A curricular change of pace: College shifts focus to interdisciplinary learning

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September 27, 2016

1:01 AM

Following a College of William and Mary-wide push for the creation of new academic programs, members of the Board of Visitors heard updates on the status of two science-related programs last week. Additionally, the College will unveil minors in Native studies and museum studies in the coming months.

When Vice Provost for Research Dennis Manos updated the BOV on the progress of its engineering and design initiative, he emphasized that the engineering initiative would not be like that of other universities.

Instead, the program will include more hands-on “makerspaces.” These makerspaces are laboratory spaces designed for collaborative learning and creating.

“Our intent is to leverage our strengths by blending two great complementary forces at William and Mary,” Manos said. “Namely, faculty expertise with liberal arts education and student desire to use technology to change and improve the world.”

In terms of expanding other science programs, the College will now offer a minor in data sciences. These classes will allow students to work with data in ways that apply to various majors. One student, Emma Lather ’19, created a major that would allow her to study data in a way that impacts environmental science.

“I think it’s important that the College is creating new academic programs to offer the students both subjects that they’re interested in and opportunities to learn skills that will make them attractive to future employers,” Lather said.

I think it’s important that the College is creating new academic programs to offer the students both subjects that they’re interested in and opportunities to learn skills that will make them attractive to future employers. — Emma Lather ’19

Following other long-term pushes for new curriculum, the College will begin offering an anthropology minor in Native Studies in the spring 2017 semester. According to anthropology professor Kathleen Bragdon, one of the founders of the program, the minor was created in part to offer something of interest to many students and native peoples in surrounding communities.

“We are trying to think very creatively in advance about how to fit our classes into the COLL system,” Bragdon said. “The minor is primarily housed in anthropology, but it very much incorporates courses in native topics from every department with interest.”

Bragdon said that she hopes the program can be a free-standing major one day, because she believes many people will find this program to be very interesting. She said she hopes that this minor will allow students to have an enhanced group-learning experience instead of traditional academic classes.

This major follows the liberal arts model, and includes classes from the linguistics, history, English and anthropology departments.  Additionally, Bragdon said she hopes that in the future the minor will allow students to form relationships with local reservations and native peoples that will fit within the COLL requirements.

While it is still unclear what exactly this minor will entail, the College will also begin to offer a minor in museum studies. This minor would allow students to collaborate with the Muscarelle Museum of Art and the art department.  The Native Studies major will be the first ready at the College, but the rest are being developed for the next semesters.

“This is incredibly important work,” College President Taylor Reveley said. “You are all doing a marvelous job of getting into it. This really, really matters to the future of William and Mary. Deliver quickly.”

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About Author

Sarah Smith

News Editor Sarah Smith '19 is an international relations and gender, sexuality, and women's studies major from Ashburn, VA. She formerly served as Associate News Editor.