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SU launches signature Integrated Learning Majors

April 27, 2010

Rob Enslin
(315) 443-3403

The College of Arts and Sciences at Syracuse University has announced a set of new Integrated Learning Majors (ILMs), each of which combines a traditional major with a newly developed set of coursework in an applied or multidisciplinary field. ILMs in forensic science, ethics and neuroscience are available this fall.

“Integrated Learning Programs represent a new paradigm for educating today’s students,” says Arts and Sciences Dean George Langford. “They exemplify our commitment to providing the best curricular and preparatory environment for our students. By combining deep training in the liberal arts with broad training in modern fields of study, ILMs give our graduates an edge in the classroom and the boardroom.”

Susan Wadley, Arts and Sciences associate dean for curriculum, instruction and programs, says ILMs build on institutional strengths, expose students to new fields of study, and prepare “T-shaped” professionals for the global workplace. “Professionals are increasingly being asked to apply their expertise to seemingly unrelated areas. As a result, they need to have a comprehensive understanding of their own field and a secondary knowledge of another, often interdisciplinary, field,” she says.

Wadley illustrates her point by citing several examples, including a chemist who might lend his or her expertise to a matter of legal or ethical importance; a curator who might evaluate scientific and historical evidence about a painting’s authenticity; and a journalist who might research a story involving science, medicine and technology.

“Our goal is to provide scholarly mettle to the major and to the interdisciplinary program with which it’s connected,” Wadley says, adding that each ILM comes with several customized “connective” courses that integrate the disciplines. “I don’t know of any other program like it in the country.” Wadley is the Ford-Maxwell Professor of South Asian Studies and director of the South Asian Center in the Moynihan Institute in the Maxwell School.

Organizers are quick to point out that ILMs should not be confused with double and dual majors, which are added inside and outside, respectively, of one’s home college. “Often with dual and double majors, students gain knowledge of two independent areas, but they invariably lack the connections to make them work together,” says James T. Spencer, a Meredith Professor who helped pioneer the ILM concept. “This problem is exacerbated by the fact that these new interdisciplinary areas are not available at SU as ‘stand-alone’ majors or minors.”

Spencer, who is also a chemistry professor and Arts and Sciences associate dean for science, mathematics and research, likens each ILM to the letter “T,” with the vertical leg signifying disciplinary “depth” and the crossbar representing interdisciplinary “breadth.” “We initially described this concept as a ‘T-shaped’ program because of its similarity to ‘T-shaped’ business professionals, who are specialists who like to branch out into different fields. Our ILMs appeal to students wanting to combine liberal studies and professional training.”

Forensic science is a 25- to 26-credit ILM that can complement a variety of other majors, including anthropology, biology, chemistry, physics, psychology and sociology. Like all ILMs, forensic science includes a capstone project where students make contacts with practitioners in their field and then present their findings. “This ILM is designed to provide a broad exposure to the field, increasing employability in a variety of settings related to forensic science,” says Spencer. “It will not be sufficient to prepare students for forensics lab work unless it is paired with something like chemistry, anthropology or biology.”

Ethics is a 24-credit ILM encompassing the philosophical study of ethics, including theory and history; ethical issues in social science research; and the interdisciplinary study of ethical issues arising in the student’s primary major. Among the majors that can be combined with ethics are management, television/radio/film, graphic design, photography, political science, international relations, biology, public health, anthropology, psychology and sociology, as well as all majors offered by the L.C. Smith College of Engineering and Computer Science.

Neuroscience is a 24-credit ILM that can be combined with no fewer than six majors in Arts and Sciences, including biology, communication sciences and disorders, linguistics, philosophy, physics and psychology, and with all majors in engineering and computer science. “Neuroscience is a core interdisciplinary field of research. It provides an excellent complement to undergraduate training in the base majors,” says Wadley. “Elective coursework allows for pursuit of interest in a broad variety of departments, reflecting the diverse fields that constitute contemporary neural science.”

Other ILMs slated for development include sustainability, pre-law and science journalism, says Wadley. For more information, call the college’s Office for Curriculum, Instruction and Programs at (315) 443-1011.

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