New Purdue master’s degree in graduate studies provides framework for interdisciplinary majors

In a giant leap for graduate education at Purdue University, the Indiana Commission for Higher Education has approved the Master of Science in Graduate Studies (major in interdisciplinary studies) degree. It is the first degree ever to be conferred through the Graduate School on the West Lafayette campus.

The degree, a framework for custom, novel majors that span two or more schools or departments, was driven by students, faculty and companies that want more options to combine skills, create new majors and customize credentials.  

“Education is changing, and students want a powerful learning experience where they can draw from many different disciplines,” said Linda Mason, dean of the Graduate School. “With the new MS in Graduate Studies, students will be able to integrate several academic disciplines to become interdisciplinary thinkers and creative problem solvers in emerging fields.”

James Mohler, associate dean of the Graduate School, said that there has already been “great interest” among faculty on the West Lafayette campus to work with other units to build creative interdisciplinary degrees that don’t reside in a single department.

“I am amazed by the number of units approaching us about this,” Mohler said. “The MS in Graduate Studies provides a vehicle for faculty to operate outside of the confines of their normal disciplinary structures to create combinations that we have never seen before. It gets rid of the traditional approach to curricula development and gives a framework for faculty to experiment. It is actually creating some unique conversations across the university.”

Mohler said that in the buildup to ICHE’s approval, six unique curricular combinations were already under development in the MS in Graduate Studies framework, and two of those programs are ready to launch.  

For example, the corporate training and communication leadership major is a joint effort between Purdue’s College of Education and the Brian Lamb School of Communication in the College of Liberal Arts. This program combines or “stacks” two graduate certificates, one offered by each school, with other coursework to create a new interdisciplinary major that serves students interested in corporate training.

“This new major has been driven by students who have an interest in building organizational and employee performance through communication and education initiatives,” said Bart Collins, professor of practice and director of the online Master of Science program in strategic communication for the Brian Lamb School of Communication. “From an institutional perspective, these sorts of approaches can create flexibility in curriculum to reach new needs among professionals seeking to augment their education.”

The second major ready to launch is secondary STEM education with initial licensure. This major is aimed at increasing the number of highly qualified STEM educators in the state and is part of a $5.1 million Department of Education grant where students will obtain three credentials: Indiana state teaching license in mathematics or a science field, K-12 Integrated STEM Education Graduate Certificate, and the MS in Graduate Studies degree in secondary STEM education.

“The secondary STEM education with initial licensure MS program will offer a crucial pathway for STEM professionals to become highly qualified, top-tier teachers who will be able to not only engage middle and high school students in learning STEM content, skills, and practices through the integration of engineering design in culturally and socially relevant ways, but also increase STEM interest among a diverse population of Indiana students,” said Lynn Bryan, director, Center for Advancing the Teaching and Learning of STEM, professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction and Department of Physics and Astronomy, and faculty fellow for K-12 STEM engagement.

Mohler said, “The flexible approach to credentialing is a response to the changing nature of what business and industry, and even academia, need. Curricular change doesn’t happen very fast in the traditional sense. We need to be able to turn quicker, move faster, and innovate rapidly to be responsive to the needs of employees and employers. This is a way to be more responsive to our clients, both students and companies.”

Writer: Korina Wilbert

Sources: Linda Mason,

Jamie Mohler,

Bart Collins,

Lynn Bryan,

November 30, 2020

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