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Students team up with faculty sponsors to create their own majors

Jan. 26, 2015

IU Bloomington senior Nitish Kulkarni was a direct-admit to the Kelley School of Business when he arrived on campus as a freshman in 2011. “Originally, I was a business major with a minor in music,” he recalled. “I really enjoyed my classes, but found I didn’t have much time for outside creative endeavors like composing and producing music.”

This dilemma led Kulkarni to explore IU’s Individualized Major Program, which allows students to develop custom plans of study in topics as varied as behavioral economics, sustainable development and art marketing.

“I wanted to know everything about musical instruments, sound and how we process and consume music as listeners,” explained Kulkarni. “Through IMP, I was able to develop my own major in organology, the study of musical instruments.”

While IU Bloomington students can choose from more than 180 majors, as well as dual degrees and Pathways programs that offer combined undergraduate and graduate study, about 80 current students have created their own major through the Individualized Major Program.

The program boasts famous alumni such as Will Shortz, crossword editor for The New York Times, Jamie Hyneman, co-host of Discovery Channel's hit television series "MythBusters,” and Brian McMullen, art director and editor at McSweeney’s.

“Students come to IMP when their particular academic interests are not met through an established major in another department,” explained Nick Williams, associate professor of English and director of the Individualized Major Program.  “Through our program, they develop rigorous custom curricula that relate directly to their unique career aspirations or plans for graduate work.”

To gain admission to the program, Kulkarni found two faculty sponsors to serve as mentors, developed a full curriculum and wrote a three-page admission statement.

“It took me about five months to fully research the coursework I wanted to take,” Kulkarni remembered. “I drew from areas of study including audiology, psychology and music composition, among others.”

Kulkarni then completed a 90-minute interview with his faculty sponsors and two members of the program’s faculty committee before his major was approved.

“Our IMP Faculty Committee plays an integral role in the approval process,” Williams said. “Collectively, they ensure students’ proposed plans of study are comprehensive, coherent, and will adequately prepare them for future employment or graduate study.”

Fifty IU faculty members from all areas of study serve on the committee. 

“One of the great benefits of IMP is the close relationships you develop with faculty, even after the approval process,” Kulkarni said. “They’ve given me great practical guidance on how to make my career goals a reality.”

During his time with the program, Kulkarni has completed an internship with the management team for world music performer Yanni, worked for the Bloomington-based music public relations firm Rock Paper Scissors, and was a campus representative for Spotify, a digital music service with over 60 million users worldwide.

“The flexibility provided by IMP has allowed me to take classes that are preparing me well for a career in the music industry, while simultaneously giving me time to participate in internships and work on creative projects,” Kulkarni said.

This flexibility has already paid off. Kulkarni’s newly released debut album, “Synesthetic,” was awarded New Age Music Odyssey’s “Best Music Album in 2014” and was listed on New Age Music World’s list of “Best New Album Releases in 2014.”

The final application deadline for admission to the Individualized Major Program during the spring 2015 semester is Friday, March 27.

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