Courtesy of Simone Zehren

As other UR students were slipping into business-casual clothing for the first time or shipping off to volunteer abroad, senior Marissa Balonon-Rosen was in juvy.

No, it’s not what you think. Not at all.

Balonon-Rosen completed an internship at Industry Residential Center, an all-male juvenile detention center in Rush, N.Y., the summer before her junior year at UR, at which she helped residents formulate concrete plans for what they planned to do once their sentence was completed, create realistic goals they could accomplish and analyze the mood of the center as it moved from a punitive system to a more therapeutic one.

“I really enjoyed it because it enabled me to really see these kids as people and not just as another statistic,” she said.

When she returned to UR that fall,  Balonon-Rosen gave piano lessons to the boys at the center once a week, providing them with an incentive to behave in the interim, a program that stemmed from her original internship. She was impressed that they still came to each lesson retaining what they had learned even though they weren’t allowed to practice outside of the lessons.

All of this comes down to Balonon-Rosen’s major, though, which presented her with such an atypical opportunity. She is just one of a number of students at UR studying what could be considered an unusual or uncommon major. According to The Princeton Review, the most popular majors at the University include biology/biological sciences, economics and psychology out over over 30 options available to undergraduates, but some students decide to buck the norm.

In Balonon-Rosen’s case, that means urban youth studies, a major which she created herself. She also studies music theory at the Eastman School of Music.

As part of her urban youth studies major, Balonon-Rosen looks at some of the issues that are facing urban youth today, such as youth violence, poverty and low graduation rates. She’s taken classes in a wide range of fields, such as economics, african-american studies and psychology, just to name a few.

“I’ve been able to explore different fields that I otherwise don’t think I would have been able to,” Balonon-Rosen said, also noting that “there’s no other major that really fits me.”

Senior Jacq Carpentier, a studio arts and psychology double major, has also chosen to pursue her own broad range of interests.
Carpentier entered UR intending to major in mechanical engineering before switching tracks to biomedical engineering during her first semester. But she wasn’t ready to settle down yet.

“I couldn’t see myself working in a lab or working in an engineering firm or going anywhere with it and being happy with it,” she said of biomedical engineering.

After taking an art course and a psychology course her second semester at UR, though, Carpentier knew what path of study she wanted to pursue.

And what is art to her?

“I would have said like, paintings and shit, essentially,” Carpentier, said of her opinion four years ago. “That would have been probably a direct quote.”

And now?

“I’m not going to answer that, actually,” she said. “That’s such a philosophical and deep question. I think it changes every time I make a new piece of artwork or every time I see a new piece of artwork.”

Carpentier had originally told her parents she had decided to major in psychology, but they were pleased to see she was getting her “money’s worth” with a second major.

“They started to freak out at me … and then I told them I was doing both and they were much happier about [the situation],” she said.

Carpentier explained that before she began studying studio arts at UR, she believed that people couldn’t get anywhere in life with such a major. Now, having almost completed her degree, she has seen people who have graduated make a life for themselves in the art world, which has helped to change her tune.

“If you want to make it a career you can definitely make it a career, but like anything it takes a lot of motivation, a lot of effort, perhaps even more so in the art world because you have to get [your art] out there,” she explained.

Carpentier, though, hopes to eventually pursue a master’s degree in social work after (pending acceptance) she takes part in the Take Five Program studying religion, mythology and folklore.

Junior Simone Zehren is in the process of earning a B.A. in archaeology, technology & historical structures. There are four possible tracks within this degree, of which Zehren chose archaeology and architecture.

“You’re learning about the the cradle of human civilization in your courses, which is something most people don’t think about, and I think that that’s very important because we can’t really be here today without this huge part of our past,” she said.

Zehren originally thought she might major in anthropology or public health, but after taking a class in ancient architecture the spring of her freshman year, decided to go down that path instead.

“I wasn’t really feeling inspired by my other classes,” she explained.

For Zehren, it is the hands-on aspect of her major that interests her the most. Although the courses themselves are not hands-on, possible career choices are.

Right now she is interested in pursuing either a career in archaeology or collection management — museum curation, essentially. For now, though, she was able to go on an archaeological dig to Turkey with the University of Nebraska where, she explains, she was able to see archaeology up close.

Dean of the College Richard Feldman acknowledged the ability of UR’s curriculum to provide students with a wide range of opportunities.

“Our curriculum gives students an unusual amount of flexibility to pursue their interests,” he said.

Feldman also pointed how such a versatile curriculum is beneficial the the College.

“In addition to enabling students to pursue interests that are not met by established programs, individualized majors and minors help us understand student interests and preferences,” he explained.

Carpentier relates having an unusual major to being part of “a little family.”

“Even if you don’t like them you get to know them really fast,” she said of the small studio arts program.

Balonon-Rosen is always explaining her major to other students, but she noted that she enjoys when people ask about it because even though they might think they understand what it is, she said, she is the only one who really knows the full story.

While studying abroad in Paris the second semester of her junior year, Balonon-Rosen was able to gain a new perspective on her major from a foreign context. In France, she explained, the upper classes often live in the city, while the lower classes are usually found in the suburbs, due to the fact that cities like Paris are so expensive.

“If I [had] the same major in Paris, it’d probably be called suburban youth studies,” she joked.

For these students, it all really comes down to following your passions, though.

“I just decided — archaeology — why not?” Zehren remembers.

Goldin is a member of
the class of 2013.

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