They could be anywhere. Playing the piano at the crossroads, in a computer programming or apparel design class or implementing changes for one of the many campus resources provided for students.

Interdisciplinary studies majors.

But who are these mysterious students? What do they even do? What does it mean to be “interdisciplinary,” anyway?

For some of these students, the answers are as complex and fluid as a Christopher Nolan film. For others, the answer is whatever one wants it to be.

“It’s creating groups of people from different specialties to solve problems,” said Ezrie Thacker, a senior studying interdisciplinary studies.

IDS students, and any others who are interested, can participate in ELEVATE, an event that encourages students to practice collaboration and leadership.

IDS students, and any others who are interested, can participate in ELEVATE, an event that encourages students to practice collaboration and leadership. Photo credit: Briona McGregor

Interdisciplinary studies, or IDS as it is called by the people in the program, appeals to students looking to build a custom degree. Many IDS majors are interested in everything and anything and do not like to be pinned down. Others know exactly what specialization they would like to pursue, but it isn’t offered as a conventional degree on campus.

Interdisciplinary, as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary means, “involving two or more academic, scientific or artistic disciplines.”

In the case of the IDS department, this frequently means finding a gap where very few or no experts specialize and making it one’s own.

Chris Wilson, an interdisciplinary studies professor at BYU-Idaho, uses an example in the classes he teaches. He asks his students where the disciplines of anthropology and sound design meet.

“Typically, we would dig a site and we would have the history of physical things: a pot, a building,” said Wilson. “But what did it sound like back then? What are the sounds of history?”

Wilson would then describe to his class a group of sound designers and anthropologists that went to the “Oracle of Delphi” to capture the history of sound. Together they created a new field.

“And now,” Wilson said, “we know what it sounded like thousands of years ago.”

Chris Wilson introducing his IDS 101 class to the day's objectives.

Chris Wilson introducing his IDS 101 class to the day's objectives. Photo credit: Briona McGregor

The first IDS class students have to take is IDS 101, Introduction to Interdisciplinary Studies, where students work on a group project that attempts to bring all the group member’s disciplines together to solve a problem in the community, the home or at church.

The students taking Intro to Interdisciplinary Studies this semester are not all in this major. Some are English, computer engineering, recreational management or history majors.

Wilson, as the professor of the class, has a name that fits all of them, though: Interdisciplinarians.

“It can be hard to describe what exactly an interdisciplinarian is … but it’s become more accepted throughout the world that problems are interdisciplinary,” Wilson said. “If you have some ideas of what you want to do and what spaces you want to work in, interdisciplinary studies lets you keep your flexibility to do the things that would not be done if you had declared a specialty.”

Wilson, an interdisciplinarian himself, has taught various courses including, History of East Asia, Peace 101, Intro to Interdisciplinary Studies, Reading in the Content Area and Literacy for Adults.

“I’ve always had interests that are very broad,” Wilson said. “I couldn’t decide in school because I loved everything. It didn’t matter if it was science or math. I had my strengths and talents, but I just loved learning. So I refuse sometimes to really narrow to one thing.”

Students in IDS 101 practice their management and problem-solving skills.

Students in IDS 101 practice their management and problem-solving skills. Photo credit: Briona McGregor

The Office of Academic Success and Interdisciplinary Studies hollows out a place in a busy campus for students. They have vision and enthusiasm for learning but are not offered a specialized degree that fits their desires.

The department chose its name carefully. The acronym spells Oasis.

“We’re an oasis for travelers,” Wilson said. “They rest, they plan, they meet interesting people at the oasis that change their path of where they were headed.”

Natalia Downs-Ward, an alumna of the Interdisciplinary Studies program, describes the oasis as having a student-focused approach, with teachers tailoring courses to individual students and helping them apply a broad range of skills.

“The department is always willing to listen and adjust their approach to meet the needs of their students,” said Logan Weaver, a junior in the interdisciplinary studies program. “They’re constantly researching the job market and skills needed and organizing guest speakers and workshops to provide valuable insights.”

The IDS department encourages their students to put their skills to use outside of the classroom, as well.