Calling for a cohesive independent study curriculum
The first of Ithaca College’s five bullet points regarding the IC 20/20 mission is to “Encourage integration across IC’s five schools,” according to the college website’s “Office of the Provost” page. I can think of no better way to achieve this than through an increase of independent studies that are equally encouraged and supported across the five schools.
As a second semester junior in the school of music, I have completed three independent studies so far at IC. My sophomore year I worked on a study through the Spanish department that involved looking at the Spanish folk-music tradition known as flamenco through the lens of the work of the Spanish poet Federico García Lorca. Not only was the in-depth research process stimulating, but this study also presented an opportunity for me to go into Spanish classes and give a presentation on my findings. I was able to combine a musical performance with Lorca’s poetry and the basic geography and history of these peoples, all while presenting my own conclusions on how flamenco culture can influence music across social boundaries. This experience was valuable to me in a way that no classroom experience has ever been. It gave me the opportunity to delve deeply into a scholarly field that interested me, to learn how to put together a 50-minute presentation and to expose non-music students to what goes on inside Whalen’s walls.
I am currently enrolled in a course called Entrepreneurship in Music and the Arts, which is held in the school of music. The room is sweaty and cramped, filled with undergrads and graduate students hoping to learn about how to make it in the real world as a music school graduate. On the first day our professor, James Undercofler, showed us a slide with a definition of entrepreneurship on it. The quote stated, “we understand entrepreneurship to mean the transformation of an idea into an enterprise that creates value — economic, social, cultural or intellectual.” Ironically enough, in a school full of students yearning to learn how to succeed at this exact goal, one of the tools most suited to learning how to do this is discouraged and underappreciated. The same school that is teaching us to value creative, innovative ways of forming enterprises ought to be paying more attention to an educational opportunity that inspires these diverse forms of thinking: independent studies.
Doing independent research requires you to identify a problem and use every resource at your disposal — including personal creativity — to come up with solutions or answers to your questions. In the confines of a class room, where we learn the individual tools that make up our toolbox of knowledge, we are rarely faced with the challenge of taking an idea and turning it into a reality; a process that results in this entrepreneurial spirit.
I have come across a number of bureaucratic methods and excuses that work to keep students from being able to facilitate the process of acquiring an independent study. I have been told by professors as well as administrators that professors do not get compensated specifically for advising independent studies, which begs the question: what does that say about how IC values independent studies? This response shows a student that the faculty and administration do not value independent studies, and it undermines the incredible amount of work that students put into them. I have also had to struggle with petty details and errors such as filling out a few too many hours on my application in the space intended for meeting time with my advisor. In the School of Music, advising time is discouraged because studies are intended to be as independent as possible, whereas in the School of the Humanities and Sciences advising time must constitute a substantial part of your work hours, since collaboration and discussion are more highly valued. These nuances have resulted in my not being able to receive three credits for a study that ended up taking at least the same, if not more time and energy than any three-credit class I have yet to take at IC.
Not only is the work load for these studies substantial, but having created, completed, and cared for a personal learning objective helps to build the confidence and skills necessary to tackle entrepreneurial as well as intellectual challenges. If these are goals that IC is serious about working towards, then each and every school should be searching for these opportunities for students, and working together to ensure that every student, regardless of school, is getting the same message.
Emma Markham is a junior performance and guitar major who likes flamenco music and cheetos. Email her at emarkha1[at]ithaca.edu.