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Elizabeth James designed a major that combined several of her interests. (Courtesy)

Junior Elizabeth James wanted to study philosophy, religion, and politics, so she created her own major that incorporates all three disciplines: International Affairs.

“It’s basically understanding the reasons decisions are made, so understanding the religious reasons as to why people in politics make certain decisions, and the philosophical side of it,” James said.

Even before James came to Hillsdale, she considered the possibility of studying something in the international affairs and relations field.

“It’s a super common major at a lot of other colleges,” James said. “My sister has an International Studies degree from her college, and my grandfather got one when he was in college.”

Inspired by her family members and also her traveling experiences, James knew that a major like International Affairs would be a perfect fit.

“I knew I really wanted to go into it because I had been traveling a lot in my youth and my parents are really big into ‘opening your horizons,’” James said. “I came to Hillsdale and I was like, ‘There’s a lot of cool stuff to study,’ but I was always really drawn to understanding people and understanding other cultures. I wanted to be majoring in something that I feel super passionate about.”  

The road to creating her own major was long and required a lot of time and planning. James began thinking about this major more than a year ago when she consulted her advisor, professor of philosophy James Stephens.

Stephens said that he was not surprised by James’ ambitions to create her own major.

“Since she came here, she’s been interested in broadening her horizons, taking classes in areas that might not be relevant to a major, that weren’t part of the core, but looked interesting: things she thought a well-educated person should know about,” Stephens said.

Having experience with previous students creating majors, Stephens was willing to help James and guide her through the process.

“I explained what needed to be done,” he said. “Elizabeth did the work, and she did the work well.”

Stephens noted that students do not often create their own majors. Nonetheless, he said that he thinks this is useful for some students.

“It’s possible with a little ingenuity and effort to create all kinds of different majors that satisfy the catalogue’s requirements,” Stephens said. “I don’t think that creations of the human mind, soul, and spirit always fit neatly into the different departmental structure. Such interdisciplinary majors seem to me to be very appropriate things for students to do at Hillsdale.”

James spent about a year sketching out class schedules, meeting with professors, and finally writing a proposal for the Educational Policies Committee. Professor of politics Mickey Craig recently signed off on her proposal.

James’ original plan was to have 42 credits in the major, but after submitting the proposal, committee members suggested that she make the major a little smaller so it would be more doable. Now, the major is comprised of 36 credit hours from each of the departments she aimed to combine, 28 of which need to be at least at a 300 level.

“Hopefully I can get it all done in time and graduate on time,” James said.