Minors Attracting Major Attention

Minors Attracting Major Attention

Interdisciplinary program broadens undergraduates' fields of study

By Sean Smith
Chronicle Editor

Call it the side dish that makes a good academic meal taste even better.

For nearly two decades, Boston College undergraduates have been able to enrich their chosen field of study through the program of interdisciplinary minors offered by the College of Arts and Sciences.

Prof. Vanessa Rumble (Philosophy), director of the new Psychoanalytic Studies interdisciplinary minor. (Photo by Suzanne Camarata)
A political science major eyeing a career in international diplomacy might enjoy a helping of American Studies courses in, for example, the history of the American West or the role of law in American society.

A biology major contemplating medical school, meanwhile, might opt for a serving of classes grouped under Scientific Computation, or others that delve into the history and ethics of psychoanalysis.

Unlike the sequence of classes offered as minors by individual departments, interdisciplinary minors cluster courses from several departments. Students must select at least three courses from three different A&S departments. Once approved, students may use one core course or one course from their major toward the minor.

An informal entity at the outset, the Interdisciplinary Minors Program has in recent years been given greater structure and governance, even as its offerings have increased. The newest interdisciplinary minor is Psychoanalytic Studies, introduced this semester.
Administrators say the program, while relatively recent, reflects the classic Jesuit-Catholic liberal arts curriculum central to BC's mission.

"At Boston College, we brag about the breadth and the depth of our academic program, through the core and the major, respectively," said A&S Dean Joseph Quinn.

"Our interdisciplinary minors provide both breadth and depth, and for many of our students, they provide a great complement to the major. These minors focus on a particular area of study, but do so through the lenses of at least three departments. They are growing in popularity, which I am delighted to see," he said.

"These programs are interesting because they allow students to sample several areas at moderate depth," said Academic Vice President and Dean of Faculties John Neuhauser, "but more importantly because they help to demonstrate the increasing interconnectiveness of several scholarly fields."

Carol Hurd Green, coordinator of the Interdisciplinary Minors Program, says the success of the program lies squarely with the faculty.

"This is an entirely faculty-driven process," said Green, a former A&S associate dean who now teaches in the English Department and directs the Charles Donovan, SJ, Scholars Program in the Lynch School of Education. "No one comes along and says, 'You must start an interdisciplinary minor.'

"All of these programs derive from the mutual interests of faculty members, who recognize that the supposed barriers between disciplines can, and should be, transcended. The interdisciplinary minors also are a seedbed for research opportunities and other collaborations between junior and senior faculty."

Most of all, Green says, the minors are clearly attracting student interest: Some 550 undergraduates registered for interdisciplinary minors during the previous academic year.

Interdisciplinary minors are not limited to A&S students, Green says, although curriculum requirements for nursing or education tend to constrain those undergraduates. While A&S courses dominate the minors, she notes that in the past faculty from the Carroll School of Management and the Connell School of Nursing have taught courses.
"It's a way for students - and faculty - to explore, to find connections that might not have occurred to them," she said, "and perhaps even to have their assumptions about a discipline or major challenged."

Prof. Ali Banuazizi (Psychology), co-director of the popular Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies minor [see related story on page 1], said, "We do not envision the minor as competing with majors. We are attempting to devise a program for our students to become more problem-centered, and so they will develop a set of interests that will stay with them beyond college."

Assoc. Prof. Vanessa Rumble (Philosophy) says the new Psychoanalytic Studies minor she directs has been designed to help students take a wider view of a topic that might otherwise be regarded as a largely scientific one.

Courses taught by the Psychology, Philosophy, History, Fine Arts, English, Romance Languages, Sociology and English departments are included in the minor. Among them are Freud's Vienna, Ethics of Psychoanalysis and Psychoanalytic Approaches to Art, as well as an Introduction to Psychoanalysis course taught by University Professor of Psychoanalysis William Meissner, SJ.

"The 'unconsciousness' dimension of human experience has been with us for a long time in art, literature, social studies and philosophy," she explained. "Sigmund Freud was the first to give it a clinical name and to offer a means for investigating it.

"Whether one agreed or disagreed with his theories, they had a profound impact on society, one that still resonates. We like to think of ourselves as autonomous, being in control of our actions and thoughts, and the idea of an 'unconscious' therefore is perhaps as unsettling as it is fascinating.

"It's also possible to bring a religious or theological perspective: We ask in class whether faith and psychoanalysis are compatible. How does Freud's thinking contrast with Jesuit and Catholic belief?

"Certainly, someone planning to go into law or medicine could find an interdisciplinary view of psychoanalysis potentially useful. From a humanities standpoint, meanwhile, this minor provides an in-depth look at one very important interpretative lens on the human condition."

More information on the Interdisciplinary Minors Program is available at www.bc.edu/schools/cas/academics/curriculum/minors/interdiscminors/.


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