2022-2023 Academic Catalog 
    Apr 12, 2024  
2022-2023 Academic Catalog [ARCHIVED CATALOG]

Student-Designed Major

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University requirements for any student considering the SDM:

  • A student must have a minimum 3.00 cumulative GPA at the time of application, and maintain a minimum 3.00 cumulative GPA throughout completion of the SDM. A student whose GPA drops below 3.00 during study toward the SDM will be required to revert to an existing departmental or interdisciplinary major to complete the bachelor’s degree. An appeal to the university’s College Board may be made for an exception to this requirement.
  • Students generally apply to the SDM during their sophomore year, and they may not apply to the SDM if they have completed 20 or more units of study, including any transfer credit. Students should not apply for an SDM if their GPA is below 3.0.
  • The SDM may be taken in combination with an established concentration or an established  minor; self-designed concentrations or minors will not be permitted.
  • The SDM may be pursued as part of a double major provided the second major is an established departmental or interdisciplinary major. The standard university rules regarding double-counting courses for multiple majors apply. A student can not apply for two SDM’s.
  • A student pursuing an SDM must complete all other university requirements for the bachelor’s degree (e.g., FYI, PLS, 32 total units, etc.)

The SDM does not fall within the regular supervision of a single department or program. As a result, it requires special effort on the part of the participating student and faculty in consultation with staff in the Dean of the College’s office to see that the student acquires a level of intellectual stimulation, training, depth, and breadth comparable to what would be expected in an established major.

Because flexibility is central to the purpose of this program, there is no single formula for the development of an SDM. However, the following questions must be explicitly addressed in the intellectual rationale for an SDM.

1. What are your explicit goals in this major? How can these goals be met with existing faculty expertise at Clark (and, if appropriate, with possible use of resources in the Worcester Consortium)? Why is it impossible (or difficult) to meet these goals through a regular major?

2. What are the primary methods and modes of inquiry to be used in this major? Why is an interdisciplinary approach particularly suitable for your proposed topical focus?

3. How will this major provide you with intellectual breadth across several areas of knowledge? And how will it provide depth through an intensive intellectual exploration of one particular problem or in one particular field of knowledge? In other words, what is the structure of this major? How are your courses related to each other? And how will they improve your ability to analyze your topic at increasingly higher levels of sophistication?

4. Finally, how will this major meet your intellectual goals at Clark, and how does it relate to your career goals after Clark?


1. The SDM is intended for the student who wishes to focus on the systematic exploration of a particular problem or a particular body of knowledge that does not fall within the bounds of existing majors or departments at Clark. It should typically involve three or more disciplines, and draw upon existing Clark faculty expertise and courses offered regularly at Clark.

2. The SDM requires a detailed (1-2 pages single-spaced) description and rationale for the major and a list of required courses, to be developed by the student in consultation with a faculty advisor and two other faculty members (who together constitute the student’s SDM supervisory faculty committee). This committee must approve the rationale and course requirements for the major no later than the end of the student’s first semester of the junior year.

3. All SDMs shall include a minimum of 12.00 course units, including at least four courses at the 200 level. In most cases, the SDM will include more than this minimum. These courses should be carefully planned by the student and the student’s faculty supervisiory committee to include courses from three or more disciplines, and to progress from introductory courses to more advanced levels of sophistication by the senior year.

4. In the senior year (usually the second semester), the student will complete a capstone requirement intended to draw on and integrate earlier course work, and to include an independent research component, either through a senior research thesis, a supervised internship experience (that includes research), or a creative independent project.

5. The administration of SDMs is handled by Evette Walters, Director, Academic Advising Center (email: Ewalters@clarku.edu), who is available to advise all students interested in this program.


Initial Consultation. A student who wishes to consider developing an SDM should first read the SDM guidelines (i. e., this document) and consult Evette Walters, Director, Academic Advising Center, concerning the SDM requirements and procedures. If it is mutually agreed that the student’s interest and abilities and Clark faculty resources seem appropriate for an SDM, the student should proceed as outlined below.

Initiating the Process. All students who plan to complete an SDM must meet with Acaemic Adviisng to discuss the process and to receive an electronic application form.

The SDM Faculty Supervisory Committee. The most important step in the program is the selection of a faculty committee chair and two other faculty members to serve on the student’s SDM faculty supervisory committee. These faculty members should (in most cases) be in three different departments. The SDM faculty supervisory committee will be responsible for overseeing the academic content of the major, for monitoring the student’s progress through the program, and for ensuring the fulfillment of the guidelines for the SDM.

SDM Rationale. Before an SDM will be approved, the student must develop the statement of intellectual rationale for the major, recruit the three members of the faculty supervisory committee, meet together with the committee, and secure unanimous committee approval of the rationale and the course requirements for the proposed major.

SDM Committee Approval. After unanimous approval by the faculty supervisory committee, the written proposal for the major-consisting of the cover page, statement of intellectual rationale, any documentary support (e.g., reference to existing programs to be used at other institutions in the Worcester Consortium), and the list of required courses-must be submitted to Evette Walters, Director, Academic Advising Center. The proposal will then be reviewed for conformity with the SDM Guidelines. If problems are identified, the student may be asked to clarify or elaborate on the proposal in person, or to submit a written modification of the proposal. Copies of the approved proposal will be circulated to the student, to all members of the faculty committee, and to relevant department chairs. Materials for the SDM will be archived by the Academic Advising Center.

Honors for the SDM. In order for students to receive honors in a SDM, they must have a cumulative GPA of 3.25 or above, and they must develop an honors project proposal by the end of their junior year. This normally will consist of an honors thesis based on two or more directed-research courses. The SDM faculty supervisory committee typically will function also as the honors thesis committee, and upon completion of the thesis, the student will have a one-hour oral defense of the thesis with the faculty committee. The committee will evaluate the research, writing, and oral defense of the thesis, and recommend whether or not the work merits the distinction of honors and what level of honors (Honors, High Honors, or Highest Honors). If the committee judges a thesis as not worthy of honors, the student will receive credit for the work completed, but will not receive honors.

Changes in the SDM. After initial approval of an SDM, subsequent changes in the student’s program may be approved by the SDM committee, with the committee chair advising Academic Advising. These changes are recorded on an electronic form submitted to Academic Advising and subsequently shared with the Registrar’s Office. These changes are archived with the initial application.

Completion of the SDM. Upon final completion of all requirements, the committee chair must certify the student’s final completion of the major, and the level of honors, if any, to the Dean of the College, the Academic Advising Center, and the Registrar’s Office.


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