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Finding a Major That Fits

By Frank Otto
Office of University Communications

July 14, 2015

Drexel University Emerging Scholars Program in the College of Arts and Sciences

When it comes to choosing the path to your career, Lloyd Ackert firmly believes in exploration.

As a young man, he headed to the University of Minnesota with the intention of studying English. That changed.

“Then I wanted to do astrophysics, but there were some reasons — mostly the intensity of the math classes — that led me to choose another major,” laughed Ackert, PhD, now an associate teaching professor of history in the College of Arts and Sciences.

For two years, Ackert was completely undecided. Then, he discovered a major that allowed him to join his interest in evolutionary biology with his passion for Russian literature and area studies. Through that work and a serendipitous meeting with his adviser, Ackert discovered the field he now teaches in today: the history of science.

“In this field, I was able to approach my interest in science from a humanities perspective,” he said. “My experience will help me guide my students; I understand the worry and frustration of not knowing which major to choose, but I also know the power and joy of finding the one that fits.”

Ackert has been named the director of a new initiative in the College of Arts and Sciences called “Emerging Scholars.” It’s a program set to debut this fall that will take a group of undeclared freshmen in the humanities and social sciences and let them holistically explore the liberal arts through a specially designed curriculum.

“The curriculum will allow students to take courses across the humanities and social sciences while also building their résumés through co-op, connecting with Philadelphia in one of our community-based-learning courses, and experiencing the world through a travel-integrated course,” Ackert said.

The idea came from the College of Arts and Sciences’ dean, Donna Murasko, PhD, who appointed Ackert as head of the program. Drexel’s co-op program and fast-paced quarter system set it apart from many universities — but those same benefits can also make it difficult for students who are unsure of their path. Through Emerging Scholars, Murasko hopes to provide the flexibility for students to explore and declare a major later in their studies — as they would at many traditional liberal arts schools — while also taking advantage of the unique opportunities of a Drexel education.

In addition to helping students find their academic and career paths, the program will also help retain students in the college and at Drexel.

“A lot of people come in with a major in mind but they aren’t quite committed to it yet,” Ackert said. “What happened, we noticed, is that students would leave to either go to another college within Drexel or to another university because they weren’t settled here. So this is a platform to both recruit students and to retain them. It gives us a chance to talk about things in a way we didn’t talk about them before.”

Emerging Scholars is a two-year program that, upon completion, will have prepared students to seamlessly transition into the humanities and social science majors of their choosing. Faculty members from across the college have volunteered to teach courses and assist in the program.

Each year of the program is distinct. The first year focuses on exploring the world and understanding the increasing globalization students will face upon graduation.

The second year is focused locally on “discovering Philadelphia.”

“You don’t necessarily have to go around the world to figure out how it works and what your interests are,” Ackert said.

Students will take part in a co-op with a Philadelphia-based non-profit and participate in a community-based-learning course, learning side-by-side with community partners.

“The second year really embraces President [John A.] Fry’s vision of being the most civically engaged university in the country,” Ackert said.

Students in Emerging Scholars will also be part of a living-learning community.

“What we’ve found is some of the best advice students get is from their peers, so we want them to feel like part of a community, connected to each other,” Ackert said.

Ackert feels the experience makes for a  “stronger student with a stronger background” heading into their chosen majors.

Most importantly, the Emerging Scholars program gives students some extra time to think and explore their interests before committing to a career path.

“It’s experience, introspection, mentorship and, maybe somewhere in there, a little serendipity,” Ackert said.

- See more at: http://drexel.edu/now/archive/2015/July/Emerging_Scholars/#sthash.JPdQD912.dpuf