More than 2,000 students have finished their college degrees thanks to a flexible, multidisciplinary program offered through UCF’s College of Undergraduate Studies.

Launched in 2019, the Bachelor of Integrative General Studies (BIGS) program helps students from all fields of study complete their educational journey — enabling them to design their own curriculum on their way to earning a life-changing college degree.

“We’ve had a bank vice president who wanted to finish his degree, retirees, individuals launching into education, business, computer science and even musicians come through our program,” says Danielle Pratt, interim director of UCF’s interdisciplinary studies program, and associate lecturer. “So, really, the entire spectrum is represented; there are no limits.”

Chloe Gordon ’24 began her journey at UCF in 2001 as a liberal studies major, transferring from Valencia College. Gordon’s path took a different turn when she got married and started a family, prompting her to pause her education — a decision that left her with a lingering sense of unfinished business.

“I felt shame that I never finished my degree that I set out on, and I think education is really important,” Gordon says.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly 20 years later, Gordon resumed her education online. She integrated the courses she had taken back in 2001 with new ones she completed, culminating in her graduation with a BIGS degree in the spring of 2024.

“I did this because I felt like I could and because I wanted to be an example for my children,” Gordon says. “I see myself continuing my education and staying at UCF to pursue a master’s degree, possibly in social work, and eventually becoming a counselor. And who knows, maybe I’ll even get a doctorate.”

Gordon works at Yoga 4 Change, a nonprofit organization that achieves meaningful change for veterans, incarcerated individuals, vulnerable youth and others. She originally started with the program as a volunteer for her service-learning project required in the BIGS course Contemporary Issues in Leadership (LDR 3115), one of the two required courses for the degree. Volunteering for this program and applying the tools she learned as a student not only helped her secure her current position but also inspired her final thesis, which focused on studies examining the positive mental health effects of practicing yoga.

Karen Haslett, a lecturer in the College of Undergraduate Studies, instructs the Contemporary Issues in Leadership course and served as Gordon’s advisor while she was in her class. She says Gordon’s readiness to engage in the service-learning project and her abundance of ideas for what she wanted to accomplish is part of her success.

“The goal is for the students to find something that they’re interested in and have a passion for, so this was a no-brainer for Chloe, and it was an eye-opening experience for her,” Haslett says.

As part of the BIGS degree, students are also required to Senior Seminar (IDS 4939). Additionally, they must complete 42 credits from any discipline of their choice, provided it is approved by their advisor. Pratt mentioned that each semester, they customize these courses based on the needs of the students, collaborating as a faculty team to ensure they deliver the best version of the course.

For Senior Seminar, students are asked to integrate a multidisciplinary framework into a final project.

Pratt emphasizes that the opportunities for students in this degree program are endless. They can tailor the program to their specific needs or future goals.

“This program ensures that no students are ever left behind,” Pratt says. “That’s one of the reasons I came to work for this institution. Even though it’s a large university, it truly values every student individually, and this program exemplifies that remarkably well.”

Pratt says the BIGS programs must also evolve with students, and the adaptability of the degree offering is an advantage.

“The faculty has to evolve with the students and their needs, so we are collaboratively working on effective ways to integrate AI into our teaching and how to utilize AI tools, especially in career searches,” Pratt says.

Because of this, the faculty actively survey students to understand how they’re utilizing artificial intelligence, learning from their experiences. Additionally, they have been participating in training sessions to become proficient users of AI.

Pratt notes that for some students, pursuing this degree can initially feel disappointing, as they may believe they didn’t achieve their original intentions. However, once immersed in the program, they often wish they had pursued it from the outset. This sentiment rings true for another recent graduate, Nicolas Barth ’24.

Barth joined Knight Nation as a music major after transferring from Eastern Florida State College through DirectConnect to UCF. He recalled switching majors multiple times before transferring. While at UCF, Barth’s advisor informed him that he would soon reach his excess credit hours limit due to the numerous courses he had taken.

“Because the BIGS degree is so flexible, it made sense,” he says. “It took into account all of the music courses I had completed, and I was still able to take music courses and participate in ensembles I enjoyed, such as opera and choir.”

While most choose to complete a research paper, Barth decided to tailor his Senior Seminar project to his interests. Typically, music majors must perform a 30-minute to 45-minute senior recital to graduate. Although the BIGS degree did not require this, Barth wanted to retain the concept of a senior recital.

“I came up with the idea of doing a senior recital, but I integrated a research paper into the program, and that research was the foundation for choosing all the repertoire,” Barth says.

Barth says he got to do everything he wanted to do and more at UCF and is now ready to take on the professional field.

“Just yesterday, I got my audition results from this season of Opera Orlando, and I will be featured in the chorus,” Barth says. “I’m also exploring some educational opportunities as a choral director and participating in the Orlando Choral Society.”

Both Pratt and Haslett agree that their greatest hope is for their students to discover themselves throughout the completion of this degree.

“My favorite aspect is seeing how students perceive themselves as a result of engaging with the coursework in the program,” Pratt says. “They begin to view themselves as leaders, but they also exit feeling like valuable leaders who can share their research. They leave with an understanding of the importance of scholarly resources and the ability to apply that knowledge in the broader world.”