For a student working full-time in northern Canada, miles away from any major city, earning a Bachelor’s degree from an accredited university is no mean feat – especially one that’s tailored to the field they’re working in. And yet that’s exactly the kind of opportunity that students have found at Royal Roads University (RRU) in Victoria.
Most universities require students to travel far from their homes and families to attend classes on campus, but “for some students, that’s not an option, particularly if they live in remote communities,” says matthew heinz, Vice Provost, Research & Interdisciplinary Studies, RRU.
That's why Royal Roads University offers a unique degree that brings classroom learning online, empowering students to continue working while enhancing their knowledge of areas directly related to their careers. In the Bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies program, students can either complete their degree online or take classes at the RRU campus in Victoria. Students can also complete up to 12 credits at another university in Canada or around the world.
“We designed it to allow students to have a highly personalized program of study. It’s quite different from interdisciplinary programs in [other] universities,” heinz explains.
Most students in the program have already begun their careers, so they know exactly what they want to study. They work with faculty to shape their program or research to relate directly to their field, which provides a level of specificity not found in many Bachelor’s degree programs. For example, the internship component of the degree can be completed anywhere, which allows the student to learn new skills while continuing to support their community.
“We have students who come from a variety of fields, such as law enforcement, Indigenous health education, administration, or nursing,” heinz adds.
The interdisciplinary approach ensures that students take courses from multiple areas—such as professional communication, justice studies, environmental practice and business–to supplement their learning.
“The ability to complete the program online and at the same time to really work it around your particular area of interest has proven attractive to students because it speaks to a number of cultural concerns that other degrees don’t necessarily address,” heinz says.
heinz says the program’s uniqueness has made it quite attractive to students in Indigenous communities. Furthermore, the BA in Interdisciplinary Studies program has recently expanded its course offerings including a new elective course, Global Perspectives on Indigenous Ways of Knowing. The 10-week online course introduces students to Indigenous ways of knowing within the contexts of colonialism and contemporary challenges. It explores Indigenous perspectives on identity, the environment, knowledge acquisition and renewed political relationships, and is designed and taught by Cliff Atleo Jr., a Nuu-chah-nulth and Tsimshian scholar.
“I found this course so full of thought-provoking information. I have had many conversations with friends and family around the issues of colonialism and its effects,” writes a student in an anonymous course evaluation review.
Students are given one-on-one support from the time they start their application to the program through to graduation and beyond. Participants can slow down or speed up the program to accommodate family and personal responsibilities. Students take one or two courses at once, as their schedule permits, and have up to five years to complete the degree. Most complete the degree in two to three years.
heinz notes that the degree allows students to blend their experience, passions and academic areas of interest into one comprehensive program.
“It’s a very holistic approach to undergraduate education,” he says.