Interdisciplinary Self-Designed Program (MALS/IDS) FAQs

What is DePaul’s Interdisciplinary Self-Designed Program?  Why should you check it out?  Who are the students?  Welcome to our most frequently asked questions. If you are a passionate, curious learner, an independent worker with a self-constructed academic and professional purpose, DePaul’s Master of Arts in Liberal Studies (MALS) and Master of Arts/Science In Interdisciplinary Studies Program (IDS) is definitely worth checking out!

I’ve been working with MALS/IDS students for over a decade now, and I can assure you this is no cookie-cutter program. Each student designs, implements, and fulfils his or her highly individualized course of graduate studies that extend throughout DePaul’s incredibly diverse graduate course offerings.

From the application process through program completion, students exercise choice and create courses of study that are varied, rigorous, and fulfilling.

Our program provides the structure and guidance; our students provide the inspiration.

What makes the program “interdisciplinary,” and why is that important? Interdisciplinary Studies means that students select courses from multiple disciplines throughout the university. Depending on your interests and goals, you pursue combinations of study using our program guidelines to create a unique, self-constructed outcome.

It’s important because those connections reflect the many complexities and connections that exist in the world, as our students discover. ISD offers the opportunity to explore connections that matter. Unlike traditional single-subject programs, ISD encourages exploration of uniquely varied possibilities.

What are some examples of our MALS/IDS students’ customized programs? 

The choices are so diverse that it’s best to illustrate by example. And the best examples come directly from our past and current students.


Nan Zabriskie, IDS, 2014

For instance, you might see a connection between existing business practices and new understanding of emerging technology. Nan Zabriskie (IDS 2014) envisioned creating a city theatre space that incorporates the newest green technology. She took courses in Environmental ScienceUrban Studies, Theatre Management, and Public Policy.

Frank Chaten

Dr. Frank Chaten, MALS, 2012

Or, if you have been involved in your profession for many years and long to expand your grasp of the humanities in a new way that will enhance your contributions to your current profession, you might want to do something similar to what Dr. Frank Chaten (MALS 2012) did. A busy pediatrician with a highly sensitive specialization, he longed to read the classics deeply and discuss his reactions in an adult academic community. As the result of his return to traditional Liberal Arts literature, philosophy, and ethics studies, he wrote an important paper on how pediatricians can incorporate the time-honored values found in classical literature to help patients and health care providers consider cultural differences in end-of-life and organ donor options.

Must ISD students adhere strictly to their initial proposals or can they change direction?

Some students begin their MALS/IDS studies with a firm notion of goals/outcomes built in to their application materials. Others want to dive into academia to rediscover the joy of learning that sometimes gets lost in the course of well, being an adult— work, family, community obligations. Some of the results are life altering in big, colorful ways. Some results are quieter, but equally enriching.

For instance, Vesna Lazar began her MALS studies having been away from school for quite a while. Having been many things in her previous lives, an artist, a small business owner, a parent, a club manager, she wanted explore new directions. Vesna enrolled in one of DePaul’s many Study Abroad courses, first going to Berlin on a Post WWII Architectural and Cultural studies program. She was hooked—and went on to participate in Study Abroad trips to Cuba, Viet Nam, and South America. While she traveled, she sketched and she wrote. Her academics included travel writing courses, international studies, non-fiction writing, art and architecture, and cultural diversity. Her culminating project showcased a collection of her artwork and travel essays. Throughout her studies, she found and honed an emerging voice that is well worth hearing. She’s off, as I write, to teach art and writing to preschoolers in China for the next year— also an unexpected turn, fueled by her recent studies.


Vesna Laza, MALS, 2013

Anne Walchak, IDS 2015, took a year off teaching to recharge her teaching batteries; her initial goal was to bolster her knowledge outside of the school of education. Using DePaul’s Digication platform to explore new ways to develop her own course design, she created a series of digital lesson plans that will invigorate her teaching techniques when she returns to her position this fall. She also re-learned what it is like to be a student, which is invaluable experience for any teacher, in fact, for anyone who learns. She took courses in Education, EnglishDigital Design, Foreign Language and Communication.

Anne Resource Page

Anne Walchak’s resource page for fellow educators provides a wealth of teaching strategies.

In just the few examples I’ve shared, I realize that I have named over a dozen disciplines that are taught throughout DePaul University. Students choose diverse courses and create outcomes that can be any/all of the following: unique, practical, revolutionary, enriching, re-affirming.

How do students market their unique degrees? What resources can ISD students draw from?

It would be great to be able to say “these degrees sell themselves.” But as you know, that’s just not true of most degrees in the current job market. Job seekers and job advancers need to be pro-active and creative in how they market their unique skill sets and knowledge bases.

DePaul offers excellent support service in all aspects of academics and professional development. ISD  works closely with Career Center specialists who deal specifically with adult career changers and highly individualized degrees.  DePaul’s Writing Center and the Career Center offer extensive workshops and one-on-one help for all stages of the job process, from resume writing to interview skills and portfolio-building.

No, the degrees don’t sell themselves, but DePaul’s excellent support systems empower our graduates to maximize the results of their challenging and rewarding work.

What about academic advisement? Who works with MALS/IDS students throughout their studies? 

Self-constructed programs do not mean that students remain isolated without advisement. ISD Director David Gitomer and Associate Director Susan Jacobs are always available for individualized consultation, professional references, and network-building. Once students dive into their self-constructed programs, they may also work closely with professors and mentors in any of the areas in which they study.

Start your educational journey today by contacting the DePaul Interdisciplinary Self-Designed Program.

posted by Susan Jacobs, ISD Associate Director