What blazing your own trail in the
Integrated Studies program looks like

By Chelsea McCracken

The Integrated Studies program, housed in Dixie State University’s Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences (IAS) department, allows students to create a customized major by combining two emphasis areas from a list of more than 30. Students take upper-division credits in multiple departments and integrate their two emphasis areas in a capstone project that emphasizes research, writing, and innovation.

Jen Spong, class of 2019, is a current student in the Integrated Studies program with emphasis areas in Humanities and Art History. IAS faculty member Dr. Chelsea McCracken spoke with Jen to learn more about her experiences in the program.

CM: How did you find out about the IAS department and the Integrated Studies program? What appealed to you about the program? Why is it a good fit for you?

JS: I was originally studying fine arts with a painting/drawing emphasis. I had to take a general education humanities credit and I fell in love with what I learned. I decided I wanted to take more classes like that and make humanities part of my major. I discovered that the only way I could do that would be to join the IAS department. Eventually I changed my other emphasis area to art history because I prefer being graded for my writing rather than my art.

Jen participates in a 2018 study abroad program in Rome with the Booth Honors Program.

I didn’t know exactly what the IAS department entailed until I took the INTS 3100 class, which pushed the importance of having a knowledge base that is both broad and deep and that the best way to do that is to make interdisciplinary connections. I like the idea of all sorts of knowledge and disciplines relating to each other. Kind of like the deeper you go into a field of study, the more you see connections to other things.

The program is a great fit for me because I’m not forced into any kind of box. The humanities department is pretty interdisciplinary in its approach anyway, and the art history side gives me that depth. I already had a big pool of interests coming in to college, and I fought against the idea of narrowing them down to a single major.

CM: What are your plans for after graduation? What skills have you developed in the program or what activities have you done that have helped prepare you for your post-graduation plans?

JS: I don’t have it all worked out yet, but I’m planning to go to graduate school and study something like art history. The most valuable skills I’ve learned in the program have had to do with being adaptable and integrating new information with stuff I already know. The program has a focus on building a large knowledge base and teaching students how to learn rather than just teaching skills that might be obsolete by the time they graduate. Going into high school in the wake of the Great Recession forced me to see how precarious the economy is, and I think having a broad knowledge base and ability to learn gives me that flexibility I might need in the future.

Jen presents her research, “The Role of the Digital in Environmental Art,” at the Utah Conference on Undergraduate Research on February 9, 2018.

CM: I know that you presented a paper last year at the Utah Conference on Undergraduate Research (UCUR). What was that like? How did you find out about the opportunity, and what experiences did you gain while participating? What advice do you have for other students on publishing or presenting their research?

JS: Dr. Nancy Ross in the IAS department encouraged me to submit an idea for a paper I wrote for one of her classes. I really struggled with the idea that my paper would have any value or interest for anyone but me and a couple of my professors, but the few people who listened to me at the conference were lovely and encouraging. For anyone thinking about publishing or presenting, I would say go for it and make sure you have a good mentor, like I did, who will keep you on track. It’s also a great opportunity to go to another campus and meet people outside DSU. One of my favorite things about presenting at UCUR was being able to walk around SUU’s campus and see the art in their buildings and on the grounds.