Oberlin College and Conservatory Establishes Five New Collaborative Programs

December 11, 2019
Office of Communications
Music theory class with Prof. Jan Miyake
Photo credit: Tanya Rosen-Jones ’97

Distinctive courses of study draw upon interdisciplinary resources, chart paths toward 21st century careers.

In fall 2020, Oberlin will introduce five new programs of study that transcend traditional institutional boundaries and establish a new level of collaboration between the College of Arts and Sciences and the Conservatory of Music. These new programs will offer Oberlin students innovative educational opportunities which will help them build successful, 21st century careers in a host of fields including music, visual arts, media, science, and business.   

Drawing on Oberlin’s deep strengths in music and the liberal arts, students will have the opportunity to minor in Music and Cognition, Music and Popular Culture, Interdisciplinary Performance, and Arts and Creative Technologies. A fifth program, in Arts Administration and Leadership, will add co-curricular programming in an integrative concentration. All five are available to all Oberlin students.

“We are fully leveraging Oberlin’s unique resources to bring what only Oberlin can to interdisciplinary studies, preparing our graduates for the types of careers they will have in the 21st century,” says President Carmen Ambar. “This collaboration, embraced by our faculty, captures the spirit and opportunity that shape the innovative work taking place under the banner of One Oberlin.”

Conservatory students already take advantage of courses offered in the College of Arts and Sciences virtually every semester of their Oberlin experience. For the first time, those conservatory students now will be able to complete minors in the college as well. College and conservatory faculties are also considering a minor that would allow students in the Arts and Sciences to minor in music.

The new offerings complement Oberlin’s existing robust opportunities to pursue their education in both the college and the conservatory, including the Double Degree Program. Attainable in five years or fewer, the Double Degree was created at Oberlin more than 100 years ago and continues to serve as a worldwide model for interdisciplinary education.

Now that spirit of intellectual and practical experimentation at the heart of the Oberlin experience has been elevated to a new level.

These new interdisciplinary offerings are the first to be formally adopted out of the institution's One Oberlin initiatives, designed to forge new connections between the college and conservatory, to develop new educational and co-curricular opportunities for students throughout campus, and to more fully utilize the remarkable resources already at students’ fingertips.

Key components of the interdisciplinary collaboration were devised by the Conservatory College Interdivisional Curricular Committee, a body consisting of faculty members representing the college and conservatory. Created in 2019 as part of Oberlin’s extensive academic and administrative review process, the committee is charged with examining ways to realize fully the potential of studying music in a liberal arts context. Its recommendations for conservatory and college curricular collaboration were approved unanimously through separate votes of college and conservatory faculty in December 2019.

“Building on Oberlin’s history of pushing past traditional boundaries, these new programs offer something that is both true to the institution and distinctive on the higher education landscape,” Acting Dean of Arts and Sciences David Kamitsuka and Dean of the Conservatory William Quillen wrote in an email to campus announcing approval of the new programs. “This represents an important step in implementing the One Oberlin recommendations.”

The five new interdisciplinary areas of study are intended to complement students’ various majors. The Conservatory College Interdivisional Curricular Committee will coordinate administration of the new minors and integrative concentration.

The newly introduced interdisciplinary areas of study include:

Music and Cognition immerses students in the exploration of cutting-edge issues in the cognitive science of musical experience—how music gets inside our heads and influences our thoughts and feelings. Viewed from the perspectives of music creation as well as music appreciation, this minor draws heavily upon the resources of existing departments in Psychology, Neuroscience, Philosophy, Anthropology, and the conservatory’s Division of Music Theory.

Music and Popular Culture emphasizes the study of music’s effect on mainstream cultural practices throughout history, as well as the impact of cultural factors on music from a given era or region of the world. Existing departments and programs leveraged for this minor include Africana Studies, Music History, Ethnomusicology, Sociology, and Art.

Interdisciplinary Performance encourages students to explore creativity through a broad range of performance practices and study of subjects related to performance, including audience interaction, improvisation, and dynamics among performers. This minor incorporates departments and programs such as Art, Cinema Studies, Creative Writing, Dance, Theater, Opera Theater, and Technology in Music and Related Arts (TIMARA), as well as athletics and various applied studies courses in the conservatory.

Arts and Creative Technologies focuses on participation in global conversations about the expressive potential of technology old and new. This minor emphasizes Oberlin’s plentiful opportunities in both the college and conservatory for study of the arts, media, and technology, most notably through the departments of TIMARA, Computer Science, Cinema Studies, and Studio Art.

Arts Administration and Leadership is an integrative concentration that examines curricular pathways toward administrative careers across a variety of artistic fields, from museum administration to rock band management to the film industry. Departments and programs at the core of this concentration include Economics, Theater, Rhetoric and Composition, and the conservatory’s Division of Pedagogy, Advocacy, and Community Engagement (PACE).

Requirements for satisfying each area of study vary, but generally include a minimum of 20 credit hours in subjects separate from the student’s major and selected from an extensive series of options (complete course offerings will be available in spring 2020). Distinct from the four minor courses of study, the integrative concentration in Arts Administration and Leadership requires a related field experience of at least eight weeks, which can be completed at Oberlin or anywhere in the world.

For each of the five interdisciplinary areas, students are required to maintain a learning portfolio that highlights their academic studies and experiential learning, and that includes reflections on the various connections emerging through these experiences. This ability to weave together concepts from across wildly different worlds lies at the core of liberal arts education.

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