Program Information

Mission, Program Structure, and Goals

The Integrative Studies Program (formerly Liberal Studies) is part of the Integrative, Religious, and Intercultural Studies Department (IRIS), located in the Brooks College of Interdisciplinary Studies. Many of the most important challenges we face today are complex. We prepare students to be innovators and change agents, supporting them to make a positive difference in their lives, professions, communities, and the world. This includes offering a full compliment of courses on GVSU's Allendale, Grand Rapids, and Traverse City campuses as well as through online and hybrid learning options.

With a curriculum rooted in the values of a liberal education, our students learn to:

  • integrate knowledge and modes of thinking drawn from multiple disciplines
  • develop interdisciplinary understanding of complex problems and intellectual questions
  • demonstrate the ability to engage in perspective-taking
  • cultivate advanced critical thinking skills; and
  • be able to apply classroom knowledge to real-world problems while strengthening their social responsibility and intercultural understanding.

Are you having trouble choosing just one major or specialization? Are you someone who likes to think outside of the box, preferring creative, innovative approaches to following in the footsteps of others? Do you want to become a social innovator or change agent?  Or maybe you already have a variety of life and/or work experiences and want to complete a Bachelor's Degree that will really work for you?

Come see what is possible: Make an appointment to meet with an advisor today.


For an advising on our Traverse City Campus, please click here.

Office and Contact Information

The Integrative Studies Program offers full degree options on three GVSU campuses, including Allendale, Grand Rapids, and Traverse City.

To reach the main IRIS Department office, please visit or contact:

324 LOH on GVSU's Allendale Campus.


If you are located in Traverse City, please contact:

Traverse City Regional Center 
2200 Dendrinos Dr. Ste 102 
Traverse City, Michigan 49684

(231) 995-1785 

Melanie Shell-Weiss, Department Chair

Dr. Melanie Shell-Weiss

Department Chair and Associate Professor, IRIS

The Integrative Studies Program is directed by Department Chair, Dr. Melanie Shell-Weiss. Dr. Shell-Weiss specializes in U.S. civil rights and migration studies with a particular interest in political organizing and social movements. She has taught at GVSU since 2011 and is a nationally-recognized scholar, teacher, and oral historian. She holds a PhD in History (Michigan State University, 2002), MA in American Studies (Michigan State University, 1996), and a BA in the Social Sciences (with an emphasis in Race Relations) and Creative Writing & Literature from the University of Michigan's Residential College (1994). Dr. Shell-Weiss had the good fortune of beginning her undergraduate studies at GVSU, including coursework in the English and History Departments.

She has published several books in addition to scholarly articles and book chapters. Much of her career has been devoted to collaborative, public history work resulting in a range of exhibitions, archival collections, documentary films and other multi-media productions. Prior to coming to GVSU, Dr. Shell-Weiss taught in the Center for Africana Studies and Department of History at The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland (2003-2011) and at Michigan State University where she also served as Assistant Director of MATRIX: The Center for Digital Humanities & Social Sciences (1996-2003). 

Justin Pettibone serves as Interim Coordinator for the Integrative Studies Accelerated Leadership Program (ALP), a 19-month accelerated hybrid degree completion program designed specifically for nontraditional students. He is an affiliate teaching faculty in IRIS (formerly Liberal Studies). Justin holds a Master of Arts in Philosophy from Miami University in Ohio (2007) and is an alumnus of GVSU's Liberal Studies Program where he earned a Bachelor of Arts with an emphasis in Intellectual History and a minor in Philosophy in 2003.

In 2017, Justin was awarded the national teaching excellence award from the Center for Accelerated Programs in specific recognition of his work with the ALP. He has also won GVSU's  prestigious Pew Teaching Excellence Award (2011), was a finalist for the Professor of the Year Award from GVSU's Educational Support Program, and was the recipient of GVSU's Niemeyer Student of the Year Award as an undergraduate (2002) -- the highest award given by the university. 

His background includes a variety of international language and literature focused work, including certificates earned at the Universidad Pablo de Olavide in Seville (Spain), Université de Provence (France), and Université de Genève (Switzerland). Justin has been a member of the faculty at GVSU since 2008.

Justin Pettibone, Interim Coordinator, Accelerated Leadership Program

Justin Pettibone

Interim Coordinator, Accelerated Leadership Program, and Affiliate Teaching Faculty, IRIS

Kate Fairman, Traverse City Campus

Kate Fairman

Teaching Faculty and Advisor, IRIS (Traverse City Campus)

Kate Fairman is the lead faculty advisor for the Integrative Studies Program on GVSU's Traverse City Campus. An award-winning environmental education teacher, Kate holds a Master of Science in Natural Resource Planning, Management, and Behavior from the University of Michigan (1996) and a Bachelor of Science in Creative Process in Education and minor in Environmental Studies from the University of Vermont (1986). She has taught at GVSU since 2007.

Students praise Kate's tireless commitment to supporting their studies, no matter what their area of interest or background. Her commitment to engaged and experiential learning has gained significant recognition and is a signature example of what Integrative Studies can offer our students on both our upstate and downstate campuses. In addition to her stellar teaching at GVSU, Kate has lead progressive education and environmental efforts across the state. Some recent examples include serving as an educational consultant with the Great Lakes Environmental Education Services, the Water Watch Program, the Global Rivers Environmental Education Network, and the Progressive Edgroup -- which supported development of the International Academy of Flint and the Grand Rapids Ellington Academy of Arts and Technology. Kate is also one of the founders and co-developers of Telford Farm LLC, an intentional community located in Cedar, Michigan. She also designed and built a sustainable home using reused building materials and earth friendly straw-clay construction.


Classes in Integrative Studies are taught by a range of excellent faculty who are committed to putting students first. For a current list of teaching faculty and contact information please visit the IRIS Department faculty and staff directory.

Page last modified September 11, 2019