DePaul’s MALS/IDS: Turn Here to Exit the Beaten Path! Explore Innovative Alternatives to Traditional MBA Programs

by Susan Jacobs

Janet Kidd, in her Chicago Tribune, May 18 article Charting a Different Course, begins her article by saying “Getting an MBA is still the logical step toward the corner office, but more students are veering off the beaten path. Business schools increasingly are offering a wide range of specialized degrees or partnering with sibling departments within their universities to mix business and a host of other disciplines.” Let’s extend our academic and professional definition of interdisciplinary studies and describe how DePaul University’s interdisciplinary MALS and IDS programs stand on their own. MALS and IDS students build their own customized, graduate programs, which often serve as creative alternatives to traditional MBA programs.

DePaul’s Master of Arts in Liberal Studies (MALS) and Master of Arts/Science in Interdisciplinary Studies (IDS)  have inspired students from diverse educational and professional backgrounds to develop innovative degrees for several decades. And as our alumni Laura McGlaughlin (IDS 2012) says in the Trib article, our graduates do have to explain their unique degrees to prospective employers, that is, unless they’re off launching their own corporations, as Laura has done. MALS and IDS students, within the parameters of each program, may draw from multiple areas throughout the University to self-construct their own Master’s Degree programs.

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According to our program guidelines, each individual curriculum must be truly interdisciplinary. Students choose from a variety of 12 or 13 course options (48 or 52 credit hours); they may choose no more than six courses from any particular school or discipline, and no more than five from DePaul’s Kellstadt School of Business.

Our students have proposed and completed some incredibly creative academic and professional study programs. Some students start with a very fixed notion of the exact courses they intend to take, and have already identified a professional or academic niche they intend to fill. For instance, Kyle Moses (IDS 2010) knew from the start that he wanted to combine disability studies with improv comedy and psychology courses.  In addition to traditionally offered courses, he added internships with Piven Theatre, Second City and Improv Olympics. He pulled in a couple of courses in disability studies from a neighboring university, and leveraged his self-constructed degree to support his successful candidacy to a PhD program in New York.

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Kiel Moses (IDS 2012) presents his culminating project.

Other students use their studies to pursue avenues of thought they have longed to explore. Dr. Frank Chaten (MALS 2012), a physician, decided after 20 years of practicing pediatric critical care medicine, that parts of his brain needed to be reawakened by studying issues apart from his narrow field of work. He discovered what he refers to as the challenge of choosing unanticipated paths. While his thesis brought him back to medical issues relating to tissue donation, he combined courses in philosophy, religion, ethics and literature to support his thesis. Scroll through our blog and check into our issues of Convergence to read many more profiles of who our students are and what they’ve done.

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Dr. Gitomer, MALS/IDS Director chats with Dr. Frank Chaten, MALS Graduate

As a program administrator and academic advisor, I am well-aware of the challenges our working adult students face. They juggle family, work and academics as they push forward. They deal with financial stress, daily life, and ongoing questions of what their efforts will lead to. Graduate studies are rigorous, and our economy promises uncertain outcomes. So, back to that question: how do our students market their unique interdisciplinary degrees?

Whether our students are trying to progress in a given field, switch careers, or are pursuing personal enrichment, they use our programs’ flexibility to strengthen not only what they can offer the workplace, but also to enhance their own sense of personal fulfillment. So while our degrees are not comparable to the known qualities of an MBA, CPA or other traditional degrees, our students can articulate very specific individualized skill sets and critical thinking skills that more traditional graduates haven’t yet exercised. And our students are well-supported by DePaul’s Career Center and academic advisors from the students’ first proposals to culminating projects— each student is well-supported in their efforts to enter whatever the next stage is they wish to explore.

Our students don’t just “think outside the box.” They create new paradigms, they see more possibilities, they know how to combine varied problem-solving options that  are most definitely marketable. If you think of our economy as similar to any career changing adult who must rethink, retool and redirect, those students who step beyond the expected and create their own directions are uniquely qualified to add to that corporate setting as it also changes paths.

I think that if we look at economic trends in relation to educational cycles, these forces are always aware of each other, but not always in synch. Over the past 10 years, we’ve seen seismic shifts in technology jobs, corporate structures, evolving new industries—- with economic stressors, it seems almost impossible to predict what professions will be in demand. We can’t all be managers; we can’t all be CEOs; and we certainly can’t all be one of anything. MALS/IDS graduates are those students who recognize that various blends of the many possible areas of expertise are going to be very useful in the evolving marketplace.

When our 2012 graduates gathered for an afternoon celebration, hearing about how their different backgrounds, goals and accomplishments was so encouraging, not just because of how unique each was, but because of how each graduate had actualized individualized ideas and intentions. Each of our students can market unique outlooks and skill sets; MALS and IDS produces active thinkers and successful doers.

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DePaul’s MALS and IDS students share their diverse accomplishments at our Spring Gathering