June 16, 2010

Designing their Own Major Gives Lafayette Students an Edge

Working as an analyst in currency operations at Goldman Sachs, Treyvon Jackson ’10 is certain that creating his own major had a lot to do with getting the job.

At Lafayette, Jackson designed an interdisciplinary major in performance studies, which explores the political implications that the performing arts have on society.

Treyvon Jackson '10

Treyvon Jackson ’10, left, mentors middle school students though his Modes of Expression program.

“I strongly believe that my major showed that I was a creative individual, and in operations in particular there is some level of creativity necessary in order to provide the best and most efficient services to clients,” says Jackson, who as a student founded Modes of Expression, a program inspiring youth in the Easton community through arts-related projects.

Lafayette offers degrees in 46 majors across four divisions, but the College also offers students the option to design their own major with faculty guidance. These students tailor a curriculum to fit their own academic interests and individual educational goals. Jackson’s major consisted of courses in art, including the philosophy of art, and theater and theater history. Recent examples of self-created majors include architecture, archeology, film and media in politics, management science, marketing & business communication, modern Japanese studies, and studies in human rights.

“Designing my own major gave me the possibility of being a little more creative and going against the norm. I was doing something that was more in line with where my interests are, and I am happy that there wasn’t any issue with doing so,” Jackson say

In designing a major, a student works with a faculty adviser who helps put together a personalized curriculum. The student must write a proposal listing the classes that will be included in the major, as well as an argument that is reviewed by a panel of three professors from three different departments.

Stephanie Morillo ’08 designed a major called creative media and social justice, which, as she describes it, “covered just about anything that could fall under the terms ‘artistic’ and ‘socially conscious.’” She took classes in the English department (including film and theater), music, art, philosophy, government & law, women’s studies, history, economics, and sociology.

“I have varying interests and I wanted to major in something that would reflect those interests by providing me an introduction to a vast array of different subjects. For some, this is easily satisfied by double majoring, but I wanted to know what was out there and not put too specific a focus on any particular field,” she says.

Her experience with designing her own major helped Morillo find a job as a media coordinator at Douglas Gould and Company. “It allowed me to continue to develop everything from knowledge of current events to interpersonal skills to computer skills that were important in acquiring internships during college.” After college, Morillo used these skills during the year she taught English in West Malaysia through the Fulbright Program.

Morillo says that having a self-designed major allowed her the flexibility to explore and delve into subjects that she had only limited knowledge of. “For example, two years after taking Acting and Improvisation I joined the cast of College Theater’s Pride and Prejudice and was able to participate in an upper-level art class with Professor [Edward] Kerns [Clapp Professor of Art]  after discovering an appreciation for painting in his beginning painting class,” she says.

Jacquelyn Marchese ’09 majored in computational biology, encompassing courses in biology, computational science (the study of using computers for quantitative analysis), and mathematics. She is an environmental analyst for Computer Sciences Corp in Alexandria, Va., which mainly works on contracts for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Although a potential employer looks at all aspects of a job candidate’s qualifications, Marchese says that her self-designed major may have helped her stand out.

“I believe my major may have helped me because I am able to offer education in multiple fields,” she says. “I was always interested in certain aspects of biology (ecology, flora/fauna, the environment) and started to really enjoy the math classes that I took.  I could have been a double major, but by creating my own I really was able to hone in on the areas of those fields that I truly enjoyed,” she says.

During her sophomore year, Marchese reached out to Nancy Waters, associate professor of biology, for assistance in designing a major.

“She offered tremendous help and support when I was designing the major,” Marchese says. “I certainly could not have done it without her.” She also received guidance and support from Chun Wai Liew, associate professor of computer science; Evan Fisher, professor of mathematics; and Rob Root, associate professor of mathematics.

“As a student, I valued the opportunity to study in multiple departments, which meant taking classes with an array of classmates at Lafayette, but most importantly, I received experience and exposure to three varying fields,” she says.

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