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Ten Majors that Didn't Exist 10 Years Ago

Bridget Kulla

March 05, 2009

Ten Majors that Didn't Exist 10 Years Ago

Want to try something new? Really new? That list of majors in the course catalog isn’t static. As technology advances and business evolves, fields of study that weren’t imagined or that may have been limited to a few specialized classes emerge as full-blown majors. Check out these 10 fields of study that hardly existed a decade ago.

1. New Media

Online media is one of the fastest growing areas of journalism. New media majors combine traditional journalism studies with courses on the design and management of digital media.

Some programs, like the new media program at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, concentrate on computer skills and design of online media. Other programs, like the one at Indiana University/Purdue University, Indianapolis, integrate communications and digital skills.

2. Biotechnology

Biotechnology combines biology and technology to solve agricultural, food science and medical issues. It is an interdisciplinary field and is often combined with a business degree, like the joint degree program at Johns Hopkins University. Most biotechnology degrees are at the master’s level, yet bachelor’s degrees in biotechnology, like the one at Delaware State University, are starting to emerge as this field becomes more in demand.

Related fields include bioinformatics, biomedical engineering and biomedical engineering.

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3. Organic agriculture

The first organic agriculture program in the U.S. began at Washington State University (WSU) in 2006. Demand for those knowledgeable in organic agriculture is growing. "Large corporations increasingly are interested in meeting the nation's growing appetite for organic foods [and] are seeking employees who understand organic agriculture systems,” says Dr. Cathy Perillo, coordinator of WSU’s organic agriculture program, in a press release.

This major is not widespread, but other institutions are looking into adding an organic agriculture degree program, including University of California, Davis. The University of Florida also launched an organic agriculture major in 2006.

4. Homeland security

New degree programs in homeland security have been established since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Homeland security majors study everything from psychology to disaster relief and federal law to handling hazardous materials. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security offers scholarships and fellowships for homeland security majors and runs an intensive 18-month degree program at the Center for Homeland Defense and Security.

Homeland security education is expanding rapidly at community colleges. Close to 85 percent of students trained in homeland security-related fields graduate from community colleges, according to the American Association of Community Colleges.

5. E-Business/E-Marketing

This field focuses on buying, selling and marketing items on the Internet and may also include communicating with customers, employees and business partners. Demand for employees in this field is expected to grow faster than average, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Degree programs in e-marketing are usually in universities' business schools and are more common at the graduate level. Some schools, like the University of Akron, offer bachelor's programs in e-marketing, while others, like Missouri State University, offer a minor for business students.

6. Computer Game Design

Students playing video games in their dorm rooms can now avoid a lecture from their parents by majoring in computer game design. Computer game design programs were nearly nonexistent a decade ago. Today more than 150 colleges offer programs and courses in game design.

Some programs, like the computer games development program at DePaul University, focus on the programming of games while others, like the game art and design program at the Art Institute of Phoenix, concentrate on the visual design. Michigan State University is launching a Serious Game Design master's degree program in the fall of 2007 for students with "a desire to create and study games which change the world." The International Game Developers Association offers resources, including a scholarship, for students interested in game design.

7. Forensic accounting

The controversy surrounding recent corporate scandals has drawn attention to the expanding field of forensic accounting. While it has existed for many years, forensic accounting is now the fastest-growing field of accounting. Forensic accountants are like money detectives – they investigate suspected financial mishandling and assist in legal matters. Forensic accountants must have a broad understanding of business practices beyond standard accounting skills.

Bachelor’s degrees in forensic accounting, like the program offered at Franklin University, are required for most careers in this field. Students can also earn a master’s degree and post-graduate certificate through a program like the one at West Virginia University.

8. Human Computer Interaction

Human computer interaction (HCI) majors focus on designing ways to improve human experiences and work practices with technology. HCI investigates the impact of technology on individuals and organizations. While courses in this field have been offered since the 1960s, degree programs in HCI have been growing. Human computer interaction majors are usually located in schools of computer science, but studies are multidisciplinary.

Most HCI programs are at the graduate level, like the program at Iowa State University, but some, like the HCI program at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, have a bachelor's degree program.

9. Society and the Environment

Society and environment majors study the interactions between society and the environment. Degree programs in this field go by slightly different names, like Indiana University’s joint environmental science and public affairs degree and Columbia University’s climate and society program. Students in these majors apply social science theories to environmental issues. Most programs are at the master’s degree level, but programs like the one at UC-Berkeley offer undergraduate degrees as well.

10. Nanotechnology

Developments in technology have made it possible to control matter at smaller and smaller levels. The field of nanotechnology works with systems at the molecular level and can be applied across many different disciplines, including physics, engineering and chemistry. Interest in nanotechnology is growing and is being encouraged by the National Nanotechnology Initiative, organized in 1998.

Most nanotechnology programs are at the graduate level, but several programs provide a background in nanotechnology studies, like bachelor's program in nanosystems engineering at Louisiana Tech University.

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