Individualized Major Program taps growing student idealism
Benjamin Fraser is studying environmentally sustainable design at Indiana University, working with faculty to learn about "green" architecture, urban forestry and gardening, and sustainable communities.
Elizabeth Camuti graduated in December with a major in management of public and political policy. Now she's in Washington, D.C., working for a consulting firm that advises progressive businesses and organizations.
Both designed their own majors through the Individualized Major Program in the College of Arts and Sciences. And according to Ray Hedin, the director of IMP, they're part of a trend. Increasing numbers of students are turning to the program for socially conscious or civic-minded courses of study.
"I can't account for it, other than that I see it there," said Hedin, also a faculty member in the Department of English. "I find it a very encouraging trend."
It's also a trend that Hedin wants to encourage. He is making known to current and prospective IU students that, through IMP, they can design their studies around such topics as ethnic conflict, race, poverty studies, religion, and public life and civic justice -- not to mention the growth area of sustainability studies.
"I think there is a great deal of untapped idealism among students," Hedin said, adding that about 25 percent of current IMP students are now in social- or issues-based majors.
There has been a similar shift at other universities with individualized majors, according to program directors who have been in touch with Hedin. At the University of Massachusetts, for example, student-designed majors on topics related to education and social justice have been on the rise.
Dick McKaig, the IU Bloomington dean of students and vice provost for student affairs, said it's generally acknowledged that idealism is on the upswing among Millennials, the generation born approximately since 1980. He pointed to this year's nationwide survey of college freshmen by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA, which found that 27 percent considered it essential or very important to participate in cleaning up the environment, the highest figure in more than a decade.
It's priority No. 1 for Fraser, a Bloomington native who spent seven years engaged in travel, self-directed research and discovery before enrolling at IU when he found out he could design his own major and take courses on sustainability.
"A lot of my motivation comes from wanting to help people live better lives, both now and in the future," said Fraser, who expects to graduate in May 2009.
Fraser has taken courses in biology, geography and public policy as well as urban and sustainable forestry classes. Currently he's working with Heather Reynolds, associate professor in the Department of Biology, in a tutorial on green roofs. He said growing plants on rooftops has great potential for producing food, reducing runoff and pollution, capturing carbon that causes global warming, and alleviating the urban heat island effect.
His academic program also includes service learning with the IU project SPROUTS -- Students Producing Organics Under The Sun -- a garden at Bloomington's Fairview Elementary School and instructional "webinars" on environmental design. "The 'design' piece of my major is figuring out how to move from discussion to action," Fraser said.
Camuti, originally from New Jersey, turned to the Individualized Major Program to make the most of her passion for politics and policy. It allowed her to bring together courses in political theory and Jewish studies in the College with classes on nonprofits and management in SPEA and the Kelley School of Business.
"The IMP really helped me study what I was passionate about," she said. "It's not just about finding a job but being educated all around and becoming a well-rounded person."
While a student at IU, Camuti did a summer internship with a religious action organization in Washington and spent a summer at New York University learning about rough-and-tumble city politics. Now she's in the nation's capital, working in her chosen field during a history-making presidential year when young people are involving themselves in politics like never before.
"I love what I do, and I love what IMP has enabled me to do," she said.