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The GW Hatchet

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Give students more opportunities for interdisciplinary learning

Varun Joshi, a senior majoring in economics and math, is a Hatchet opinions writer.

Last spring, I decided to relive an aspect of my freshman year — back when I was carefree and willing to experiment with my class schedule.

So when registering for my senior year classes, I signed up for a summer class in a subject completely unrelated to both of my two majors — or so I had thought.

Initially, I deemed “Introduction to International Politics” both interesting and far removed from my quantitative economics and math course load. So naturally, I was shocked on day one to see that principles of economics, game theory and statistics composed a large a chunk of the syllabus — almost as much as the course’s conventional political science material.

I was initially intrigued by the unusual nature of this class, which combined at least three different subject areas. I ended up loving it.

A course that highlights the parallels between two different subjects has real, tangible benefits for students. It could also create interesting combinations for students, like partnerships last year between Corcoran faculty and the physics, anthropology and chemistry departments. Making more cross-linked courses available would not only give students a wider range of electives from which to choose, but would also help them become more well-rounded.

Although the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences and the GW Business School have recently taken the initiative to cross-link several courses in finance, students don’t have access to nearly enough of these options. The University’s schedule of classes also lists a few courses that are labeled as interdisciplinary, but they’re very limited in their subject areas and scope.

Broadening the range of interdisciplinary classes available is also a part of the University’s 10-year strategic plan — which gives them all the reason to create more.

Being in a primarily discussion-centric course full of political science majors gave me the chance to engage with, debate with and exchange very distinct schools of thought with a group that was radically different than what I’m used to. Being the only economics major in the room also placed me in a unique position: I was the student my professor called on for an economist’s perspective on issues he was analyzing as a political scientist. The resulting classroom debates were invaluable in broadening my thinking.

Unfortunately, since interdisciplinary classes like the one I took aren’t well-marked, many students miss out on learning the parallels between their major and other fields of study. Advisers from different schools should work closely together to help students find these opportunities.

If we broke down some of the walls between GW’s schools, students would be able to grapple with a much wider array of questions. More cross-listed courses would also serve the interests of departments facing a shortage of instructors by allowing greater mobility between them.

Of course, caught in the race of checking off degree requirements and graduating on time, it’s difficult to find the space to truly experiment and move beyond one’s major.

But by continuing to develop interdisciplinary courses, officials can help us make some time to explore.

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