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Personalizing education with interdisciplinary studies

Interdisciplinary study is a concept and a major that has been underrated for decades. However, this under-appreciation does not align with the fact that interdisciplinary jobs are commonly found in the workforce. The Interdisciplinary Studies program allows students to explore interdisciplinarity and break the barriers between fields here at UMBC.

According to Dr. Stephen Freeland, director of the Interdisciplinary Studies program, “the Interdisciplinary Studies program is only one of many interdisciplinary activities on campus. In fact, there are many explicitly interdisciplinary departments on campus.”

These include departments such as the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, as well as the Department of Africana Studies. “Our role is to cover the things that aren’t covered by all the other interdisciplinary activities. We exist between the colleges,” said Dr. Freeland, “We can and do facilitate connections between departments and existing separate colleges amongst other things.”

Such programs are crucial in providing students a chance to study material spanning multiple fields. The knowledge of more than one field is often extremely beneficial to the workplace because it fosters creativity, flexibility, and adaptability within emergent markets. 

Aniebiet Jacob, a freshman computer science major, realized that this variety of knowledge is an advantage after her internship involving biomedical research at the National Institutes of Health.  “Depending on what your workplace is tackling, it’s never just tackling one subject,” she said, “Especially in research, everything is connected.”

Interdisciplinarity allows students to investigate this emergence of fields that are the result of the natural evolution of human knowledge. Programs advocating for interdisciplinary studies help close communication gaps between departments, enabling further advancements in society.

Despite these benefits, the aforementioned under-appreciation of interdisciplinary studies continues to exist. Some students still do not realize the importance of the Interdisciplinary Studies program at UMBC and how common interdisciplinary workplaces are becoming.

Rosa Rada, a senior interdisciplinary studies: food systems policy major, is one student who proves that this program is vital to the careers of many. “Given that I’ve just accepted a prestigious post-graduate fellowship opportunity that is exactly in-line with my degree aspirations, I can attest to the effectiveness of the program,” she said, “Most of all, I credit the Interdisciplinary Studies program for cultivating a deep sense of intellectual curiosity within me that I intend to carry with me for the rest of my life.”

When it comes down to it, the interdisciplinary studies major is, simply put, a personalized major. Staff in the program work with students to find an educational path that is right for them.

With the world evolving quickly into blended fields of study and personalization, individualized, interdisciplinary majors should also become commonplace. “Education is one of the biggest investments you can make in your life,” added Dr. Freeland, “Why wouldn’t you seek to individualize that if you’re going to individualize something as trivial as your entertainment?”