In response to a need expressed by students and faculty, Western Michigan University created a new university-wide Interdisciplinary Studies Doctorate in which students combine research and coursework from two or more disciplines. This program is housed in the Graduate College, and allows for cross-disciplinary work that spans every college. The Interdisciplinary Studies Doctoral degree offers flexibility to students with interests outside existing academic boundaries and established programs. Since 2000, national reports calling for increasing interdisciplinary graduate education and encouraging an interdisciplinary approach to research and education have risen sharply, as reported by the Council of Graduate Schools, the national organization dedicated to advancement of graduate education [Council of Graduate Schools (2012) Interdisciplinary Graduate Education: Role of the Graduate School. Washington, DC: Council of Graduate Schools]. At the eighth annual Global Summit on Graduate Education in 2014, leaders of graduate institutions from 14 countries supported interdisciplinary learning in graduate education and challenged graduate institutions to prepare students to collaborate across academic disciplines.
Given the emerging interest crossing traditional disciplinary boundaries, we created the Interdisciplinary Studies Doctorate at WMU. In addition, there are several other interdisciplinary degrees on campus: the Interdisciplinary Health Sciences PhD, the Interdisciplinary PhD in Evaluation, and interdisciplinary PhDs in Education and Human Development and Engineering and Applied Sciences. The Interdisciplinary Studies Doctorate is designed to span all disciplines at the university and allow additional flexibility in meeting the needs of students whose research interests are not currently met in a traditional program. WMU is now better positioned to more effectively serve future students as interdisciplinary approaches in research continue to expand.
Currently there are eight students in the program, with two applications under review for fall 2017. These students have established creative combinations of disciplines, including anthropology/sociology, economics/philosophy, social work/psychology, computer science/English/library sciences, and special education/educational leadership. Some of the projects are groundbreaking in their scope or focus, including a social history of the mobilization of the gay community in Tijuana, Mexico since the early 1980s in the context of human rights activism. Another project focusing on the Latino community analyzes healthcare construction and stresses the development of culturally and linguistically appropriate healthcare policy. Another student has devised a collaboration between special education and educational leadership to create a Special Education support center in Saudi Arabia.
The individually designed interdisciplinary degree relies heavily on its unique combination of specific disciplines and the particular expertise of each faculty member involved. Students in the WMU program craft a distinctive experience that supports the learner-centered, discovery-driven, and globally engaged mission of WMU. It meets individual student needs, promotes academic collaboration across the university, and produces scholars with a global approach to solving problems.