Cognitive science major takes multidisciplinary approach

Undecided about your major? Well, the University may have made the decision a little easier.

In addition to the Health and Fitness Leadership major that was created at the beginning of the year in the School of Kinesiology, the University is offering a new Cognitive Science major that is launching this semester.

The Cognitive Science major is an interdepartmental major, jointly administered by the departments of linguistics, philosophy and psychology. A cognitive science executive committee oversees student progress toward completing major requirements.

“It doesn’t respect departmental or disciplinary boundaries,” said Linguistics Prof. Sam Epstein, who is in charge of the new major and teaches the gateway introductory course Cognitive Science 200 with Psychology Prof. Rick Louis. “It’s a multidisciplinary effort.”

The major offers four different tracks — computation and cognition, decision, language and philosophy of mind—and students select one of them when they declare the major. In addition to the major’s requirements, students must fulfill course requirements and electives from their chosen track’s department.

“This is a really fast-emerging and new multidisciplinary field of inquiry and we thought it was important for (the University) to offer training and education in this field,” Epstein said. “There was no cognitive science initiative at (the University) going on. We think it’s a fascinating field of inquiry about how humans think and choose, and what rational decisions consist of.”

Epstein said the vast number of post-graduation career options is one of the benefits of the new major.

“There’s countless fields that you could end up in, including A.I. and computer science, ergonomics, research on multitasking, and a myriad of fields of inquiry in psychology, in philosophy, in linguistics and mixtures of fields,” he said. “It should provide students with a pretty rich set of career opportunities.”

LSA junior Nathaniel Price, who is still deciding between the philosophy and computation and cognition tracks, said he is interested in using his degree to pursue his interests in machine learning and artificial intelligence.

“I really want to use my computer science background and apply it to that, as well as the cognitive science background,” he said.

Until he heard about the new cognitive science concentration in one of his classes, Price planned to double major in computer science and philosophy.

“I was going to take a lot of the cognitive science-y, philosophy courses that the University offers,” he said, “Instead of doing just purely philosophy, this gave me that chance to not only take those philosophy courses I was planning on taking anyways, but also a lot of cool psychology classes and to … apply some of my computer science (credits) to that degree as well.”

The Cognitive Science major was introduced one semester after the implementation of the Health and Fitness Leadership program in the School of Kinesiology.

The School of Kinesiology created the new major in response to the large number of alumni who were going into corporate wellness and personal training, or opened their own fitness businesses after graduation.

The new major requires classes focusing on a variety of different subjects, including sports management, physical education and movement science. Students will also take some business, sports law and management classes.

“This is really a response to a worldwide need,” said Pat Van Volkinburg, associate dean for academic programs at the School of Kinesiology. “What’s happening is there are three major problems: people are getting heavier, they’re less active and they’re getting older and this has a negative influence on the economy. Michigan is a leader. We decided it was time that we added a new major that meets the needs not only of our students, but to businesses of the world.”

The structure of the major prepares students to take the American College of Sport Fitness Instructor the National Strength and the Strength Coach’s exams upon graduation — a benefit that was not built into any other Kinesiology majors before this year.

Despite not appearing on the checklist of majors listed on the Common Application this past year, the new major been popular in its first semesters.

“I’m getting phone calls from kids who are juniors in high school, people from other schools and colleges across the country that want to transfer in, so word of mouth is getting out there,” Van Volkinburg said.

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