Unique Degree

You never know what’s around the corner. It could be everything. Or it could be nothing. You keep putting one foot in front of the other, and then one day you look back and you’ve climbed a mountain.

Tom Hiddleston

Traditional expertise means drawing on a single discipline where an individual has an extensive education. That education often trains an expert to think along certain lines and respond to the inquiry in certain ways, thereby boxing them inside a single view of the problem- a single view of the world. But problems do not often fit neatly into the box of single expertise. In fact, the larger the scale of the problem, the more approaches are possible- are necessary. Therefore, the box is irrelevant.

I have a history of thinking outside the box. Indeed, I confess I often don’t even see the box anymore. I see the convoluted problems and then generate unusual (but effective) responses.

Choose Your Own Adventure

My father is a geneticist, a biologist who studies genes, heredity, and variation of organisms. He worked on the double-muscled cow and works for the National Institute of Health. He is a professional, an expert, a doctor. But, for all that education, he could not tell 6th-gade-me what a mitochondrion does. In response to my request for help, he spouted off something relative to what I found in my college textbooks, not what I needed to know for a k-12 science project. It was then I learned that an expert in their field can’t speak common English about their field. The same goes for a computer technician- never ask the Geek Squad what is wrong with your computer unless you want a litany of techno-babble. In that way, my father is the inspiration for my chosen pathway. My degree is a culmination of science, writing, and communication to address the need for communicating research to the populace. Science Communications is an emerging field and, as such, four-year degrees in SciComm are few and far between, none in the state of Florida.

My chosen degree path, according to planning during IDS 3933- Cornerstone with Professor D. Bazata.

So I decided to think outside the box and create my own degree. I would not settle for the extensive debt in which a double major would leave me. And I could not settle for a single traditional degree. A relatively new program, Interdisciplinary Studies is essentially the ‘choose your own adventure’ of college. Through UCF’s Undergraduate Studies program (IDS), I have designed my own course track leading me through ecology and genetics and biology like a traditional Bachelor of Science, but also allows me to take classes in Writing & Rhetoric, Speech, and Communications. My professors, mostly supportive of the unique plan I laid out, allow me to tinker with my assignments so they are pertinent to my dream of SciComm. Each project I have completed has had a slight twist to make it applicable and further my ambitions. Who said you have to stick to what is traditional?

Communication? Commission!

As a requirement to receive my Associate of Arts degree from Valencia, I had to take a certain number of credits under social sciences. Simply to fill the credit-void, I embarked in State & Local Government. Overall, the course taught me nothing- I barely even opened the textbook to receive a good grade in the class. But the final paper for this class, on which I only received a B, perhaps changed my life. The prompt for the paper was to pick an issue and analyze the local government’s response to it. Having been a resident of Casselberry off and on since 2009, I was aware of the Skate 32707 movement. A local father had been pushing for years to build a skatepark within the municipal lines and had lots of citizen support, but the City Commission just didn’t seem to be listening. My conclusion: the communication between City Hall and the citizenry it served was broken. My solution: run for City Commission.

On April 4, 2018, I signed the paperwork to become a candidate for Casselberry Commission Seat 3 and began a campaign running against the man who began Skate 32707 and a businessman. On August 28, 2018, I came in second of the three-person race and began my runoff campaign. On November 6, 2018, I lost by less than 11% of the vote, having been outspent 5:1 (including in-kind donations). Despite my loss, my campaign for better communication has had lasting effects on Casselberry such as an active social media presence. I proved that even a 25-year-old broke college student could challenge the status quo.

“You Can’t Fix Everything”

For an assignment in one of my Writing & Rhetoric courses, my partner and I were to analyze a local nonprofit organization and their existing communication structure. Knowing we could produce something of value to an organization that really needed it, the pair of us opted to work with a local grassroots organization. In our analysis, we detailed what we could gather from afar of the internal organization, community partners, opposition, et cetera, but there was a startling lack of information available. Looking deeper into their communication pathways, we came to the conclusion that the communication overall was limited and mildly disorganized. The overarching project for the semester was to identify a problem with the communication and write a formal unsolicited proposal for the organization solving said problem. But we were dealing with a Gordian Knot.

My initial thought was to propose a complete overhaul of the communication structure. But we had a little over a month to write the proposal and provide a piece of tangible work toward the solution. I had to remind myself on multiple occasions that I can’t fix everything, as did my partner. In the end, he suggested we focus on social media and I suggested we focus on working with college organizations. But we hadn’t addressed the core of the issue: a lack of manpower. Our professor congratulated us on coming so far and attempting so much while still limiting ourselves to something possible in the span of a month, then suggested we do both. In the form of an internship program. Not only was this my first proposal, I did a majority of the overarching program for my partner without ever having been through an internship. We can fix everything.

This assignment is currently ongoing, to be voted on by the Friends of the Wekiva River, Inc board on May 2nd, 2019. Until accepted by the organization, the proposal is in draft form here.