X Degree Program Pilots Gateway Course

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Kara Yogan is a student interested in tribology (the study of lubrication, friction, and wear.) But there’s a problem: Georgia Tech doesn’t offer it as a major.

“There is a single upper-level mechanical engineering (ME) class focused on tribology. But since my interest lies in the chemical and physical properties of these lubricants, pursuing an ME track would not be right for me,” said the second-year chemical engineering student. “My interest is actually a mix of three majors — chemical engineering, ME, and materials science engineering.”

Enter the interdisciplinary X Degree program, an idea that got its start during the strategic planning process a few years ago.

“While existing majors are, and will continue to be, the core of our educational mission, some students and employers are looking for the particular skills that come from managing one’s own curriculum and designing an interdisciplinary program of study,” said Richard Barke, chair of the X Degree Committee. “Most of Tech’s peer institutions offer some version of an X Degree, although our version would be uniquely Georgia Tech.”   

During fall semester, the committee took its next step toward implementation and offered a pilot version of the gateway course to introduce students to the program.

The course was taught by Barke; Amy Pritchett, associate professor in the School of Aerospace Engineering; and Colin Potts, vice provost for Undergraduate Education.

Nine students from Tech's Honors Program, including Yogan, enrolled in the course, which met once a week for three hours.

“I enrolled because I have an interest in space policy and regulations,” said Anna Woodmansee, a third-year aerospace engineering major. “I liked the idea of being able to combine aerospace engineering and public policy, especially in a course taught by faculty from both areas and before grad school.”

Early in the semester, students were divided into two teams and presented with a problem to solve related to security at Grant Field. They identified resources, interviewed relevant personnel, and presented findings to campus security and Georgia Tech Athletic Association officials.

For the second half of the semester, students focused on developing their individual programs of study.  

“Through the course, we were able to evaluate the utility of a problem-based learning exercise as an introduction to independent interdisciplinary learning,” Barke said. “And doing this helped improve our advisement approach for students as they choose and develop programs of study.”

When asked for feedback on what could be improved, students said that the problem-based learning portion of the course could be longer and that there should be more time for designing their programs of study.

“A degree program like this is important because with so many great programs at the Institute, and a need in society for people who can bridge the gap between disciplines, students will be not only be able to study within multiple disciplines, but emerge from Tech with a particularly relevant set of skills for today’s workforce,” Woodmansee said.

In addition to piloting the course, a white paper outlining the program structure and implementation process has been reviewed by faculty, students, and leadership. In the months to come, the final degree proposal will be submitted to the Institute Undergraduate Curriculum Committee, and the program could be in place as early as spring 2015, Barke said.

“The X Degree is a great example of the Georgia Tech strategic planning ecosystem in progress,” said David Frost, professor in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering and chair of the Strategic Planning Advisory Group. “What started in the original Institute strategic plan as the X College has evolved, under the superb leadership of Richard Barke, with broad participation of individuals from various units across campus into a concept that captures the entrepreneurial spirit of Georgia Tech. It is not a degree that will necessarily be for everyone, but for some, it will be the key step on a path that leads to transformative ideas and solutions.”

Questions? Contact Barke at



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