||Self-designed majors: an important opportunity for Centre students
RELEASED: June 18, 2009
DANVILLE, KY—Bethany Pratt, a rising senior from Richmond, Ky., knew that she couldn't pursue her exact interests in any of Centre College's many majors, so she decided to create her own. By combining courses from across several disciplines with the help of faculty advisors, she is now majoring in environmental studies: sustainable resource use.
"I already knew that I wanted to do environmental work, [and] I feel that by creating my own major, I’m better preparing myself for the interdisciplinary nature of environmental work," Pratt says.
The opportunity Centre students are presented by being allowed to design their own majors is not an option many other colleges offer. Pratt feels empowered by the process.
"One of the biggest benefits of designing my own major is that I get to select almost all of [my] courses, and I have more flexibility to add or subtract courses based on what looks interesting to me," she says. "[It] allows me to focus my learning on areas that are more relevant to my career and learning goals."
Students can create self-designed majors in any discipline. Erin Menard '09 self-designed her major, design and culture, because she was interested in graphic design.
"I created my major so that I could take as many classes that pertained to this area as possible," Menard says. "I included courses from computer science, anthropology, English, art history and visual art. I wanted to be exposed to arts of all cultures, gain the skills to execute my ideas and keep my writing skills strong, as well."
While Menard isn't going to be doing too much graphic design as a graduate assistant of marketing in the athletic department at the University of Kentucky, she does believe that her self-designed major helped her get the job.
"It takes a motivated personality to complete the process of creating a major, and employers appreciate the initiative," Menard says.
Lindsay Maurer '09 knew from the start that she wanted to create a self-designed major in urban development studies.
"I became interested in urban planning after taking the freshman studies course Your Automobile, Our Environment during CentreTerm. Knowing that Centre facilitates individualized plans of study, I decided to pursue my interests independently," Maurer says. "I spent weeks perusing the course catalogue to develop a self-designed major that would allow me to gear all assignments to my individual interests, expand my knowledge of urban planning, and demonstrate my passion for urban studies to graduate school admissions offices."
Maurer—the female valedictorian for the Class of 2009—plans to attend the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill in the fall to pursue a master's in city and regional planning.
"If you're interested in a specific field, [self-designing a major] sends a meaningful signal to graduate school admissions offices by showing that you are truly dedicated to your proposed field of study," Maurer says. "In fact, my decision to develop an independent major was probably the primary reason that I was accepted to UNC—it proved that I had a deep passion for urban planning and was willing to work hard for it. In my case, Centre's commitment to personal education was literally a ticket into the nation's best master’s program for my field of study."
Self-designing a major can take you places—literally. Morgan Smith, a rising senior from Louisville who created her own Middle Eastern studies major, studied abroad in Turkey in 2007, and received a scholarship to study in Jordan this summer in a Critical Language Program with the U. S. State Department. Smith is actually a double-major: one is her self-designed major, the other mathematics.
Both of these opportunities have given her a chance to experience cultural and language immersion.
Smith says, "The core of the major is comprised of classes I took while in Turkey. At Centre, I've taken courses such as Islam and the Media, Middle Eastern Civilizations, Islam, and the Ottoman Empire, in addition to independent studies of the Arabic language."
Smith is drawing on many different areas to complete her major.
"I'm not limited to the religious, political, or historical aspects by obtaining a traditional major, but I'm also taking courses from numerous disciplines in order to obtain a holistic understanding of the region,” she says.
Another benefit to self-designing a major, Smith says, is choosing how to fulfill the senior thesis requirement—which she will be doing by completing research for her John C. Young Award, a program designed to allow seniors to engage in independent study, research, or artistic work in their major discipline or in an interdisciplinary area of their choosing.
"I'll be working with Tom McCollough, Rodes Professor of Religion, and Alex McAllister, associate professor of mathematics, on my collaborative self-designed project entitled, 'From the Quran to Algebra: A Social History of Arab Contributions to Algebra'," Smith says. "I'm excited about this project because it synthesizes my two majors: my self-designed Middle Eastern studies major and the traditional mathematics major."
Pratt is also finding ways to use her self-designed major on a large scale. While president of ECCO (Environmentally Conscious Centre Organization), she led the initiative for the Green Fund, renewable energy credits purchased from Mother Ann Lee Hydroelectric Plant to power Centre with cleaner energy. Pratt also won a Udall Scholarship earlier this year, an honor no other Centre student has ever recieved.
Although Pratt isn't positive what she'll do after she graduates, she does know that she will put her major to good use.
"I'll probably spend some time in the Peace Corps or AmeriCorps as a volunteer in some sort of environmental position before going to grad school," she says. "There's no pre-planned roadmap set out, so I'm really blazing my own trail."
Click here for more information on self-designed majors.
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Founded in 1819, Centre College is ranked among the U.S. News top 50 national liberal arts colleges. Consumers Digest ranks Centre No. 1 in educational value among all U.S. liberal arts colleges. Centre alumni, known for their nation-leading loyalty in annual financial support, include two U.S. vice presidents and two Supreme Court justices. For more, visit http://www.centre.edu/web/elevatorspeech/
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