University of Miami College of Arts & Sciences Launches Independent Major

Pilot Program Lets Students Customize A.B. or B.S. Degree

The University of Miami College of Arts & Sciences will introduce a pilot program in the 2014 Fall Semester that allows students to customize an A.B. or B.S. degree.

Students who wish to create an independent major will work with a Guidance Committee to select a course of study that is both rigorous and diverse.

College of Arts & Sciences Senior Associate Dean Maria Galli Stampino spearheaded the initiative. She said the independent major is aimed toward “those highly motivated students who are interested in a specific field of study that’s not – or not yet – formally present at UM,” adding, “It requires self-discipline and self-direction, as well as a collaborative spirit.”

Stampino said the program will enrich participating students’ educational experiences and help them after they leave the College. “A student would be prepared for graduate work in a discipline that we don’t have at UM, or have an individual take on an emerging issue or set of issues,” she said, citing global warming and war studies as examples.

Stampino added, “The determination and planning that go into making this happen would make a student stand out in job applications.”

Students must declare their intention to participate in the program before reaching senior standing, and must spend at least two full semesters in residence at UM in the independent major program. All participants must enter the program with – and maintain – a grade point average of 3.5 or higher.

Advisory group that created the Independent Major in the University of Miami College of Arts & Sciences (left to right):
Olga Korotkova (Physics), Justin Stoler (Geography and Regional Studies), Heather Henderson (Psychology), Senior Associate Dean Maria Galli Stampino, Richard Godbeer (History), and David Janos (Biology). Not pictured: Eugene Clasby (English), Caleb Everett (Anthropology).

The process begins with a proposal explaining why existing majors are inadequate to satisfy the student’s academic needs. Participants must take at least 30 credits of coursework beyond those needed to fulfill General Education requirements, at least six of which must be at the 300 level. An additional six credits will be covered by a capstone project/thesis, to be completed in the final two semesters of the Bachelor’s degree.

Each student will work with a Guidance Committee – generally comprised of two tenured or tenure-track faculty representing their main areas of study – to design the course of study and track progress toward attaining the degree.

An interdisciplinary faculty team worked with Stampino to set out the details of the program. They are: Professor Eugene Clasby, Department of English; Associate Professor Caleb Everett, Department of Anthropology; Professor Richard Godbeer, Department of History; Associate Professor Heather Henderson, Department of Psychology; Professor David Janos, Department of Biology; Associate Professor Olga Korotkova, Department of Physics; and Assistant Professor Justin Stoler, Department of Geography and Regional Studies.

Stampino said this diverse group brought a variety of perspectives to the table. “It was great to collaborate with colleagues at different stages of their careers and from varied backgrounds, because every person understood the needs of a different subset of potential students.”

The program will be launched with a small initial group of five students. After these pioneering scholars complete their degrees, Stampino will lead an internal review of the program to determine if it should be expanded.

Stampino is a member of the Faculty Senate, which approved the program last month.

April 23, 2014