Q&A: CGS’s new minor in Interdisciplinary Studies

This spring, the College of General Studies announced its first minor in Interdisciplinary Studies. The program is open to all BU students, whether they’re CGS students who want to expand the problem-solving skills they’ve developed in their freshmen and sophomore years, or undergraduates from any other school at BU looking to build a foundation in the liberal arts. We spoke with CGS Associate Dean for Faculty Research and Development Lynn O’Brien Hallstein on how the minor came to be and why it will be beneficial to students.

How did the minor in Interdisciplinary Studies come about?

Students have been asking for a minor for many years, but for a variety of reason it just hasn’t been the right time. About a year ago, Dean McKnight brought together a group from CGS to start talking about it again and some work began.  Shortly after that work began, we had to do strategic planning, and it made perfect sense that it was the right time to propose it. So Dean Godnick, Dean McKnight and I took the work that had been done last year, finished it up, and put it through the approval process.

Who is this minor targeted toward?

It’s important to note that this is not a CGS minor, this is an Interdisciplinary Studies minor and any BU students can take it. We really hope that we get broad interest across the university. Of course, as I said, CGS students have asked for this for a long time because after they left our program they wanted to continue the conversations they’d had and possibly take another class with one of their faculty members. It really has this dual audience, both for our own students to continue conversations and connections with CGS faculty, but also for any student from BU who is interested in an interdisciplinary minor.

Why do you think the minor is valuable for both of these groups?

I think as the university is continuing to unroll the BU Hub, there are a lot of natural connections and conversations happening across campus about capacities and interdisciplinarity in general. I think lots of students are getting introduced to the idea of thinking in light of an interdisciplinary way of knowing and thinking. That is one of the things cultivated in the new Hub and so there has been sort of a sea change around that. This minor asks students to continue to cultivate those ways of thinking in order to be successful in any kind of career they have.

The other reason this interdisciplinary minor is going to be really useful to students is that it’s grounded in problem solving, and students have several opportunities to really work seriously in problem solving. All students have to take a 202 course, so they will have the Capstone experience which is around problem solving. And another requirement is that students have to take the Cross-College Challenge, which is team-based and interdisciplinary and focused on real world problems or issues. Also, anyone taking this minor has to do their own directed study where they will have to develop a project around asking a question, solving a problem, etc. I think all of these are building skills that people need to be successful in any career or profession.

Why did you think it was important to incorporate the interdisciplinary directed study into the curriculum?

We also want students to have the experience of creating their own interdisciplinary project. To do so, students will be working one-on-one with a CGS faculty member to initiate, develop and complete their own interdisciplinary directed study. Our hope is that we can pair students with faculty members who have the training that is of interest of the student and that the student will design their directed study in consultation with the faculty member.

How will this minor be valuable to students in their futures?

I think the focus on problem solving and at least two experiences of team-based projects will really help people prepare for a changing world. The last year has shown us that the world is changing rapidly, and what the minor really focuses on is cultivating and building skills for problem solving across and within an interdisciplinary perspective. I think companies and disciplines are starting to think across boundaries rather than in silos, and this minor is really uniquely positioned to help students in a practical way. We’re asking them to do two team-based experiences, first in the Capstone and then with the Cross-College Challenge, and also requiring students to initiate and develop and see through their own directed study. It allows students the opportunity to engage in real problem solving.  Students will have to ask, if we have a specific problem, what do we need to do to address that problem? How do we explore it? How do we come up with solutions?

What should students do if they are interested in getting started?

All students who are interested in pursuing the minor will need to meet with me. If they have questions, the Student Services office is a good resource. There’s also information on the CGS website for those looking for more information.