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Student and Alumni Spotlights

Former students describe how they came to choose Western, life as a Western student, and more.

Class of 2019

Phoebe Myers

photo of Phoebe Myers

  • junior Individualized Studies major
  • self-designed major focused on individual empowerment and social change
  • from Oxford, OH
  • writing consultant for the Howe Writing Center
  • interned in San Francisco for nonprofit organization 826 Valencia (J-Term 2016)
  • Undergraduate Summer Scholar (Summer 2017)
"My exposure to various English, creative writing, and social justice courses at Miami gave me the academic background, but my San Francisco internship and work at Howe Writing Center has proven that there are ways to connect my interests together. The physical act of writing creatively can be like a supplement to living an individual, happy life, and for me this was the crossing point into social justice issues. How I can help people find a voice for their different experiences, especially when their voices aren't often heard, is where I am focused."

Why Miami?

Phoebe Myers (right) with her mother and inspiration Lynne, co-founder of Project Dragonfly

"I grew up here in Oxford, because my parents are Miami mergers who both help run a master's program, Project Dragonfly, here in the Department of Biology. As a child I always loved seeing my parents work in this innovative program that incorporates both online and field courses with 16 different countries where students can study. It was clear to me that Miami is willing to support such a unique, globally-minded program, so that gave me a sense of trust with the university. That played a big reason for me deciding to study here.

"I began as a journalism major but changed during my first year because I discovered that I was more interested in the creative side of writing, especially after I took my Introduction to Creative Writing class my very first semester. That course, taught by assistant professor of English Daisy Hernandez, was the turning point. The course covered all the bases, having us spend weeks on poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction.

"This was my first exposure to creative writing, and Professor Hernandez really pushed us to work on the professional side of our writing, not solely for class but also for writing contests and other publications. I was totally shocked by how her personal involvement felt like she treated all her students as individuals and paid such close attention to their academic work. I took two other creative writing classes with her, and this is how my path to the Western Program and my individualized studies major started.

"Since then, I've been taking around an equal number of Western classes and creative writing courses, and it’s been working out really well."

Best Miami Experiences

Phoebe Myers and friend on top of a mountain in Cuba

Phoebe Myers and friend on top of a mountain in Cuba

"Two amazing experiences I've had at Miami were studying abroad in Cuba and Luxembourg, and they both led to my Undergraduate Summer Scholars research project with Daisy Hernandez on Cuban Americans and how they use art, writing, and other forms of expression to explore what American citizenship means to them individually — rather than as a governmental policy.

"Since my sophomore year I've been a writing consultant for the Howe Writing Center, and it's been great to examine how writing works for different students and working with them on their projects in a collaborative way. It's not a matter of teaching them what to do, but to try to understand their own perspectives and experiences. I want to write for social change, and to do so you have to be exposed to different backgrounds and thoughts about writing.

"The Western Program has been an important part of my development as a socially conscious writer, and all the faculty there have been fantastic. I had an associate professor for an interesting course called Self and Place [WST 201], and he is very invested in getting his students involved in their local communities and thinking about how to become more active and aware citizens.

"My entire experience in the Western Program has been focused on the idea of approaching problems in an interdisciplinary fashion, and this is going to be very useful for me in any field I choose after graduation. In my career I want take an interconnected perspective at the world to understand how things got to be this way. I've learned that you can't just look at a problem from one narrow discipline, and realizing this has been very helpful."

Miami and the Liberal Arts

Selection of Cuban poet's books on display in Havana

"Within the liberal arts, I've found that professors really seem to love teaching and are particularly invested in their students. They encourage students to step outside their comfort zone and come into contact with different viewpoints, and whether it is the views of your classmates or people on the other side of the world, this is definitely a key advantage.

"My creative nonfiction writing was inspired in part by my parents' creation of Project Dragonfly, which used to publish a children's magazine on scientific investigations, and I grew up learning how to live green and care about the environment. My overall interest in all kinds of social justice issues has been hard to separate since they are very interconnected. It comes from the desire to help others who are not often heard or represented in writing — it started with feminism and proceeded from there.

"As a freshman, I was thinking about I could connect these two interests — writing and social justice — together. I told Western Program advisor and coordinator Zack Hill about this, and he helped me look through the Miami course list and put together my specific individualized studies plan. By going through the course catalog like this, you can make sure your studies line up with your topic. Since my plan may change, it's flexible, but it has been a very good framework that includes not only classes, but also other opportunities, like study abroad or working at the Howe Writing Center.

"At the end of that semester, I had to defend my plan in front of most of the Western faculty and some older students, and they made a lot of helpful suggestions. This has been incredibly helpful and another reason why I feel the liberal arts are so important."

Linking Creative Writing to Social Justice

"For my first J-Term as a freshman, I went to San Francisco to work at a nonprofit writing center called 826 Valencia, co-founded by the author Dave Eggers. The organization has different chapters throughout the country, but at its original location in San Francisco it focuses on giving kids more access and practice with creative writing — letting them discover their innate power to write.

"Because I like working with kids and have been interested in social justice issues, I looked at the 826 Valencia website to learn about potential internships. They didn't have any internships open at that moment, but  I decided to email them anyways to let them know I was really interested in their mission and would be available for 5 or 6 weeks in the winter even if it didn't take the form of their traditional internship. They called me, gave me an interview over the phone, and then basically said, 'Sure, come on down!' I had just turned 19, and it felt awesome to realize that I was on my way to San Francisco!

"I worked there 9-to-5, Monday through Friday, in a variety of programs. The main one was an after-school program at a local elementary school, which was specifically targeted at kids who were falling through the academic cracks. My coworkers and I sat down with kids in grades 3 through 5 to work on different themes each week — written advertisements, collaborative poetry, and much more.  Brainstorming ideas with the kids was amazing, and seeing the dedication of my co-workers, some of whom had been working with 826 Valencia for years, filled me with inspiration.

"Later, in the spring, the organization sent me a copy of the final published project. I could see the students I worked with along with their written creations in an actual book. I just knew that if I was a kid and had my own work recognized in an actual book I would be so excited — it would change my ideas about writing!

"Back here at Miami and the Howe Writing Center, I wanted to continue what I had started in San Francisco. Of course the age group is much different, where I'm working with my peers and sometimes even older grad students, but the goal is similar. My work there has opened my eyes to how different everyone's writing can be. It's important to remember that people approach writing with a vast array of backgrounds, and these days it sometimes feels like published writing from all disciplines is produced into a monolithic style. It seems that our cultural hegemony makes us value only specific things, when in reality good writing has many different forms. I think people forget this a lot, and my experiences inside and outside my major have given me a passion for writing that supports individual empowerment and social change.

"My exposure to various English, creative writing, and social justice courses at Miami gave me the academic background, but my San Francisco internship and work at Howe Writing Center has proven that there are ways to connect my interests together. The physical act of writing creatively can be like a supplement to living an individual, happy life, and for me this was the crossing point into social justice issues. How I can help people find a voice for their different experiences, especially when their voices aren't often heard, is where I am focused. I am really glad that in San Francisco I learned that the physical act of writing, not just studying literature, is key to this.

"My work with 826 Valencia led to an independent study for my major, and overlapping it with my experiences at the writing center has shown me how I can connect those two spheres together."

Advice to Students

"Recently I heard a quote, 'With freedoms come accountabilities.' I don't know the source, but what I love about the liberal arts at Miami and the Western Program is that having a lot of freedom can initially stop some people. Some are very comfortable with that level of choice, but it could scare others from trying.

"However, the faculty at Miami will help you all along the way in determining what you want to do. In the end, having a self-designed education that really follows your interests is invaluable — but you have to recognize what you want and then follow through to get it!

"Do not be afraid to ask for opportunities. As some say, 'If you don't ask, the answer will always be no.' It takes time, and even when you ask it is not always going to get accepted. You have to become immune to the fear of rejection — rejection from one thing does not mean everything. The worst anyone can say is no, but if you're genuinely interested you can always find opportunities. Keep your eyes open, be vocal, and ask around!"

[March 2018]

Jack Ackerman

Jack Ackerman

  • senior Entrepreneurship and Individualized Studies double major
  • minor in Interactive Media Studies
  • from Dayton, OH
  • designed a major that blends capital-intensive elements incorporating neuroscience and natural resources
  • created his own startup aviation technology company, HangarShare
  • selected by Silicon Valley Bank as part of the SVB Trek class of 2018
"Regardless of where you're going, having a transformative mindset is important — it's not just going along with the steps but asking why we're doing it that way. People are often afraid to question the status quo, but you just may come up with something really different. That's how you change the world, one innovation at a time."

Why Miami?

"My decision to attend Miami was twofold: an opportunity to study at a renowned university with top-ranked faculty, as well as the depth of financial resources Miami was able to provide. These ended up being the deciding factors in my enrollment. I had intended on starting in business, but an interest in economics sparked my interest in CAS [College of Arts and Science].

"My first semester was certainly unconventional, to say the least. I began at Miami's Middletown campus, working at the library there until I could afford to come to Oxford my second semester freshman year. If not for these pathways by means of available scholarships and aid, I would have likely remained in a far less fortunate situation without the opportunities I have been blessed with at Miami. Shifting from being a commuting student to physically living on campus and immersing myself into life here among my peers was a significant yet critical change as I continued to grow. As a sophomore, I switched to the Western Program's individualized studies major to leverage my own education within these disciplines as I broadened my base of subjects throughout that year.

"At Miami I have come to appreciate the quality in which my faculty and peers carry themselves, and these traits hold true in all of the alumni I have met as well. I've been fortunate to establish relationships with not only my own professors from various classes but also with some in different departments who I'd never had in class! I would encourage my peers to do likewise — the guidance and knowledge they will bestow upon you will last far longer in your life then any late-night excursion Uptown will.

"You will build tremendous relationships here that are lifelong. Faculty will help guide the manner in which you continue to learn and grow, and I feel that I will not only remain closely connected to my friends but also to future generations of faculty and students over the common bond we all share."

Best Miami Experiences

Jack Ackerman (right) discusses strategies with other SVB Trek students.

"One of my most memorable experiences at Miami was starting an aviation technology called HangarShare. We had worked with pilots flying into regional airports who need hangar space. It was a tremendous experience to have a taste of building the earliest parts of a company as a Miami student.

"During my junior year, I was able to move to San Francisco to take part in a program called SFDI - San Francisco Digital Innovation through the support of Miami's Interactive Media Studies (IMS) program and a scholarship obtained through Western. Through the SFDI program I was able to work at a startup for 4 days a week and build an incredible network of individuals. San Francisco was a spectacular opportunity to lean on the core of my education from CAS while working alongside some of the brightest minds in the world.

"Key faculty in my entrepreneurship co-major have been professors Tim Holcomb and Mark Lacker and professor and founding director of the Center for Social Entrepreneurship Brett Smith. They have all provided fantastic guidance that has enabled me to grow as a leader as I prepare to be a future founder.

"On the CAS end of the spectrum, professors Hays Cummins and Western Program director Nicholas Money have helped tremendously in shaping my inquiry of the status quo and fostering greater responsibility over my own education.

"My self-designed individualized studies major in Western focuses on both neuroscience and natural resources. Although these fields don't seem to align, they're capital-intensive industries that are ripe for innovation. They focus on the push towards the frontiers of science, and in creating my own major I've been looking at the forefronts of neuroscience and energy/natural resources while examining how to solve some of their toughest problems. My Western background has allowed me to take a step back and apply a certain level of questioning, which leads me to the big picture in building out a new idea and strategy.

"Looking back at my Miami experiences now as a senior Western student, I see that the benefits of defining my education have appeared over time. Early on I had made a blind push to be in the business school, but even when all that remained was calculus I ended up dropping it over the summer — and abandoning my goal of entering Farmer was one of my most painful decisions.

"However, I had also decided not to allow a major to define my future; rather, it was the knowledge I would accrue that would do that. In the 3 years since then, I've interned at various investment banks, including a derivatives group, and have realized that you simply have to own your education. If you fall in love with what you're learning, you will always feel challenged and inspired.

"The openness of Western, which allows you to choose your own path, was key for me. Western offered me a completely different ideology, helping my ideas become more analytical, dynamic, and receptive to the world. I live with two roommates who are partisan in their political beliefs, but I feel that I can conceptualize both sides of the conversation without bias. The Socratic style of inquiry that Miami has helped me develop allows me to thrive as an entrepreneur by looking beyond the first right answer. This is a point my marketing professor Jim Friedman has pushed us on, and it will stay with me for the rest of my life."

Miami and the Liberal Arts

"Both of my majors are in relatively small departments, so they feel personalized and give me the benefit of knowing everybody. Once you reach that level of comfort, it becomes easier to learn who you are and how your decisions help to reflect that. Your expectations are often self-guided because you are setting the bar for yourself, and I love that challenge.

"All of my favorite Miami classes have utilized different disciplines. For example, I took a 'scrum' entrepreneurship class, ESP 321, which is a great opportunity for anyone interested in working at a startup in the future. During a two-week timeframe, we had to collaborate as a team from ideation to launch of a product for a real client. That was a tremendous and impactful experience which allowed for me to hit the ground running when I landed in San Francisco.

"The rich liberal arts background I've gotten from the College of Arts and Science, and Western in particular, has given me a holistic perspective that helps me learn how to think and focus a lens on my goals. I took a pair of entry-level Western Program courses (WST 201 and 301) that were formative for me. We read a book called The Creative Class, which talked about how highly creative people drive all the innovation in society, culture, and economics. Everyone else envelops into that. Those are the types of moments that really wake you up to where you fit in the world.

"I see it like climbing a mountain — that first 10,000 feet is learning how to think and doing all the legwork. The next 10,000 feet is the knowledge in your respective fields and building a real depth of competency, whether that's in neuroscience or solar energy. Finally, at the peak of the mountain, is where you build your connections — with professors and alumni, with people in your field. These relationships provide a breakthrough that puts you over the clouds, where new opportunities come into view.

"As a whole, CAS puts you in touch with so many disciplines. You might jump from philosophy to geology or biology, whatever major, but exposing yourself to that variety is how you truly learn. While building a new competency in an entirely new discipline can last you for life, a path that's too structured or linear is eventually going to be heading into a brick wall. This is why I see the value in CAS as being the ability to pick up a new topic quickly and run with it.

"Harnessing and directing your learning gives you more control and leverage of yourself. It's a difficult process, but it makes learning so rewarding and can be whatever you choose. You really just have to find fulfillment and energy in that process — and doing so is what makes a great founder and innovator for a company."

Collaborating with Cutting-Edge, High-Tech Entrepreneurial Minds

"Last spring and summer, as part of Miami's Digital Innovation Program, I lived in a house in San Francisco among 20 other students and worked on my own startup for 5 months. It was from that experience that I became interested in the SVB Trek program, which I participated in during J-Term 2018.

SVB Trek 2018 participants pose for a group photo. Jack Ackerman is in the white shirt in the rear left.

"The SVB Trek Program is hosted by Silicon Valley Bank, a commercial bank that lends to the earliest entrepreneurs — people who have just founded their company, gotten venture funding, and need to start paying people and begin their business. SVB is really innovative in that way. They put in a lot of thought behind the risks that they take, but they do a great job of building that vital entrepreneurial ecosystem.

"What was fascinating about the Trek Program was the educational diversity of the participants — medicine, environmental studies, engineering, neuroscience, economics, business, and many others. I was one of more than 20 students from all over the world, all founders in the emerging technology space.

"The program featured salon-style sessions with founders from tech companies such as Google X, Ross Intelligence, 23andMe, Evernote, and EventBrite. All these companies are involved in fascinating, cutting-edge technologies that focus on such diverse things as scanning your genomes for ancestry and medical information, developing self-driving cars, and fighting diseases like malaria by using genetically modified mosquitoes.

"One of the things that amazed me during the internship was that the next generation of entrepreneurs is taking a lot of ideas from both the liberal arts and traditional businesses and digitizing them. For example, one of the founders we met was from Ross Intelligence, which is focused on uploading all legal documents across the U.S. and building software that can search for and find things immediately. Instead of lawyers and legal assistants needing hours to track down this information, soon they'll be accomplishing it all in a few seconds. This gives law firms a greater opportunity to be more efficient and dynamic when preparing briefs for their clients.

"We saw how technology spans a horizontal bandwidth that people have begun calling the 'internet of things.' It began with the existence of the internet and continues to the next stage, which is focused on building and improving the infrastructure. Finally we have begun to focus on taking just about everything — our phones, watches, cars, dog leashes, and so on — and connecting them to the internet and essentially to each other. You don't necessarily need to know a lot of coding. Whether you're coming from philosophy or microbiology, you can create a startup that incorporates the internet of things.

"From my experiences of being a founder, investing in a company, and being part of the SVB Trek program, I've gained a profound appreciation that any background can lead to the founding of a company. Founding a company is a lot like developing a major in the Western Program — it's highly inquisitive and sometimes disorienting, requiring you to find your way and lean on your mentors.

"That question of 'why?' I think, is the biggest push for the liberal arts and CAS. You can look at history and realize that advancements in technology and efficiency came about because someone was interested in tweaking and making improvements. It's very powerful, allowing you to find opportunities and create true innovation in spaces where others just glance over.

"Because I'm planning to go into venture capital, I think having a knowledge base that extends across all these different departments in the CAS and beyond helps me understand where these innovative founders and their technology are coming from. I gained a far greater appreciation for all this, and I'm really looking forward to getting out there and helping the next generation of Miami students!"

Advice to Students

"It may sound like a cliche, but I strongly advise you to take as many different courses as you can. Try to figure out fairly quickly what you enjoy doing and what you hate. Ask yourself, 'Where do my strengths lie?' and 'Would I do this on a Saturday morning?' If you can get up at 6 am on Saturday and have that passion to conduct research in a lab, write a novel, or lead an archaeological dig, you can probably do it with that same energy every single day. It may be difficult, but when you graduate, you will have purpose in your day because you took the time to explore your opportunities at Miami.

"I also suggest getting to know some professors in areas you are interested in. It's just like having a more knowledgeable best friend to bounce ideas off of as you continue to learn. To learn how to innovate, focus on understanding the process.

"For example, if you're in a chemistry lab where you need to follow 12 different steps, ask them, 'Why these 12 steps?' Think about combining those steps into maybe 3 or 4 efficient steps. If you could condense that whole process, you could help transform chemistry! This might save someone an hour of time, which could allow them to do 5 extra tests in a day that eventually lead to the next major breakthrough.

"Regardless of where you're going, having a transformative mindset is important — it's not just going along with the steps but asking why we're doing it that way. People are often afraid to question the status quo, but you just may come up with something really different. That's how you change the world, one innovation at a time."

[February 2018]

Audrey Lipps

Audrey Lipps

  • junior double major in Individualized Studies and Women's, Gender, & Sexuality Studies
  • self-designed major focused on environmental and social justice studies
  • from Oxford, OH
  • spent 8 months in Hawaii doing ethnographic research on food justice and sustainability (May-December 2016)
  • interned for Women Engaged for a Common Future in Utrecht, the Netherlands (January-July 2017)
"The Western Program, which is a key part of Miami's liberal arts, has enabled me to design not only my own major but also the kind of research I would need to conduct."

Why Miami?

"My dad is a staff member at Miami, so I was very lucky with my tuition and scholarships. Being from Oxford since high school, I spent a lot of time on campus growing up near campus, and a lot of my friends went on to Miami as well. I've actually been taking classes at Miami since I was a high school senior!

"During my first year I met a great group of people who were interested in a lot of the same things that I was, especially issues related to social justice. We all became members of organizations for marginalized students such as F-Word (Feminists Working on Real Democracy) and Spectrum, and my friends had a house that served as a cool safe space for those of us who didn't necessarily fit into the classic mold. During this time I also began getting a feel for the Western Program and its Individualized Studies major."

Best Miami Experiences

"I could talk about the Western Program all the time! It's so interdisciplinary, and I love how the professors really let you decide how your education is going to be formed. I chose my major there during my freshman year, took some classes, and got the feel for being more in control of my major and the classes I take. We put our major into categories, figure out how to title it, and determine the sort of research and different disciplines we need to create something that feels super meaningful.

Audrey Lipps takes in the sunset at Hapuna Beach, Hawaii.

"I started at Miami planning to major in English and Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, but Western gave me a broader perspective of my interests. I was able to pick and choose from so many different fields: anthropology, sociology, social justice, environmental science, sustainability — all of which were very important to me. Without creating my own major, with its focus on environmental and social justice studies, I wouldn't have been able to graduate on time!

"As part of my ethnographic research project for my major, last year I went to Hawaii for 8 months (from May to December). I'd chosen Hawaii because I spent the summer before my freshman year there working and living on an organic sustainable farm. With the help of Jacqueline Daugherty, my Western Program advisor, I designed my own syllabus. Professor Daugherty was amazing in helping me put together reading lists and figuring out what exactly I would do while there. We designed my research questions on food justice and sustainability and determined how I would conduct interviews and create field journals. I'm now in the process of writing the final manuscript to present to different food conferences.

"After returning from Hawaii this past December, one week later I traveled to the Netherlands to work in the city of Utrecht for a non-profit organization called Women Engaged for a Common Future (WECF). WECF partners with the United Nations and the European Union to work on sustainability issues, such as clean water, that prioritize women. As an intern, I was able to learn about issues related to international policy and water development and sustainability, all in a global context. We created awareness for different conferences where women would be presenting on different issues.

"In addition to Jacqueline Daugherty, associate professor Ann Fuehrer from the Department of Global & Intercultural Studies helped me with just about everything related to my trip to the Netherlands, including immigration issues and the kinds of challenges we may go through while living and working abroad."

Miami and Liberal Arts Education

Audrey Lipps (right) and a friend at the Pride Parade in Utrecht, Netherlands

"Being a liberal arts major has let me explore different areas of many different disciplines, not only through Western but also through the requirements of the College of Arts and Science as well as the Miami Plan. A geology class, for example, helped me with my interests in environmentalism, understanding how weather patterns work and how they relate to social issues, especially when I was in Hawaii. It was a course I took begrudgingly but ended up finding extremely interesting and useful.

"The Western Program, which is a key part of Miami's liberal arts, has enabled me to design not only my own major but also the kind of research I would need to conduct. In August 2015 I started looking at locations to work and people to interview, with Dr. Daugherty and others in the Western Program saying, 'We're here for you and want to cater to your learning experience.' There were certain required classes, of course, but also classes I chose on my own and others that I took in both Hawaii and the Netherlands — including some that didn't involve sitting in a classroom!

"Having this hands-on research experience is really beneficial for the path that I want to take, which will have something to do with environmentalism, sustainability, and social issues. I definitely want to go to grad school, and as I begin my applications I'm also hoping to publish my ethnographic research paper. I'm sure my involvement in two very different kinds of communities in Hawaii and the Netherlands will also help my applications, and they've provided me with a broader view of the different issues that I'm interested in."

Food Justice and Sovereignty Issues in Hawaii

Watch Audrey discuss her ethnographic research experiences in Hawaii.

A Completely Different Culture Video Transcript

Advice to Students

"Everyone should check out a class in the Western Program and see how they like it. It's very different from the general Miami experience! The professors are very open, honest, and flexible, which is crucial because you really need to be motivated to be a Western major. You don't have the explicit structure and guidelines that many other Miami majors give, but you can really build on any sort of major or discipline that you want.

"You just need to know what you want to do and create that yourself. Take a Western class and see how you feel about it. I always leave my classes feeling empowered, ready to do something else!"

[November 2017]

Arcadia Davies

Arcadia Davies

  • junior Individualized Studies major (fusion of environmental journalism and creative writing)
  • minor in Global Perspectives on Sustainability
  • from Columbus, OH
  • studied tropical marine ecology in Florida and the Bahamas (Summer 2016)
  • Co-founder/President of student organization Women in Social Entrepreneurship
  • Writer and Social Media & Marketing Director for Greenhawks Media
"Don't get discouraged by the Miami Plan or CAS academic requirements, because the many different options give you a great opportunity to discover new interests. Even if it seems hard to plan, you should go for anything you are passionate about. Try to find something that is both interesting and challenging. Instead of seeing it as an obligation, try seeing it as an opportunity!"

Why Miami?

"I'd known how committed and involved Miami's faculty are, with a great teaching reputation, and I also liked the small class sizes. Students can get to know their professors, who make sure their students are getting the most out of their education.

"Coming into Miami, I was interested in the Farmer School of Business and getting an entrepreneurship minor, but I did not have a major firmly in mind at the time. However, I began learning a lot from the very beginning. I enjoyed my WST 251 class [Individualized Studies Seminar] my first semester so much that I declared my individualized studies major right away. The Western Program really embraces the importance of the liberal arts and introduced me to a wonderful community of people.

Arcadia Davies (fourth from left) and other Women in Social Entrepreneurship get together.

"The number of opportunities I found during my freshman year at Miami motivated me beyond just dreaming big. I was in a new environment that encouraged me to take the steps to follow through with things — a big change for me since high school. I ended up not keeping my entrepreneurship minor, but the several classes in entrepreneurship I had taken inspired me to start the organization Women in Social Entrepreneurship (WISE). I had great professors from all over Miami who took the time to help me find projects that I enjoy.

"Western is definitely unique. Its small size provides the students with a communal space where we all can hang out and work, study, and talk together. Community is really such a big part of the program, a quality that is more evident than in some of Miami's larger majors. It feels really nice that we are all friends.

"Because everyone in Western is designing their own major, we all come from different areas and perspectives. The professors have their own interdisciplinary backgrounds, and we get into great conversations with them. Even if we are all studying the same topic, such as the environment, we look at it from multiple perspectives — scientific, historical, and so on — that makes it really special."

Best Miami Experiences

"I've met a lot of students both within and outside the Western Program who support and challenge me in my environmental interests. I work primarily with two faculty members in the Western Program, lecturer Jacqueline Daugherty, my advisor, and professor Hays Cummins, who runs my independent study on how honeysuckle is affecting mammal populations. Both Dr. Daugherty and Dr. Cummins, with their backgrounds in sociology and environmental issues respectively, have been really supportive in helping me focus, develop, and organize my major in addition to conducting this research.

"I worked on this research project with two other students, and we are in the process of analyzing our data for a paper. We will also be presenting our work at Miami's Undergraduate Research Forum in April!

A beautiful sunset in the Bahamas

"My interests in environmental conservation got me involved with a study abroad trip on tropical marine ecology, in the Bahamas and Florida, during the summer after my freshman year. The trip was led by Professor Cummins, a professor in the Western Program. In addition to snorkeling, I examined how environmental changes, especially hurricanes, were affecting the local casuarina trees, so the trip felt very timely and important.

"That trip, along with my interests in the environment, led me to Greenhawks Media, where I am a writer and social media & marketing director. GreenHawks Media is an online publication run by Miami students about environmental issues going on here on campus as well as nationally and globally. Our articles try to reach out to the students and faculty to keep them engaged in the environment, and we also spotlight government issues as well as local programs in the community, such as the Oxford Farmer's Market, to demonstrate how people can get involved and make a positive impact on the environment.

"I would love to go into environmental communication and conservation after I graduate, so the ability to study multiple disciplines here in the Western Program has been really important. Science and writing classes have taught me how to approach various environmental and ecological issues and write about them using different perspectives."

Miami and the Liberal Arts

"The liberal arts has been very important for me. I didn't even know I was that interested in science until I went on my study abroad trip, but I ended up feeling super passionate about it. The liberal arts have introduced me to a lot of classes that I wouldn't have taken otherwise.

"I think some students get discouraged by having to take things outside of their major to fulfill the Miami Plan, but I see it as a benefit. There are so many courses in general at Miami that I was able to find ways to apply to my major that I hadn't thought of before. The liberal arts pushes you to think outside of the traditional boundaries of your major, and I was inspired to refocus my disciplines after my marine ecology study abroad trip — which I originally joined for credit because I didn't want to study science in a classroom! In the end, the trip totally changed how I pursue my Miami education. Taking a class outside your major may make you think about your major in a new or different way.

"Because I have a lot of interests, the thought of picking one major sounded impossible. The liberal arts, and especially the Western Program, allow me to do everything I love and figure out how to combine things. If there is a class that looks really special, it can motivate me to pick more in that specific area — ultimately, I get to do what I love.

"My WST 231 [Interdisciplinary Inquiry] was on interdisciplinary research, and everyone got to pick a research project and work on it throughout the semester. WST 341 [Interdisciplinary Synthesis and Action], focused on service learning, and we got to help out the Miami Institute for Food farm. No two Western classes are ever the same!

"Outside my major, I really enjoyed my introductory creative writing class, ENG 226 [Introduction to Creative Writing: Short Fiction and Poetry]. Our professor, TaraShea Nesbit, gave awesome feedback and really nurtured our creativity."

Studying the Effects of Hurricanes on Trees in the Bahamas

Arcadia describes her tropical marine ecology course in Florida and the Bahamas.

Staying in Touch at Miami and Globally Video Transcript

Advice to Students

"Don't get discouraged by the Miami Plan or CAS academic requirements, because the many different options give you a great opportunity to discover new interests. Even if it seems hard to plan, you should go for anything you are passionate about. Try to find something that is both interesting and challenging. Instead of seeing it as an obligation, try seeing it as an opportunity!

"For me, the Western Program was intimidating at first, and it definitely can be for others. There are people who like having a set course list, and that's fine, but I think there is something special about getting to design your own course list yourself. You aren't being told what to do, but the Western advisors are really amazing and supportive — they aren't just going to set you loose and say 'good luck.'

"And because the Western Program allows you to design your own capstone, you can say you've completed a significant research project in your field, even as an undergrad. It can be a big challenge, but that just makes the reward even more worth it! And because you design the project yourself, you'll love what you're doing!"

[March 2018]

Class of 2017

Marla Guggenheimer

Marla Guggenheimer

  • senior 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

"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."

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!"

Marla Guggenheimer hoists a large root vegetable at the Institute for Food's organic farm.

Pursuing a Sustainable Future

"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]

Rowland Taylor

Rowland Taylor

  • senior Individualized Studies major
  • self-designed Interdisciplinary Cultural Studies major incorporates elements of anthropology, history, philosophy, psychology, and English
  • from Bay Village, OH
  • currently learning to play the shakuhachi, a Japanese flute
"I would advise all students to develop some sort of relationship with faculty members here at Miami. They are a great resource beyond being your professors, they can advise you on life at college and after, and you'll find they are a great resource for finding the extraordinary amount of interesting opportunities offered at Miami."

Why Miami?

"Miami had been on my radar ever since I visited the campus while still in high school. I decided to transfer here after my freshman year at Cleveland State, where I was working on improving my GPA. I chose Miami not only because of its strong academic focus, which was evident in the advertising, but also because of its smaller size, in comparison to other schools I was considering.

"As an incoming transfer sophomore, I was undecided on a major. I had declared as an English major back at Cleveland State but went back to undecided because I've always been interested in a lot of different things. Miami's Western Program was my introduction to the idea of being able to design a major by focusing on integrating various disciplines.

"For me, that's really what it's all about—being able to study something like physics while also studying anthropology, and so on. Since I was already beginning to think in an interdisciplinary way on my own, the Western Program seemed like a great fit. I just didn't think I could study just one major and fulfill my academic goals in 4 years, but Western has given me a way to accomplish that."

Best Miami Experiences

Rowland Taylor and Chris Eaton work on a project together.

"Everyone in the Western Program community—advisors, professors, and students—is great. We all feel like we are part of something different at Miami. There's a lot of support and cool opportunities made available to us, including various study abroad trips, self-guided courses, community dinners, and more. So many people in the community are willing to give advice, converse, and share with each other.

"A lot of Western students will hang out and study in the student center in Peabody Hall, also referred to as 39°84° West. I began working there this year, and it has been a great experience. Professors and other faculty visit often to check in with students and discuss topics other than class, so the space has become really important for a lot of people. The entire idea for my senior project was conceived in 39°84° while discussing my area of interests with other students.

"Western alumni also visit Peabody's student center, which gives students the opportunity to converse with someone who has graduated from the program and begun their professional lives.

"During the first semester of my sophomore year, while I was still an undecided major, I went to a lecture arranged by Daniel Prior, associate professor of history. The lecture was given by Steve Farmer from Stanford University about neurobiology and big history (history from the big-bang and forwards). What he and his team were doing was looking at cultures and early written languages, like Sanskrit, and mapping changes in religions and cultures and languages. His argument was that although Mesoamerica had no contact with the Eurasian continent at the time, the region showed the same kind of growth in terms of culture, religion, and language for both written and spoken language.

"Dr. Farmer was discussing that an understanding of history must be preceded by an understanding of biology. This really excited me, because I was beginning to see interdisciplinary connections in my own studies. I was interested by this interplay between history and neurobiology, but I didn't know how to approach the subject with a singular disciplinary major. I waited around after the lecture to get a chance to speak with Dr. Farmer and Dr. Prior, and we ended going out to dinner and having a great conversation about our academic careers and studies.

"During that dinner I told them that I was interested in studying neurobiology and history but still had undecided major status, so Dr. Prior quickly relayed me to the Western Program and assured me that it would fit my interests perfectly. He gave me contact information for a professor he knew there, who I met with that very next week to declare my Individualized Studies major."

Miami and Liberal Arts Education

"I'm looking at becoming a teacher right now, and I'll be an undergraduate assistant for a Western class next semester. I think being able to work with professors one-on-one to discuss not only the content of classes but also the classes as a whole themselves has been a good opportunity to see behind the scenes of teaching.

"Western's community aspect focuses on learning how to work with different kinds of people, which is a key takeaway from the liberal arts. One of our Western courses is called Interdisciplinary Synthesis and Action [WST 341], which requires you to work on one big project in groups to develop its different parts. For me, this class was a great representative of the way the liberal arts is about more than just the project—you also actively learn about working in groups and diverse kinds of thinking, from start to finish."

Designing an Individualized Studies Major

Rowland Taylor practices playing a shakuhachi.

"Most people attend college today in order to secure a job or career, but my goals for college were exploring existence, perception, and reality. I expected to find answers through the university, and I don't think I would have pursued this interest as fervently without the Western Program.

"My Individualized Studies major is called Interdisciplinary Cultural Studies, and I designed it by incorporating elements of anthropology, history, philosophy, psychology, and English. My course load gives me the ability to obtain the skills necessary to holistically study culture, which is how humans exist and perceive reality. It is helping me to develop my abstract analytical, critical thinking, and research skills.

"Two courses stand out in my process for designing my major, ATH 175 [Peoples of the World] and PSY 210 [Psychology Across Cultures]. They are both culture-based courses of their respective disciplines, and both have provided me with a vocabulary set important to discussing and studying culture sufficient enough for my major. I realized that these courses were enough for me to move on to other disciplines to continue my exploration of culture.

"Another influential course was Art and Politics [WST 322 - Developing Interdisciplinary Projects: Art and Politics of Representation], a sociology-oriented course taught by Dr. Jacqueline Daugherty that I took last semester. She's a great professor who really knows her stuff. Next semester I'll be working as an undergraduate assistant (UA) in her class, which pushed me to conduct great academic research. It was the first time where I actually enjoyed writing a 20-page paper and could have written more! By pushing us to actually find good sources and put together a step-by-step piece, Jacque was really helpful.

"All these courses have been culminating into my final senior project, where I'm studying Zen Buddhism and working towards a general explanation for an audience of what Zen is—a philosophy or a religion. I'm also learning to play the shakuhachi, which is a Japanese flute that is traditionally used by practitioners of Zen.

"I've been putting together a music album as the creative portion of this project. I'm going to write on how I was influenced to create these specific melodies, and as I go through this process I've been looking at other people in the Western canon of music who have been influenced by Zen, including musicians like David Bowie and John Cage. And although I haven't taken any specific courses on Zen, the various Miami courses I've taken have taught me how to research and think critically. I've been able to combine many different disciplines for my senior project."

Advice to Students

"Think big, and think diverse. If you're an Individualized Studies major, your final goal is your senior project, which may represent the end of your academic career if you don't go on to graduate school. When you design your major, remember that it generally must consist of 24 credit hours. That's essentially what your major is, and you can take all kinds of classes from that point—just as long as they string along somehow. They can and should be very diverse, but they don't necessarily have to specifically inform your senior project.

"I would advise all students to develop some sort of relationship with faculty members here at Miami. They are a great resource beyond being your professors, they can advise you on life at college and after, and you'll find they are a great resource for finding the extraordinary amount of interesting opportunities offered at Miami.

"I wouldn't have known about the Western Program without asking! I also wouldn't have known about specific courses I've taken or been satisfied as a student without the help of a number of professors, advisors, and managers in Western."

[October 2016]

Class of 2016

Garrett Gust

Garrett Gust

  • junior Individualized Studies major, with a focus on sustainability and eco-tourism
  • from St. Charles, IL
  • spent his J-Term hiking atop pristine glaciers in Patagonia
  • loves spending time outdoors, including hiking, camping, and sports
  • LAURE 2016 honorable mention

"I would tell everybody to try the Western Program. I've actually had a lot of students tell me that they wish they did, since you get to tailor your education to your goals."

Why Miami?

"When I visited for Make it Miami as a prospective student in the fall, it was the perfect time of year. The trees were beginning to change, everything was green, and I loved the red brick of campus buildings. This, to me, was the quintessential college campus. I could totally see myself going to class and hanging out in the courtyards, Uptown Park, Hueston Woods, and so on.

"I was a direct admit into the Farmer School of Business and added a double major in Social Justice, but now I've gone away from both of those and focus on my Western Program studies. I came to Miami with the mindset that I would get involved with a lot of things, so I was very, very busy during my first year at Miami. Almost everyday I was water skiing or sailing, taking part in the social entrepreneurship club Impact or the reptile club, meeting new people, playing intramural volleyball—all until I finally found out what I really wanted to stick to. I made all sorts of friends, and we did everything we could outside, including in the woods outside of Western. It was a busy time!

"It was also very transitional because I didn't necessarily get the convenience of having a ton of things in one place. This was actually kind of nice, since everything moved at a slower pace and Oxford is very small and condensed. There's a lot going on in that small space. I'm from a town outside Chicago, and you miss out on a lot of things there because there is so much going on—it's all spread out before you and you kind of have to pick and choose. Oxford, however, allows you to move along from one thing to the other. I enjoyed that."

Best Miami Experiences

Garrett Gust poses on a Patagonian glacier.

"I love the Western Program—it's definitely my favorite thing about Miami. Its people and atmosphere are very positive and creative, and it's what being a student at Miami should be. Everyone helps everyone out. Kim Ernsting and other faculty recommend classes, help me refine my plan, discuss with me about what I want to do and what I want to study. They've helped me with study abroad and summer internships. They're just very, very helpful.

"I started transitioning to Western last year and have made social justice studies part of my focus. It’s already a major of its own, but I was able to take some of the classes I've done there and transform it into my own major and make the connection between social justice and sustainability. The Western Program allows me the freedom to make that connection.

"I created my Western Program 'I plan' by looking at the university course list to decide what my coursework was going to be. I discovered classes from anthropology, geology, American studies, and geography that I never would have thought of until I had to think critically about what I had to do to create my major. It's enabled me to do exactly what I want to do.

"Study abroad has been another one of my favorite experiences. Miami makes it really easy to find a good program. I went down to Patagonia to do a backpacking trip in the Argentinian mountains.

"Finally, I also really like the events that Miami hosts—these are unique opportunities. I went to the 2014 Myaamiaki Conference in Shriver, held by the Miami Tribe, and it was really cool to see something that makes Miami so special. The university has a respectful relationship with the Miami people to keep their heritage going and giving them an opportunity to be a part of the university as well."

Miami and Liberal Arts Education

"Being able to follow your passions is not something that is happening so much any more, since a lot of people look for jobs or a degree. But the Western Program is teaching me that my passion can be my job. That's not a message that is sent by a lot of universities anymore. I think that is the biggest thing for me.

"And that's what is special about the liberal arts—helping you to be a well-rounded person. Once you take classes from every discipline, you realize how connected everything is. Some of my favorite classes have been required Miami Plan classes, such as an astronomy course. I also took a rhetoric class and studied plays that referenced Galileo and how he discovered the telescope. It was cool that I had learned all of that in astronomy and found it to be so relevant in my rhetoric class. That's the kind of experiences you get in the liberal arts."

Studying Abroad in Patagonia

Garrett Gust backpacks in Argentina during J-Term 2014.

"For my study abroad trip in Argentina during J-Term, I was part of a group of 20. We started off by spending a few days in Mendoza for a cultural tour around the city. We then headed really, really far south to the Patagonia region and hiked on glaciers, walked through the forest, and camped for about 6 days. It was so beautiful—one of the last untouched places on Earth. You can drink the glacier water right from the stream without having to purify it at all. Our group was very conscious of our carbon footprint, so we learned about the leave-no-trace principles, which is pretty much the backpacker's code—leaving things prettier than you found it, making sure not to harm anything, allowing people to have the same experiences.

"People from all over the world were there, and they save up for years to make this trip. Going in January was the perfect time, as it was summer down there, and hiking on top of the glacier is something I will never forget. To think that we might be some of the last people to be able to do that, since the glaciers are receding very quickly!

"That experience made me feel more conscious and put things into perspective for me. There's so much beauty in the world, so much to see and do. You don't want to get caught up in one thing too much because you don't know what you might be missing. I've always been interested in sustainability, so it reinforced my decisions about what I'm studying here at Miami. Just find a study abroad program that you like and go. I would go any time of the year. I want to do a full semester abroad as well, and I'm hoping to get two more trips in before I graduate!"

Advice to Students

"Take advantage of your time here. We are young, and there is so much offered at Miami that you won't see after you graduate. Once you do, that special connection is gone. Just commit to something in this school—discover and explore. If you don't like what you find, you can always try something else.

"I would tell everybody to try the Western Program. I've actually had a lot of students tell me that they wish they did, since you get to tailor your education to your goals. It requires a lot of focus, critical thinking, and choosing, all of which can be daunting to some, but if you have a clear idea of what you want to do and you feel like you can't achieve it through traditional means, the Western Program will set you up for more success than you can dream of."

[April 2014]

Michael Taggart

Michael TaggartMichael Taggart, from Westerville, OH,  is a junior majoring in Individualized Studies; his study is focused on "Advertising Towards the Pursuit of Happiness". Michael created his major from an assortment of courses in psychology, philosophy, marketing, and film. He is an active member of the Miami Activities and Planning student events organization.

"The Western Program is very self-motivated, allowing you to really find yourself in your major, which you get to create on your own."

Why Miami?

"When I first arrived here, Miami felt more welcoming and like an actual college campus than the other schools I visited. I've met a lot of interesting people here, and many of them have really changed my outlook on life. I plunged right into being a Sociology major in my first semester, but I felt that nothing was quite right.

"This had always been a problem for me, as before Miami I never could find anything I really wanted to pursue. After talking to my first-year advisor about my career goals, she suggested that I go look at other majors and particularly recommended the Western Program."

Best Miami Experiences

Neil deGrasse Tyson and Michael Taggart

"This meeting still stands out as one of the most inspirational conversations I have ever had. The Western Program is very self-motivated, allowing you to really find yourself in your major, which you get to create on your own. The advisor asked me two simple questions: what makes me happy and what my hobbies are. I'd never considered those in terms of the path I wanted to take in my education, and it took me a while to really figure them out. Although I'd always been really focused on trying to make others happy, I had never really identified that as my happiness. Once I was able to put a label on it, I was able to choose a direction and link it to advertising. It's not so much the aspect of selling a product, but selling an idea that I really like—the idea of happiness.

"I'm part of a student events organization called MAP [Miami Activities and Planning], in which we set up all kinds of events around campus. For example, last fall we had a Harry Potter event, and it featured a potions-making class, a spell-making class, a huge trivia game, and more. A Chemistry major in our organization came up with the potion idea, using dry ice and stuff like that. It was so cool to see so many people participate. We gave away the new Harry Potter book set, with all new covers, as prizes.

"Our organization also did a Valentine's Day event, which is actually one of my favorites so far. We set up a large table on the stage in Armstrong Student Center covered with little Valentine's Day boxes for people to grab. Those contained sweets like brownies and cookies, and we also had 700 roses that people could choose from to give to their significant other. What made it so nice was that so many people were so happy—they thought it was really nice that we were able to do that, and it was one of the greatest things I've heard so far about being in MAP.

This just gets back to my goals, not just in academics but also in life—doing something that actually makes people happy. Happiness connects with other people, and they understand it. This wasn't what I had intended when I first joined MAP, but it's been crazy how much everything has lined up along with my major!"

Miami and Liberal Arts Education

"There were a few classes I had to take for the Miami Plan, such as introductory psychology and philosophy classes—both of which really built up what I wanted to do but didn't realize it at the time. I think it's fascinating that we can understand individuals, at least to some extent, and understand how humans actually work. Those courses helped guide me towards the Western Program, and both Kim Ernsting and Nik Money have been helpful in giving me more freedom in what I get to choose. Western lets you choose your own path, so you're not limited to anything and you can really build your own.

"Kim got me into Western and is almost like a second mom to me, while Nik, as my advisor, has helped me set up my classes and classify what I am actually doing. Since the liberal arts and Western in particular are so focused on studying different disciplines, I've taken classes in psychology, philosophy, marketing, and film. All of these subjects are allowing me to understand how advertising works. Marketing gives me the practical and business aspects, while film studies show how human emotion can be expressed through media. Philosophy has enabled me to examine the questions, 'What is happiness?' and 'What is the best way to pursue it?' And psychology helps me to understand people’s minds and how to speak to them. Since I want to use advertising to actually connect with people, I'm finding that all of these subjects are furthering my understanding in extensive ways."

Western Program and the Pursuit of Happiness

Michael Taggart catches up on some reading on the Miami campus.

"When I was asked the question 'What makes you happy?' I had to think for a second. I thought a lot about my friends and family and how I like making gifts for them. I would always do special arts and crafts and try to make things specific for them. I realized that I really like to see other people happy and feeling wanted, so I started thinking about how I could actually make that into a major. My focus was that I wanted to advertise morals outside of a religious context. If you take away the religion from the moral, people don't feel offended or feel it pertains to anyone in particular. There are certain morals that I believe can pertain to anyone, and understanding those morals to some extent can help you set up a foundation for your own pursuit of happiness.

"There's an advertising company that does something along a very similar line. I've seen a lot of commercials that they do. Some are a bit cheesy, to the point where people may not take them seriously, but others are very serious, such as talking about how bullying ruins the lives of younger children. I agree with what they are doing, but I want to bring more lighthearted comedy to it. That was something I learned in psychology—comedy is a good way to reach the attention of viewers, but you need to be careful that the meaning behind the advertisement doesn't get lost.

"Right now I'm trying to figure out how I can create an advertisement that people will not only pay attention to but also understand. Which medium is best to convey a particular message? Advertisements on the Internet are typically ignored and mostly hated because they tend to block or distract you from what you actually want to see. And even though broadcast television is slowly dying due to Netflix and other streaming services, for now I would like to try focusing on commercial advertising on television."

Advice to Students

"It may be a cliché, but the world is your oyster. Don't ever feel that you have to settle down for anything. You can stick with something, but don't settle on it—not unless you are continuing to grow.

"Entering college was a scary thing for me; I thought I had to pick something and stick with it my whole life. Now I realize that is not the case. You should pursue something outside of the classroom in order to get new perspectives. It's been really entertaining for me to see so many different people that come from so many different backgrounds with so many different, crazy ideas. This is what I always look forward to. I have some friends who really want to get outside the box, but they don't know how. I've really been stressing to them to join a group that interests them or join a sport or something to become more involved.

"All of this goes with what I want to do now, making people happy. I'm excited for what the future holds. Now that I'm officially halfway through my college career and have completed my Miami Plan classes, I will be able to pursue more things outside the box and am looking forward to what happens."

[March 2014]

Rachael White

Rachael WhiteRachael White, from Elmhurst, IL,  is a sophomore majoring in Individualized Studies; her focus is "Working with Underprivileged Children in the Local and Global Context". Rachael participated on service trips to India and Thailand as a high school student and walked on glaciers on a backpacking trip to the Patagonia region of Argentina during J-Term 2014.

"My major's focus on service learning is going to be beneficial to me because although parts of it can be taught in a classroom, you cannot understand it fully until you're actually in that situation. That's why I'm really looking forward to studying abroad for a whole semester and seeing what is out there, what I can do to help."

Why Miami?

"I'm from the Chicago area, and there are a lot of students that come here. I had a friend tell me I should look into Miami, so I came on a tour and fell in love with the campus. At first I thought I'd want to get into either business or education, but after diving deeper into the academic programs offered here and learning about the Western Program, I realized I could create my own major.

"Being a pretty adventurous person, I'm always up for new situations and meeting new people, so my transition here as a freshman wasn't so hard. I love being around people, dorm living, and the welcoming environment. When there's nice weather, you can find people all over the place, but you can also still find those quiet spots and avoid people if you want to. Miami is the perfect size for me, as it gives that large university feeling but still has small, intimate classes."

Best Miami Experiences

Rachael White lifts her arms to the heavens in beautiful Patagonia, Argentina.

"My first semester was great—the perfect way to experience college. My roommate and I really clicked and became great friends, and that made my transition all the easier. As an honors student I had to take a cluster of classes, and some of the most memorable my first semester were taught by James Bielo in Anthropology and Sandra Garner in American Studies. I loved the challenge, and they made me understand that I should never go into any class close-minded. I learned to go with the flow.

"Most recently, over J-Term, I went to Argentina with the Outdoor Pursuits Center, which is located in the basement of the Rec Center here on campus. They do a lot of outdoor leadership and adventuring trips and offer classes like the rock wall. I took a course there in the fall to prepare for the Patagonia mountains of Argentina, where we ended up going backpacking for over a week."

Miami and Liberal Arts Education

"Both the Western Program and the College of Arts and Science do a really good job at promoting different ideas and different perspectives. The Miami Plan, with its focus on the liberal arts, often takes us outside our comfort zone, but it makes us more well-rounded both academically and personally. It makes you see things from different perspectives you normally wouldn't and teaches you critical thinking.

"The critical thinking aspect is a real advantage. I know that when I enter my first job after college, there's going to be something new that I won't know how to do despite my formal education. There will be company training, but you really can't train someone how to think on their toes. It's the liberal arts education that prepares you for that by introducing you to a diverse range of disciplines."

Backpacking in Argentina

"Visiting the Patagonia region of Argentina was really incredible. Since I was young I'd been traveling around the world, but I'd never been to Argentina and thought it would be good to try something new and push myself out of my comfort zone. I'm kind of petite, so I was really nervous about carrying a 30-lb pack—it was basically half my size—and walking 5 miles a day. I felt very accomplished when we came out of the back country for the first time and into a little bit of civilization. It felt great knowing that I'd done something that I'd never thought of trying before.

"Everyone took turns to lead each day, deciding when to wake up, how long to hike, and where to stop to eat lunch. Leaders were in charge of all the details. The weather had been overcast before it came to be my turn, but our group's morale was high. We had our tents set up along a little river that provided an awesome view of one of the Patagonia mountains, called Fitz Roy. There'd been clouds covering the very top of the peak, so you could never see the full thing. I woke up early to go wake everyone else up from their tents, and when I opened up my tent there were gorgeous, crystal-blue skies. For the first time I was able to see the whole mountain, which set the tone and made me really excited to lead that day.

Rachael White stands alongside glacial ice in Patagonia, Argentina.

"We also walked on top of a glacier, which was really cool. We took a boat for about an hour and then stepped onto rocks. It started off as a normal hike until the rocks transitioned into ice, so then we had to put on our crampons and lean back or forward depending on the incline. When we got to the top of the glacier, which is solid ice, I noticed that the ice had different vibrant colors, which correlate to how old the ice is and how much oxygen is trapped there."

Creating a Major in the Western Program

"The focus of my individualized studies major is called "Working with Underprivileged Children in the Local and Global Context." It's connected to how travel has been a large part of my life. In high school, I went on service trips to India and Thailand to work with local children and teach English. I felt so fortunate to immerse myself into these very diverse cultures, and those experiences really opened my eyes to the rest of the world.

"The children I met on those trips were so happy—they go on with life as if it's the only thing they know. This was so inspiring that during my first year at Miami I was toying with the idea of opening a preschool someday because I'm really interested in working with children who are underprivileged. By giving them access to education and different programs that can enhance their life, I'd hopefully be providing them with some kind of advantage later on.

"I think it's important for us to step back from our Western, American perspective and remember that there are different cultural norms and values around the world. It's important to keep that in mind to avoid stepping on any toes and imposing your own values into a society.

"My major's focus on service learning is going to be beneficial to me because although parts of it can be taught in a classroom, you cannot understand it fully until you're actually in that situation. That's why I'm really looking forward to studying abroad for a whole semester and seeing what is out there, what I can do to help. It's important to serve as a constant role model in these kids' lives."

Advice to Students

"When you come into college and you're only 18 years old, being away from home for the first time, your interests might change. Don't be afraid to change your major or explore by taking a class just for fun.

"Give studying abroad a try. Even if it's something you might feel uncomfortable with, there are going to be so many rewards, both intentional and unintentional. You're going to learn something new no matter what, and you'll get to see things from multiple perspectives. It's a great process to get involved with a community, whether that's here in Oxford or globally."

[April 2014]

Class of 2015

Alissa Pollack

Alissa Pollack

  • senior Individualized Studies major, with a focus on photographic communication and fashion
  • minor in 2-D Media Studies
  • from Kansas City, MO
  • interned with Annie Leibovitz in New York
  • College of Arts and Science ambassador
  • social sorority sister

"I've become really close with a lot of my professors, especially in the Western Program. They've been really helpful both inside and outside academics."

Why Miami?

"I participated in the Junior Scholars Program going into my senior year of high school. When I came to visit Miami, I was really interested in the pre-college experience and liked the size and beauty of the campus. I wasn't quite sure what I wanted to do, but I knew the basic classes I wanted to take. What drew me in was the chance to take fine arts classes within a liberal arts curriculum.

"My freshman year was nice because I was already pretty familiar with the campus by then from the summer before. Miami's atmosphere feels like everyone truly wants to be here. Class sizes are just right, and there's a really good mix of a social and academic environment, which is something I always wanted in a school."

Alissa Pollack gets a piggyback ride from a friend

Best Miami Experiences

"I took a gerontology class during my first year and really liked it because it involved a service learning experience in which I could work at a senior center in Oxford. This really got me involved in the community. I volunteered a few times a week and made meals, and doing so allowed me to meet different kinds of people.

"I've become really close with a lot of my professors, especially in the Western Program. They've been really helpful both inside and outside academics.

"My Western Program focus is on photographic communication and fashion, so I've taken all the photo classes I can and do a photographic independent study every semester so I can create my own projects and challenge myself. I've also taken fashion classes and am a teaching assistant in one, which of course allows me to do a lot of extra research!"

Miami and Liberal Arts Education

"Liberal arts forces you to think outside the box. You're constantly thinking in one way using a specific part of your brain to challenge yourself. In my classes, I'm doing a lot of different things that challenge me creatively and intellectually. I've gained a lot of skills in writing and basic math and science, which I wouldn't have gained if I hadn't moved outside my area of interest.

"I take courses that don't necessarily have anything to do with my focus, such as religion and literature courses, but I want my education to be well-rounded. That's what I feel I've gotten out of the College of Arts and Science."

Alissa Pollack at the beach during a fashion shoot

Internship with Annie Leibovitz

"I took part of my sophomore year off and moved to New York to do an internship with Annie Leibovitz, a well-known celebrity fashion photographer, and later with Teen Vogue magazine. I assisted Ms. Leibovitz on photo shoots and prepared for them by doing extensive research and various archival duties.

"The New York internship was an amazing experience that was validated by all the Western Program faculty who helped me put it into words through blogs, photographs, and papers. Being in the Western Program, all of this became a course that counted towards my major! There's no better experience than that. Not only could I continue to do my schoolwork from New York, but I could graduate on time. All my professors at Miami kept up with everything I was doing.

"In fact, a lot of my academic experiences have been outside the classroom. This summer I worked for a fashion house as a styling intern in Tory Burch's creative department. This supports my ultimate goal of doing creative direction, this time more on the fashion side.

"These two experiences helped shape what I want to do with my future. I got a chance to be in the working world, and that opened my eyes and put into perspective everything else I want to learn. This is why I'm taking other kinds of classes. I realize that I only have a small window in which I can learn things that aren't directly related to what I'm going to do—these opportunities will probably not come to me for the rest of my life."

Advice to Students

"Just branch out! As a first-year, sometimes it's hard to get the classes you originally wanted. When I was a freshman I found that I had a very specific set of courses I wanted to take, but I didn't get into all of them. Although this was somewhat traumatic at first, things ended up working out really well for me, because I really liked my courses. Branching out is important—until I took a class, I didn't even know what gerontology was, but it ended up being one of the most memorable classes I've taken here at Miami!"

[March 2014]

Cole Tyman

Cole Tyman photo

  • senior double major in Individualized Studies and Marketing
  • from Northfield, NJ
  • Resident Assistant (RA) in Peabody Hall, home of the Western Program
  • elected Student Body President in Spring 2014

"For students who are considering joining the Western Program, don't let other people's reactions deter you. Creating your own major forces you to be more self-driven on your projects and makes you a very well-rounded person."

Why Miami?

"Visiting campus is what actually what sold me on Miami. I liked the small class sizes, the individual emphasis given to each student, and the student-professor connection, but I'd never imagined a college campus could look the way this place does. When my friends asked me why I was going here, I would answer, 'Think about how a college campus is depicted when you're watching a movie. That's what Miami is!'

"I became all about Miami from the moment I got here. Within my first 3 weeks I joined student government and a business fraternity, both of which helped me adjust and make a lot of friends. As a first-year student, I was an influential student government leader and won senator of the year. In my business fraternity, we did a project for a multimillion-dollar insurance company, and I was also project manager of a service project in which we raised $3,200. These opportunities don't come to first-year students very often!"

Best Miami Experiences

"Since the end of my first year through the spring of my junior year, I was Secretary for On-campus Affairs in the Executive Cabinet of the Associated Student Government. I sat on the new board for the Armstrong Student Center and was the person who secured that Pulley Diner would be open 24 hours a day. It's amazing and gratifying to work so hard for students and then be able to accomplish something on their behalf.

"I'm now the Student Body President, and when I started to run a campaign with a school of 16,000 students—a number that's larger than my hometown—I was amazed to see how genuinely interested Miami students really are. They want to see evidence and results, so it's given me a lot more pride in being a student here.

"I'm majoring in both Individualized Studies (through the Western Program) and Marketing, and I have people supporting me in both. All of my Western Program professors have had a great influence on me, especially Kim Ernsting. She is one of the most knowledgeable academic advisors on campus, and I can go to her for everything: any major, any minor, any thematic sequence, for my whole plan at Miami. My Western Program advisor has been very supportive, and he's the kind of person who will include you in the conversation. For marketing, both professors Don Norris and his wife Jan Taylor have also been incredibly helpful. I've been really fortunate to have really reliable people that I can always go to.

"The practical experiences that I've had at Miami have been amazing. I picked my marketing major to gain some real experience and skills that I can bring to companies. I chose Western's Individualized Studies major for the critical thinking skills that I'll gain. Both of these majors allow me to work on some really cool projects, some that are more business-oriented and practical, and others that fuse together such things as science and religion and history in really interesting ways. Together, my majors teach me both how to think and how to articulate my thoughts, in both practical and creative terms, and these skills are really important.

"In the Western Program, we get to create our own major and, although I haven't settled on mine specifically, I went in because I have a major interest in hospitality: cruise ships, airlines, hotels, all that stuff. I interned last summer with a cruise line in Fort Lauderdale. That experience reinvigorated my love for the industry, and I want to explore it more before I finalize things for my senior year project."

Miami and Liberal Arts Education

"As a trivia nerd, I love learning about everything. I think that if you focus on just one area, after you leave college you'll hit the ceiling pretty quickly—when you can hardly move laterally it'll become all the more difficult to move up.

"That's why the liberal arts provide the opportunity to explore and learn about things that are not always directly attached to one major. I feel I've become a more well-rounded person in the liberal arts, and when I have the opportunity to meet Miami alums, I can hold a conversation with them about their expertise, even if I'm not majoring in it myself. As someone who has a thirst for knowledge about everything, I can learn about anything I'd like.

"One of my favorite Western classes so far has been WST 301, Interdisciplinary Problems and Questions, taught by Nik Money and Xiuwu Liu. They talked about the conflict between science and religion, and it was very interesting to see how both topics individually bring in so many other disciplines. My final paper in that class was basically called 'Science, Religion, and Blank' and we could fill in the blank. Science and religion play into politics all the time, and this is something I'm considering as my senior project because there's so much there that I think I could honestly write a book on the subject!

"Liberal arts at Miami has also allowed me to take other classes, such as astronomy. I love the fact that I can now keep a conversation about astronomy, for example, and I can tell you the difference between a red star and a blue star. College is not about getting you a job; it's about growing as a thinking individual, and that's what those classes were able to do for me.

"Basically, I believe that if your first thought when you pick your college classes and major is, 'How will this help me get a job?' then you need to step back and rethink that. If you do something that you enjoy, you'll be good at it, and if you're good at it, then you'll get a job, and if you get a job, then you'll advance quickly."

Leadership Experiences in Associated Student Government (ASG)

Executive Cabinet, Miami University Associated Student Government

"Student government gives students from all across campus the opportunity to come together and really fix problems. That's been one of my objectives at ASG: to represent as many people as possible. I really try to go after the issues that are really bothering students; you're not supposed to do things just because you want it better. Since my freshman year, I've been getting involved and trying to find solutions to student problems.

"One example was the market on the Western campus, where I live. Everyone was frustrated because this market was only open until 3:00 pm, but no one was around at that time. I was able to convince them to keep it open until 7:00 pm, and eventually as late as 10:00 pm. It was such a cool and rewarding experience, which is what I love about Miami in general: you really have the opportunity to make a difference here and leave your mark, no matter what you do. It's not just in student government, but it could be in performances, in activities, in programming, anything like that. There are so many opportunities to do something here that people will talk about for years to come.

"Another example is Pulley Diner. If I walk past it at night, I'll ask people, 'Aren’t you happy this place is open at midnight?' They answer, 'Oh my gosh, this is so much better than before!' I'm not doing these things for any reason other than it puts a smile on my face.

"I'm also a resident assistant (RA) in Peabody Hall, where the Western Program is based. It's pretty much the farthest dorm from everything, because it's kind of in the middle of the woods, so lots of people complain—but I thought it would be the perfect project to tackle. I love being an RA because if my residents need something, they know I can help them out. Because of what I do with ASG, I'm able to take that knowledge and recommend not just one place to send them, but four different places. If students are having trouble with their social lives, or going through some mental issues, I know the different resources that will help them, and that's been an awesome opportunity for me.

"In fact, I recently helped introduce Western 110, a pilot program that will eventually become a first-year seminar. I was on a committee in ASG and sponsored a bill my freshman year that suggested creating an experience for first-year students, and in the Spring 2014 semester we were able to implement and create a syllabus for it. Many Miami students don't know about Western when they first get here, and Western 110 should help to change that.

"Last spring, I decided to run for student body president and picked a VP running mate, Natalie Bata. She and I are completely different in terms of our interests and majors; I'm business and Western, and she's pre-med. We ran as the voice of Miami, and that comes from the fact that we feel ASG sometimes lives inside its own little bubble. We wanted to get beyond that and reach out to as many people as possible. We both gave speeches to students in various organizations to understand their concerns. Now that we've won the election, our goal is to expand that bubble and bridge everybody so everyone can feel that their voices are heard and their concerns are dealt with."

Advice to Students

"For students who are considering joining the Western Program, don't let other people's reactions deter you. Creating your own major forces you to be more self-driven on your projects and makes you a very well-rounded person. Take advantage of things like double majoring and adding minors and thematic sequences. Western is an amazing opportunity because it gives you a chance to think in ways you never thought you could before. I would recommend it because it's so individualized, so anyone can find something that they really love.

"For students in general, one thing I'd say is to get involved on campus early and often. Don't sit around your first semester and do nothing. If you go to 7 club meetings in a week, you're probably not going to stay active in all of them, but that's OK because it gives you the opportunity to find what you're interested in. I think that Miami's annual club event, Megafair, is one of the most valuable things you can take part in as a freshman. It gives you the opportunity to find leadership.

"The other thing I would say is to never do things just for your resume. Be selective. Do things because you enjoy them; just because you join the mountain biking club and you're a political science major, it doesn't detract from your ability to market yourself to the real world. It just makes you more well-rounded. College is really just a one-time thing. Don't constantly think about the real world, because you're going to be there for 50-plus years. Enjoy the 4 years that you have at Miami, because it really is a great opportunity to do something fun almost every day of the week!"

[April 2014]

Kayla Orta

Kayla Orta

  • senior double major in International Studies and Individualized Studies, with a focus in languaculturalism
  • minors in Chinese and German
  • from Warrenton, VA
  • Resident Assistant (RA) in Clawson Hall
  • member of the Dean's Student Advisory Council
  • member of ASG International Education Committee
  • studied abroad in Germany, South Korea, and Luxembourg
  • recipient of the 2013 Boren Scholarship for International Study

"Miami's cultural diversity may not be as obvious to some, but once you're involved in it you will see it every day. Coming from a town close to Washington, DC, this means a lot to me. I love meeting international students in my dorm and around campus."

Why Miami?

"I came to Miami wanting to major in Linguistics. I specifically was looking for a university that offered the languages I was interested in, including Korean, which is pretty rare. On top of that, because I figure-skated competitively since I was very young and through high school, I wanted to continue that and also take advantage of a good music program. Miami offered all these things, and when I got here I literally fell in love with campus.

"I was very lucky my first year. I started in Thomson Hall and stayed there for my second because I loved it so much. They have the Living Learning Communities, or LLCs, which are a variety of language and culture societies. I was in the Chinese LLC program, where I met whom I call my 'original 5' best friends at Miami. In high school I had done way too much stuff, so for my freshman year here I decided to take a step back and focus more on my classes and make friends.

"Although I was in the Chinese LLC, I actually took Korean, German, and ancient Greek my first semester. I wanted to get into not just Asian language but Asian culture as well, however, so later on I also took Chinese and attended a culture classical meeting once a week. Chinese was one of the classes where I felt linguistically challenged, but it was a really good experience.

"One of the really unique things about Thomson is that it contains 4 different language communities, with a faculty member in each language community actually living in the dorm. One of my Chinese professors lived on the third floor, which was really cool because I would see her and talk to her even before I was a student in her class."

Best Miami Experiences

Miami University 2014 Korean American Student Association (President Kayla Orta, seated left)

"When I was in high school, I participated in an awesome international leadership conference in American University in Washington, DC called International Diplomacy and Globalization. We talked about international and global issues, and it came to me from out of the blue. This was the spark that made me realize that I love not only languages—I've been studying over 15 languages as a hobby—but also something more.

"This is why at orientation my freshman year, I decided to change my major from Linguistics to International Studies. I wanted both the language study and the cultural aspects, so I went to Dr. Melanie Ziegler's session on International Studies and told her what I wanted to do. She sat right there and helped me design my schedule. I then met with a professor who taught Arabic, and even though I wasn't taking any of his classes he was very open and supportive in helping me contact all the language faculty I needed.

"Miami's cultural diversity may not be as obvious to some, but once you're involved in it you will see it every day. Coming from a town close to Washington, DC, this means a lot to me. I love meeting international students in my dorm and around campus, and being involved in Miami's international community has helped propel me to take 5 different languages here: Korean, ancient Greek, Chinese, German, and then Arabic this fall. I might even start taking Spanish too!

"I've also been doing as much study abroad as I can. During the summer between my freshman and sophomore years, I went to Germany for an intensive 7-week German program with John Jeep. We lived in 4 different major cities, and it was a blast. I then went to South Korea in the summer of 2013 and stayed through the fall semester—a total of 6 months. And this July I'm doing the Humanities Center's Undergraduate Research Fellows Program in Luxembourg for 2 weeks, in which I get to do my own independent research."

Miami and Liberal Arts Education

"All my involvement in language, culture, and study abroad is to prepare me for a career living in a foreign country. I want to find a job, maybe with the U.S. Department of State, that requires me to learn a language, understand the culture, and communicate with the local people. The liberal arts gives me lots of space and topics to explore. My double major in International Studies and Individualized Studies through the Western Program provides a lot of flexibility, and so I get to try different classes and discover what I want to continue in.

"For Individualized Studies I'm basically focusing on a combination of language and culture. It's something called languaculture, which is an anthropological linguistic theory saying that you can't study just a language and expect to have good communication—you have to study the culture as well. My inspiration for this was Dr. Mark Peterson's Anthropology 301/International Studies 301 course, where we read a book by Michael Agar in which he introduces the term 'languaculture'. My classes center on anything from linguistics and anthropology to culture studies and a bunch of different languages. I really can't imagine being able to study all this outside a liberal arts environment!"

A Passion with the Korean Peninsula

Kayla Orta in Busan, South Korea

"One of the reasons that I'm interested in living and working overseas is that I'd like to help people communicate with each other better. I think there are a lot of misunderstandings around the world due to a lack of effective languacultural communication.

"One example is U.S. and South Korean relations; historically, the U.S. has not understood a lot of Korean perspectives. My passion, however, is North and South Korean relations—politics, economics, social, cultural, historical, everything. I absolutely love the topic, and it's one of the reasons why I went abroad to South Korea. While I was there I took four classes on North/South Korea politics, and they were just phenomenal.

"My interest in the Korean language started before I came to Miami, when I watched a K-pop group named Super Junior on YouTube—it blew my mind! This was the tipping point, and my passion expanded after I came to Miami and shifted my major to International Studies. I wrote my first paper on South Korea's role in Asia and its relations with the North, and then the following December the former North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il, passed away. It was all over the news, and everyone was talking about it. That's when I realized I wanted to take more Korean language classes, study abroad there, and even go to North Korea to learn more. I had some awesome conversations with Professor Ziegler about this. Her passion is Cuba, but she relates to the way I look at North Korea on many levels. In fact, she's the only person I can have a real conversation with about it!

"I would love to go to North Korea. When I stayed in South Korea for 6 months through a foreign scholarship by the U.S. government, we focused on not only language and culture but also national security issues. Our classes were from 9 to 5, and I took international economics, North Korean government and foreign policy, and 3 hours of intermediate Korean language a day. I also lived in Seoul and did private tutoring. I'd love to work someday in the U.S. government's Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs. We don't have diplomatic relations with North Korea, so Miami is definitely preparing me for a possible future job in that area.

"It's really expensive to do a tour of North Korea as an ordinary U.S. citizen, but during that trip I met some Japanese students who were going there and felt really jealous. I promised my mom, however, that I wouldn’t go to North Korea until the U.S. government considered me important enough to barter back in case something happens!"

Advice to Students

"I'm really happy that I came to Miami with a precise idea of what I want to study and do with my life—it really takes out the stress. However, I also think it might be better to come in not knowing what you want to do, because then you have lots of time and opportunities to explore. Miami's College of Arts and Science and the Western Program really provide that opportunity, allowing you to experiment with a lot of cool classes and programs.

"I also recommend doing study abroad. It's a great opportunity to follow what you're interested in, especially if the university doesn't offer the specifics. It's phenomenal that Miami allows us to specialize in things that we love. You may not even see it coming, but going out to explore different parts of the world on a study abroad program will change you so much more than you can possibly imagine."

[April 2014]

Class of 1980-2014

Barbara A. Knuth — 1980

Barbara A. KnuthPh.D. - Virginia Tech (1986)
M.En. - Miami University (1982)
B.Phil. - Miami University (1980)
B.A. - Miami University (1980)

Barbara joined the Department of Natural Resources at Cornell University in 1986, in the area of Natural Resource Policy and Management. She is co-leader of the Human Dimensions Research Unit, focusing on inquiry to improve understanding of human attitudes and behaviors related to natural resources and the environment; and to foster integration of social and ecological information in natural resources and environmental management decision-making processes. Her current research examines risk perception, communication, and management focused on fisheries affected by chemical contaminants; community-based natural resource management approaches; and factors influencing human stewardship and use of natural resources, particularly fish and wildlife.

Barbara was named Cornell University's Vice Provost and Graduate School Dean in March 2010.

"Western enhanced my understanding of how to work in multi-disciplinary contexts, and my confidence in navigating diverse sets of terminology, cultures, and practices related to different disciplines and worldviews."

What would you identify as the key elements and core values of the Western Program as you experienced it?

"Building human relationships and asking questions about evidence, credibility, and connections between topics and disciplines were key elements of my Western College Program experience. The notions of relationships and connections (between people, ideas, and problems) were the driving force of my Western education.

"Solving societal problems will never be accomplished successfully in the vacuums of specific disciplines or exclusionary frames of reference, nor without productive and respectful interactions among people. Western empowered me with both the philosophical vision and the practical tools to understand these concepts and to live them."

What are your best and worst Western memories?

"My worst memory was receiving the news that the Western College Program was going to be changed substantially. I can only hope that the new iteration will encompass many of the core values and learning approaches that were so instrumental in the program I experienced.

"My best memories are the people. I still keep in touch with some of the professors who were on the Western faculty when I was a student.

"My Western housemates (9 of us) had another reunion this summer, renewing our relationships, discussing politics, comparing our very diverse careers, and reflecting on what a marvelous experience we had at Western, in large part because of the people we met there.

"Western has attracted a certain type of inquisitive intellect, resulting in very exciting and productive relationships growing from the Program."

How has your experience of the WCP community shaped your subsequent participation in other communities?

"I am currently a Professor of Natural Resource Policy and a Senior Associate Dean in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University. In both of these roles, I have to think across disciplines and relate ideas and programs to each other. This involves life sciences, social sciences, and environmental sciences. Western enhanced my understanding of how to work in multi-disciplinary contexts, and my confidence in navigating diverse sets of terminology, cultures, and practices related to different disciplines and worldviews.

"In addition, the residential learning experience and interactions with faculty on campus (particularly having the Dean of Western living on campus) was quite influential in my own excitement and engagement on campus as a student. As a faculty member at Cornell, I lived on campus with my family, as a Faculty-in-Residence, fostering community and social interactions among faculty and undergraduate students. At Western, I saw the benefits to students from such close faculty interactions, but also perceived that faculty realized real benefits from their interactions as well."

What impact has your Western education had on your professional development and career path?

"I have pursued research, teaching, and outreach on societal and environmental problems that clearly cross disciplines and require multiple perspectives to work toward solutions. Western engaged me in thinking across boundaries."

What do you most value now about interdisciplinary education?

"Societal problems of the magnitude we face in this century will only be addressed by engaging multiple disciplines and perspectives. Interdisciplinary education enables graduates to be successful in such challenging times."

What are your aspirations for the new program?

"My hope for the new program is that it will attract vibrant, engaged, and enthusiastic students and faculty who will engage each other in learning about and debating possible solutions to the leading societal, environmental, and political challenges of our time."

[January 2009]

Madeline J. Iseli — 1985

Madeline J. IseliAs the chief of staff for President Steven Lee Johnson of Sinclair Community College, Madeline J. Iseli assists the president with a variety of initiatives, both internal and external to the college. Madeline was named to this position in 2008 after having served as Sinclair's director of government relations since 2003. Madeline's career has been built on public service, including almost 5 years working in the district office for Congressman Tony P. Hall where she served as district director. She then became the executive director of a Dayton-based non-profit organization that worked to pass federal legislation creating the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park and also celebrated the centennial of powered flight in 2003. A native of Dayton, Madeline graduated from the Dayton Public Schools and holds a B. Phil. in Interdisciplinary Studies, with a concentration in the social sciences, from Miami University.

"I guess what I enjoyed most was the sense of belonging to a community of shared values ... Had it not been for Western I think it would have been more difficult to overcome the sense of otherness that initially overwhelmed me at Miami."

What would you identify as the key elements and core values of the Western Program as you experienced it?

"Community, shared exploration, creativity, inclusion, broad-mindedness, contextual learning—these are the core values I enjoyed as a Western College Program student from 1981-1985. By its very design, the Western College Program pushed us to fully engage in our own learning, to chart our own courses. As a result, we felt a profound sense of responsibility, not only for ourselves, but to our community, and to the larger world, as well."

What are your best and worst Western memories?

"I enjoyed the Community Dinners, the Western Theater Seminar, living in Peabody, walking across the stone bridges to the main campus, reading Moby Dick as a college, scary stories around the bonfire in the woods on Halloween, singing 'Let the Circle Be Unbroken' in Kumler Chapel at the commencement ceremony.

"I appreciated referring to professors by their first names and that sometimes faculty-member families would also participate in college events. I guess what I enjoyed most was the sense of belonging to a community of shared values.

"What I didn't like so much, by contrast, was feeling out of place in the larger university. I attended at the height of Reagan-era preppydom and Mother Miami was steeped in it! I came from an integrated, blue-collar neighborhood in Dayton and was lost in the predominantly white, upper-middle-class student body.

"To counter that sense, I joined the College Democrats, which helped me to create networks in the larger university context. Ultimately, I became very involved in the Miami Speech Team and other activities. Had it not been for Western, however, I think it would have been more difficult to overcome the sense of otherness that initially overwhelmed me at Miami."

How has your experience of the WCP community shaped your subsequent participation in other communities?

"I can't imagine that participating in a traditional academic program would provide nearly the same sense of community I had at Western. The residency requirement, the seminar classes, the Community Dinners, as important as they were, would not have meant nearly as much had the curriculum not been so contextually based.

"Examining an issue from many facets—how it fits within history, nature, society, culture—helped me learn to look at the world as a tangled web in so many ways. A push here is felt over there. A tear in the fabric must be fixed, or the entire web is at risk. Our web, our world, is fragile and oh, so interconnected. As we used to sing together in Kumler Chapel, we are all responsible to keep the circle unbroken."

What impact has your Western education had on your professional development and career path? What do you most value now about interdisciplinary education?

"As I walked past the Career Planning and Placement Office (in what was the old Western College library), I used to really envy the students in their navy blue suits, going to interview for jobs with P&G or Price Waterhouse. I envied them because they seemed to really know what they wanted, what kind of job, what kind of life.

"Well, that was a long time ago, and I wouldn't trade my zig-zaggy career for anything. I tell students now that the most important thing in life is to be prepared, because you never know when an opportunity will come your way. I tell them that, with the rate of change in today's world, the most important aspect of being ready is learning how to learn.

"Most definitely, my interdisciplinary studies program has prepared me to learn. My college education was the ultimate liberal arts education, but couched within the important contexts of personal responsibility and community. That combination of learning and responsibility has contributed to my public service career in working for Congress, for a local non-profit, and now for a community college."

What are your aspirations for the new program?

"I would hope that future students in the new Western program would gain as much of a sense of social responsibility and interconnectedness as I did at Western. I hope that the curriculum continues to emphasize curiosity and critical inquiry, reading, writing, discussing, student-designed programs of study with strong faculty mentorship. I hope that the faculty members involved will feel a sense of responsibility to the program, its core values, and its success.

"I hope that the new Western program will feel as special, as important, as precious as the Western program I remember. And I hope that the program will provide just the right set of factors to incubate the kind of creative thinking, forward looking, responsible leadership that the original Western College began under the stern eye of Helen Peabody so many years ago."

[January 2009]

Jeffrey Patton — 1988

Jeff PattonJeff Patton graduated from Harvard Law School in 1994. He received a B.Phil., summa cum laude, from Miami University, in Oxford, Ohio, in 1988. He earned the degree of M.Phil., with distinction, from The University of Sheffield, in Sheffield, England, in 1991. Patton was awarded a Rotary International Foundation Scholarship for international graduate study in 1989-90. He is licensed in Illinois and a member of the Trial Bar of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.

Before joining Tabet DiVito & Rothstein, Patton was a partner with the law firm of Schiff Hardin & Waite. He has served as an adjunct professor and visiting lecturer on American litigation at Peking University Law School, in Beijing, China. He lives in Chicago with his wife and two children.

"The [Western] program is especially good at producing thoughtful, coherent communicators who perform well in new circumstances."

What would you identify as the key elements and core values of the Western Program as you experienced it?

"Four fundamental characteristics stand out to me as most important.

"First, Western simultaneously offers students a (top-notch) general, liberal arts curriculum and pushes them to dig deeply into a particular field in order to focus on their own career goals. Western students may end up changing focus mid-stream or working jobs they never expected to, but the process of choosing and digging is inherently good.

"Second, Western students are constantly forced to write and speak about a wide variety of topics—all the time and in every course. The program is especially good at producing thoughtful, coherent communicators who perform well in new circumstances.

"Third, the program emphasizes close reading and critical thinking. Nearly every class is an exploration of contradictory theories or points of view. Students are asked to take positions, criticize, and expose internal inconsistencies. This is not the case in many undergraduate programs, and I can't imagine one that does it better than Western.

"Fourth, Western's unique living/learning community is a lively and stimulating environment. This offers enormous and immeasurable benefits. Regardless of whether they come from big or small high schools, new Western students are struck by the talent, camaraderie, and diversity of their fellow students and the genuine interest, energy, and involvement of the excellent Western faculty. It is inconceivable that a student could go through the program without greatly benefiting from it both socially and intellectually."

What are your best and worst Western memories?

"I have lots of great memories and only a few bad ones. Here are some examples."


  • Winning the Miami campus-wide softball championship with a rag-tag team of Western students, architecture majors, and our third baseman/professor. We upset the Betas in the championship game. They were stunned.
  • The feeling of satisfaction and confidence I got many times over four years at Western that I had really learned and accomplished something significant as a result of serious effort—e.g., as I finalized an essay about woodworking after extensive revisions based on constructive criticism in my first year, when completing a class on the transition from feudalism to capitalism in Western Europe in my junior year, and after turning in my senior project. These moments encouraged me and helped me understand that I was capable of greater things in the future. By the end of my senior year, I felt that I had been catapulted in sophistication level and my understanding of the world. I had changed from being a naive teenager to someone who could at least speak reasonably intelligently with accomplished people from all walks of life.
  • Playing round number 611 on the frisbee golf course that my friends and I designed on the Western campus. Our course was comprised of roads, trees, buildings, fences, water hazards, gates, and the bell tower … but no metal posts custom designed for frisbee golf!
  • Hackey-sack marathons in the halls of Peabody and McKee.


  • How could I possibly have missed the typo in the telephone number listed on my own résumé senior year? What an idiot!"

How has your experience of the Western community shaped your subsequent participation in other communities?

"I have no doubt that my Western experience profoundly shaped me as a person and, therefore, my participation in other communities. The difficulty is in pinpointing examples.

"Here's one instance when my interdisciplinary background was very helpful. Before law school, I did a Master's degree in England. I was situated in the Department of English Language and Linguistics at The University of Sheffield and, more specifically, in a sub-department called the Centre for English Cultural Tradition and Language, which was generally described as the Folklore department. Nevertheless, my work was unmistakably interdisciplinary. I dealt with a problem that had been written about almost exclusively by folklorists, but which I felt was pertinent to scholars in many other fields. In my thesis, I analyzed the relevant scholarship of folklorists, but also discussed the work of historiographers, literary critics, oral historians, and popular writers—a good number of whom I had been exposed to at Western. I think this made my thesis much better and more interesting.

"On a more general level, my Western experience caused me to become more open-minded and tolerant. It helped me develop a respect for other ideas and people with backgrounds, values, and tastes different from my own. But it did not strip me of a belief in standards, justice, or right and wrong. On the contrary, it helped me better understand how to draw qualitative distinctions and make judgments about ideas, events, and people."

What impact has your Western education had on your professional development and career path? What do you most value about interdisciplinary education?

"Everything is connected. I chose the profession of social work, and am now a professor of social work, because they enabled me to make a lifelong and daily commitment to my values."

What do you most value now about interdisciplinary education?

"I think it is generally important and valuable for anyone (regardless of their position and career) to know a little about a wide variety of things, to know a lot about some things, and to be prepared to develop a good command of just about anything when required. This is especially true in my profession.

"I am a litigation lawyer. Every time I get a new case I encounter a new problem, and I often find myself digging deeply into a new industry or field and dealing with a new community of people.

For instance, I have handled bank fraud cases, copyright and trademark litigation, environmental disputes, construction-related lawsuits, accounting malpractice cases, and a wide range of other matters. I have worked closely with bankers and artists, scientists and salespeople, engineers and educators, accountants and writers. My interdisciplinary education at Western has helped me connect and communicate with these and all sorts of other people over the course of my career."

What are your aspirations for the new program?

"I think of my 'main campus' courses as part of my Western experience. In fact, Western requires students to search out appropriate classes in other Miami colleges and departments as they develop their 'focus.' Some of my favorite classes were taught by non-Western faculty members in the English, History, and Classics departments. This is one reason why I am not discouraged by the recent decision to make Western part of the College of Arts and Science.

"I believe the new Western can be every bit as good as the one I experienced. I hope the students and faculty embrace the new program and give it the same kind of time and energy that made the old program so good."

[May 2009]

James Francis Flynn — 2003

James Francis FlynnJames Francis Flynn was born and raised in Oxford, Ohio. He has lived or studied in Livry Gargan, France; Maastricht, Netherlands; Olympia, Washington; Kathmandu, Nepal; and Florence, Italy. Flynn has worked as a dishwasher, a computer technician, an archivist, a proofreader, and a clerk at Blockbuster Video. He currently lives in Chicago, Illinois, where he works as a freelance writer and filmmaker. His first feature film, Eastern College, is currently playing film festivals around the country and will be released on DVD in 2009.

"I realize that the seminar-based learning we did made me much more eager to press others, to ask questions, to be engaged in groups rather than being a passive listener who simply absorbs."

What would you identify as the key elements and core values of the Western Program as you experienced it?

"From my perspective, there are two things that made Western truly special and beneficial as a college experience.

"The first is that the program was an interdisciplinary one that focused on the connections between various disciplines and academic divisions, and used seminar-based classes with various reading and writing prompts to foster critical thinking skills.

"The second is that Western was committed to being a living/learning community. We all went to the same classes, ate at the same dining hall, had the same professors, lived in the same dorms.

"These two aspects are paramount for me because as I get older, I realize how important it is to read and write well, and how that skill is tied in with your ability to think logically and critically about any aspect of life, society or culture. As I'm aging, I am also understanding more and more how important interpersonal relationships are to us as human beings, both professionally and personally. I made a lot of friends at Western who I still keep in touch with today, and not just on Facebook."

How has your experience of the Western community shaped your subsequent participation in other communities?

"I would guess that my experience has made my participation in other communities more participatory and proactive rather than submissive and reactive. When I look back, I realize that the seminar-based learning we did made me much more eager to press others, to ask questions, to be engaged in groups rather than being a passive listener who simply absorbs.

"I remember being in a literature class in Italy where most of the students were content to simply takes notes based on the lecture the professor was giving, whereas I was consistently probing, questioning, maybe even being obnoxious and interrupting. I feel I got more out of the class than I would had I simply sat back and let his words wash over me while I looked out the window and daydreamed."

What impact has your Western education had on your professional development and career path?

"I've been working as a freelance writer and filmmaker since I graduated, and this is a clear extension of the focus I had at Western, which was in creative writing and film.

"I was able to use the program to create a distinct major, one that doesn't otherwise exist at Miami, and take classes from a variety of departments (English, theatre, mass communications and film studies) to craft a focus that fit my interests quite well.

"Additionally, when I look at the work I've been doing the past few years, I find that the detailed structure of the senior project was an extraordinary template for my work on feature films. During my senior year, I was focused on meeting all the deadlines for the senior project, and building my paper and the short film that accompanied it step-by-step, piece-by-piece.

"As I write feature-length screenplays now, I am able to take that training and apply it to give myself minor, manageable goals and gradually build those into something bigger, a whole that is the sum of those small parts. In other words, the senior project structure made me realize that that old maxim is true: slow and steady does indeed win the race."

What do you most value now about interdisciplinary education?

"Besides what I described above, I value most my memories of my time there. I feel I had a unique and wonderful college experience, and I must have loved it a lot because it took me five years to complete."

What are your aspirations for the new program?

"I would hope the new program would focus on small, seminar-based courses that emphasize critical thinking skills across disciplines using reading and writing to foster those skills. I would also hope that there is a very specific living/learning plan to give the new students a sense of the community I experienced during my time at Western."

[January 2009]

Pulkit Datta — 2008

Pulkit DattaOriginally from India, Pulkit Datta organized the film series "Bollywood Calling." Pulkit also was coordinator of the 2006 Ernst Fall Festival.

Update Fall 2011: After graduation, Pulkit attended NYU in film studies. His first documentary, The Forgetting Game, premiered in New York City in 2011 and was selected to be part of the prestigious New Filmmakers series at Anthology Film Archives.

"The entire environment—students, professors, staff, and even the history—of Western is geared towards coming up with innovative ideas and pursuing uncharted ways."

What helped you choose the Western College Program?

"I was attracted by the uniqueness of Western. Initially, the idea of creating my own major based on interdisciplinary learning seemed radical. But as I began reading about the program, I discovered that it was ideal for someone like me who has varied interests and wanted to somehow fuse everything together. So, I chose Western because I was driven by the desire to chart my own educational career."

What were some of the surprises that you encountered as you settled in the community?

"I came from pretty traditional schooling, so the casual atmosphere in the classrooms was what struck me first. At Western, the professors purposely create a level playing field so the exchange of knowledge goes in all directions. I've been in plenty of seminars where the professor admitted to learning something new from his/her students that day."

What have you enjoyed most about Western?

"I was surrounded by people who had one fundamental trait in common: the pioneering vision to create their own course of study. I made my closest friends here—individuals whose interests and opinions are fascinatingly diverse, yet who also harbor the desire to further expand their worldviews."

Reflecting upon your time at Western, what have you learned and what do you think the value has been?

"The most important thing I learned is the sheer importance and potential of thinking 'out of the box.' The entire environment—students, professors, staff, and even the history—of Western is geared towards coming up with innovative ideas and pursuing uncharted ways. This, I think, is an invaluable skill to have in today's world because it undoubtedly flows into every aspect of our lives—academic, personal, and professional."

Miami emphasizes the importance of being an 'engaged learner.' With that in mind, how would you characterize your interaction with your professors and classmates?

"I suppose the opposite of being an 'engaged learner' would be a passive learner. And being passive will never really do much good, in the classroom or outside.

"At Miami, and especially at Western, classes are very dynamic. I usually categorize classes as good or bad based on how interactive they are and how involved the students are in the learning. And at Western, the seminars and even the lectures were always engaging.

"Students are encouraged to be vocal, contribute to the syllabus, and just shape the course the way that it works for them. In most seminars I could have discussions with professors with no reservations about traditional hierarchy in the classroom. The professors are keen to learn and very flexible to change."

Have you had research/special opportunities made available to you through Miami, and if so, what was that experience like?

"One of Miami's strongest assets is the ever-increasing number of students opting for study abroad. I spent a semester in Brighton, England, and worked as a peer advisor in the study abroad office.

"The emphasis that the university places on giving students an international experience is truly commendable. The process of finding a suitable study abroad program is only getting easier and the number of choices is widening. I can confidently say I had a great time, academically and personally, in England."

How would you evaluate your education at Miami and the kinds of opportunities you've been able to pursue here?

"For a medium-sized, red-brick university campus planted in the middle of corn fields and more corn fields, Miami has an amazing wealth of opportunities.

"I believe my education at Miami was a healthy mix of structured foundations and creative freedom. Through Miami's curriculum, specifically at Western, I was able to take strides in learning outside the classroom using the critical thinking that we practiced so often in seminars.

"I was able to take leadership positions in student organizations, organize entire campus events from start to finish, and also build solid relationships with both instructors and fellow students to form a resourceful and helpful network."

As you reflect upon the courses you have taken to meet Western and Miami requirements, how would you evaluate them? Have any of them been especially valuable to you?

"Maybe I choose my courses well or I've just been lucky, but I enjoyed the vast majority of courses I took at Miami. And if I enjoyed a course that means I definitely took something away from it.

"Perhaps the most valuable have been those that were related to film, television, theatre, and literature. Since I focused on mass media (specifically film) during college, I gained a wealth of knowledge in some courses that cemented my desire to eventually become a filmmaker."

What extracurricular activities have you been active in through the university? Have you been able to take on leadership roles in these activities?

"I was extensively involved in numerous extracurricular activities. These include active involvement in the Indian Students Association, AIESEC (international exchange organization), MAFIA (student filmmakers association), Oxford Food Pantry, Western Community Council, Scholar Leader Program, Miami University TV, The Miami Student newspaper, the Human Rights and Social Justice Day planning, and several more."

[February 2009]

Ming Tak Martin Yip — 2008

Ming Tak Martin YipMartin Yip is from Hong Kong and is currently [January 2012] an International Graduate at Standard Chartered Bank. He will spend 5 months working in India this year.

"We talked about current issues on and off campus, and so many other intriguing topics—such as protecting the environment and defending human rights—that our discussions always continued late at night. I learned so much."

What helped you choose the Western Program?

"On the first day of orientation, the guy sitting next to me asked what my major was. I told him that I like politics, philosophy, communication and economics, and I was having trouble picking one or two. He asked, 'Why don't you create your own major?' Then he took me to see an academic advisor, who explained how it was possible.

"Coming from a more rigid culture, I had never heard of creating your own major and, being an international student from Hong Kong, I was concerned that I would have difficulty adjusting to the U.S. culture and educational system. But the adviser told me that I could receive the attention and support that I needed at Western because the program is small. Hearing this, I decided to give it a try."

What were some of the surprises that you encountered as you settled into the community?

"I was surprised that my education extended into my residence hall. In Peabody, community members keep their doors open and we would sit in the wide corridors and chat for hours. We'd read our essays to one another and comment on how to improve them. We talked about current issues on and off campus, and so many other intriguing topics—such as protecting the environment and defending human rights—that our discussions always continued late at night. I learned so much."

What did you enjoy most about Western?

"Besides making many lifelong friends, I was empowered to be an active member of the world. Many of my friends are active in understanding democracy in developing countries, reducing pollution, promoting free trade, and resolving the Middle East conflict.

"Even though Miami is located in the middle of corn fields, many students study abroad in Latin America, the Middle East, Asia, or do community work for the underprivileged in neighboring areas. Many friends eventually devoted a few years of their lives as Peace Corps or AmeriCorps volunteers."

Reflecting upon your time at Western, what did you learn and what do you think the value has been?

"Western has a rich history of commitment to social justice, most notably its involvement in the Freedom Summer Project of 1964, a campaign to register as many African American voters as possible. I presented my senior thesis in Leonard Theater, the place where volunteers were trained during Freedom Summer.

"I'm constantly reminded that we should not take the freedom and liberties that we enjoy for granted and that we need to stand at the forefront of defending freedom and liberty if we want a more just world.

"There were many policies that administrations during those times did not support, such as the right for African Americans to vote. If no citizens had questioned these policies, talented people such as President Obama would not be able to serve their country."

Were research/special opportunities made available to you through Miami? If so, what was that experience like?

"Being an Undergraduate Summer Scholar was a highlight of my college career. I received a scholarship and 12 credit hours to work on a self-designed topic with a faculty member from Sociology and Gerontology. I interviewed older people at an Oxford retirement home. The professor taught me so much and was so patient that I decided to become a life-long learner."

As you reflect upon the courses you have taken to meet Western and Miami requirements, how would you evaluate them? Have any of them been especially valuable to you?

"My favorite class was Science and Religion. My friend Garret and I wrote a paper together about understanding the relationships between science and religion. We were so into the project that we discussed it even when we were in the restroom. Another great memory from the class was when the elders from the Institute of Learning in Retirement joined our class. Their experiences contributed so much to the class."

What extracurricular activities have you been active in through the university? Have you been able to take on leadership roles in these activities?

"I was a Community Living Assistant for 3 years, president of the badminton club for a year, and active in the Chinese Students and Scholars Friendship Organization.

"Because my family is so far away, residents in my hall invited me home for Thanksgiving and spring breaks. Many were kind enough to share their lives with me. I got to attend important events in their lives, such as musical recitals, architecture open houses, and project presentations."

What is one thing that you would like to participate in during the remainder of your time at Miami?

"There are many new international students and I hope to help them help themselves as much as possible so that they can enjoy and contribute at MU."

[January 2009]

Amy Peterson — 2009

Amy PetersonAmy Peterson is from Wellington, OH. She is majoring in Interdisciplinary Studies with a minor in German. Her focus has been on culture through language and creative expression. Amy plans to complete a Master's in American Studies at either the University of Amsterdam or Raboud University Nijmegen. (Both are in the Netherlands.)

"Western core courses were by far my favorites. They approached a number of complex topics in an interdisciplinary manner, and our professors—though we may not always even agree with them—are truly highly developed scholars from a variety of fields."

Why did you choose Miami?

"Study abroad was a priority for me. When I looked at schools, Miami emphasized study abroad more than other colleges."

Have you had research/special opportunities made available to you through Miami, and if so, what was that experience like?

"Your time at Miami is what you make of it, and I decided very early on that I would take advantage of a variety of opportunities.

"For example, I was awarded an Undergraduate Summer Scholars research grant that helped fund my travel to Indonesia to study the art and healing practices of Bali. I also participated in Miami's Heidelberg Summer Program in order to learn German.

"And my junior year I studied Arabic at the University of Jordan; I lived with a professor's family, which really helped me learn the language and the culture.

"Through these experiences, I developed my language skills, met people from all around the world, had exposure to people and issues that challenged my viewpoints, and learned how to better work with various people. Overall, it has been incredibly challenging at times and truly fantastic."

As you reflect upon the courses you have taken to meet Western and Miami requirements, how would you evaluate them? Have any of them been especially valuable to you?

"Western core courses were by far my favorites. They approached a number of complex topics in an interdisciplinary manner, and our professors—though we may not always even agree with them—are truly highly developed scholars from a variety of fields. And even though a lot of students complain (myself included sometimes), I'm enjoying the senior project, because Ive developed academic and research skills that otherwise would have gone unexplored."

What extracurricular activities have you been active in through the university? Have you been able to take on leadership roles in these activities?

"One of the most challenging things I did was to organize an Iraqi film festival at Miami. The idea for the festival came from my study abroad experience in Jordan. The festival also fit in with my senior project. It was definitely not a requirement for the project, but I gained a lot of organizational skills and met some interesting people. My interdisciplinary senior project focuses on Iraqi film and how Iraqis define and discuss their nationality and culture through film."

What is one thing that you would like to participate in during the remainder of your time at Miami?

"Although it is my last semester at Miami and I'm trying to wrap things up, I'd like to spend a little more time with some of my Western peers. They really are incredible people. Anyone for a community dinner?"

[February 2009]

Andy Stiebler — 2009

Andy StieblerAndrew Stiebler '09, who grew up in Columbus, OH, majored in Interdisciplinary Studies with a special focus on event management, entrepreneurship, and marketing. During his junior year, he studied abroad at the International College of Management, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. He's been putting his skills to good use in documenting and promoting Western events in the last several months. Here's what he had to say about this work:

"I recently finished my senior thesis on Point of Purchase Events: An Experiential Marketing Study on U.S. Politics and Business. This past fall semester, while completing other requirements for graduation, I have been working to organize and promote Western Program events. It has been a great experience organizing Ernst Fall Fest, now nearly 25 years old, a community and music festival that takes place behind Peabody Hall.

"I have also been able to compile and record alumni visits and interviews on video for the Western archives and our publicity efforts. By recording and sharing what Western College Program alumni have achieved with their Western degrees, I hope to inspire potential students to think creatively about their college education options. I have also been working to highlight the achievements and goals of the new faculty to show how they exhibit interdisciplinary thinking.

"The Western Program has provided me with a very valuable set of skills and its seminar-style teaching motivated me to create and control the direction of my own education. Segments of alumni interviews, and news letter updates on events and activities taking place with in the Western program can be seen on my blog: Western: Where the Wild Things Are."

[December 2009]

Audree Riddle — 2010

Audree RiddleAudree's senior project focuses on the integration of technology and performance in museums. She has been an active member of the Residence Hall Association, and currently serves as an off-campus senator in Associated Student Government and a member of Alpha Phi Omega, a service fraternity. Audree studied in Rome during spring semester of her junior year. She says, "Italy was a life changing experience. It was like being a first year all over again; I was given an opportunity to re-evaluate my interests before beginning my senior thesis by being out of the States. I can say with confidence I am happy with my project's foci."

"The faculty is not only supportive academically but they join the students in outings, special events, community dinners, and for lunch before or after class … I knew the professors were there for me … because they had a personal relationship with me, I was not just another name on a roster."

What helped you choose the Western College Program?

"At orientation I discovered that the two subjects I wanted to major in, history and computer science, meant that I would have to take a credit overload every semester in order to finish in four years. I was fortunate enough to have an orientation leader who directed me east to Western Campus. After meeting with Charles, the assistant dean at the time, I realized that this obstacle in my coursework was not because I did not know what I wanted to do. I knew too well what I wanted, but there was no major to accomplish my goals. Western gave me the opportunity to decide my own education and graduate with the knowledge I need to succeed in my field."

What were some of the surprises that you encountered as you settled in the community?

"Everyone has different interests and backgrounds, but the community is so inclusive we are able to grow as academics and as individuals with one another. There was some hesitation on my part about taking classes and living with the same people 24/7, and there are many road bumps to overcome because not everyone gets along, but you eventually find your place.

"I have many different groups of friends and social circles because of my activities, but my best friends are from Western. We have very dynamic personalities and have varied opinions on current issues, politics, lifestyles and future desires. However, the common trait we are all share is openness.

"As part of the Western community, I discovered my own views and learned how to stand up for them, to embrace the different perspectives of my peers and, most importantly, to respect them."

What have you enjoyed most about Western?

"The community. There is a lot to say about having a support system of students and faculty who know exactly what you are going through.

"It is amazing how some who come to the community never leave, like Chris Myers, now a professor in the program. During what I believe was the most dreaded course in the program, Nature of Human Nature, Chris was able to empathize and sympathize with us because he once sat exactly where we were.

"The faculty is not only supportive academically but they join the students in outings, special events, community dinners, and for lunch before or after class.  Because of the intimate setting in classes, I never got lost. I knew the professors were there for me. They would refer to my area of study and ask for my opinion on different occasions, because they had a personal relationship with me, I was not just another name on a roster."

Reflecting upon your time at Western, what have you learned and what do you think the value has been?

"Western allowed me to grow in my own way. The program provided the resources I needed to learn how to think critically and how to be successful in my studies and in my life. Western prepared me to gain knowledge. I've acquired a great deal of information in all my classes at Miami, but in my Western coursework I take what I've learned and can integrate my skills into all my academic endeavors. In the majority of my non-Western courses, professors teach for the exam. At Western, we embrace learning, which allows me to learn for the sake of learning."

Miami emphasizes the importance of being an 'engaged learner.' With that in mind, how would you characterize your interaction with your professors and classmates?

"There's no escaping learning when you live and learn in the same building as your classmates and where your professors work. I loved the late night discussions in the corridors about our course lessons. Granted, we may not have always had our responses ready for seminar the next day, but we took what we learned in class or in the readings and discussed them at our leisure. Also, I am more engaged with the material in seminars where the professor does not lecture because we are discussing the material together."

Have you had research/special opportunities made available to you through Miami, and if so, what was that experience like?

"My best experience was studying in Italy and my internship with Explora, the Children's Museum of Rome. I also worked on amazing interactive media projects through the Armstrong Institute, and I'm looking forward to working on another project this year.

"Studying in Rome was a great experience. Not only did I take courses that fulfilled requirements, but I also took courses in areas that I had never had an interest in. One of my favorite courses was in Italian politics, an area that I had an interest in after all. Being able to study museums and history in Italy, where you read about a piece of art or an historical event and then the professor would take you there, was amazing. My curriculum in Rome encompassed Miami's Philosophy of Learning—being an engaged and active learner."

[August 2009]

Carissa Rae Fry — 2014

Carissa Rae Fry reading 'Catcher in the Rye'Carissa is an Individualized Studies major with a focus in law, ethics, and social justice. She would like to create a student non-profit (Scraps) and to work in the Over-the-Rhine area of Cincinnati.

Academic Goals

"My objective is to better understand how laws, social beliefs and sociological norms impact social stratification and what we now call deviance. By introducing a wider interdisciplinary scope of inquiry, I hope to further analyze how people view deviance based on social stratification and justice. And by furthering my understanding of unequal opportunities and injustice, I hope to redefine how deviance is viewed, and provide more opportunities for deviants to achieve in society.

"I will integrate the concepts I learn in political science, anthropology, sociology, and philosophy into a unique field of my own design. These concepts will help me to better understand the reasons behind power and privilege, as well as social injustice, the philosophy behind laws that govern our country and the policies that impact people, as well as what approach is best to change these laws."

Starting a Non-Profit

"Because I'm very interested in helping to fix social injustices within the confines of laws in communities, I am trying to start a non-profit called Scraps, representative of scraps of the American dream. After seeing parts of my town destroyed in a flood that wiped out half of our 'poor areas,' I was awakened to how disadvantaged these families were. None of them had insurance on their houses or money to rebuild. So I set off in search of homes and buildings within my town and surrounding area. Much to my surprise, I found several within just miles of my house. The impact of good shelter can affect what kind of sleep a person gets, the environment they group in, and how conducive it is to studying for academic success. Rebuilding houses for these people can help restructure their lives.

"I'm also well aware that equalizing social injustices is more than just providing good housing. There is also inequality in education and healthcare, due to laws and stratification within society. I think if more people were aware of it, more would be done to create justice for those who are disadvantaged. For these reasons, I want to push for changes in laws that foster social injustice. As Gandhi said, 'You must be the change you wish to see in the world.' I figure that I should start spreading awareness now if I want to see these changes that level disadvantages in society."

Senior Project

"For my senior project I want to capitalize on the usage of sociology, urban development, ethics, and political science. During the spring of 2013, I hope to renovate a dilapidated house in downtown Cincinnati. I hope for it to be the first renovation of Scraps.

"I'll also incorporate criminology. I'd like to study juvenile delinquents and what, if anything, keeps them from becoming repeat offenders. I hope to find a law or social perception that impacts disadvantaged people and see what can be done to change their disadvantages. By working with and evaluating these disadvantaged groups I hope to find ways to gain more equality for these disadvantaged groups.

"My thesis will utilize my passion for sociology and my interests in the languages and cultures of other people, while still requiring research in the area of law and politics. This will help me to accomplish something I have a passion for, fulfill Honors Program and Western requirements, and serve as preparation for law school."

Community Service

"One of the most rewarding experiences I've had at Miami is mentoring at-risk youth from the Talawanda School District (Oxford's district). I've learned so much from the kids and they've instilled in me a new vivacity for life. I like to think that I've served as motivation or inspiration for them to pursue goals that they feel are too 'far out' to achieve. More than anything, I just want to be someone who will listen to them."

After Graduation

"My degree should prepare me for a joint JD/ PhD program in philosophy, with an emphasis on ethics, so that I can teach while working at a law firm. I enjoy philosophy and it will help teach me to critically question the application of ethics in society.

"Teaching abroad will also help in my goal to fight injustice. Teaching in Chile will provide cultural immersion, and allow me to gain more knowledge of the language. I'll teach abroad after I graduate with my Bachelors or once I obtain my graduate degrees. A better understanding of the Spanish language will help me fight social injustice in the U.S. as a result of language barriers."

[October 2011]

Chelsea Fought — 2013

Chelsea FoughtChelsea is an Individualized Studies major with a focus in young adult literature, and a co-major in Interactive Media Studies with a focus in commercialization. During spring semester 2012, she will participate in the pilot of the semester-long San Francisco Digital Innovation Center Program that was created by Miami's Armstrong Interactive Media Studies Center. In San Francisco, she will intern for a Bay Area company and take classes.

"Basically, my majors are giving me a background that I can take into multiple fields, and I'm really grateful for that. It gives me a bit more flexibility with what I can do with my life after college."

"When I came to Miami, I wasn't sure what I was going to do. Even though my passions are writing and young adult literature, I wasn't sure that I wanted to major in creative writing or education. After going down a long path, I landed in Individualized Studies. It was one of the best choices I ever made.

"I've created a major that I can feel passionate about. I'm able to pick classes that I want to take. Basically, I've made a major where I'm learning everything I want to learn. The classes I'm in, I want to be there, rather than just filling a requirement.

"The one thing I felt I was missing was some sort of digital media piece. Ever since I was in middle school. I've been interested in coding and online media and how it's received. As our world becomes more digitalized, I think it's important to know what technology is out there, and for me specifically to know how publishing companies are using technology for marketing purposes.

"I'm able to combine both these interests through the Interactive Media Studies (IMS) program. Originally, I was just going to minor in IMS, but now that I will participate in the San Francisco program [at the Digital Innovation Center] I'll complete a co-major, which means I'll get even more background in digital media in a commercialization and marketing context.

"Ultimately I'd like to become a young adult author. Because of this I see my majors working together in these ways:

  • My Individualized Studies major is comprised of creative writing, and English courses, as well as psychology and family study classes that focus on adolescent development. In a sense, this major allows me to work on my craft, as well as gain knowledge about the audience I want to write for.
  • My IMS co-major gives me background on how to market to that audience. With marketing and advertising becoming more online/digitally oriented, and with authors doing a lot of their own marketing, knowing this information is extremely valuable.
  • Because these aspects of my majors weave together and feed into one another, I could also see my life going in other directions, such as becoming a literary agent, an editor/market for a publishing company, or even an English teacher.

"Basically, my majors are giving me a background that I can take into multiple fields, and I'm really grateful for that. It gives me a bit more flexibility with what I can do with my life after college.

"For right now, to keep myself reading and engaged in the young adult literature community, I try to keep a blog where I review YA literature. It's called Books Turn Brains, which is a quote from Louisa May Alcott: 'She is too fond of books, and it has turned her brain.' When coming up with a blog name, I felt this quote, and thus the name, worked perfectly."

[October 2011]

Jeff Folz — 2014

Jeff FolzJeff is interested in physics and philosophy and he is currently enrolled in the Individualized Studies Seminar (WCP 251), in which he will identify his complex interest and plan of study. Jeff is a Resident Assistant in Peabody Hall, a tutor in the Inquiry Center, and a member of Miami's Honors Program.

"Students must be active and engaged, creating their own direction. I think that's the core value of this program: engagement."

"I didn't really know what to write about when I was asked to write this profile. I was given an idea, but was told to write whatever I thought. I think that is a perfect description of the Western Program in and of itself. Instead of telling students what they need to take and do in order to get a degree, Western asks students to provide the answer to the questions, 'What am I going to take? What am I going to do? What am I going to write about for a profile?' Students must be active and engaged, creating their own direction. I think that's the core value of this program: engagement.

Jeff Folz and other students at a community dinner

"There's definitely a lot in which to be engaged. Personally, I'm in the process of creating my own major, which will (fingers crossed) combine physics and philosophy in an effort to examine how we as humans measure, define, and try to make sense of this crazy world in which we live.

"On top of that, the Western Program provides it's own tutoring service through The Inquiry Center. There, I tutor students in calculus, physics, and chemistry, as well as help students engage in any act of inquiry. That's my role as a tutor, but that's not all I do. I'm also an editor of Mi Cup of Tea, an interdisciplinary undergraduate journal, which accepts submissions from undergraduate students in all subjects and highlights their commitment and interest in their topics.

"Western also offers a unique community atmosphere. Dinners and events are held monthly (nearly weekly!), and they provide a great opportunity to engage with both students and professors outside of the classroom, to share thoughts and ideas, and just generally kick it with an awesome set of peers.

"So, whether it is tutoring, inventing my own major, or hunting mushrooms with the head my academic department, the Western Program is the most engaged on campus."

[October 2011]

Individualized Studies (Western Program)

111 Peabody Hall
Oxford, OH 45056