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When One Department Just Isn’t Enough: Digital Communications as an Interdisciplinary Major
01.25.13 |
To help students prepare for careers in a world that increasingly demands facility in multiple fields, the College has developed nine majors and one minor that cross traditional departmental boundaries. These interdisciplinary majors, in areas ranging from actuarial science to music recording technology and digital communications to mathematical sciences, are among the College’s fastest growing.

The broad focus of the digital communications major is to teach students to create visionary media solutions for business and communications clients, including designing and developing web pages, coordinating multimedia advertising campaigns, creating coherent product brand identities, and planning and executing marketing plans. Students can choose to concentrate in one of four areas within the major: design, business, communications, or computer science.

Dr. Jeff Ritchie, chair and associate professor of digital communications, acknowledges that designing the curriculum for an interdisciplinary major can be a challenge. “It runs the risk of being scattered,” he warned. “But these wildly disparate fields, if you look at them together, reveal remarkably interesting ideas, and that’s one of the real advantages I see in this curriculum. We want to create accomplished interdisciplinary thinkers who can see how these fields work together.”

Ritchie explained that the department built its curriculum around three ideas that run through all aspects of digital communications: innovation, problem-solving, and human-centered design. “For us, it’s a methodology of creating teams that find out what real people want and how real people interact with systems; then attempting to design products and systems that meet those needs and interactions.

“Ultimately, the interdisciplinary nature of the digital communications field itself drives the curriculum,” Ritchie said. “If you were to set about creating an advertising campaign, you would have to understand the business elements, be able to write clear copy, create convincing videos, and use technology to program a website that would support competent and enabling interactions,” he noted. “The intersection of disciplines is where you find creativity.”

Ritchie sees the plan working. “It seems that the industry really values this interdisciplinary approach,” he said. “Our students have been remarkably successful at securing jobs pretty quickly in our field.”

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