Choosing a major was the most challenging decision I had to make during my time at Oberlin. I’m not the first person at a liberal arts college to be rather fickle in this regard, but I had a genuinely difficult time committing myself to a single discipline. Oberlin lets you create your own major, but it’s not as if I had an idea for a magical self-designed major either.
My freshman year, I began the exhilarating process of exploring as many departments as I could. Art history, math, rhetoric, environmental studies, anthropology, history, religion, economics, as well as Argentine Tango, MST3K, and Fearless Knitting in the Experimental College made up the academic portion of my first year. When sophomore year started, I was ready to do it all over again.
I took down Oberlin’s general graduation requirements in no time. While my pipette-wielding friends were having a hard time squeezing humanities classes into their research-heavy schedules, and my sonnet-explicating friends were scoping out “easy” science classes that they had a chance of passing, I just sat around wondering how I would ever find enough time to finish a major when there were so many interesting classes in so many different departments.
Yet somehow, I persevered in finding the elusive grail: my environmental studies major. I eventually realized that even though I had only taken one class in the environmental studies department, another course I had taken also counted towards the major. Two classes related to one major! I knew I must be onto something. As I looked through the requirements, I found that there was actually a wide range of classes in other departments that could be part of an environmental studies major. In fact, my favorite classes for the major so far are in the departments of English, history, physics, and psychology. It turned out that my desire to major in “the universe” wasn’t so at odds with what Oberlin was offering me after all.
Even if I weren’t a part of an intrinsically interdisciplinary major, an education at Oberlin encourages all students to make connections between topics we once thought were entirely unrelated. I can’t resist referencing psychological phenomena when giving a presentation on Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography, and I can’t help writing about the biological tendencies of honeybees when composing a paper for my Japanese religions class. It’s clear that mine is a sickness that affects many Obies. People here have the craziest major combinations (don’t even get me started on double-degree students). And as we know from nature, diversity is an excellent indicator of an environment’s health.
I plan to go into education once I graduate with my environmental studies degree. I might become a park ranger, or a museum educator, or a coordinator for after-school programs for disadvantaged teens. Even without an education department in the college, Oberlin has given me opportunities to explore the different aspects of my interest in education. I tutor math and language arts at the local middle school, and I spent the winter term of my junior year in an environmentally charged 6th grade science classroom [led by Jessica Levine ’95]. I’m counting on my experiences to help me become a great educator, and I’m counting on my environmental studies major to help me continue to explore the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences and to continue to make worldwide connections.
Learning isn’t just about memorizing static content for a specific class; it’s about shattering the boundaries of a subject and seeing how you can apply its content in different contexts. As is demonstrated by so many Obies, it’s about pursuing subjects you care about with a passion, and applying the knowledge you’ve gained to make the world a better place.