Liberal arts universities: You either hate them or you love them.
When I arrived at Miami University two years ago, I was not looking forward to taking random classes outside my major to graduate. That's what high school was for. Why do I have to take more Spanish classes when I spent the past four years doing that?
Coming into Miami, I initially thought field research was my calling, and I wanted to go into a hard science-related field after graduation. After getting accepted as a biology major, the Miami Plan didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.
Early in the fall of my first year, I met with the head of the Institute for the Environment and Sustainability to declare an environmental science co-major, which I had planned for a while.
Upon looking at my degree audit with him, I saw that I was a bachelor of arts, unbeknownst to me. I asked how soon I could change that to a bachelor of science, but he advised me to wait a while.
He explained that there was no need to change it so soon, as the arts degree is more flexible in terms of what classes you need to graduate. I was told to bide my time and explore some classes outside my major that interest me before making a decision. He was indirectly explaining the reasoning behind a liberal arts education, and I decided to take his word for the time being.
However, it was not actually any specific classes I took that changed my mind about Miami’s educational ideology, but what I did outside of class.
Later in the fall of my first year, I joined The Miami Student. I had written for my high school newspaper and assumed in college it would continue to be a fun, creative outlet and not much else.
My first-year biology and chemistry lectures and labs were difficult. I still believed I was going to pursue a career in the natural sciences, but I realized I was not quite sure what that would really look like. At the same time, I was writing plenty of stories for The Student, and much to my surprise, I had carved out a niche for myself writing about environmental issues.
I was thrilled, albeit a bit surprised, by how many people encouraged me to explore my passion in this regard, as The Student is known much more for its outstanding breaking news coverage.
In my mind that year, my passion for science and writing had to be separate. The writing was fun, but science was where I truly needed to focus my time and attention. Although I was beginning to see that this may not be true, I held onto this thought until about halfway through my first semester as a sophomore.
I joined a research lab within the biology department at the beginning of the semester that studies the interactions between deer and invasive plant species. I was excited about it, and I quickly got assigned my own mini-project and was also tasked with occasionally helping other students as well as weekly readings of research articles.
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As the semester progressed, I began feeling slightly overwhelmed and a bit anxious as I was struggling to identify plants and understand some of the other material we were looking into. All the while, I had not written a story all semester.
Despite the large time commitment of the lab, I found some time to pitch a story to my then-editor, Ames Radwan. They were extremely happy that I was back to writing and informed me that other students on the staff were thrilled to “see science back in TMS.”
In those moments, I felt a tremendous sense of belonging and appreciation. Here at The Student was a group of people that valued my work, and I felt so happy to be back doing something that I love.
It was then that I had a moment of clarity, and realized that journalism was something I needed to pursue more seriously. It was clear that there was a way to combine my passions and skills. I love learning about science, but practically, I realized I may be better suited to share the science rather than carry out the experiments.
I finished out the semester with the lab but dropped out over the winter. It was a tremendous experience that helped me gain an appreciation for the hard work done by students and professors on campus but also helped me glean some understanding of myself as well.
Since then, I have picked up a journalism minor, freelanced for an environmental publication in Dayton and will be working with The Miami Student in the future to officially expand its coverage of environmental issues.
Initially, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to fit a journalism minor in my already packed class schedule, but with some help from my adviser, we were able to squeeze it in while also fulfilling some other Miami Plan requirements.
I have no doubt that at other schools I would not have been able to academically pursue such diverse interests. My friends at the University of Cincinnati tell me how they have only taken one class outside their major and that they could not take more even if they wanted to.
This is not only bad for those with diverse interests, but I believe that it is also bad for those who already know what they want to do. Understanding broader perspectives and how your area of study fits into the broader society as a whole can be extremely beneficial.
I have learned how important it is to effectively communicate scientific findings to the public because it is the public’s opinion that can sway legislation to implement or ignore the hard facts. On the other hand, I also have a heightened ability to find, analyze and verify sources of information for stories.
Although my story is just one of the thousands at Miami, I believe it applies to many more students. I still sometimes don’t think I needed to take more Spanish classes, and maybe taking both a global and an intercultural perspectives class is a bit much, but realizing that the potential is there for a huge change is enough for me to appreciate the process.
I have come to realize that a well-rounded education not only allows someone to pursue different passions but can also help to deepen understanding of your primary subject major. A narrow-minded approach to your area of study can leave so much on the table, and while I’m spending so much money to attend college, I’m going to make the most of what I can learn.
Sam Norton is a sophomore biology major with an environmental science co-major and journalism minor. He has been writing for The Miami Student Opinion section and magazine since the fall of 2021 and was awarded an SPJ Mark of Excellence award for opinion writing.