Finding Your Voice
One of the fastest growing degree programs today, interdisciplinary studies (“interdis” or IDS) is popping up all across the country. In fact, in 2015, Forbes reported that the number of inter and multi-disciplinary degrees earned had increased by more than 35 percent in recent years.
North Greenville University has been ahead of the interdis wave for more than two decades now. But early adoption, and strong numbers, aren’t the only ways NGU sets itself apart from the rest. IDS represents how NGU prepares students to find not only their own distinctive “voice” in the world, but also success along whichever path they take.
THE OFFICE WITH A LINE
I would walk by the copier printing, up the stairs with the three creaky ones at the top, and down the hallway past every professor’s office on the second floor of White Hall for our weekly “Mountain Laurel” meeting during my junior year at NGU. One door seemed always open, with a line of students inside and out.
Upperclassmen had been warning me for as long as I could remember: never walk into that office - unless you want to walk out as an interdis major.
Maybe all these years later, I still have the fear of being converted to his major if I go in, so Dr. Gregory “Greg” Bruce and I decide to meet at my office instead for our interview. I feel lucky to have three hours with the teacher students vie to see to change a class, ask a question, get advice.
On campus, Bruce plays the archetypal sage, with blue eyes that look nearly into your soul and light up when the conversation, inevitably, turns philosophical. Thin, he stands at six foot four. He has a white beard and glasses, to boot. And he peppers his speech with words like “chiasm” and “limerence” like you already know them.
He tells me, shortly into our conversation, that his strength is “helping students figure out their voice,” and I believe him.
To be sure, Bruce, who’s headed the Interdisciplinary Studies (BA) Department at NGU going on 15 years, is in the perfect position to direct students with myriad interests or a mixed bag of earned credits; with IDS, they can select not just one die-cut major, but two or three areas of study to create their own tailor-made degree. Convincing students that interdis will help them find personal fulfillment comes naturally for Bruce because it’s so personal to him.
DINNER WITH DERRIDA
Bruce tells me he first came to NGU in 2003 to become the “expert in the posties,” as he calls them, like postmodernism and post-colonialism. He felt that he could provide more than just the “Cliff Notes version” of those ideologies, since he had literally eaten steak with the likes of Jacques Derrida (a household name for any lit crit student) while he earned his doctorate in literature and religion at Emory University.
I ask him if he’s kidding. He assures me he’s serious. Emory was also the first time Bruce ever heard the term “interdisciplinary studies,” although he’d been believing in it since at least his undergrad studies at Georgia State University (GSU), where he majored in philosophy and played jazz drums for fun.
“I was the guy that, I would go to my professor at the end of the semester and say, ‘Hey, I’m writing
a paper in my lit class that addresses some of these things we’re doing in sociology. Can I combine
these?’ And they would go, ‘Of course you can’t! That’s cheating,’” he remembers.
He was actually trying to do more, not less, by combining the knowledge he learned in different
classes, he says. This tendency clued him in to go the direction of interdis.
HOW DOES INTERDIS WORK?
Select two components to study from participating
disciplines. (But really, there are enough credits
available to have three areas of expertise.)
o Primary component – 24 hours
o Secondary component – 18 hours
o Elective courses – 18-20 hours
Depending on your primary component, declare your major as either interdis BA or interdis BS.
Each semester, meet with your advisor to set up a course load unique to your chosen components.
Complete the required credits in each component, as well as the two required interdis courses, where you establish an interdisciplinary identity and learn to integrate your chosen areas.
o Introduction to Interdisciplinary Studies
o Senior Seminar
HOME AWAY FROM HOME
After finishing his degrees, Bruce bounced between several universities near his hometown of
Atlanta, GA, and finally landed at a Christian one. But despite its alignment with the church,
one day the school administration reprimanded Bruce for teaching that Jesus was the only way
He taught New Testament.
After that, Bruce decided to leave.
“I wanted to be in an expressly Christian environment. I was tired of being kicked around because I
wouldn’t shut up about Jesus in the classroom,” he confides.
He applied to more than 20 schools and got every single job offer, including the one at NGU.
“You know what it really boiled down to? I drove up this hill, and I saw the sculpture of Jesus washing washing feet, and I heard God say, ‘You’re supposed to just serve here. That’s it. Period. Don’t try to get too fancy. Just serve. ‘Cause kids need you,’” Bruce remembers fondly.
Bruce and his family still live in Atlanta, so he commutes three hours one way every week to teach.
He’s sincere when he calls NGU his “home away from home.”
SWEET VOICES AND POETRY NIGHT
Bruce first started at NGU by teaching freshman English. When he wasn’t in class, he would sneak around, perhaps even hiding behind trashcans, to listen to students and get a grasp on what mattered
to them. He says that he heard “sweet voices” eager to make an impact. He noticed right away that NGU students needed a voice — to know how to use their passions, their art, their gifts for God’s kingdom.
His first semester here, he started what would become the biannual Poetry Night, where students could express themselves through any medium: music, improv, poetry. It’s become a favorite for
creative types on campus.
Bruce says giving students a voice — just like Poetry Night does on a microscale — is what interdis
is all about. He quickly transitioned to lead the program at NGU, which had already been running
since the mid-’90s.
THE MAJOR THAT IS WHATEVER YOU WANT IT TO BE
The interdisciplinary studies degree prepares students for the workplace, perhaps like no other major can. From day one, IDS students are groomed to be problem-solvers who can contribute to the world, think outside the box, and work collaboratively — all traits that employers look for in the
21st century more than ever.
Unlike Bruce’s experience in undergrad, the IDS program focuses on integrating disciplines, rather than keeping them separate. But it begins on a much deeper level.
“There really are three types of integration: you integrate head and heart, you integrate disciplines,
and you integrate classroom with real world. And those are the three types of integration that we push in the program,” he says. “Students come in thinking it’s about disciplines. But once we start talking to them, they want to be integrated. And then they really, really want to be able to see that what they’re studying at the collegiate level is connecting to the world.”
That’s what’s at the heart of the interdis senior seminar, which leads students in combining their
components to craft a doable project that solves a real-world problem.
OUTSIDE THE PARTITIONS
Bruce himself continues fine-tuning his own components — English and theology — to help students find their voices so they can impact the world in a way unique to them, just like the senior
seminar project allows them to do.
“These partitions that we’ve superficially put up have to fall away because people are hurting. We
We have to help them. Trying to do that within the confines of one discipline can be restrictive,” he
You could say he’s already been very successful at his interdis project. Under his leadership, the department has experienced tremendous growth: an astonishing 15 percent of NGU’s Class of 2016
traditional graduates earned an IDS degree.
Bruce also facilitates an ever-growing list of Greenville partnerships he’s built on his own watch. In fact, his list features more than 25 businesses and organizations, including NEXT High School, The Collective at Society Hall, and Upstate International. They provide NGU’s interdis students with shadowing, volunteer, and internship opportunities; many have even hired NGU graduates as a result.
But Bruce, late 50s, claims he has 10 to 15 more years left in him to finish his work here at NGU. Curious, I ask him about his end goal.
“I don’t know. I’ll know it when I get there,” he laughs. But with great conviction, he adds: "There's
still more voices that need to be heard.”
INTERDIS AT A GLANCE
450+ - Interdis degree programs in the U.S.
36% - National growth in interdis degrees earned since 2011
2 - Interdis degree type options at NGU: BA and BS
15% - NGU’s Class of 2016 traditional graduates who earned a degree in interdis
21 - Interdis components to choose from at NGU
150 - Students in the interdis program at NGU during an average semester
25+ - Partner organizations in Greenville that provide hands-on learning opportunities for NGU’s interdis students
1,330 – Possible combinations for your customized interdis degree at NGU
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