Building Their Own Challenge

Many Ursinus students chart their own academic course by taking on more than one major and implementing a self-designed area of study.

Megan Rosenberger ’17 hopes to one day work in a field that combines her two passions: psychology and dance.

“My long-term goal is to work with patients — particularly teens — who might benefit from dance therapy,” she says.

So when it came to choosing a major, Rosenberger decided that rather than picking one, she’d pursue both. After all, as the saying goes, when you come to a fork in the road, take it.

“I thought I would combine the two if I could,” says Rosenberger, of Mohnton, Pa. “I came to Ursinus with the mindset of double majoring, and Ursinus does a great job of making that possible for its students.”

Many Ursinus students don’t want to be constrained within one academic discipline, says April Edwards, interim vice president for academic affairs and interim dean of the college. Like Rosenberger, a growing number of students is choosing to take on more than one major and, in some cases, create a self-initiated major or minor (SIM). Students usually choose this option because they have several interests they hope to study simultaneously.

“There are growing professional fields that don’t identify with one specific area of study. We want our students to deeply explore multiple areas of expertise — and to understand how academic disciplines intersect,” Edwards says.

It fosters creative and innovative thinking, Edwards says, and allows students to be authors of their own education. “Our students are entrepreneurs and self-starters,” she says.

Double Majors

Allison Lubczanski ’18 would like to administer pharmaceutical benefits to disadvantaged families in French-speaking countries. She majors in biochemistry and molecular biology and French. Codi Yhap ’20 loves singing as much as he does the sciences. He majors in music and biology.

“Many of my study skills come from years of studying music and the two together help me have a wider range of thought,” says Yhap, of Griggstown, N.J.  

They may seem like eclectic and seemingly unrelated combinations of academic disciplines, but these double majors are giving students the option of cutting across traditional boundaries and designing their own career path. Currently, more than 220 students are pursuing more than one major and 10 students have designed a self-initiated major. 

“I always found my double major to be a healthy balance between — as I always say — the right side of my brain and the left side of my brain,” says Lubczanski, who is from Allentown, Pa. “Whenever I’m doing the really hard calculations or the dry logic memorization of the science, I like to switch over and do the French. It’s my fun break from the sciences. I always found them to be very complementary of each other.”

Self-designed Study

Carter Timon ’17, of Walpole, N.H., not only designed his own area of study, he is taking on three majors. Timon says he came to Ursinus undecided and, after initially settling on neuroscience, shifted gears to pursue a double major in psychology and anthropology and sociology (with an emphasis on sociology).

“But I also really wanted to do linguistics,” he says.

Since Ursinus doesn’t have a linguistics program, Timon got creative.

“I looked into other avenues and discovered that I could do a SIM,” Timon says. “I looked at other schools’ programs and looked for courses at Ursinus that would fit into creating a robust linguistics program for me. Once I did that, I decided to triple major.”

“I’m just interested in studying people,” he says. “There is a lot of overlap with the three subjects, and I think this degree ultimately gives me a deeper knowledge base.”

Vanessa Scalora is another student who decided to build her own area of study. A business and economics major, Scalora minors in food studies because of her interest in nutrition.

“As I did my own research, my interests evolved into a combination of nutrition and sustainability,” says Scalora, a resident of Rhode Island. She is a sustainability fellow and is president of Wismer on Wheels, a community service organization that works to combat local community hunger and poverty. She is also taking on an independent study in which she is creating a database of nutritional information on forageable foods in Philadelphia.

“I knew that I wanted to incorporate nutrition into my academics somehow, and I really hope I can leverage my background in economics with my sustainability interests,” Scalora says. “All of the professors here were so accommodating supportive when I decided that I would pursue this minor. There’s a personal aspect here that you just don’t get at a bigger school.”

Some students have even taken interdisciplinary minors, such as peace and social justice and applied ethics, and are pursuing them as majors. Dylan Stephens ’17 is double majoring in biology and applied ethics.

“I was trying to find a humanities major to do in addition to my biology major,” says Stephens, a native of Seattle, Wash. who wants to attend medical school. “I was reading about the applied ethics minor and found there were other courses I wanted to add to it. It’s multidisciplinary. I wanted to add that aspect. It gives me an additional level of literacy, engagement and comprehension.”

While unconventional, Edwards says these challenges help make the students more attractive to potential employers because they are well-versed in multiple subjects while having an education grounded in the liberal arts.

“Everything is collaborative here,” Edwards says. “Our students can explore new businesses ideas, perform independent research, study abroad, and intern at top organizations in the area. We encourage students to think across academic disciplines.” –by Ed Moorhouse