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CALDWELL — When Brodi Etheredge tells her friends at other schools about her major and three minors at The College of Idaho, they are a bit confused.

“They kind of look at me funny and they’re like, ‘How do you do that?’” Etheredge said.

She majored in psychology and double-minored in interactive journalism with an additional human biology minor through the liberal arts college’s PEAK curriculum — which stands for professional, ethical, articulate and knowledgeable.

The four areas included are humanities and fine arts, social sciences and history, natural sciences and mathematics, and professional studies and enhancements. According to John Ottenhoff, vice president of academic affairs and dean of the faculty, students can choose any one of more than 92,000 combinations of majors and minors.

Etheredge, 21, of Nampa is part of this year’s graduating class, which is the first set of graduates to have experienced four full years of the curriculum.

The approach was crafted in 2009 partly by political economy professor Rob Dayley, shortly after President Marvin Henberg challenged the faculty to develop a more “inspiring” curriculum.

“He asked to meet with the faculty leadership (shortly before he took office), and I was in a couple of the committees he met with, and he said that he wanted to make curricular distinction an initiative for the College of Idaho,” Dayley said. “By that time, I had kind of fleshed out this idea that eventually became PEAK.”

The idea was to shift away from “cafeteria style” coursework, or taking one course here and there until junior year and then focusing on the student’s major area of study. Dayley said that model is a mile wide, but an inch deep, and too much like what students do in high school. In today’s globalized economy, he said it is too limited.

“Graduates in this era, most people change their career two to three times, sometimes more, over the course of their lifetime,” Dayley said. “And that idea that we go to college and just focus on one thing and take a few other courses elsewhere might not be enough anymore.”

Ottenhoff said part of what they hoped to address with PEAK was the split between classical liberal arts education and more applied fields, meaning an English major might choose a business or human services minor. He said he has talked to many students who come up with great combinations of majors and minors, like a business major who wants to minor in Spanish, psychology and math because all three would be useful for the business world.

“I think it’s captured the imagination of the students as they begin to think about this assemblage of different areas that meet their own passions,” Ottenhoff said.

Etheredge said she was wary when she first arrived, but as she learned more about it, decided she liked it. When it was first implemented, the college had to work through some kinks because not enough classes were available for students, she said. And while many students have positive things to say, Etheredge said it is mixed in with some negative feedback.

“I think the older the program gets and the more experience students have with it, the more they can mold it and the response will be better,” she said.

Etheredge said she’s enjoyed the way the curriculum overlaps and builds upon itself while it has taught her different skill sets. And that’s the whole goal, from Dayley’s perspective.

“PEAK plays to students’ curiosities and their passions, and it helps them discover their passions,” Dayley said. “I’m trying to help my students prepare for a globalized world and a globalized economy, and I think this is one way to help them realize what their potential is beyond just one area.”

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