “There are two professors on campus right now whose interests sort of overlap with mine. They’re both visiting professors. They both won’t be here next semester. A visiting professor can’t be your adviser.”
Other University Majors have found the process of finding advisers very easy.
“The first three people whom I contacted approved me as an advisee, which was really convenient,” Ribner said.
Dean Marina Melendez, who is in charge of the University Major program, stresses the importance of faculty advisers in the University Major experience.
“You really need strong faculty backup,” Melendez said. “I’ve had some students who are doing incredible stuff that faculty were so excited about, they’d be willing to do anything for them.”
Students who choose the University Major need to go through a rigorous application process. The committee that reviews applications meets twice a year: in November and in April.
Melendez brings together professors from the Educational Policy Committee to review proposals. This spring, Michael Roberts, professor of Classical Studies and Medieval Studies, will serve as the chair of the committee. Associate Professor of History Cecilia Miller and Associate Professor of Chemistry Michael Calter will also aid in the selection.
Melendez said that 14 students have met with her this year to discuss the possibility of pursuing a University Major, but she predicts that only a few will end up applying. She has overseen applications to the University Major since she started working at the University in 2007. In that time, only two proposals have been rejected by the committee. However, sometimes students are requested to add additional information to their proposals and bring it back to the committee.
“We may ask students to adjust,” Melendez said. “But oftentimes we love the proposals. They’re fantastic.”
The first part of the application is the proposal. Students must submit a two to three page proposal detailing the objectives, why their academic interests cannot be met by a traditional single or double major, and how they will go about meeting their set goals for the major.
Melendez said she admires the dedication and enthusiasm students have for the majors they design, saying their passion for their work outweighs the potential challenges.
“Once a proposal is accepted, I’ve never had a student say ‘this is too hard,’” Melendez said. “They designed it. It’s theirs. They take ownership of it, so it’s what they want to be doing and they’re very excited about it. They’re creating a major, and that’s not easy work to do.”
For the next step of the application process, applicants need letters of support from two faculty sponsors from different departments. These advisers work closely with students to make sure they are achieving what they hope to achieve from their curriculum.
The third part of the application involves laying out a curriculum to meet the stated goals of the proposed major. Students must choose all of the courses that they will take to complete their major and explain why they are necessary. They take at least eight 201-level or higher core and elective courses as part of their University Major program, although many take more.
The application process can be extremely overwhelming for some students.
“I hate the process—honestly, it’s so frustrating,” Feldman-Piltch said. “When you’re applying to school they make it sound super easy, which is really misleading. You get here and you think that you can do whatever you want, and it’s going to be great and work out, and that’s not at all the case. I totally understand why, but at the same time it’s upsetting.”
Others have found the process less challenging.
“I didn’t think it was that difficult, though I’ve heard it is a difficult process,” Schwartz said. “I’ve heard that people are discouraged from it, but I think that for whatever reason, my process wasn’t harder than most people’s. I don’t know why I didn’t have a difficult time.”
Feldman-Piltch said she has no regrets about her decision to pursue the major.
“It deserves more attention than it gets,” Feldman-Piltch said. “It’s awesome.”