Mar 05, 2021  
2018-2019 Undergraduate Catalog 
2018-2019 Undergraduate Catalog [ARCHIVED CATALOG]

Individually Structured Major - Interdisciplinary Studies BA

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Please click here  to see Individually Structured Major department information.

The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Interdisciplinary Studies Major (ISM) provides students with the opportunity to construct an individualized major that meets their unique needs and interests, and which results in a B.A.. This flexible program allows students to follow academic pursuits that transcend traditional department or college boundaries, combining coursework from two, three, or even more academic units to explore a particular theme. An ISM tends to be more focused than traditional majors and should not be considered a default major for students uncertain about their course of study.

These degree requirements are subject to periodic revision by the academic department, and the College reserves the right to make exceptions and substitutions as judged necessary in individual cases. Therefore, the College strongly urges students to consult regularly with their major advisor and CLAS advisor to confirm the best plans of study before finalizing them.

Program Delivery

  • This is an on-campus program.

Declaring This Major

  • Click here to go to general information about declaring a major
  • In order to declare an Interdisciplinary Studies Major, students are required to submit a program plan that includes a proposal and a course contract. Students should aim to complete a program plan before the end of the sophomore year. The proposal should be approved before students have taken one-third of the classes listed in their course contracts. Copies of your completed ISM proposal and course contract must be filed with the Associate Dean for Diversity, Outreach and Initiatives and with your CLAS Academic Advisor.
  • The ISM proposal must include
    • A description of your chosen theme (see below for sample themes).
    • An explanation of why the theme requires coursework that integrates multiple disciplines. You can choose a theme within interdisciplinary frameworks already established in CLAS but which do not offer BA degrees. These frameworks include Chinese Studies, Health Humanities, Law Studies, Religious Studies, Social Justice, Sustainability, and Women’s and Gender Studies. You are also encouraged to create your own frameworks.
    • An outline of specific learning objectives for the ISM (see below for sample learning objectives).
    • Approval from the Associate Dean for Diversity, Outreach and Initiatives.
  • Your ISM course contract must include
    • A list of the courses in your chosen disciplines and the optional “grab bag” of courses that you intend to apply to your ISM, as well as potential alternate courses. You should work closely with the Associate Dean for Diversity, Outreach and Initiatives and faculty advisors in your chosen disciplines to create your course contract.
    • Signatures from your chosen Primary Faculty Advisor from one of your main disciplines and signatures from Faculty Advisors from your other main disciplines. You do not need a faculty advisor for grab bag courses.
    • Signature from your Academic Advisor.
    • Signature from the Associate Dean for Diversity, Outreach and Initiatives.

General Requirements

To earn a degree, students must satisfy all requirements in each of the areas below, in addition to their individual major requirements.

Program Requirements

The ISM program plan requires course work over two or three disciplines. A discipline is defined as a single department or program such as biology, ethnic studies or math. The ISM program plan must comply with the following policies:

  1. ISM students must be in good academic standing, with a GPA of 2.0 or greater overall.
  2. Students must achieve a minimum grade of C in all courses to be counted for an ISM.
  3. The ISM proposal should be approved before students have taken one-third of the classes listed in their course contracts.
  4. Once the ISM course contract is filed, any changes to coursework must be approved by the student’s Primary Faculty Advisor and resubmitted to the Associate Dean for Diversity, Outreach and Initiatives and to the student’s CLAS Academic Advisor.
  5. In addition to ISMA 3100 and ISMA 4900 (or pre-approved alternatives), students must take at least 18 upper division credit hours (9 each in Discipline 1 and Discipline II).
  6. A minimum of 24 ISM credit hours must be completed with CU Denver faculty (at least 9 credits in each of your main disciplines).
  7. Between 48 and 54 semester hours are allowed for the program plan.
  8. A minimum of 30 semester hours must be completed in liberal arts and sciences course work.
  9. A maximum of one discipline (15 credits) may be outside CLAS.
  10. A third optional discipline may be a mixture of course work, excluding courses from the first and second disciplines.
  11. An ISM title must be consistent with the academic theme and disciplines in the program plan.
  12. Students may petition the Associate Dean for Diversity, Outreach and Initiatives to fulfill their introduction and capstone outside of ISMA 3100 and ISMA 4900.
Roles and Responsibilities


  • creates the ISM proposal and course contract (in collaboration with faculty advisors)
  • meets regularly with ISM Primary Advisor to assess progress through ISM
  • fulfills requirements of ISM course contract

Associate Dean for Diversity, Outreach and Initiatives

  • approves student proposals for ISM
  • signs off on ISM course contracts
  • maintains records of ISM applications
  • certifies graduation

Primary Faculty Advisor

  • approves ISM course contract
  • meets with ISM advisees to monitor progress
  • oversees advisees’ capstone projects

Other Faculty Advisors

  • approve course contract
  • help with capstone projects when needed

CLAS Academic Advisor

  • reviews overall course contract
  • approves exempt core area
ISM Coursework Requirements

Students must complete a total of between 48 and 54 credit hours towards their ISM.

ISMA 3100 - Learning Across Disciplines  (3 credit hours)
This course introduces students to interdisciplinary thinking, methods, and writing. Examining a compelling issue chosen by the instructor (for example, hunger, human trafficking, healthcare reform, or war and PTSD), students will learn what kinds of questions require thinking beyond a single discipline, how interdisciplinary scholars combine the theories and methods of a variety of fields, and how to approach the challenges of interdisciplinary writing. The final project for INST 3100 requires students to combine the thinking, methods, and writing at least two disciplines in an interdisciplinary project. Prerequisite: approval of ISM application (permission number).

Interdisciplinary Coursework (42-48 credit hours)
While the ISM requires students to take a minimum of 15 credit hours in each of two disciplines, students can fulfill the remainder of their credit hours by contracting with additional disciplines or by creating a “grab bag”: choosing courses from a variety of disciplines that suit their ISM plan. Up to 15 credit hours for an ISM can come from outside of CLAS.

Sample breakdowns of what ISM coursework might look like:
Discipline I: 15 hours
Discipline II: 15 hours
Discipline III: 9 hours
Discipline IV: 9 hours
Total: 48 credit hours

Discipline I: 18 hours
Discipline II: 15 hours
“Grab Bag” from four disciplines: 12 hours
Total: 45 credit hours

Discipline I: 24 hours
Discipline II: 18 hours
Total: 42 credit hours

ISMA 4900: Interdisciplinary Studies Capstone  (3 credit hours)
Thgis course brings together students who have been working on their individualized majors to share a capstone experience. The goal of the ISM capstone is for students to put their interdisciplinary learning into action - whether through a traditional research project or an experiential learning project. All ISM students must produce a final project that demonstrates their abilities to pose an interdisciplinary question and synthesize the theories, methods, and analytical perspectives of their chosen disciplines to answer that question. While working with their Primary Faculty Advisors on their capstone projects, students meet to discuss their experiences and to get feedback from each other as their projects develop. Grades will be determined by the instructor of record in consultation with each student’s Primary Faculty Advisor. Prerequisite: INST 3100 and Capstone proposal approved by faculty advisor.
Students may petition the Associate Dean for Diversity, Outreach and Initiatives to fulfill their capstones outside of INST 4900.


Examples of Interdisciplinary Studies Major themes could include:

  • Global Health
  • Victorian Studies
  • Gender and Media
  • Applied Sciences
  • Urban Studies
  • Consumers and Consumption
  • Disability Studies
  • Health and Sexuality
  • Human Rights
  • Human-centered design and innovation
  • Food Studies
  • Science, Technology, and Society
  • Latin American Studies

An example course contract for Global Health could look like:

Discipline I: Anthropology
ANTH 1000 Anthropology: Past and Present OR ANTH 2102: Culture and the Human Experience
ANTH 3032 Anthropology of Health Care Policy
ANTH 3210 Urban Food Systems and Sustainability
ANTH 4080 Global Health Practice (Travel Study Course)
ANTH 4300 Migrant Health

Discipline II: Public Health
PBHL 2001 Introduction to Public Health
PBHL 3041 Health, Culture, and Society
PBHL 3070 Perspectives in Global Health
PBHL 3071 Global Topics in Sexual and Reproductive Health
PBHL 4020 Global Health: Comparative Public Health Systems

Grab Bag
COMM 4500 Health Communication
ECON 4660 Health Economics
GEOG 3501 Geography of Health
HIST 4346 Medicine and Society: Ancients to the Present
SOCY 3440 Medical Sociology

Example of learning objectives for the ISM in Global Health:

Develop knowledge of current global health issues.

  • Identify the theories, methods, and analytical perspectives of anthropology and public health to understand global health systems.
  • Synthesize the theories, methods, and analytical perspectives of anthropology and public health, with input from other disciplines, to answer interdisciplinary questions.
  • Communicate ideas effectively in writing and through speaking.
  • Critically evaluate a variety of textual and statistical evidence.
  • Demonstrate ethical approaches to studying a variety of cultural perspectives.

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