Independent Majoring Pt. II

We had the chance to talk to Dr. Ashley Finley today and I was able to ask her about whether she might consider independent majoring a high impact practice. She highlighted the powerful nature of defending ones major as an aspect of publicly demonstrating competence. She also troubled the independent part: would students who independently major have enough deep and meaningful interactions with others to gain understanding of different perspectives and diverse world-views, or would their deep interactions be limited to their mentor interactions. That’s a powerful relationship, but not one that should stand alone: esp. as we understand that students do best with a constellation of mentors (see Lambert, Husser & Felten, 2018).

I had two initial reactions: the first, that independent majors are still enrolled in courses with other students, and potentially participating in other High Impact Practices; the second, that it was indeed challenging to not have a cohort, and I spent my senior year trying with limited success to create one for myself. This is where some of our in-class brainstorming comes in. On Tuesday, some classmates and I proposed a new plan for the university: a structured independent major cohort. This program would support students navigating the logistical challenges of identifying their driving questions and proposing that as a course of study. We recognized that often independent majoring is a hushed topic. While it’s mentioned in admissions as a possibility, and students are often really intrigued and excited by the idea, when they actually get to campus it’s difficult to find information on and support for it. The cohort intercepts some of those challenges, but it also helps respond to Dr. Finley’s concerns. The cohort becomes that space for more intentional relationship building and community, where students are working with peers with extraordinarily different perspectives (esp. given the wide ranging possibilities with independent majoring).

The cohort model also becomes a structured space to “manage the quality” of the experience for students. With regular check-ins and feedback, students have an additional ‘check’ beyond their faculty advisors to help ensure they’re making the most of their experience.

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