Outside the box: The value of an interdisciplinary studies major


Lillian Robinson, the Horizon

Creating your own major

Lydia Cuomo, Staff Writer

Westmont College offers a wide variety of majors — from art history to data analytics, communication studies to engineering. Still, some students may feel the need to create something unique to fit their envisioned futures. Second-years Naomi Siragusa and Katie Knapp shared their experiences from creating their own interdisciplinary studies (IS) majors. 

Creating your own major is no piece of cake. A student hoping to propose their own major must find an advisor willing to back their proposal. They also have to build their own major with classes available at Westmont and include a defense for each class is listed in their proposal.

In building a defense, students might find a match for their desired major offered at another school to show that their idea has been successfully implemented at another college. It is also helpful for them to demonstrate that the current programs at Westmont do not match their particular interests or goals in the way the major they’re proposing would. It is an intense process but, for some students, it is worth it. 

For second-year Naomi Siragusa, the missing piece was in Westmont’s teaching program. Westmont had always been the school she wanted to attend, but she came in undeclared, still exploring her options. She knew she wanted to teach, but the humanities focus of the liberal arts major didn’t fit her vision. Her passion was in STEM, so she started exploring her options.

She started creating her own major in her first year and, six months after one edited proposal and many, many, emails, she finished the process.

Her major includes a year spent studying each branch of science with additional educational application classes in preparation to be a teacher. Her major consists of 102 credits and she will also pursue a physics minor. 

Her heart for teaching shines through as she talks about her plans for the future. She plans to be certified in California to have the most versatility to teach later on. Californian certification is accepted in the majority of states in the U.S., so no matter where she goes, she’ll be able to teach. Her hope is to lay a foundation where any elementary student she might be teaching feels that STEM can be for them.

Siragusa explained, “My goal is to show both boys and girls that ability in STEM is not based on your gender. God gave you these amazing brains and I want to show them that they’re equally capable of doing that.”

Siragusa’s love for Christ stands out as she continues in her time at Westmont. One of the things that gives her joy is the community that she found here, and one of her new, dear friends is none other than Katie Knapp, the other second-year IS major.

Katie Knapp is no stranger to a challenge. Raised in the Catholic church and called to be a pastor, she always knew she wanted to go to seminary. Westmont’s option to build a customized major fascinated her and became one of the reasons she chose to attend the college. As she tackles her sophomore year, Knapp is putting the finishing touches on her proposal. She will double major in religious studies alongside her interdisciplinary studies major.

“I think I have an interdisciplinary mind,” Knapp explained. Environmental science was always a passion of hers and, after her freshman year at Westmont, she realized that she missed it too much. However, that year gave her the inspiration to study the intersection of two disciplines: sociology and environmental science. 

Her working title for the major is global social-political environmental studies. She will focus on international law, sociology, and environmental studies, which include natural sciences and food systems. Her major will focus more on the application and implications of environmental science. 

Acknowledging the many disciplines she has attempted to tie into a single major, Knapp said, “I joke that I am trying to study everything under the sun. Hopefully, it’s not as meaningless as Ecclesiastes says.”

Knapp wants to focus her research on peace studies, hoping the intersectionality of her major will allow her to find the best way to make a positive impact on our environment today.

The incredible drive of these two women spans multiple disciplines, motivating them to create their own majors that truly are works of love. 

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