Taking the Road Less Traveled: How to Create Your Own Major 101
by Kyle Burgess ’21
It is often said that college is a time for self-discovery and self-expression. Here at Providence College, students are actively encouraged to take classes that they find fascinating and to join clubs and organizations that pique their interests. Students may even elect to create their own clubs to share their unique passions if they so choose, with organizations such as chess club and FriarsFor______ being some of the latest successful additions to extracurricular activities on campus.
But what about students who wish to apply the same creativity to designing their own major? Is there hope that their efforts can meet the same success as these new clubs? In the case of Eliana DaCunha ’22, the answer is a resounding “yes.” Originally from Fairhaven, MA, DaCunha first became familiar with Friartown through several of her high school peers who attended the College and encouraged her to apply. She also realized that her application to the school would be considered for the Roddy Scholarship, a merit scholarship that covers the tuition, room, and board for a first-year student aspiring to enter the medical profession like herself.
DaCunha explains that it has long been her dream to become a physician. “My mom is a primary care physician and my dad is a chiropractic physician, so I’ve been surrounded by the healthcare profession my entire life,” she said. “They’ve never pushed me to enter the medical field, but they’ve definitely inspired me to. Hearing about all the people they’ve helped in our local community always makes me so proud of them.”
Arriving at PC as a biology major, DaCunha began thinking of ways to combine her passions for medicine and world issues, creating a distinct individualized global health major to supplement her biology major. She was encouraged after learning that former PC men’s basketball point guard Kyron Cartwright ’18 had taken a similar path during his time at PC, creating an individualized sports media major.
“I was so happy to learn that PC had this kind of individualized major program because I believe allowing students to take charge of their own educational path is so important,” DaCunha stated. “I’ve always wanted to learn more about global health, but because this field is so broad, I knew I would need to take courses in health policy, global studies, sociology, and political science to truly acquire a better knowledge of it.”
With the assistance of academic advisors, such as Dr. Tuba Agartan and Dr. Deborah Levine of the health policy and management department and director of academic advising Peter Palumbo, DaCunha’s proposal received the green light from Father Mark Nowel, O.P., assistant to the provost and associate professor of biology.
However, DaCunha admitted that the process for approval was not as seamless as it sounds because of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Because everyone was transitioning to online learning, it was often very difficult to get in touch with the professors; the approval of my major was, of course, not urgent in the context of COVID, but because it was not approved, I couldn’t pre-register for classes. However, by the summer, I was able to finally acquire all the signatures I needed to forward my proposal to Fr. Nowel’s Committee on Studies and by the fall, my major was approved. I’m really glad I stuck with it.”
When asked for any advice she could share with PC students potentially looking to create their own majors, DaCunha reiterated that patience is a virtue during this lengthy process. “It requires a lot of time and effort, but having a major tailored to your specific wants and needs is so worth it.” She also recommended that students looking to pursue their own individualized majors should reach out to Palumbo for guidance in creating a major of their design.