In the driver’s seat: Multidisciplinary option lets students customize their education

Nate Dobbels works with an agricultural education student with her class plan.
Nate Dobbels works with a multidisciplinary option student with her class plan.

By Madelyn Ostendorf

As students begin their college journey, they may have many topics they are interested in studying. The new multidisciplinary option for agricultural studies majors puts students in the driver’s seat, offering a way to navigate those many topics.

Within this option, students pick two areas of emphasis within the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and another emphasis area that can also be within CALS or from another academic program at Iowa State University.

The idea for the new option stemmed from a desire to make the agricultural studies major appealing not just to students interested in production agriculture and management, but to those interested in areas outside of agriculture.

“This program offers additional flexibility for students to explore their interests, both inside and outside of the college,” said Nathan Dobbels, academic advisor for agricultural education and studies. “Students are greatly interested in pursuing interdisciplinary studies, and this option can offer them that.”

Some students choose to take all three emphasis areas in CALS, while others opt to take an emphasis in areas like performing arts, psychology, philosophy or entrepreneurship studies. The program requires 15 credits in each area, including six credits each at the 3000 and 4000 level.

“Students are creating a well-rounded education because they're getting a variety of coursework, which allows them to be knowledgeable in multiple areas,” said Ben Chamberlain, student services specialist for agricultural education and studies. “That's really what creates successful students.”

When Zachary Riedemann started at Iowa State, he planned to major in chemical engineering. A few months into the school year, while training for the Army National Guard, he realized how little people knew about where their food came from. Growing up in a small farming community, Riedmann felt his calling was to spread the word about agriculture.

During an advising session with Dobbels, Riedemann learned about the multidisciplinary option and selected emphasis areas in agricultural leadership, agricultural communication and performing arts. In December, Riedmann will graduate with majors in performing arts and agricultural studies and a minor in learning and leadership sciences.

“If I had wanted to get a degree in all of these areas individually, it would have taken me a lot longer than four years,” Riedemann said. “With this option, I have expertise in these areas while graduating in a reasonable amount of time.”

Riedmann said he will use the skills he has gained in agricultural studies and performing arts in his career as an agricultural communicator.

Emily Plagman, a junior in agricultural studies and international agriculture with minors in agronomy and leadership studies, came to Iowa State knowing that the multidisciplinary option would be an excellent path for her.

“I met with Nate Dobbels to discuss the different program options offered through the AGEDS department,” Plagman said. “Nate informed me of the multi-option and the flexibility this major would offer me post-graduation.”

Plagman decided that her three areas of emphasis - agronomy, animal science and communications - would pair well with her intention of focusing on international agriculture and give her a plethora of experience that can be applied to a wide variety of careers.

She intends to travel abroad after graduation to gain more international experience to continue growing her list of skills.

Ian Latham, a senior in agricultural studies and international agriculture, chose to have all three of his emphasis areas within CALS - agricultural business, agronomy and entrepreneurship studies.

“I came to Iowa State as an agricultural business major, and I figured out pretty quickly that it wasn’t what I wanted to focus on,” Latham said. “Luckily during my freshman year, a CALS ambassador came down to my class and introduced us to the multidisciplinary option. I thought it was pretty cool that you could combine three different areas into one, which let me still learn about agricultural business and explore new areas without being too overwhelmed by each major.”

Latham visited Italy for a CALS Study Abroad trip and learned he was very interested in the wine and vineyard industry. With an emphasis on agronomy and entrepreneurship studies, he has a background that will allow him to return to Europe one day and start his own vineyard.

“If there's something that you're interested in, whether it's kinesiology, engineering or food science, you can take some agricultural courses and still pursue something that may or may not be included in that major,” Latham said. “The flexibility of the multidisciplinary option means two students in the option could have a completely different experience.”

When students declare the agricultural studies multidisciplinary option, they don’t have to immediately choose their three areas of study. They have time to explore and discover precisely what they want to do.

“This exploration and flexibility allow us to create meaningful relationships with our students,” Dobbels said. “When we have conversations about which courses will work for them, we get to know our students better. We can help them take ownership of their education.”