Study what you love

Photo courtesy of Butler University

ANDRES SALERNO | OPINION COLUMNIST | asalern1@butler.edu

There is a widely shared experience among Butler students enrolled in irrelevant course for their degree plan as first-years. Keep your ears open and you’ll hear students lamenting about the social world they took in their first semester that was superfluous or first-years complaining about a premature text and ideas course that could’ve been easily satisfied at another point over four years.

Natalie Heller, a freshman psychology and piano major, has experienced this firsthand. “I was told I had to take as many of my core classes as I could early on,” Heller said. “I’m not really taking my TI because it’s something that interests me. I’m taking it because it’s the only course that fits in my schedule.”

For all the inconvenience it creates, the mishaps of an advisor will often serve as the only time that some students branch out and take a class not mandated by their specific degree plan. Luckily, exhaustion-induced advisor quagmires are not the only opportunity for students to explore their interests, even if it is required by their degree plan.

The Butler CORE — the coursework that every Butler student must satisfy to graduate — is convenient in that it does allow students to branch out into areas of potential interest. For Cody Maggiore, a sophomore dance major, a CORE course in ecology was enough for him to declare a minor in environmental sciences.

“Environmental science was something I was always interested in and it’s what I would have majored if I wasn’t dancing,” Maggiore said. “I really wanted another area of academic focus… I’m only going to be in college for four years so a minor is a good way to study something I’m passionate about.”

The greatest strength of Butler University, and schools similar to this one, is the freedom it grants students to diversify their coursework and provide a true liberal arts education, regardless of the college a student is based in. If a student is willing to advocate for themselves, they can create combinations of degrees that would simply not be possible at a state school.

There is, unfortunately, no magic pill for hard work. The opportunity afforded here does not negate the fact that more coursework is more coursework, leaving an entirely valid question: why would anyone elect to put more on their plate? Stefanee Montesantos, a junior dance major with a minor in English, said she found value in obtaining an English minor, even while juggling the hectic 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. schedule of the Butler Ballet program.

“It’s worth it because it makes me excited, and I love creating; it’s therapeutic,” Montesantos said. “The stress of dance sometimes complicates my life, and having the tools to sit down and create allows me to untangle some of those complications.”

The value of pursuing interests beyond a baseline major, in an academic sense, has an intrinsic worth unto itself. In today’s political economy, however, the aforementioned sentiment is considered surprisingly controversial. This controversy is manufactured by those in positions of power who don’t value critical thinking, however, and should not be taken seriously.

The implications of academic well-roundedness being trivial are telling of the pressures of the era we live in today. For many, it feels as though we are what we make quarterly, and therefore such divergent academic pursuits are mere distractions. There is an increasing pressure for people to specialize in one field, focusing their entire academic career on putting all of their eggs into one basket, tossing that basket into the void and hoping that it all turns out OK.

Beyond the value of knowledge for its own sake, which I believe needs no defense, diverse academic interests are clearly of value to potential employers. Though subjects may be taught in different buildings, every field of study can be enriched with perspectives from different disciplines.

For example, the process of learning how to play an instrument is shown to strengthen the same cognitive functions responsible for language learning. At the intersection of science and writing, there is a need for those who can demystify the complex concepts for the general reader, as well as those who can effectively communicate the results of experiments so that they may be published in academic journals.

Diversifying your education is something that only a school like Butler can provide. Expanding your academic background at the least can be a fulfilling experience that is gratifying for its own sake, but it could also be the catalyst that sets you apart from those applying to the same jobs. Pursuing your interests beyond your major in an academic sense could even lead to a new career.

At Butler, we all pay the same tuition whether we are taking 12 or 20 credit hours. There are courses on subjects ranging from women in antiquity to witchcraft, and between that spectrum, I doubt there is much left uncovered. You’re only an undergraduate once. Go learn about things that interest you.

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