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 The Stuart Weitzman School of Design. 

Credit: Caroline Gibson

Penn undergraduate students can now major in design for the first time starting this semester.

The new 16-credit B.A. program was developed by the College of Arts and Sciences and the Stuart Weitzman School of Design. Penn has also launched a revamped fine arts major for students in the College of Arts and Sciences and the School of Engineering and Applied Science. Department leaders said students had asked for more streamlined course offerings for fine arts, resulting in the updated major.

Students studying design will develop skills in contemporary representation, prototyping, and fabrication. The fine arts major, which is updated from the previous existing major, will offer various studio courses in animation and 3D modeling, drawing and painting, photography, sculpture, and performance. 

The curricula will incorporate theme-based projects to allow students to develop a comprehensive understanding of the contemporary challenges that modern societies face, said Orkan Telhan, a professor of fine arts who helped develop the new major.

While students from the Wharton and Nursing schools will not be able to pursue the fine arts and design majors, all undergraduates across the University will be able to take courses inside the program as electives or for a six-credit fine arts minor, said Kristen Giannantonio, assistant director for administration of the undergraduate program in fine arts and design.

Credit: Maria Murad

All undergraduates across the University will be able to take courses inside the program as electives or for a six-credit fine arts minor.

Matt Neff, the director of the undergraduate program in fine arts and design, said the effort to create the new design major and update the fine arts major had been in the works for several years.

Various departments such as the Department of Historic Preservation, Art History, City and Regional Planning, and Landscape Architecture coordinated to create ideas for the design curriculum. The committee eventually decided that the Fine Arts Department was structurally big enough to host the new undergraduate major in design, Neff said.

The involvement of multiple departments ensured that the new design program will offer an interdisciplinary approach that allows students to tackle today's environmental and cultural challenges, Telhan said.

“You are making a more integrative curriculum,” Telhan said. “You'd rather work on more complex problems that are environmental, social, or cultural, whether it’s related to climate change, environmental pollution, or if you really want to do social advocacy, deal with social injustice.”

The committee designed the curriculum to offer students opportunities to work with different themes through media, Telhan said.

“It’s a very major rethinking about how design education should be. It’s not like you go and learn how to become a graphic designer,” Telhan said. “You learn how to become a designer who can use visual design skills in your projects.” 

The department hopes that the new undergraduate design major will set the University apart from other colleges due to the wider reach of Penn's major.

“We make it very open so that you can have a design major, but then you can jump to many different fields because it would give you a very good background," Telhan said. "It’s really a liberal arts version of design education.”