BDIC Stories

The Board of Trustees Meeting

By Megan Kolb, BDIC peer advisor

One of the highlights of my career at the University of Massachusetts was the opportunity to be selected to speak at the UMass Board of Trustees meeting on Global Student and Academic Affairs. I owe this amazing opportunity to the BDIC department, because if it were not for our panel discussion with UMass President Jack Wilson in the fall semester, I never would have been selected to represent UMass Amherst.  When I heard from the Dean of Commonwealth College, Priscilla Clarkson, that I was the only student from our school chosen to attend I was speechless.  This was a very prestigious honor, and one which I will never forget.

The student panel was chosen to speak about the unique global opportunities they had while attending one of the five UMass campuses.  I spoke about my CAPA London Internship and my job at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland this past summer. It was incredible to hear about the other students’ experiences, and I was thoroughly impressed with their accomplishments at such a young age.  One student traveled to Cape Town with an international epidemics course, another attended the Helsinki talks of 2007-08, and others visited Paris, the Galapagos, and the Good Samaritan Hospital in the Dominican Republic to care for Haitian migrant workers for NSF grant research. 

Being able to travel to Boston with Dean Clarkson, and attend the Board of Trustees meeting was incredible.  After the meeting, I was approached by the Chancellors of the other UMass campuses who congratulated me on my achievements.  I will never forget that day!  I can truly say because of BDIC, I have made my major and my UMass career my own unique experience.

Study Abroad: It’s easier than you may think!

By: Danielle Pourbaix, BDIC peer advisor

“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” –Henry Miller

I can honestly say that spending a semester in Sydney, Australia last spring was the best thing I ever could have done while at UMass.  Seeing the world and living in an entirely different culture changes your life, makes you more independent, and adds to your entire college experience.  Before even arriving at UMass, I planned on studying abroad.  Although most students would love to get out of Amherst for a few months, they unfortunately never actually go through with it.  Many people believe that it’s far too expensive, requires too much work to apply, or prevents them from graduating on time.  I am here to say, that’s not the case; it is possible! 

The International Programs Office, located in Hills South (across from the new Studio Arts Building), is full of very friendly and knowledgeable staff members and student advisors who are more than happy to walk you through the entire process, making it easy and stress-free. There are many UMass programs, as well as independent programs that will work with most students’ BDIC curricula.  It is surprising for students to discover that most of the programs affiliated with the University are decently priced, and may actually end up being cheaper than tuition with room/board at UMass! 

Whether you know exactly where you would like to travel to or are up for just about anything, there are countless resources in the IPO and on its website,  The first step is to think about where you may want to study and either make an appointment with an Education Abroad Advisor or attend an information session. The schedule is posted on the IPO website.

Just remember, making this exciting experience a reality is easier than you may think!

*Why Study Abroad? 10 Compelling Reasons to See the World
(From the UMass International Programs Office)

  1. Earn academic credit while traveling the world
  2. Enhance your resume
  3. Immerse yourself in another culture
  4. Improve your foreign language skills… or take courses taught in English
  5. Establish lifetime friendships with people from around the world
  6. Gain a new perspective on the US by living elsewhere in the world
  7. You can’t afford not to study abroad
  8. Gain life-changing, life-enhancing skills
  9. Graduate schools are impressed
  10. Have fun!

The Mystery and Anxiety of Law School

By Nikki Tishler, BDIC peer advisor

Many undergrads consider graduate or law school.  Students looking into law school usually spend their undergrad years building their resumes to stand out in the vigorous competition for law schools.  A question that comes up a lot is, well if I pursue BDIC, will law schools look down on me?  Will they know what this is?  Is BDIC a “respectable” major not just for law school, but in general?

The answer is a defining YES! BDIC is a respectable major, and as long as you use it properly, it will most likely benefit you.  Professor Diana Yoon of the Legal Studies department at UMass thinks many of the skills acquired by BDIC students are beneficial for law school.  The BDIC process requires students to find their interests and become engaged learners.  Students who pursue an interdisciplinary education understand the limitations of knowledge and the importance of understanding issues from various lenses.  “The most successful law students develop their own way of understanding social problems.  For them, law becomes a resource.  You should never be completely satisfied with your education.  Skepticism is healthy,” says Yoon.  BDIC students, by the very nature of the program, question the possibilities and limitations of knowledge.  Students pursue BDIC because they are not satisfied with a one dimensional major.

Professor Judy Holmes of the Legal Studies department agrees BDIC can give students an edge in applying to law school.  Law schools are looking for people with a well-rounded education.  They are looking for students who have a host of skills including strong writing and critical thinking skills.  Also, law schools go through students’ transcripts looking for higher level, challenging courses.  BDIC majors have an edge in this area since the BDIC major requires all upper level courses spanning several departments.  Holmes also suggests that when it comes time to apply to law schools, mention BDIC in your application. Bring BDIC up as something impressive, and schools will react positively to that.

I am proud to say that the recipient of this year's UMass Distinguished Young Alumni Award is Carmina Fernandes who graduated from the BDIC program in 1999.  She is a solo practitioner specializing in a wide array of legal matters ranging from real estate to immigration here in Western Mass.  She received her juris doctorate from Western New England College and in 2002 participated in the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal in Rwanda to prosecute persons responsible for crimes against humanity committed in Rwanda during the 1990's.

BDIC graduates have attended a variety of law schools, including Columbia, Cornell, Northeastern, Penn State, Suffolk and New England School of Law.

So no need to worry, future lawyers, scholars, or whatever your professional life leads you to – your BDIC degree will only serve to enhance your efforts. 

Studying Camelids Through BDIC

By Emma Welch, BDIC peer advisor

Individualized concentrations in animal studies are very popular in BDIC.  Some students study animal behavior, while others study specific animals, like horses, and others study animal integration in farming, like I do.  At UMass, there is a unique opportunity for students interested in alpacas because there is an alpaca herd on campus at The Hadley Farm.

Alpacas are in the camelid family along with llamas and camels.  They are native to South America but recently have become popular in the United States, particularly in Massachusetts.  Alpacas are used as fiber animals for their fleece, and can also be bred and sold for profit.  Their feet are softly padded, like a dog’s, giving them an uncommon ability to tread without making a big environmental impact like horses or even goats.  They are a very interesting species that have great potential in animal farming and production, and can also be part of a lucrative business.

When I wanted to change my concentration to include more animal husbandry, I found an amazing class to take: Camelid Management (Animal Science 397J).  In this class I have learned basic alpaca handling techniques and caretaking, nutritional needs, and overall herd needs.  I have also learned a great deal about reproduction, as well as about the many research projects that are going on at UMass Amherst and no where else.  There are very few camelid studies programs in the US, and UMass has one of the top programs, thanks in part to generous donations by private donors.  These donors want the program to continue to educate students so there are more qualified people to handle alpacas.

Dr. Steven Purdy, of the Veterinary and Animal Science Department, is the chair of the first undergraduate camelid studies program at UMass.  His goals for students taking the class are “to provide students with extensive camelid experience for employment within the alpaca and llama industries and to direct qualified undergraduate students towards a career in large animal veterinary medicine with a particular emphasis in camelid practice.”  Although I do not plan on becoming a vet, I still have seen this class as extremely valuable and a great experiential learning experience.  I came into the class with no alpaca experience at all, and in the first lab I was already handling them and cutting their nails.

In the Pioneer Valley there are many vegetable and animal farms, including the UMass Hadley Farm behind McGuirk Alumni Stadium and the UMass research farm in South Deerfield.  These farms give students a wonderful opportunity to work hands-on in a farm situation with animals and vegetables as well.  It is extremely advantageous for BDIC students to engage in internships or independent studies with these facilities.

For any students interested in farming sustainably or holistically, students interested in animal welfare or behavior, students interested in fiber farming, or students interested in other interdisciplinary research, I highly recommend taking Animal Science 397J (Camelid Management).  Learning about alpacas is something I am very happy I did, and I know that it will benefit me in my future.

BDIC and Commonwealth College: Complementary Programs

Lisa Millette, BDIC peer advisor

With the workplace becoming more competitive in these trying economic times, this is a crucial period to take a closer look at how higher education prepares students for their futures. Employees who display diverse skills and are highly motivated are achieving the upper hand landing and holding jobs.

It is a common belief among some students that becoming a part of BDIC and/or Commonwealth College requires added coursework and other outside drudgery that is time-consuming, even burdensome. The concern is that this added time and labor will take away from the “college experience” and not have much of an effect after graduation. The result however is contrary to this concern. BDIC students have high placement in their desired fields, and the motivation and work it takes to create one’s own major is highly attractive to potential employers. As a thesis or capstone project is not required for most majors, this requirement alone is a gemstone of Commonwealth College. Especially since final grades and Latin honors are not available for seniors applying directly to graduate school, many default to applicants’ thesis/capstone as a qualifier for acceptance. As far as the course load is concerned, BDIC is designed to compliment the class loads of any other defined major although it does require self discipline and planning. Commonwealth College too requires the individual to be organized and on top of their game. The additional course work, as with BDIC, is designed to connect otherwise separate areas of study to others thus supplementing your education and filling in the gaps. Both BDIC and ComCol are worth the extra effort.

Aside from the post-graduate opportunities that both of these programs provide, their focuses on interdisciplinary studies are taking main stage in new-age education. With the exponential growth of globalization, a wider berth of skills and knowledge are seemingly more beneficial in the coming years than streamlined, task based degree programs.
In conclusion, the doors opened by interdisciplinary programs are ones that should be walked through, so why not take advantage of the ones right here at the University of Massachusetts?

Alternatives to SOM

By Sarah Hill, BDIC peer advisor

Some students become discouraged with BDIC when they realize that the Isenberg School of Management limits BDIC students to only four classes from SOM.  Students whose concentrations are business related feel that they can not pursue BDIC because of this restriction. There are many departments with comparable classes to SOM that will provide students with business skills towards their concentration.

The first class that I would recommend is Entrepreneurship Initiative, which will be offered through BDIC in the Fall. This class is very similar to a “how to start a business” class, and if you have a business idea, it can help you formulate a business plan. Another class that I have gained valuable business information from is Business of Building 353 within the Building Materials and Wood Technology department. At first I was nervous to sign up for this class because it seemed to be construction related. I have never had any experience in that field, but none is needed to take this class. The class teaches the fundamentals of business, such as the different types of partnerships, contracts, etc. The Resource Economics department also offers a lot of business classes like Small Business Finance 324. This class is very similar to Business of Building 353 in that it deals with the introduction to business. The Small Business Finance 324 class also requires students to create a business plan, which is a great skill to learn.

Students should also consider taking classes in Communication and Psychology. Public speaking skills learned in Communication classes and knowledge about how people’s minds work learned through Psychology classes are both crucial in business ventures.
Always keep in mind that internships and independent studies can count towards one’s concentration. Internships are a great way to build your network, gather possible job leads after graduation and gain valuable experience in your field.

Upon creating my BDIC major in International Real Estate and Entrepreneurship, I was skeptical that it could be done without taking more than four SOM classes. But after researching, I discovered that there are many other options that could provide me with the business information needed.

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