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Monday, March 4, 2024
The Observer

Senior designs major to fit interests

Despite Notre Dame's wide array of majors, some students struggle to find a course of study that perfectly matches their interests.

For these students, the College of Arts and Letters offers the option of a self-designed major.

Senior Anne Whitty is one student who took advantage of this option and designed her own program, called "Sustainable Policy and Development," to complement her second major in Environmental Science.  

"When I came to Notre Dame, I was already really interested in environmental issues and from freshman year, I got involved with environmental science," Whitty said. "I knew I wanted to work in environmental policy or law, and ND has very strong environmental and political science programs, butthere's no hybrid program that allows you to combine both."

During her sophomore year, Whitty spoke to Stuart Greene, associate professor of English and director of the Education, Schooling and Society minor, and began the process of designing her own major. Her desire to apply environmental science to the larger world — involving political science, economics and business in her studies —led her to unite the typically isolated disciplines into a unique course of study.

"I had to look at similar programs at other schools and pull together a list of any classes that sounded both interesting and relevant to environmental policy and development," Whitty said. "I met with professors and advisors to get their input and approval throughout the process."

According to The College of Arts and Letters' webpage, students interested in designing their own majors must write a proposal for their projected course of study and have it signed by three faculty sponsors from at least two separate departments. The Undergraduate Studies Advisory Committee reviews the proposal, which then needs to be approved by the dean.

A capstone essay of between 30 and 50 pages in length must be completed during the student's senior year.

Students interested in designing their own major must comb through the course catalog to find relevant courses with a common theme, Whitty said.

Whitty said the process has been stressful, but rewarding.

"It took so much time, especially working on the proposal during the beginning of my sophomore year — I spent as much time working on it as I would put in for an entire course," Whitty said. "But I think the biggest challenge was the self-discovery process — designing a curriculum really requires that you know what you want out of your education and take every possible opportunity to meet your academic goals."

Whitty was able to fit a study abroad experience in India into her plan, which she said played a major role in developing her long-term goals.     She said her senior thesis focuses on sustainable urban planning, and she intends to pursue a career in that field after graduation.

"Notre Dame wants its students to graduate with a degree that will help them succeed in their chosen area," Whitty said. "The faculty were so supportive in helping me to figure out the goals of my education and how to accomplish them … I've definitely come to really appreciate my education, and I don't take it for granted."