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Academics

Student designs his own major

sidney

Sidney Duquette, shown here in the laboratory of Minsoo Kim, professor of microbiology and immunology, opted for a major in interdepartmental engineering because of the flexibility it gave him in designing his degree program.

Sidney Duquette ’18 knew he wanted to concentrate on biology and engineering – with a healthy dose of chemistry – as an undergraduate at the University of Rochester.

A major in biomedical engineering was tempting. But Duquette didn’t think he would enjoy some of the required core classes, such as signals and imaging, and biosystems and circuits.

“Why not take out those classes and put in more bio and chem classes that I would enjoy?” Duquette asked himself.

So he switched to Interdepartmental Engineering and, in effect, designed his own major.

“I call it biomolecular engineering,” Duquette says. “I looked at the website for Yale’s biomolecular engineering program, and selected University of Rochester classes that were the same or similar.”

That’s the kind of flexibility the Interdepartmental Engineering (IDE) major offers to University of Rochester engineering students.

“It is designed for students who want to do design engineering, but can’t find their niche in one of the traditional engineering degree programs,” says Lisa Norwood, the Hajim School’s assistant dean for undergraduate studies. “The students really have to come with their own curriculum,and articulate why the major they’re proposing differs from the majors we already offer, and why those majors won’t get them where they want to be.”

sequqnxsThe IDE program requires that students complete three sequences of technical courses of their own choosing. In addition, they must complete an independent study project that culminates in a written senior thesis or design project.

Duquette says he designed his technical sequences to include as many “end classes” as possible, culminating the work he did in various prerequisites. One of his sequences, for example, includes a class in biological transport phenomena and another in heat and mass transfer, to which he would like to add his senior thesis project.

Duquette worked in the lab of Minsoo Kim, professor of microbiology and immunology, the summer before his senior year. His project involves measuring how the levels of c1q expression relates to mortality rates due to sepsis.

“I’m excited,” Duquette says. “I think it will be interesting.”

Duquette has no regrets about opting for IDE over a more traditional major. In addition to customizing his educational program, he’s had a chance to study abroad (Sydney, Australia) and participate in intramural football and frisbie.

Granted, students in more traditional engineering majors are more likely to take the same sequences of courses with the same classmates throughout their undergraduate years. That makes it easier for them to get to know each other and work together on problem sets and projects.

“In each of the classes I’m taking, I’m associating with people from different majors,” Duquette says. “But at the same time I think that’s very fruitful. That’s what the program is: interdepartmental. And in the future, when you’re out in the workplace, you’re going to be having conversations and working with people who may not have the same background as you.”