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The Western Program: Education through innovation

By Max Manzone
On February 25, 2013

It has been over four decades since the Western College for Women merged with Miami University, bringing with it a focus on individualized education and the belief that the way students learn can be expanded and developed. As is the common consensus of all those involved in the Western Program, including Western program director Nicolas Money, the amount of discretion students have in regards to their course work is what makes the program unique.

"The most attractive feature from the students' point of view is that they get to craft a good deal of their own course study," Money said. "Additionally, for the program to be in Peabody hall it makes it part residential and part academic. The students there like being part of a larger community."

Aside from the core curriculum courses and Miami Plan courses, students have the ability to craft the additional classes they take within their own areas of interest, which is what senior Tyler Elliott did.

"Entering Miami I thought I would be in political science," Elliott said. "After joining the Western Program I was able to take classes in not only political science, but also environmental studies and geology as part of my major."

The ability for students to craft their own coursework is given under the stipulation that the subjects they choose must be interrelated in some manner. This is true of senior Hannah Mills, who studies family studies & social work, mass communication, interactive media studies and history. Hannah plans to attend graduate school, as is true of many students who pass through the Western Program.

"All of our studies culminate in a final project which synthesizes both the core classes we are required to take and those which we opted to take in the other portion of our credit requirements," Mills said.

What makes the Western Program different however is not only vested in what they learn, but how they learn it and the consistent support that comes from alumni.

As was noted by Money, Mills and Elliott, a large part of the career services given to students in the western program, is derived from alumni who have a heavy involvement.

As they noted, alumni are in constant contact with students in the program, and due to their wide range of careers, students have a plentiful base of references to utilize for professional consultation.

"The alumni that we have are more than willing to provide both financial support for an academic project and to give us professional consultation if we find it necessary," Mills said.

She also mentioned that because of alumni involvement, students at any time are able to contact notable alumni within a specific area of study in order to obtain guidance when it comes to strategies for career advancement.

Students in the Western Program have a repertoire to be reckoned with when it comes to career opportunities, Elliott said.

"The skills that we develop while in the program are unique in their scope and diverse in their subject matter" asserted Elliott, "It is almost as though we are a jack of all trades due to our wide range of academic and intellectual capabilities."

Elliott's senior project had him working side by side with politicians on legislation for hydraulic "fracking", which has emerged as a prominent issue within the field of environmental studies. As he noted, this experience has given him a multitude of professional references for when begins to pursue his career, whenever that may be.

Mills said alumni give Western students confidence in their major.

"Our alumni push the notion that to have such an interdisciplinary background is something that employers look for," Mills said. "You aren't checking boxes or requirements. We made our own requirements and created our own education, which is something that isn't true of all undergraduates."

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