Students Create Individually Planned Majors

Lane Barton

Over the past five years, approximately 0.5 percent of graduating students completed a major not offered at Whitman College, instead opting to create their own individually planned major, or IPM. This year, a small number of students will pursue an interdisciplinary path of study that would otherwise be inaccessible to them in one of the offered majors.

To get a personally designed IPM approved, students are required to undergo a rigorous approval process with the Board of Review. This procedure includes creating a set of courses and alternative courses for the major, proving the relevance of said choices and proving that this IPM cannot be completed with some combination of already existing majors and minors.

“You have to put every single course you’re going to take and justifications for every course you’re going to take … you do have to make sure it’s not just a major and a minor,” said sophomore Nevin Schaeffer, who designed an atmospheric and earth science major.

Because of these stringent requirements, especially the fact that an IPM cannot consist of an existing major and minor, most IPMs tend to be interdisciplinary in nature. This is often a huge draw for students looking to focus on a subject that spans multiple regions of study.

“Creating a major was a way to focus on my passion, which is the interdisciplinary nature of health, and creating a major has enabled me to take all of the medical anthropology classes I wanted to take and also fit some politics in there,” said junior Tatiana Kaehler, a health science, policy and culture major.

Another benefit of IPMs is the flexible scheduling that allows students creating their own major to pick and choose the exact courses they want to take.

“Personally, I think it was a great fit for me to do an IPM. It really gave me a lot of freedom to take classes that I was really interested in, and I’m not sure I would have had that much freedom if I was restricted to a designated major where I had pre-established requirements to fulfill,” said senior Paul Lemieux, a public health major.

To counterbalance the broadness of course choice in an IPM, a committee of three professors, usually from the academic departments with which the IPM overlaps, oversees the progress of each student and ensures that he or she is academically on the right path. These advisers are cited by many students with IPMs as extremely beneficial to their experience.

“I’m really grateful for the three professors … who are my advisors, because setting up an IPM is a lot of work outside the major they’re already involved in … I think their willingness and support in this have been really great, and they’ve been really great sports about taking on more work on my behalf,” said Lemieux.

In addition to professors, students also credit the help of older students who have already been through the experience of designing their own major.

Senior Ben Harris, who is majoring in childhood studies, highly recommends that students considering an IPM find a mentor to help them through the process.

“Look at and understand Whitman’s guidelines for how to construct your own major and, if possible, find someone who’s done it to help you,” he said.

Students who chose to pursue an IPM emphasized the variety of benefits for individuals who have an interest in combining their studies in multiple fields.

“I really advise it for people who are interested in interdisciplinary studies,” said Kaehler.