The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 84.0°F | Mostly Cloudy

New CMS Major Attracts Undergrads

By Tongyan Lin


MIT undergraduates now have the option to major in the comparative media studies program this fall.

Comparative media studies, MIT’s first interdisciplinary major, is an “experimental” major starting this semester.

Since the early 1990s, CMS has held Course XXI “major departure” status, which is a step below full major status. CMS became a full major after approval by the faculty last spring

The major is a five-year experiment by the Committee on the Undergraduate Program. After five years, the committee will re-evaluate the program before deciding if it will hold permanent major status.

CMS program one of first in U.S.

The comparative media studies program hopes “to develop an understanding of the historical, cultural, and artistic significance of film and other modern media,” according to the program’s Web site.

William Uricchio, associate director and professor of CMS said that the program is a “pretty innovative program.” MIT is one of the first universities in the nation to offer this kind of major. It has attracted a lot of attention, he said.

The program offers many undergraduate research opportunities and hands-on courses, Uricchio said.

There are currently 35 affiliated faculty in CMS. The faculty are also members of departments such as art and architecture, anthropology, foreign languages and literatures, and history.

CMS attracts more students

Most of the current CMS majors are third or fourth year students, Chris Pomiecko, CMS administrator, said. However, he also said that the major is beginning to attract the interest of underclassmen.

Pomiecko expects there to be about 20 students who have declared CMS as their major by the time all the paperwork is complete.

Ray Vichot ’04 is a CMS major who switched from the physics department his sophomore year. Though CMS was not a major at the time, he was able to unofficially declare it because it was expected to become a major soon.

Vichot said he joined the CMS program because he noticed “CMS sponsored a lot of the conferences I was interested in.” The new major offered “basically the chance to study something I was doing with 99 percent of my free time.”

Nicholas R. Hunter ’06 was originally registered as a double major in economics and electrical engineering and computer science, but recently switched to a double economics and CMS major.

Hunter calls the CMS program “a very hands-on approach to humanities.” He added that switching from Course XI to CMS was “pretty easy.”

“People shouldn’t be worried that it’s all theory,” Hunter said. “There is plenty of diversity in what kinds of things you can study.”

CMS has experimental status

Though new majors are not required to be five-year experiments, Dean for Undergraduate Education Robert P. Redwine said it would be a safety measure to test the interest of students and faculty in CMS. However, he also said that the major “has a good chance of succeeding down the road.”

Redwine said that several reasons sealed the decision to grant CMS major status.

“It certainly seems to offer a good opportunity for students,” Redwine said.

Uricchio said the C.U.P. chose to create the CMS major in part because “the faculty involved were enthusiastic.”

At the end of the five years, Pomiecko said the program will be reviewed by the C.U.P. and Committee on Curricula again, and will have to be approved by the faculty before becoming a permanent major.

Pomiecko said that the committees would be interested in “program coherency, program infrastructure, program demand, [and] program sustainability.”

A CMS two-year graduate program has been offered since 1999. Uricchio said that he thought the success of the CMS graduate program, which is “internationally top,” contributed to the approval of the undergraduate program from the faculty. The graduate program accepts 10 students per year.

The CMS department has been trying to establish the undergraduate major since 1998.