Psychology students Andrew Kerbs, Nicole Cesaroni and Hillary Hewitt attend a psychology class at RIC.
Exploring Majors offers an opportunity for students to experiment before they decide where to delve deeper, said Leslie Schuster, interim dean of graduate studies, director of the gender and women’s studies program and professor of history at RIC. “That’s what college is all about,” she said, adding, “You’re supposed to test yourself in places that you didn’t think you’d be comfortable.”
RIC students who choose Exploring Social and Behavioral Sciences out of five possible Exploring Majors
options may, before reaching 45 credits, declare one of the following 12 majors: Africana studies, anthropology, communication, environmental studies, gender and women’s studies, geography, global studies, justice studies, political science, psychology, public administration or sociology.
Schuster said the gender and women’s studies degree has its roots in RIC’s women’s studies program – the oldest of its kind in the United States – founded in the 1970s. She said the program’s introductory gender and society course, offered through the Exploring Social and Behavioral Sciences track, often “sparks conversation and introduces students to what college is all about.” Schuster added, “I think students expect college to be about lecture,” but they soon learn that it is more about having a dynamic discussion.
A degree in gender and women’s studies doesn’t prepare students for one particular job, she said, but gives graduates a range of skills, such as in writing, critical thinking and communication, that will serve them well in a variety of careers. “Our gender and women’s studies graduates, who frequently leave RIC with more than one major, often find work in nonprofits that address gender issues,” she said. “They also often pursue graduate degrees in health, family health or gender studies.”
Two other degree options in Exploring Social and Behavioral Science are anthropology and environmental studies. Mary Baker, chair of the anthropology department and director of RIC’s new environmental studies program, said she expects the structure offered by Exploring Majors to help new and undecided students avoid taking a “mish mosh” of courses before they graduate.
Baker believes that students who have a clearly defined goal in mind, while working with student advisors at RIC’s Office of Academic Support and Information Services, will also gain a greater sense of connection and belonging to the college.
Baker, who balances teaching and committee work with extensive research, said, “One of the things that we are trying to do in our courses is give students skills that translate well in the real world.”
Reflecting on where students with degrees in anthropology have landed since graduation, Baker said, “Several alumni are working internationally in Europe, Asia and Africa.” She added, “A couple of years down the road, [degrees in anthropology] have translated into some really interesting jobs.”
A degree in political science is also possible through the Exploring Social and Behavioral Sciences option. Thomas Schmeling, political science department chair and associate professor of political science, said, “When students ask me, ‘What major should I take?’ I say, ‘Find something that you enjoy.’”
“Exploring Majors gives direction,” he said, and gives students “opportunities to try different things and learn about fields like political science or anthropology,” which may be new to them.
“RIC really is a college of opportunity” for many students who are the first in their family to attend, said Schmeling, causing him to appreciate RIC’s “amazing” potential to “alter the trajectory of students’ lives.”
“It makes me very happy to have a student go to a good law school and write back and say, ‘I feel like I was well prepared for this,’” said Schmeling. “Our students attain positions in government or the business world, and they talk about what brought them there,” which is their educations at RIC.