Interdisciplinary studies major helps appease student stress

by Cassidy McCombs, Senior Staff Writer

What is the point of getting an undergraduate degree? San Diego State prides itself on being a diverse campus – and it is. All students are welcomed. If someone is present, attending school and attempting academic success, they have an expectation as to why they’re here.

Many transfer students come to SDSU with the expectation to be on a two-year track plan. However, these students soon learn that between nontransferable general education courses and major requirements, their time at SDSU will be longer than the two-year plan. Another set of students experiencing a change in expectation are students who are struggling to meet major and impact requirements to further their degree progress. These students have obstacles that force them to re-evaluate and modify their purpose and goals as a student. 

This is where the interdisciplinary major comes as an alternative and successful route for students. The interdisciplinary major emphasizes course work — six lower division units and nine to 18 upper division units — in three disciplines across campus. This major allows students to select every class and the distribution of units between the three disciplines with approval from each department’s major advisor. 

The major is a different way of approaching a degree track plan, but that doesn’t make it less rigorous. It is a structured way to give space for student success despite limitations that may exist in a case-by-case level.

Some students come into their major freshman year, with plans of how each discipline will relate to others, while other students enter this major with 90 credits because they were unable to pursue their original major.

“The [latter] group make up most the students in this major, it was primarily designed for them but that does not mean I do not welcome the smaller group of students who approach me their freshman year,” said the interdisciplinary studies and undeclared advisor Paul Justice. 

It is ideal to have a track plan for graduation, without pitfalls and major complications. The sad reality is that some students hit walls on their journey to earning a degree. Self-identity and self-worth are defined on a college campus through academic success. 

“We are not an exclusory major. We have students from across campus, in different points of their degree track, who have hit obstacles or are unable to continue with their degree,” said Justice. 

“What we do is not just reactive. Every semester I gather data from across campus of students that have 40 or more units and are not meeting impaction requirements and I approach the departments that have several of these students to form a structured plan to provide an alternative route for them.”

Students should have the ability to succeed and achieve a degree. It doesn’t matter if that degree is not what they transferred for.

Some students arrive at SDSU and end up transferring or dropping out. But, some students are capable and want to continue their learning at SDSU despite complications. The interdisciplinary studies major offers an efficient and purposeful alternative to students who are ready to graduate with a degree. There is a stigma surrounding this degree. For students, it is the expectation for the degree they wanted versus the result of having to pursue an alternative route. For faculty and other departments, this major compromises the integrity of an individual degree. 

“Some major advisers and faculty ask, ‘why should we reward students who do not perform into their majors’ but I ask, ‘why should students be penalized for not succeeding in another major?’” said Justice. 

Many departments work with Justice to support individual students who are not succeeding in their current major. The Health and Human Services department has an unadvertised track plan designed with Justice to help their students who do not meet the impact GPA. Other departments, such as rhetoric and writing studies, welcome interdisciplinary students and support them in achieving their degrees.

 “When I think of advocating for students, I think about being out there, and on behalf of students, lobbying other folks to support them. We promote and support student success, but if we advocate it is through developing relationships with departments all around campus. We want all students to ultimately succeed. So, I guess in full circle, we do advocate,” said Justice. 

Whether advocating is something you want, sometimes it is something you need. Students may not come to SDSU wanting to be an interdisciplinary studies major, but it gives a space for students to succeed.