Interdisciplinary Studies Program aids students on a nontraditional path


Melissa Anderson, at left, hopes to be an academic advisor. Anderson, who took a winding path to South Dakota State, conducted research and wrote a thesis paper on international students.

Not everyone who graduates from high school has a clear-cut college and career plan, and Melissa Anderson can attest to that.

Anderson is a traditional-age student whose nontraditional path landed her at SDSU.

She has many interests and picking just one college path was a challenge. That’s where the interdisciplinary studies program at SDSU came in. This major, a unique program housed under the College of Arts and Sciences, offers students the opportunity to develop individualized study from two or more disciplines. Students are allowed to integrate different majors into their plan of study, which encompasses the knowledge, skills and abilities they wish to embrace. The IDL major is designed to serve students whose educational interests do not fall within established majors at SDSU and who want a more diverse perspective.

Anderson’s focuses are on business, psychology, sociology and human development. She plans to use all of these tools to help her become a professional academic adviser after graduation.

Anderson received an associate degree in academic arts and applied science from Northeast Community College in Norfolk, Nebraska. After attending Wayne State (Neb.) College, Anderson found her way to SDSU, where she has honed her skills by interning in academic settings. In fall 2014, Anderson completed an internship with Jessica Lewis, a professional adviser with the college. Anderson received real-life experience by helping guide students through their decisions.

In spring 2015, Anderson interned with the First-Year Advising Center. She helped incoming freshmen sign up for classes and aided them with the adjustment to college life. Between her two internships, Anderson has been able to see different sides of the advising structure. The IDL program provided the space and time to help Anderson develop skills and knowledge.

Lewis has worked closely with Anderson and has watched the transition from when she arrived at State.

“Melissa has gained career direction, enhanced her confidence and increased knowledge in university and college requirements and the procedures for carrying them out,” Lewis said.

Anderson has adjusted to SDSU and said that, compared to her other schools, “SDSU digs in deeper and has allowed her to build her writing, academic and communication skills.” SDSU welcomes many transfer students like Anderson. Lewis said she thinks transfer students decide on SDSU for the opportunity, quality, affordability, locality and diversity of academic programs.

Katherine Erdman Becker specializes in IDL and has worked closely with Anderson through her transition. Students tend to find the IDL program by referrals from other departments and students already in the program, Erdman Becker said. The program was initially created to provide education to a distance-learning market and students took classes online. In the past few years, the program has grown and classes are now being offered on main campus.

Erdman Becker works with advisers on the main campus and at University Centers to refer potential students to the program. Although IDL is not affiliated with any department, the program averages about 65 majors.

Some majors call for study abroad and service-learning opportunities. Because of those requirements, the IDL students get hired and are accepted into graduate school at high rates, Erdman Becker said.

“Melissa’s service learning and field experience has provided a place of transition and transformation from student to future student affairs professional,” Lewis said.

IDL students stay busy during their senior year by conducting research and writing an undergrad thesis paper. In fall 2014, Anderson conducted research and wrote a thesis paper on international students. She studied how they made the transition to the United States and their experiences. She looked at how students were affected by the new culture, how they handled homesickness and adjusting to a new place. In spring 2015, Anderson conducted surveys and studied patterns and behaviors of international students. Being a transfer student, Anderson could connect with these international students, and it helped her conduct her research.

Along with being involved with the IDL program and her internships, Anderson is involved in Navigators, a Christian community on campus. Her college route has featured different twists and turns, which has only added to her experiences.

“What has impressed me about Melissa is her maturity and ability to work strategically toward her goals,” Erdman Becker said.

Anderson understands what it is like to transfer between multiple colleges and will use her experiences when helping future students.

“Melissa has the qualities and skills to make a great academic adviser with her can-do attitude, authenticity and professionalism,” Lewis said.

Anderson knows from experience the various paths a college career can take and is looking forward to helping guide students through their own experiences. Sometimes not knowing where you are going leads you to exactly where you are supposed to be.

Pazlie Hagedorn

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