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Degree Designers: Students match passion with purpose through individualized majors

Degree Designers: Students match passion with purpose through individualized majors

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Nicole Query holds a book while standing in an isle of the PLU library surrounded by research books.

Image: Nicole Query ’22 in the Robert A.L. Mordvedt Library. (Photos by John Froschauer/PLU)

June 5, 2022
By Veronica Craker
ResoLute Assistant Editor

The 253 PLU Bound scholarship recipient from the Key Peninsula near Tacoma began his first year intending to major in music education. But best-laid plans often go awry. Lindhartsen soon realized that wasn’t the path for him. He knew he wanted to study music, but he wasn’t interested in teaching.

“At the time I was doing a general music major and considering minoring in communication or business,” Lindhartsen said. “But through my involvement with LASR (PLU’s student radio station) I was able to explore the music community and learn about careers outside of composition, performance and education.”

He credits conversations with music professor Greg Youtz, an inspirational songwriting and production course, and his experience producing concerts through LASR for laying the groundwork toward pursuing an individualized major. The route allowed him to design and propose his own program of study.

“I realized that combining those elements and creating a specialized major would open my schedule up for doing things like internships and individualized study courses that would create a better educational outcome.”

Similarly, Nicole Query ’22 enrolled at PLU with plans to double major in history and political science, and minor in Holocaust and genocide studies. As they began taking classes for both, it was their minor that intrigued them and they soon realized they had a passion for Holocaust and genocide studies.

Query is friends with Lindhartsen and saw firsthand how he was able to design an individualized major to reflect his specific interests. Thye reached out to Professor Lisa Marcus to discuss if they could do the same around their interest in Holocaust and genocide studies.


During his junior year, Lindhartsen had the opportunity to intern at an all-ages concert hall in South Tacoma called Real Art Tacoma, where he helped book and promote shows. The internship was put on hold when the pandemic hit. Lindhartsen graduated during the pandemic unsure of when he would be able to put his degree to work. 

Eventually, venues began to open back up, including Real Art Tacoma. The nonprofit needed help with venue management and offered Lindhartsen a job helping book, promote, and manage logistics for the small concert hall. He’s also still involved with LASR, currently advising student staff and helping manage the station’s shows and events.

“It was kind of serendipitous that after not being able to really do anything vocationally, I was essentially pulled back to Tacoma to do what I was doing before, but on a professional level,”  Lindhartsen said. 

While Lindhartsen’s major had him interacting with bands and focusing on the excitement and many moving parts of event planning and promotion, Query focused their attention on post-genocide memory studies and immersed themself in their work of questioning how histories of traumatic events affect populations today. 

“I am really interested in survivor testimony from different genocides, especially from folks who are not as widely represented such as the Roma and Sinti, and queer and trans victims of the Holocaust,” they said. 

For their major, Query took courses from six disciplines, including Native American and Indigenous Studies. One of their favorite classes from that discipline included “Colonization, Slavery, Genocide & the Black Atlantic.” 

Ian Lindhartsen ’20 at Real Art Tacoma, the all-ages concert hall in South Tacoma where he works. 


In the 30-year history of the individualized major, PLU students have designed degrees spanning a variety of disciplines including digital media, Indigenous studies, global health and environmental education. Students draw from PLU courses and develop their expertise through rigorous conversations and planning with a committee of faculty who support and guide them.

“You take courses from all around the university, as well as complete experiential learning experiences, like studying abroad, internships or applied research,” Suzanne Crawford O’Brien, interim dean of interdisciplinary programs, said. “Some students opt for this because they have a dream job in mind — one that doesn’t fit in a more traditional major.”

Every year, one to three PLU students graduate with an individualized major that they designed. Lindhartsen says the program gives students the “freedom to not compromise on their education journey.”

“Without doing a degree that created these opportunities, to begin with, I definitely wouldn’t be where I am now,” he said. “I definitely feel like I’m living out my vocation.”