Guidelines for the Student-Designed Major

I. Background for the Guidelines

While most Clark students can and do fulfill their academic goals through regularly-established departments and interdisciplinary programs, the University recognizes that some students may have special interests and goals that cannot be met through the normal channels. The Student-Designed Major (SDM) program is designed to provide flexibility for these students while ensuring rigorous academic standards. The SDM is clearly not appropriate for most students at Clark. Students are expected to carry a 3.0 GPA to pursue the SDM. We already have a wide variety of strong majors in the college, but we recognize that some students may develop an interest in a particular problem that creatively cuts across existing majors, maintains intellectual rigor and coherence, and draws on existing faculty expertise. While the SDM may be taken in combination with a concentration or a minor or pursued as part of a double major.

Because the student-designed major does not fall within the supervision of regular departments, it requires special effort on the part of the participating students and faculty and the Senior Associate Dean of the College to see that the students acquire a level of intellectual stimulation, training, depth, and breadth comparable to what they would be expected to acquire in a regular major.

Departments at Clark work hard to conceptualize majors that provide a high degree of structure and coherence, and that insure students will gain both depth in a single discipline, and breadth within the discipline and related disciplines. The freedom to develop an independent student-designed major should entail an intellectual effort comparable to that which departments experience in developing their majors. In fact, this activity—conceptualizing a major with the same intellectual rigor as any established major—is perhaps the most demanding and the most rewarding aspect of the student-designed major.

Because flexibility is central to the purpose of this program, there is no single formula for the development of a student-designed major. However, the following questions must be explicitly addressed in the intellectual rationale for a student-designed major.

1. What are your explicit goals in this major? How can these goals be met with existing faculty expertise at Clark (and, if appropriate, with possible use of resources in the Worcester Consortium)? Why is it impossible (or difficult) to meet these goals through a regular major?

2. What are the primary methods and modes of inquiry to be used in this major? Why is an interdisciplinary approach particularly suitable for your proposed topical focus?

3. How will this major provide you with intellectual breadth across several areas of knowledge? And how will it provide depth through an intensive intellectual exploration of one particular problem or in one particular field of knowledge? In other words, what is the structure of this major? How are your courses related to each other? And how will they improve your ability to analyze your topic at increasingly higher levels of sophistication?

4. Finally, how will this major meet your intellectual goals at Clark, and how does it relate to your career goals after Clark?

II. Guidelines

1. The student-designed major (SDM) is intended for the student who wishes to focus on the systematic exploration of a particular problem or a particular body of knowledge that does not fall within the bounds of existing majors or departments at Clark. It should typically involve three or more disciplines, and draw upon existing Clark faculty expertise and courses offered regularly at Clark.

2. The student-designed major requires a detailed (1-2 pages single-spaced) description and rationale of the major and a list of required courses, to be developed by the student in consultation with a faculty advisor and two other faculty members (who together constitute the student's supervisory committee). This committee must approve the rationale and course requirements for the major no later than the end of the student's first semester of the junior year.

3. All student-designed majors shall include a minimum of 12.00 course units, including four courses at the 200 level. These courses should be carefully planned by the student and his or her committee, to include courses from three or more disciplines, and to progress from introductory courses to more advanced levels of sophistication by the senior year.

4. In the senior year (usually the second semester), the student will complete a capstone requirement intended to draw on and integrate earlier course work, and to include an independent research component, either through a senior research thesis, a supervised internship experience (that includes research), or some kind of creative independent project.

5. The administration of student-designed majors is handled by Dean Kevin McKenna, Senior Associate Dean of the College (phone x7468), who is available to advise all students interested in this program.

III. Procedures

1. The student who wishes to consider developing a student-designed major should first read the SDM guidelines and consult Kevin McKenna, Senior Associate Dean of the College, concerning the SDM requirements and procedures. If it is mutually agreed that the student’s interest and abilities and Clark faculty resources, seem appropriate for a student-designed major, the student should proceed as outlined below.

2. The most important step in the program is the selection of a faculty committee chair and two other faculty members to serve on the student's supervisory committee. These faculty members should (in most cases) be in three different departments. The supervisory committee will be responsible for overseeing the academic content of the major, for monitoring the student's progress through the program, and for insuring the fulfillment of these guidelines for the student-designed major.

3. Before a student-designed major can be approved, the student must develop the statement of intellectual rationale for the major, recruit the three members of the faculty supervisory committee, meet together with the committee and the Senior Associate Dean of the College, and secure unanimous committee approval of the rationale and a mutually-agreed-upon set of course requirements for the major.

4. After unanimous approval by the faculty committee, the written proposal for the major—consisting of the cover page, statement of intellectual rationale, any documentary support (e.g., reference to existing programs to be used at other institutions in the Worcester Consortium), and the list of required courses—should be submitted to Dean McKenna, Senior Associate Dean of the College. The proposal will then be reviewed for conformity with the SDM Guidelines. If problems are identified, the student may be asked at this point to clarify or elaborate on the proposal in person, or to submit a written modification of the proposal. Copies of the approved proposal will be circulated to the student, to all members of the faculty committee, and to relevant department chairs, and will be kept on open file in the office of the Senior Associate Dean of the College.

5. In order for students to receive honors in a student-designed major, they must have a cumulative GPA of 3.25 or above, and they must develop an honors project proposal by the end of their junior year. This normally will consist of an honors thesis based on two or more directed-research courses. The faculty committee will typically function also as the honors thesis committee, and upon completion of the thesis, the student will have a one-hour oral defense of the thesis with the faculty committee. The committee will evaluate the research, writing, and oral defense of the thesis, and recommend whether or not the work merits the distinction of honors and what level of honors (Honors, High Honors, or Highest Honors). If the committee judges a thesis as not worthy of honors, the student will receive credit for the work completed, but will not receive honors.

6. After initial approval of a student designed major, subsequent changes in the student's program may be approved by the faculty committee, with the committee chair advising the Senior Associate Dean of the College and the Registrar's Office accordingly. Upon final completion of all requirements, the committee chair must certify the student's final completion of the major, and the level of honors, if any, to the Dean of the College, the Senior Associate Dean of the College, and the Registrar's Office.

7. All students who are interesting the completing a Student-Designed Major are required to complete this form.

reviewed 11/013