Interdisciplinary students ignored
Interdisciplinary study is, theoretically, the backbone of this university (whose vertebrae are excellence in engineering, design, and self-exhaustion). But it doesn’t always work out as planned.
Intellectual diversity is one of the biggest reasons we came to Carnegie Mellon. (That, and the large number of coffee shops within walking distance of campus.) The fact that students are given the flexibility to pursue polarized interests, and avoid being stuck in one realm of academia, is commendable.
That said, the logistical end of interdisciplinary study can undermine the potential results of being interdisciplinary. It is often poorly executed on our campus.
Students with several majors are often stretched thin between departments that don’t communicate with each other — or with students. It seems that several departments are unaware of (and uninterested in) the curricula of other colleges. If a design major thinks psychology would help her better understand the clients for whom she will one day design products, shouldn’t she be able to combine the two without worrying how to balance CFA design critiques and H&SS exams?
While students in multiple fields of study are often inherently independent and self-motivated, they shouldn’t be forced to be so as a result of neglectful advisers, instructors, and fellow students.
For example, as a BHA student, one of us is in two departments that do not interact with each other. The CFA department doesn’t account for the challenge of spreading one’s creativity between writing novel papers and creating flawless drawings. Similarly, the H&SS department dismisses design classes as academically inferior and as more of a hobby than real work.
This isn’t the responsibility of departments themselves. Advisers of interdisciplinary students should act as their agents, fighting for the students they represent. However, all departments, no matter the college, should be respectful of (and, perhaps crazily, even intrigued by) students with diverse interests. Never should a person doubling in drama and history feel at odds with his peers in either field, nor should he regret attempting to balance multiple interests.
It’s possible to successfully unite different disciplines. The BHA and BSA programs provide students with direction (students must explain why two fields of study are relatable as part of the programs). Also, in MCS, it is routine to unite two majors into one — biology and chemistry into biochemistry, for example. SHS, a program that many students begin as first-years, also allows for dual study between H&SS and MCS.
H&SS has been successful in combining disciplines into new majors, such as ethics, history and public policy, and the linguistics major. Why are these programs successful? Because they have strong administrators and faculty who work with students, not against them.
Carnegie Mellon is home to students with big dreams and big plans. Students’ academic wishes can’t go anywhere without the support of administration and faculty. Interdisciplinary study can only function if colleges realize that students themselves are as unique as the programs offered. Deans, department heads, and advisers must make a commitment to help students break down walls between colleges, prerequisites, and core requirements to discover what they can do at Carnegie Mellon, not what they can’t.