For the first time, I will have gotten something out of a class besides a letter grade: an education.

Interdisciplinary studies was able to transform the way that I understood and interpreted information without forcing busy work, assigned textbook readings and lectures. Initially, I wasn’t sure what this course would be like or what I would get out of it but the end result has been truly rewarding. The word “interdisciplinarity” didn’t hold meaning to me until I began curating my program of study. I quickly found that there was a paradox within developing my contract. A contract, defined as a legally binding and enforceable agreement, was the way that I found freedom in learning. img_20161206_135443A contract can be a restricting commitment, but I found my interdisciplinary contract to be a covenant of educational liberation.

I’ve reinterpreted my understanding of what interdisciplinary studies is by dismantling and rebuilding the lessons learned in class and applied them outside of the classroom. For the first time, the information that I was learning was relevant enough to exist within my own life. In August, I only implied that interdisciplinary meant more than one discipline and now I recognize it as a collective learning experience. Being interdisciplinary allowed me to combine my distinct disciplines to invent a program that I was able to be excited about, one that I identified with. The open pedagogy approach became a hallmark of IDS mindset. I was taught how to build a personal learning network, how to research, how to write and how to learn. Open pedagogy put an emphasis on student construction, a main focus point in the course. With the ability to build my own program, I created a major that encompassed my passion for business while still having the allure of creativity. For the first time, was excited to be learning. Outreaching was the moment I realized I was exactly where I needed to be to get the education that I worked so hard for. For the first time, a class revolutionized my ability to articulate the special vision I had for my career by creating a different kind of learning experience. In class we discussed topics of open education and connected learning by recognizing how we can better utilize them in an interdisciplinary education. We learned to work together as a class to build a textbook and then separately, to build our specific programs of study. My peers and I collaborated closely to present work that was lasting and would reflect the progress that we had made through the semester.

My sincere hope for the future of interdisciplinary studies here at Plymouth State and beyond is for it to continue establishing its educational platform. img_20161206_135429For the first time, a single major defied the conventions which had glorified single discipline programs. This allowed students to have the subtle luxury to choose courses based on their unique interests and career goals instead of taking a “one size fits all” major, which can marginalize students who don’t fit within that single discipline. For the first time, the educational intent of a program is pioneered by the student and not their university. Interdisciplinary studies reflects the changes in our technology and society by encouraging its students to stay connected by empowering them to continue learning outside of the classroom. A degree should not be the final word in education, but the start. Establishing myself within this program and its community of learners has created a triumphant return of my love for education, and it feels as if I’m learning again for the first time. 



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It’s with the rise of the growing Third Millennium that big changes are made throughout our universities. It’s evident that we utilize current technology in our education: LiveTweeting through assigned readings, constructing work through group chats, and submitting papers via an online classroom. This shift in our current technology has impacted the way we learn, we’re connected.

Oskar Gruenwald, the Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Institute of Interdisciplinary Research, believes that Interdisciplinary Studies and approaches are on the forefront of the new university system. In his article, The Promise of Interdisciplinary Studies: Re-Imagining the University, he writes that,

In the Third Millennium, interdisciplinary approaches to learning suggest new methodologies that seek dialogue and integration of research findings across the disciplines to overcome the compartmentalization of knowledge which hinders new discoveries in the natural sciences and “connecting-the-dots” in the social and behavioral sciences, while humanities are key to understanding the emotional, mental, and spiritual aspects of human beings.”.

He believes that University as we know it is in crisis and that a re-invention is necessary. Our current system of higher education lacks a distinct wholeness, a connection outside of a traditional discipline. Gruenwald anticipates that more schools adapt to an interdisciplinary approach, although many already have. Brown University, Virginia Tech, North Carolina State University, University of Florida, University of Notre Dame, and (drum roll, please) Plymouth State University, are among a growing list of schools that are implementing connected learning. Just this year, Plymouth State introduced their Integrated Cluster Approach: “A multi-disciplinary, innovative and hands on approach to learning” essentially becoming one of the first schools in the United States to integrate multidisciplinary work on the grand scale of the university. screenshot_20161003-134117Gruenwald recognizes that there are challenges that come with introducing an interdisciplinary approach but notes that student involvement isn’t one of them. “What attracts students most to interdisciplinary studies is the prospect of clarifying the interrelationships among various fields that show the relevance of theory to practice and real life” he writes.

This information comes as no surprise to my Interdisciplinary Studies peers and I, as we are learning exactly what we want, how we want. We’re intentional, receptive and connected; feeling as though we are entrepreneurs of a new generation of learners.

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I find it interesting that a discussion about Interdisciplinary Studies ultimately becomes a conversation about qualifications. It’s without fail that I will explain my approach to Marketing & Creative Services and will no sooner be asked what classes I’m taking, why I chose those particular classes, why didn’t I just major in marketing (wow, I’ve never thought of that before) and the dreaded,

“What do you plan on doing with that”.

Their initial curiosity transforms into speculation as they furrow their brow, unsure of my direction. No one questions the career intent of a biology major or a professional sales major, so why does a degree in interdisciplinary studies become a question of my future success? fb_img_1479243101311

There is an attitudinal barrier that separates how people perceive the quality of an education from a traditional, single discipline student, versus a non-traditional, interdisciplinary student. In the article, Barriers to Interdisciplinary Research and Training, it elaborates on the belief that interdisciplinary work is less challenging and more high-risk with the idea that,”those who do collaborative work could not succeed in their own discipline; they would be lost in a team effort and ‘lose their professional identity'”. There are social and academic obstacles that come with studying in an interdisciplinary setting that undeniably set us apart from our peers, and this led me to wonder, how will our degree set us apart in the workplace?

Interdisciplinary Studies allows its students to create their own professional identity and brand themselves based on the disciplines within their program. Yet, even with a diverse background and comprehensive training in each of my fields, I’m worried that I won’t find my niche in the job market. I’m afraid of that dreaded, “you can’t sit with us” moment. Self-doubt and employment rates aside, it’s my fundamental belief that my major has allowed me to be more qualified than other candidates. In comparison to applicants who would all have a single marketing degree, my degree would encompass marketing, communications and visual studies, granting me additional skills outside of a single discipline and help expand my career opportunities far beyond a cubicle farm. Being versed in several disciplines isn’t the only benefit I can present to employers, simply being interdisciplinary teaches a student so much. My work ethic, problem solving and initiative are heightened, but the leadership skills I’ve gained have been a milestone in my professional and personal development. Barriers to Interdisciplinary Research and Training wrote,

“Interdisciplinary research teams need leaders who understand the challenges of group dynamics and who can establish and maintain an integrated program. Leaders need to have vision, creativity, and perseverance… to coordinate the efforts of a diverse team requires credibility as a research scientist, skill in modulating strong personalities, the ability to draw out individual strengths, and skill in the use of group dynamics to blend individual strengths into a team”.

It’s easy for me to be afraid of the challenges that may lie ahead when it comes to my career opportunities or personal success, but it’s easier to trust that Interdisciplinary Studies has prepared me for those challenges. So, the next time someone asks, “what do you plan on doing with that” it won’t be a question of qualifications but rather a chance where I can elaborate on all that I’m qualified for.

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225263_1616777074229_3086215_nEric Ryan and Adam Lowry, two childhood friends teamed up to create one of the most successful soap brands in stores today. They saw an opportunity to turn the chemical filled shelves of cleaning aisles into something with more pizzazz. Together they created Method, a brand whose vision is:

“Produce surface cleaners and soaps made from nontoxic, mostly natural ingredients, like coconut oil and plants, and package them in sleek modern bottles that people would want to display in their kitchens and bathrooms”.

They found a breakthrough in the cleaning industry through interdisciplinary thinking by combining high efficiency green cleaners with colorful, fun packaging. Instead of being so serious and informative about their mission to go green they made it different, and it helped to stand out to consumers. Today, their products can be found in more than 400 stores and amass an annual revenue of $100 million a year (Method).

Making an enticing cleaning product allowed this brand to stand out in flourish in a saturated market. The simple touch of colors, shape and their mission has allowed them to achieve greats sales and customer loyalty.

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I sat down with Terri Dautcher to discuss her work and her experience with an interdisciplinary background.

Terri’s focus with interdisciplinary work integrates her background in psychology and applies it to her career in marketing. Psychology and sociology have helped her by learning how to unpack how people think, feel and respond to a product or service. She’s mindful in the language that she uses to describe the people that she’s aiming to serve and taps into the fundamentals of what makes them tick. After telling Terri that I was interested in the field of marketing and creative services, she guided our conversation in a way that would help my understanding of the career. Terri has a dynamic background in humanitarian sciences with a concentration in psychology, anthropology and sociology. Over the course of 25 years she has been contracted to work with companies and organizations throughout the country before she pursued teaching.

When I asked about examples of interdisciplinary work she’s done in her field she stressed how important it is to understand people and find the fundamentals of what matter to them.

“When I was working at Psychic Source I would have the marketing department asking me, ‘do you like this’? It didn’t matter if I liked it, I wasn’t the one looking into their services. How do we get the people who are interested in what we’re offering to connect with us, to be able to transcend”? She questioned.

Terri added that promotion is only a tiny piece of marketing and that it’s equally important to build a connection with an individual. Understanding psychological and social aspects of an individual has allowed her to have great success in the field of marketing. When I asked what courses she might suggest to students outside of a traditional marketing major she believed that students should take classes that trigger creativity and truly prepare you for your career. Among those, she offered cultural anthropology, communications classes and accounting for non-accounting majors.

“Anyone can come up with ideas” she began. “You need to understand numbers so that you can create ideas that you can actually afford to do. You need to be sophisticated enough to understand how a company operates.”

Terri was thoughtful in her responses and gave realistic, meaningful advice.

Terri after our interview
Terri after our interview

I left the office after our interview with names of professors, courses and students who she had connected me with, knowing that they would help advance my studies. Beyond that, she gave me a list of Ted Talks to listen to help inspire my creativity. Upon listening to “Elizabeth Gilberts: Your elusive creative genius” a quote jumped out at me that related to what Terri had explained in our interview,

“But maybe it doesn’t have to be quite so full of anguish if you never happened to believe, in the first place, that the most extraordinary aspects of your being came from you. But maybe if you just believed that they were on loan to you from some unimaginable source for some exquisite portion of your life to be passed along when you’re finished, with somebody else.”

Terri believes in networking to help encompass new people to new ideas and techniques, “that’s the beauty of interdisciplinary work” she exclaimed.

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