An Individualized Approach to Education
Dixie State University’s Individualized Studies Program Helps Students Earn Customizable Bachelor’s Degrees
story by Austin Osborne
photos by Bryce Parker / Dixie State University
Melissa Cornwall always had an interest in health care and nutrition, but that interest became a passion five years ago when her two year old daughter was diagnosed with an extremely rare autoimmune disease that left her in critical condition.
Doctors were baffled by the aggressive nature of the disease, and Cornwall was forced to face the heart-wrenching possibility that her daughter might not survive. After several incorrect classifications, doctors eventually diagnosed Cornwall’s daughter with autoimmune enteropathy, a rare disease that attacks the small intestines.
Cornwall spent three years studying and researching nutrition, health, and well-being, doing everything in her power to improve her daughter’s condition. She discovered that very few studies were conducted on autoimmune enteropathy at the time, and none of them employed a regimented diet as a form of treatment. However, she made sure to keep her daughter on a strict diet while utilizing minimal medication, and despite the initial skepticism of many doctors, tests began to show improvement. Cornwall’s holistic efforts, paired with medical intervention, have helped her daughter grow and flourish.
Using her experience as a guide, Cornwall continues to seek opportunities to expand her knowledge on holistic health practices, leading her to where she is now, studying in Dixie State University’s Individualized Studies program, a unique learning opportunity that allows students to earn bachelor’s degrees without confining them to the parameters of traditional, discipline-specific programs.
“I realized that if my abilities to this point were lacking in any respect, it was in my own education on the subject on which my daughter’s life depended,” Cornwall said. With academic interest in health care, Cornwall earned an Associate of Science degree from Dixie State in 2002. It was during this time that Cornwall discovered a love for nutrition. However, after getting married and having four children, she decided to put her schooling on hold to focus on her family.
Cornwall’s life-altering experience with her daughter’s disease set the stage for the next chapter in her life. Earning a college degree was pivotal to that new chapter, so she returned to Dixie State. Though she was interested in various aspects of nutrition and health care, Cornwall planned on pursuing a spot in the registered dietician program. It was after returning to Dixie State that Cornwall heard about the Individualized Studies program, and she immediately knew the program was right for her.
“I knew this was what I was supposed to be doing, so I ran with it,” Cornwall said. “I now had the chance to tailor a program that would combine exactly what I wanted to do in the future with what I had already accomplished.”
Like Cornwall, many nontraditional and returning students have earned an array of college credits and have a breadth of work and life experience.
“There are many working adults who started college, but life circumstances got in the way of finishing,” Dr. Matthew Morin, director of the Individualized Studies program, said. “This program helps these students find a way to graduate while also ensuring that they are job-ready by working backwards from their current professional goals and filling in the coursework needed to attain them.”
Individualized Studies degrees are customized and titled by each individual student and incorporate coursework from more than one academic discipline in order to accommodate students’ varying interests and career goals.
In order to graduate with a Bachelor of Individualized Studies degree, students must first clearly define the academic objectives for their personal degree program. Additionally, they must design an education plan, outlining how they will accomplish the objectives they identified. The curriculum they build is driven by the student, guided by faculty, and encompasses content from various academic disciplines as well as Individualized Studies core courses.
Cornwall’s degree is titled Nutrition and Functional Wellness, and incorporates content related to human nutrition, physical fitness, and the arts as a form of stress management. Cornwall said she, like many other students, would not have been able to pursue such a broad scope of subjects if it weren’t for the Individualized Studies program.
“There are so many others I’ve met in this program with unique stories and unique programs that match perfectly with what they need and want to accomplish,” Cornwall said. “The Individualized Studies program is the perfect platform for people with a vision and a purpose.”
Dr. Morin said Cornwall, as well as the rest of the students in the program, have changed his life through their influential stories and unrelenting pursuit of education. He hopes individualized studies programs will become more of a norm, and he urges any students who are interested to look into the program.
“To those who may feel insecure about returning to college because it didn’t work out the first time, know that we specialize in problem-solving in this area, and we are committed to focusing on your real-world needs,” Dr. Morin said.
Cornwall said that her real-world needs were not only met, but exceeded as she works toward graduating this summer. In fact, she included a nutrition internship at Healthology Experts in her degree plan. She has been offered a job with the company, as well as the opportunity to develop her own nutrition program.
Cornwall said these opportunities would not have been available to her without the Individualized Studies program, and her advice to those who are considering the program is simple: “Do it,” Cornwall said. “What an amazing journey all of this has been.”
For more information about the Individualized Studies program at Dixie State University, visit integratedstudies.dixie.edu/individualized-studies-program.