In the back corner of Western Campus stands Peabody Hall, a building that does far more than just house residents. Students like Jannie Kamara, a junior individualized studies major, enter Peabody to pursue an entirely unique course of study — one of their own making.
“I didn’t know what to do with my major, so I made my own and combined the things I love: diversity and leadership,” Kamara said. Her current focus of study combines black studies and leadership studies, a combination, she said, that helps her branch out of her comfort zone and explore new things.
Naiyi Jiang, a sophomore individualized studies major, has big plans for her career. Her focus includes social justice and environmental studies, but she said her plan changes as her interests do. Jiang is from China, and wishes to go back to educate people about waste production to improve environmental problems.
Individualized studies, also known as the Western Program, is an interdisciplinary study program that allows students to pursue diverse career fields and degrees, specializing in a student’s own integrated study of choice.
Before it was Miami's Western Program, Peabody was home to The Western College, founded over 150 years ago in 1853 and known as The Western: A College and Seminary for Women. The women’s college focused on a liberal arts education, social justice, diversity and intercultural studies. In 1974, the college merged with Miami and became the center of interdisciplinary studies, offering a major similar to the focus of the women’s college to Miami students.
Miami’s Western Program currently supports 65-75 majors and is continuing to grow. Jacqueline Daugherty, acting director of the Western Center and assistant teaching professor in the Western Program, said there are usually two kinds of students who enter.
The first is any student that doesn’t feel like they fit into one major, has diverse interests and thrives under a supportive teaching style rather than a directional one. The second type is commonly sophomores looking for an individualized double or co-major.
The Western Program offers both a major and a minor for all students. There are no specific requirements to become involved with the program. Students just reach out to one of the faculty members, set up a time to talk about their ideas and then declare a Western major or minor.
Daugherty said when it comes to creating major, students simply “make it up.”
“Well, it’s not that flippant,” she added.
After deciding on a direction for the major, students take a one-credit-hour class (Western 251) to create what is called an I Plan. The I Plan is a map of courses that the student will take from various departments within Miami that constitute a specific choice of study. Students work closely with faculty members to form their plan and must provide rationale for to explain how it all fits together.
Some current majors include: Space Law, Cybersecurity and Terrorism, Green Business, and Immigration Rights and Models. The Western Program partners with other departments, like Sustainability and Social Justice Studies, to achieve the integration it’s known for, but has its own approach to the classroom as well.
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While students choose most of their own courses, all Western Program majors take five required courses and complete a year-long senior project.
“I’ve never used a textbook in class,” Daugherty said. “This is a give and take version of education … Classes are built around each individual, using experiential learning and project-based learning.”
The Western Program supports six diverse, full-time faculty members, including a climatologist, sustainability expert, sociologist and film writer.
“The professors are all open-minded and creative people, and they recommended courses for my interests,” Jaing said.
After talking about her own experience within the program, Kamara said, “I wish [the Western Program] was more known for students to explore their interests. You can choose your own path.”
This year, Peabody has added a Western Center. The goal of the center is to take the work of the individualized studies majors and make it widely available to the rest of campus. Student and faculty engagement is the core of the center, encouraging engagement at the intersection of western majors.
“We’re trying to grow the center and reach out to Western and non-Western students alike,” Daughtery said. “We’re working on breaking down the silos between majors.”
The Western Program’s Western Center is open from 9 a.m. - 9 p.m. Monday-Thursday and 9 a.m. - 2 p.m. on Fridays in room 22 in Peabody Hall to any student interested in learning more about individualized studies.
This article has been updated to clarify that Jacqueline Daugherty is acting director of the Western Center, not the Western Program. More information about the required classes was also added.