I’m not graduating “on time” & that is OK.

My college education has extended way beyond the walls of the classroom. I am not the traditional college student. I never lived on campus, I never ate a single meal in the dining hall, I did not dedicate myself 110% to the university. I know that sounds like I did not give it my all, but I did; I gave my everything because I am a mother, I work full time, and I go to school full time. Before I discovered the Interdisciplinary Studies program, I was lost. Just as lost as the characters on the t.v. show Lost. I was scared because my educational path needed to shift from nursing to something else and I only had a short window of opportunity to decide. Deciding what you want to do for the rest of your life is EXTREMELY scary. Planning out your life means a whole hell of a lot more when you have a child at home depending on you. I can honestly say, the Interdisciplinary Studies (IDS) program at Plymouth State University saved me. Robin DeRosa saved me.

Photo Credit: Arya Ziai (CC BY 2.0)

I was three full years into my college career, wondering how I could graduate with a meaningful degree with only one year left. Was I disappointed that I would not graduate on time in the traditional four year, eight semester time frame? Of course, I was devastated. I felt like I had failed in so many ways, but IDS is truly the “one door closes, another door opens” situations for me. I had no idea how IDS worked, but I was told I would be able to create my own major. I would own my learning. WHAT? HOW? No idea, but it happened and I am not only proud of myself, but over the moon proud to be a part of the Interdisciplinary Studies family. I am not graduating “on time” and that is OK because I am graduating with a degree to be proud of.

I had no idea what to expect going into the Interdisciplinary course. I knew I was going to get to throw some of the courses I have taken together and call it my own major. While I was well aware that Interdisciplinary Studies meant combining disciplines to create a plan of studies that integrated multiple styles of learning to perform jobs “out of the ordinary”, I was still wondering what I had gotten myself into. IDS is much more than creating a contract for my program and getting it approved by the school. The first day of class I was introduced to the idea of Open Pedagogy that was defined by three parts; access, learner-driven curriculum, and connected learning. Access to free sources and textbooks. AMAZING. Learner-driven curriculum; what we want and how we want it. Connected learning; connected through technology with the world, connected with our communities of learning and career interests, social media, and owning our own domain. After the first class I was completely sold on how amazing IDS is. To me, those three aspects are what Interdisciplinary Studies stands for because it allows students to explore, access non-traditional resources, and take responsibility for their eduction.

I have learned a multitude about being held responsible for my learning. I have always been responsible for my work, but IDS teaches students about being the leader of your learning. We are taught to be proud of our work and that is one of the biggest take aways from the program for me. Be you and be proud. To do so it took a lot of learning about the content and epistemology of my program. In order to expand my returns, I needed to expand my learning which meant creating a program based around content that would intertwine in a way that would promote unique and distinguished thinking. I combined courses from nursing, biology, psychology, health education, health promotion, and social work; all of which I could combine my learning in one way or another to connect to real world problems and solutions. The content of my program is so unique to me, it really gives my degree meaning to what I stand for and who I am. Epistemology is the theory of knowledge with regard to its methods, validity, and scope. This is the thoughts on why my program matters, what the goals are, the meaning, and what it is working towards. So often student’s chose a major, take courses day in and day out, but have a hard time expressing what the goals of their projected work are. IDS allows me to express my personal goals, professionally. Taking responsibility for my learning because they are my goals.

Responsibility, responsibility, responsibility. Jeez Madison, could you say that word one more time?! Redundant, I know, stay with me here. Entering the world of “adulting” and responsibility is huge. I am already responsible for another human being which is extremely scary, but so rewarding. I know how to be responsible for my

Mercedez in her natural habitat! Photo by me.

daughter, but IDS taught me to be responsible for my learning and growth. This is one thing I am taking away from the program, but also something I will use to promote why IDS is so very important to universities. On the idea of expanding your learning to expand your returns, you are required to create a ePort (electronic portfolio-you’re lookin’ at it!), engage in twitter, and annotate in the online, FREE, textbook. We do not post our “homework” to a hidden, school controlled, website. We share our work for all of the world to see. Intimidating, but rewarding. This idea of owning your own domain, allows you to be confident in your work and take responsibility for what you are learning, how you make connections in the world, and how you share your knowledge. To me, this style of learning and sharing is a no brainer, good idea for interdisciplinary studies and all other majors. Academic settings need to work on sharing personal ideas, sharing each other’s work, and being engaged in the world outside of classroom walls.

Just in the past week, the Interdisciplinary Studies program at PSU announced they opened a food pantry, will be working on a childcare and transportation cooperative, and veterans/military mentoring program. Round of

Photo Credit: Robin DeRosa and the Interdisciplinary Studies program of Plymouth State University

applause. Honestly, the fact that the interdisciplinary studies program thinks outside of the box on what Higher Ed. means, AMAZING. Interdisciplinary Studies is so important for universities and the world because IDS students and workers are out there, kicking ass and taking name on “wicked problems”. IDS is always working on not only working outside the box, but creating new ideas of what a box really is and does. Interdisciplinary studies expands accessibility for Higher Ed. and accessibility of goals that don’t meet the cookie cutter requirement course lists that many majors come with.

I wish I could say I had any idea what I am planning to do or where I see myself after I leave Plymouth State, but I don’t. On the most basic level, my hopes for the future are to be a positive health role model for my daughter, other children, and anyone I work with. I do not know the logistics of where I want to work or exactly in what setting, but I know I want to do things in the realm of health education and promotion. There are endless possibilities in that field that would allow me to make a meaningful impact. Being responsible and meaningful are so important to me and my future work.

I was and still am a bit sad I am not graduating “on time”, but I am ok. I am walking away from PSU with a degree that truly means more to me than anything because it is mine. ALL MINE. I am responsible for my learning, I am engaged in my learning, and I am proud of my degree. I am not graduating “on time” and that is OK.


#savethestudents 😉

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  1. “I have always been responsible for my work, but IDS teaches students about being the leader of your learning. We are taught to be proud of our work and that is one of the biggest take aways from the program for me. Be you and be proud.” I love that!! I was awesome reading your story and it is inspiring to hear about your hard work through out your hard work here at Plymouth State.

  2. Wow. Honestly, I wish everyone in Higher Ed could read this post. Sometimes we talk about “nontraditional learners,” but I don’t think faculty and staff always appreciate what it feels like to try to make it through college when you are balancing so many life challenges that set you apart from the classic undergrad (who exists less and less, and nontrads become more and more the norm). You are such a wonderful example of how hard students work to make university schedules and processes work for them even when it takes so much extra effort. You have managed to move toward degree completion despite the system stacked somewhat against you, but beyond that, you have thrived at every turn. Your writing and projects are always thoughtful and meticulous in their construction. You are not just making it through: you are making it through and contributing so much stellar new work to the world along the way. I have learned a lot from you, and our program is forever improved for your presence here with us!

  3. This is an incredibly inspiring post! Your experiences are a true testament to the powerful things that can happen when students take control over their own learning pathway. Good luck to you, I am certain that we will continue to see more fabulous work from you in the future!

  4. Sarah Parrish

    Hi, I’m the new Art History professor at PSU and I found your blog through the IDS Facebook page. This post moved me to tears. Three of the most inspiring and ambitious students I’ve ever had have been mothers, and your words reminded me a lot of their experiences. I wish you all the best for your life and education!

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