New Interdisciplinary Major Offers Customizable Approach to Education

by Nathan Foster '20

Azusa Pacific University offers more than 60 undergraduate majors for students to choose, ranging from accounting to youth ministries. The vast majority of APU students find that one of these majors meets their interests and will pave the way to a successful career. For some students, finding a major that aligns with their future goals is more challenging. APU’s Bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies, housed in the School of Theology, provides a solution.

Launched fall 2017, the interdisciplinary studies major allows students to combine classes from two or three programs to create their own degree. “Offering alternate pathways enables students to design their own education,” said Jeffrey Boian, M.A., program director. “A student may say, 'I love APU and I know what I want to do for a living, but I don't see a degree that's going to get me there.' This program helps students chart a course to their future job.”

The interdisciplinary program is different than majoring in one field and minoring in another. “Students who have multiple majors or minors are well studied in those areas. In contrast, this major focuses on the intersection of each area,” Boian said. “For example, an interdisciplinary studies major could choose to study biology and English if they plan to write about medicine.”

Boian pointed to several students who have designed unique combinations to suit their career plans. One student wants to be a general manager for a baseball team, so he combines business, communication studies, and psychology. Another is studying marketing, graphic design, and English because she wants to be a creative art director. “The sky's the limit with this program,” Boian said. “If you can dream of a career and articulate why combining a couple majors makes sense, there's a high likelihood we can make that a reality for you.”

[Ryan Hartwig], Ph.D., chair of the Department of Communication Studies, helped spearhead the major. “We envisioned a program that would meet the unique needs of certain students and to respond to the changing trends in higher education. With the key outcome of employability in mind, this program encourages students to explore what they want to do, and then helps them create a way to prepare for their career,” said Hartwig.

“A lot of APU faculty use an interdisciplinary teaching approach, so there’s excitement surrounding this new way to serve our students,” Hartwig said. “Every other week I read an article in Inside Higher Ed or The Chronicle of Higher Education that highlights this trend.” Hartwig refers to this growing enthusiasm for tailor-made education as the Chipotle effect. “Everyone customizes their own meal at Chipotle and that's happening in higher education too.”

Sophomore Adia Middleton combines international relations, sociology, and social work for her interdisciplinary major. She finds the freedom of crafting a major empowering and plans to pursue a career in social entrepreneurship after she graduates. “I selected coursework to give me a broad platform for graduate school and beyond,” Middleton said.

The interdisciplinary studies major comprises 54 units, including an 18-unit vocational development core and 36 units of courses in two or three disciplinary areas of at least 12 units each. The core includes an internship and a capstone to prepare students for their careers. Learn more about the Interdisciplinary Studies program.

Nathan Foster is a public relations intern in the Office of University Relations. He is a double major in journalism and public relations with a minor in honors humanities.