NU Students Design Major Change In Course Curriculum

Julie French

By Julie FrenchThe Daily Northwestern

For most of Winter Quarter, McCormick junior Josh Glucoft listed only one activity on his Facebook profile: “Spending an endless amount of time in front of the course catalog in an attempt to start my own major.”

Two weeks ago the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science curriculum committee approved his “engineering entrepreneurship” major, and now Glucoft lists “my awesome new major” as his primary interest.

Glucoft is the only student pursuing a major in McCormick’s combined studies program, but he is one of an increasing number of Northwestern students designing their own majors in fields such as “conceptual age studies,” “historic keyboard” and “film music composition.”

Four of NU’s six undergraduate schools offer students this little-known option: McCormick, Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, the School of Communication and the School of Music.

Three advisers helped Glucoft design a curriculum with technical classes in engineering and business, and a marketing class in Medill, to prepare him to start a business in renewable energy.

“You’ve got to be creative and innovative and combine areas,” Glucoft said. “No matter how great your idea or invention, if you can’t sell it and manage it, it’s worth nothing.”

A self-designed major combines students’ ambitions with the experience of faculty, but it requires extra work, said McCormick Associate Dean Stephen Carr.

A major drawback students might face is that self-designed majors are not always recognized by employers.

“Some companies will blindly require students to conform to existing programs,” Carr said. “Those companies miss out on those students … on some of our very best students.”

In areas such as music and the arts, an ad hoc major is seen as a sign of creativity, said Music Assistant Dean Linda Garton.

“It’s a great way to make yourself look really unique,” she said. She also said it enhances students’ applications to graduate school, regardless of their fields.

The School of Music usually has between 15 and 20 ad hoc majors among its 425 students, Garton said.

“It’s increased recently because students talk,” she said.

Some ad hoc majors, such as jazz studies and environmental studies, have evolved into official majors. Others, such as Latin American studies and African studies, exist as minors and have been pursued as ad hoc majors by multiple students.

Weinberg sophomore Todd Searle is majoring in Chinese language and literature, which also is a minor.

“I hope to work with (African and Asian Languages Program Director) Dr. Gu to actually create it as a Weinberg major,” he said. “That was part of my plan when I created the ad hoc major.”

There are no official plans to turn these minor programs into majors, said Weinberg Assistant Dean Mary Finn.

Finn said ad hoc majors are approved when the proposed curriculum is rigorous and NU has the staff and courses to support them.

When Weinberg and Music junior Nick Shultz designed his ad hoc major in criminalistics, he looked at other schools’ curriculums because NU didn’t have related programs.

“The next two years will be specialized classes that will be a lot of fun,” Shultz said. “Every single class I’m taking is a class I want to be in.”

Reach Julie French at [email protected]