Individualized Study (INDS) at UMBC is one of the longest-standing individualized degree majors in the country. Founded in 1969 as Option II (at a time when the traditional thirteen majors at the university were known as Option I), the major was created to: “Afford highly motivated, intellectually mature students the opportunity to construct their own academic programs, with the hope that these students might better profit from the experience than from the traditional major programs…many kinds of programs are possible, limited only by imagination and ingenuity” (Rosental, Alan. Evaluation of the Option II Program at UMBC. 1972.).
In 1979, Option II was renamed Interdisciplinary Studies in response to the growing national movement toward integrative approaches to learning and problem solving. Put simply, research into the scholarship of interdisciplinarity provides a skeleton around which students can usefully organize their individualized majors. Indeed, one of the first directors of Interdisciplinary Studies, Dr. Thomas Benson, served as president of the Association for Integrative Studies (AIS, and authored “Five Arguments Against Interdisciplinary Studies” (Issues in Integrative Studies 1 (1982) 38-48). The article produced a flurry of responses that helped to advance the national dialogue about interdisciplinarity and its role in academe. UMBC continued its presence on the national scene in 1987 when Director Slobodan Petrovich was elected to the AIS Board and then as president in 1991-1992.
In 2002, Patricia La Noue was appointed director and raised the visibility of the INDS program on campus through such university-wide programming as the Mosaic Roundtables, the Petrovich Lectures, the I-Team, the International and Global Studies initiative, and creation of the Herbert Run Greenway. Under Director La Noue’s leadership, the INDS program grew to incorporate a core curriculum to accompany each individualized major and began to require Capstone Research Presentations from all graduating seniors.
In 2013, Stephen Freeland was appointed director of the program. As the first scientist to hold this position, he has been privileged to chair the 2016 Gordon Research Conference on the Origin of Life and worked with a new initiative from NASA and the National Science Foundation to pilot greater interdisciplinarity in research relating to this field. Within UMBC, Director Freeland has navigated the INDS program through a period of profound change–change in leadership coincided with organizational relocation within the structure of the university (in 2013, INDS joined the Division of Undergraduate Academic Affairs) and relocating physically on campus (in 2014, INDS moved to occupy the ground floor of the renovated Fine Arts building). Alongside these changes, Director Freeland has led INDS staff in expanding the core curriculum to better support students and in clarifying the policies and procedures by which the program operates. He has also worked with students and staff to secure research grant support for a wide array of applied learning experiences that range from the creation of a student-led community garden to building and racing a kinetic sculpture. In 2017, UMBC was proud to host the annual conference of the international Association for Interdisciplinary Studies at which we were able to showcase these developments.
In 2018, INDS was renamed Individualized Study to more accurately reflect the central goals of the program. While interdisciplinarity is still the mechanism by which our students can better understand and develop approaches to resolving complex problems in their prospective fields, providing our students insight into the scholarship and practice of interdisciplinarity is only part of work.