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Michael D. Burke
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Integrated Studies is an innovative academic program designed to introduce first-year students to methods of interdisciplinary analysis and interpretation, and to encourage them to use those methods to explore important questions about varied aspects of human experience. Taken together, integrated studies courses provide a strong foundation in the liberal arts, on which students can build during their four years at Colby.
Each year, the Program organizes several “clusters” of three courses that focus on a relatively brief historical period, studying that era from the perspectives of different disciplines. Students must sign up for all three courses. Integrated Studies clusters allow students to explore a subject in great depth, working closely with a team of three faculty members in small, seminar-style classes. In an era in which vast amounts of information are readily available, and superficial understanding easy to achieve, integrated studies students learn how to gain mastery of an important topic in considerable depth and from varied points of view. At the same time, the clusters provide a coherent context in which students can explore vital questions about human experience, pursuing an understanding of moral, political, aesthetic, spiritual, and epistemological issues as they are relevant to the cluster topic.
This intensive experience enables students to develop important intellectual capacities, including training in both disciplinary and interdisciplinary critical thinking and problem solving, critical writing, and meaningful participation in small group discussions. Each cluster also fulfills several all-College area distribution requirements, so each provides a broad, interdisciplinary liberal arts foundation for students' subsequent work at Colby. Most clusters also fulfill the first-year writing requirement, providing an intensive writing experience across all three courses.
An integrated studies cluster is a particularly good option for first-year students because it allows them to explore various disciplines in a way that is more coherent and focused than many first-year students' programs. It helps students to gain confidence in their ability to excel academically, and encourages their ongoing engagement with pressing questions that confront our nation and our world. At the same time, the three-course structure lets students pursue other interests, such as language study or a foundational course in a potential major.
Integrated Studies has also sponsored senior level, team-taught seminars on significant topics in the humanities, and we will offer more advanced seminars in the next few years. These seminars provide a context in which students can return to interdisciplinary study of a carefully focused topic at the end of their college careers, engaging that topic with the greater intellectual sophistication and rigor that their studies have enabled. These courses are team-taught by two faculty members, and explore the kinds of important moral, political, aesthetic, spiritual and cultural questions that well-educated citizens must engage in our increasingly complex, mobile, and diverse world.
The Integrated Studies Program is made possible by the generous support of the Christian A. Johnson Educational Foundation.