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Journey to Interdisciplinary Studies: Jenna Sousa '23

Every journey to interdisciplinary studies is unique. Jenna Sousa '23 of Peabody recently shared her reflection on her path to this program and what lies ahead for her.

My journey to interdisciplinarity was not by chance. However, I was not on a set path. I did not know where I wanted to go in life, or what I wanted to major in when I got to college. I had hobbies that I enjoyed, and intellectual pathways from classes which interested me prior to college, but it was difficult to narrow my focus and find something “career worthy”. Eventually, I gained an interest in interdisciplinary studies. Through my prior experiences with civics and environmental science, I had already started to bridge some elements of these disciplines. Now, I am creating an interdisciplinary major that fits me and my intellectual interests. I have always been an interdisciplinarian; now I have a name and a major to match.

During high school I had no clue what I wanted to do. I did not have anything that I thought would interest me or support me enough financially. Luckily in my senior year, I took some diverse classes which would help me find some other interests. I took a standard AP Environmental class which I enjoyed. It gave me a glimpse of environmental science which made me want to be an environmental science major. I also took a democracy in action class which opened my eyes to public policy and solidified the idea that I wanted to help people. For a while, I was stuck between environmental science and public policy, but I could not commit to either one. My interests were intersected here, between environmental science and public policy, but because the societal norm is choosing only one discipline, I entered college with an undeclared major.

I went to Salem State University because I still had no idea what I wanted to do, and I did not want to waste my money or time. Things changed at my freshman orientation. The head of the interdisciplinary department spoke to the students with undeclared majors. I was encouraged to take interdisciplinary studies classes my first year, so I did. I took American Identities and Peace and Peace Building. I was intrigued by this new way of learning, which involved looking at history through multiple perspectives and elements such as reading primary source documents and looking at art and folk narratives and material culture and maps from the time as well. I enjoyed this way of gaining knowledge, looking at things through different perspectives and then integrating them together to find the bigger picture. I decided to stay with the interdisciplinary department for my academic advising. And, from this I became an Interdisciplinary Studies major with a self-designed concentration.

Through the interdisciplinary department I was able to design my own major. They encourage the intersection of your interests and allow you to pursue multiple disciplines in order to combine them and form something new, thus making it interdisciplinary. With the help of my wonderful advisor, we created an individualized major, Environmental Studies and Natural Resource Management. I built this major with the interdisciplinary department, so that I can take elements from different disciplines, such as classes from the SMS majors, and more scientific environmental based classes from the GPH majors, a couple political science classes, and mix them together to help me gain the perspectives and knowledge I need for my journey.

With my major through the interdisciplinary department, I hope to gain insight on issues surrounding environmental studies and natural resource management, such as why people in lower income areas have less adequate access to natural resources, and how the environment and activities we do in it can impact our overall health. Through skillsets I will gain through interdisciplinary studies and research, I will look at problems or issues from multiple

perspectives, such as that of a healthcare professional or a public policy decision maker, in order to effectively problem solve and understand these issues. We need to view problems through multiple perspectives and lenses. I will be able to incorporate and mix these multiple disciplines in my research and work.

I do not have a specific job path in mind, but there are many options available. I may end up somewhere helping develop environmental policy, or work for a nonprofit like the Massachusetts Audubon Society, or for the Department of Recreation and Conservation for the commonwealth of Massachusetts. I may not know where I will end up, but there will be many options available.

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