Ryan Shea ’20 entered Elms undeclared but with an open mind. After taking a range of classes to see what his true passions were, he decided to double major in English and history.
Reinventing the College Try
While some people already know what they want to study when they come to college, it’s perfectly normal to be unsure about a major. Not to fear, though — the ASPIRE Undeclared program at Elms has you covered.
Ryan Shea ’20 actually found it liberating to be undeclared his first year. Once he had a chance to explore his options, he decided to double major in English and history, two subjects he sees going hand in hand with one another.
“I feel like students rush into choosing their major, when they really have more opportunities than they realize,” the Holyoke, MA, native said. “Elms gives you time to see what you want to do.”
“Take a selection of classes your first year, and see what you are interested in,” he added. “If you’re undeclared, the ASPIRE Connect program will pair you up with someone who has a major, and you can ask them questions.”
New Experiences Through ASPIRE/Undeclared
Students without a major are automatically signed up for the ASPIRE Undeclared program. Brian Kapinos, the director of advising at Elms, teaches a class that helps undeclared students reflect on their passions, discuss what they want out of a career, and, just as importantly, explore the different resources available on campus.
“The ASPIRE Undeclared program was really helpful because it lets you get up close with a lot of department heads,” Ryan explained. “Your assignments help you see the opportunities that Elms has to offer.”
With a wide range of classroom activities such as “meeting with a program advisor” or “having lunch with a former undeclared student,” ASPIRE Undeclared students can learn the ropes while making friendships and campus connections.
“We even had a class section where we worked on our resumes, so it prepares you for life outside of college, too,” Ryan said.
Keeping an Open Mind
Part of the excitement of being undeclared is discovering passions you never knew you had. In Ryan’s case, an art history class with Cecily Hughes, Elms College’s resident art expert and curator of the Borgia Gallery, expanded his view of cultural criticism.
“I took art history, which, interestingly, was one of my favorite classes my freshman year,” he said. “It helped me decide what I want to do. I felt like it was a good mixture of writing and history put together — I was curious about how you study and dissect works of art.”
Following his first year of classes, Ryan decided to fully embrace the liberal arts, and major in English and history. At first glance it might seem like he’s carrying on a family tradition, but in his eyes, he’s taking his passion in an exciting new direction.
“Most of my family are teachers,” he said. “I don’t think I want to be a teacher, though. I want to do museum work, or writing, or something along those lines, because they flow into one another, especially when it comes to research.”
While his interests span chronologies and continents — he just finished reading Aristotle’s The Art of Rhetoric, and is currently making his way through the complete poems of Jorge Luis Borges — Ryan says that he prefers early modern history.
“English and history are really compatible subjects,” he said. “You can see the influence of one on another. Historical circumstances influence literature and writing, but then what’s written influences history back again.”
To lay the groundwork for his future career, Ryan is hoping to land an internship at Historic Deerfield next summer.
“The history department works with local museums and historical sites. One of their major partnerships is with historic Deerfield,” he said. “The history department is very helpful with that sort of thing.”