A new major is coming to town


Rebecca Flieder

Professor of Political Science David Plazek.

Amidst an ongoing conversation about the future of academics at Northern Vermont University, three departments are finding common ground in a new major.
Professor of Political Science David Plazek, Professor of Anthropology and Sociology Janet Bennion and Associate Professor of Writing and Literature Elizabeth Powell have come together to create a new interdisciplinary major dubbed the “Integrated Liberal Arts and Social Sciences” major.
The new major, which is planned for release in the fall 2021 semester, will draw from the Humanities and Social Sciences as well as the English programs. Plans to integrate relevant math courses are in the works, giving the program a well-rounded feel to its approach. The core concept of this new major is to provide a comprehensive set of liberal arts skills that will afford students with ample opportunities for their lives beyond college.
“This is the type of degree that sets you up for a lot of career options,” Plazek said. “[the degree] will set you up for a business degree, non-profit work, government work, grad school or human services.”
This brand of interdisciplinary program originated at places like Stanford University and the University of Wisconsin in response to declining enrollment for the school’s Humanities and Social Sciences programs. Plazek notes that NVU has seen similar declines in enrollment in its own programs, and he was intrigued by the possibility of an interdisciplinary approach. His colleague in the endeavor, Janet Bennion, is enthusiastic about the possibilities that the new program will open up.
“Everyone who worked on it is excited about it,” Bennion said of the design process. “It involves Anthropology, Sociology, English and the Humanities.”
The Integrated Liberal Arts and Social Sciences major will include selected courses from each of the aforementioned disciplines and even a few math courses, such as statistics, to fill out the program. The utility of a multidiscipline approach is its largest selling point, and was designed with students in mind, particularly those who have a broad interest in multiple topics.
”I had already been talking with Liz Powell about doing such things, because we would bump into each other and have students talking about the stuff we were covering in our classes,” Plazek said. “We said, ‘we need to collaborate, we need to work together because we are working on the same type of things.”
Students who opt into this major may choose to specialize in one of the four larger branches of study, and there are plans to have internships for each of the main disciplines. Bennion said that she would be taking on the role of the internship coordinator for her section of the program and was looking to emphasize travel as one means of completing the requirement.
While the target audience is primarily incoming students who will be fresh into their majors, the degree will support students who might be later in their academic career and are looking to make a switch.
Plans to work with the Humanities department at NVU-Lyndon, and the Political Science department at Castleton are under way, with the hope that all three of the campuses will have something to add to the major. In its current iteration, the major will be able to be fulfilled with classes from either NVU campus, a decision that was important to both Plazek and Bennion.
The new major has passed the curricular board and is now awaiting final approval by the VSCS Board of Trustees.
Given the wide array of subject material that will be covered in the Integrated Liberal Arts and Social Sciences major, students with an interest in a well-rounded liberal arts education might find the new offering to be to their liking.

Professor of Anthropology and Sociology Janet Bennion. (Janet Bennion)