Marla Guggenheimer (Class of 2017)

  • photo of Marla Guggenheimersenior Individualized Studies major with a Sustainability co-major
  • self-designed major focused on sustainable agriculture and education
  • minor in Spanish
  • from Dayton, OH
  • spends much of her time working with Miami's Institute for Food's organic farm

openquoteThe Western Program can seem overwhelming since you have to be responsible for your own courses of study, but it's worth it. I really think that the Western Program is what higher education should be. Focus on those things that make you excited and that you want to pursue. There's no right or wrong way to do education. Western is for people who know exactly what they want to do, but don't have a major specifically for them. It's also for people who have so many interests that they don't know what they want to do! With Western, you can combine them all. It's really a program for everyone.closequote


Why Miami?

"I was drawn to Miami because of its closeness to my home in Dayton and the generous aid package they offered me. I entered as a biology major because of my interest in environmental studies, and I knew Miami has a strong biology program.

"Early into the semester, I realized that a biology major wasn't the right fit for me. Instead, I wanted to pursue environmental studies in a more interdisciplinary way. A lot of the residential assistants (RAs) in Peabody were in the Western Program, where they were majoring in Individualized Studies, and I talked to them a lot about what I really wanted to study. I felt that I had all of these interests, but there was really no singular major for them. I was excited when my RAs told me that I sounded like the perfect candidate for the Western Program.

"I talked to Kim Ernsting, who was the Western Program advisor at the time, and I realized that Individualized Studies was the best fit for me. It was exactly what I wanted from my college education. I had found my academic home!"

Best Miami Experiences

"Being part of the Western Program has truly been the best thing for me about Miami, because of the freedom to create my own individualized major. You form your course of study as it relates to your specific interest, and this makes it relevant, interesting, and exciting to learn—after all, you're learning the things that you're most passionate about!

"On top of that, you learn how to apply those skills in many different contexts and real-world applications. You actually know that you'll be using the things that you're learning. What more could you ask for in education?

"We're very fortunate to have professors, advisors, and staff in the program whose focus is to help us pursue our academic goals and interests. Many of these individuals have become friends as well—it's really a great community."

Miami and Liberal Arts Education

"Miami's liberal arts curriculum has allowed me to combine my Individualized Studies major with a co-major in Sustainability to study sustainable agriculture and education. This work has been instrumental to what I want to do as a future educator.

"Through the plan I created for my major and co-major, I took environmental philosophy my junior year. Having never taken a philosophy class before, I was nervous that I was not prepared, but it was wonderful because the teacher was really awesome about working one-on-one with students if they needed help. The class gave me great insight on all the different ways people conceive of their connection to nature and how we interact with the natural world. It was really formative for my own understanding of how people understand themselves in the world.

"I also took a class last semester called Western 322. The subject changes every year, but it was called Art and Politics [Developing Interdisciplinary Projects: Art and Politics of Representation] at the time and was taught by Western professor Jacqueline Daugherty. The course provided a lot of theoretical background, helping me to form pretty much the entire basis of my senior project. It was extremely helpful—I've never had a wasted class!"

Pursuing a Sustainable Future

enlarged photo of Marla Guggenheimer working on farm"I want to be an educator working in communities to encourage environmentally-sustainable thought and and social-justice action through hands-on work in food gardens and the larger food system. Because of the courses I was able to take for my self-designed major in Individualized Studies and my experiences conducting field work at Miami's Institute for Food, I'm fortunate to have already had many undergrad opportunities related to my goals, both in theory and in practice.

"My senior project is the creation of a curriculum for middle schoolers, using a school garden as the classroom for every lesson. The Institute for Food serves as the perfect location to conduct my project. Being out on the organic farm behind Yager Stadium, both for class and on my own, brings life to my work, making it hands-on and immersive!

"Overall, my courses and involvement with the Institute for Food all flows right into what I'm planning to do after graduation. It's all meaningful work, which makes it awesome!"

Advice to Students

"The Western Program can seem overwhelming since you have to be responsible for your own courses of study, but it's worth it. I really think that the Western Program is what higher education should be.

"Focus on those things that make you excited and that you want to pursue. There's no right or wrong way to do education. Western is for people who know exactly what they want to do, but don't have a major specifically for them. It's also for people who have so many interests that they don't know what they want to do! With Western, you can combine them all. It's really a program for everyone."

[October 2016]