Design Your Own Major
Aviation and Foreign Policy. Equine Assisted Therapy. Journalism in the Health Field. Diplomacy. Marine Conservation and Ecotourism. Intellectual History. These are just a few of the thousands of unique academic paths carved out by University of Massachusetts Amherst students who’ve looked to the Bachelor’s Degree with Individual Concentration (BDIC) program to design their own majors.
Ahead of its time, BDIC has accommodated roughly 100–130 graduates each year since it was established in 1970. Each student designed their own major, tapping into UMass Amherst’s vast resources to create a truly individualized academic experience. In 1968, UMass students organized a conference and called for more individualism in education. They received support from internationally renowned scholar and English professor Arthur Kinney (the visionary who established the university’s world-class Center for Renaissance Studies that now bears his name). Kinney shaped students’ demand for academic freedom into a rigorous and robust interdisciplinary program.
Today, BDIC acts as an “expansion valve” for the university, allowing students to exercise resourcefulness, work with intentionality, and focus on long-term goals. Although each student’s course of study is individualized, they can tap into the broad spectrum of academic disciplines, hundreds of diverse courses, excellent resources, and cutting-edge facilities available at UMass—the No. 1 public research university in New England.
STUDENTS CARVE UNIQUE PATHS
Opportunities abound to design a major that fits each student's unique set of interests, passions, and career aspirations. Below are just a few of the individualized majors BDIC students have created when charting their own paths through the UMass experience.
Sustainable Business Practices in Fashion
Anna Tempestoso declared a communication major, but she didn’t feel it touched all the things she cared about. “I discovered how harmful the fashion industry is on the environment, the planet, and people,” she says. Tempestoso's passion for “fashion and making that a more fair world, sustainably and ethically,” led her to design a second major in BDIC that combined classes from the Isenberg School of Management, communication, and a fashion-focused study abroad program in London. She also started her own sustainable fashion business. “I know sustainability is a big value on campus,” she points out, “and so is being unique and revolutionary.” These values inspired her to utilize vintage UMass Amherst apparel and retro sweaters to construct collage-like tops that both displayed UMass pride and re-used articles of clothing that might otherwise go to waste. Her first batch of sweaters, which she sold at the UMass Student Farmers Market, flew off the table.
Social Change in Sports
Initially interested in kinesiology with an eye toward becoming a physical therapist, Brooke Jones felt that she wouldn’t be “truly satisfied” with that career path. “I’ve been an athlete my entire life,” she says, “and there were times when I was the only girl on my team. Being a woman in sports is something I was super passionate about.” BDIC gave her the opportunity to infuse that passion into an academic major. Jones envisioned a path that would lead her into the world of sports management and designed a major that combined courses in business, social network analysis, graphic design, and multimedia recording among many others. Instead of being a sports manager focused on, as she says, “money, money, money,” Jones hopes to cultivate a management style that is “invested in who the athlete is as a person and what they stand for.” Mindful of injecting social change into the business of sports, she’s especially interested in representing women athletes and helping them to “promote themselves as people and reach their goals outside of sports.”
Antonio De Leon started UMass with his sights set on computer science but soon found himself pulled in another direction. A BDIC peer advisor made a presentation about film studies in one of his classes, and De Leon—who had been making and editing films as a hobby since middle school—decided to jump in. In coordination with the interdepartmental program in film studies, BDIC offers options to students interested in exploring film through their major. “I see film studies as a little bit different than some of the other BDIC majors,” explains De Leon. “I see majors that are truly individual,” he explains, whereas film studies is attached to an interdisciplinary program with a structured curriculum and dedicated faculty members. But even film studies majors enjoy individualized experiences. De Leon points out that “there are so many different ways you can go through a film studies major,” explaining that some students chose production paths, some focus on theory and criticism, and others “do their own thing.”
BDIC was always in the back of Katherine Widrow’s mind. She’s the 20th member of her family to attend UMass Amherst, and many of her relatives were BDIC majors in the seventies and eighties, “all the way back to the beginning of the program.” Still, Widrow was intent on majoring in psychology. Having grown up with a visual impairment, she participated in many clinical trials. “I was really interested in that process because it was how I got diagnosed and I was seeing doctors a lot right around the college application process,” she explains. “I wanted to help people in a similar way,” she says, which attracted her to the clinical aspects of psychology. However, when she participated in an exploratory fellowship at Fidelity Investments before starting at UMass, the experience changed her academic plans. “I just sort of kept raising my hand,” she remembers. “I asked ‘Where does psychology fall into all this?’ My eyes were opened because everybody said psychology has a huge place in business.” The fellowship sparked a love of business in Widrow, and eventually, she turned to BDIC to design a major that combined skills in finance, an understanding of people through psychology, and a deep knowledge of economics.
Creation, Marketing, and Documentation
Sophie Schweik confidently and determinedly designed her major through BDIC around her love for social media management and content creation. Outside of school, “I’m a freelancer and I work for brands doing social media strategy,” Schweik explains. “I wanted to push that career forward while also continuing to explore my creative interests." Those interests include photojournalism, art installations, and performance. Her major allows her to explore the intersections of these interests, combining classes in communication, business, studio art, and theater, to name a few. For the UMass Fringe Fest—a student-driven theater festival that takes place each spring—Schweik combined photography, documentary, and an immersive installation to create an interactive and genre-bending artwork that explored mental health, self-care, and comfort.
Ronan Fitzgerald started his first year at UMass Amherst remotely and wasn’t sure what major he should choose. After speaking to an advisor, Fitzgerald learned about BDIC. Poring over course catalogs and reading class descriptions. Fitzgerald was drawn to classes in art, communication, and journalism. The major he designed "is not traditional photojournalism as you would expect it,” he explains. Instead, his major combines a creative approach, multimedia applications to journalism, and writing more broadly. Now, as a peer advisor for BDIC, Fitzgerald sees that the program encourages students to be self-advocates, self-starters, and to develop an entrepreneurial spirit.
This story was published in August 2023.