Thursday, June 11, 2009

What's in your major?

Well, before I saw the light of practicality and mammon and went to business school, I was a sociology major, so I'm a good one to talk. But I have to say I was drawn right in by an article I saw in The Wall Street Journal Online (originally from mentalfloss) that listed eleven rather odd college majors.

Of course, some of the majors weren't all that odd.

Packaging Michigan State offers a degree in packaging. I'm guessing that this is an industrial engineering degree, and majoring in it strikes me as plenty sensible. Since fresh food and automobiles are about the only things that aren't packaged to death, it seems as if there'd be pretty strong demand for this profession - especially if we want to be environmentally aware and get the ten tons of packaging per capita we landfill each year under better control. And, while I didn't go look at the MSU course catalog, I'm sure hoping that there's a course in there that teaches students how to design packaging that is NOT one of those plastic clamshells that most electronics "stuff" comes in.  You know the kind - you buy a new wireless mouse and you need a hacksaw to cut through the packaging. When you finally break through and try to pry it open, you end up slitting your thumb off. So I'm good with this odd-sounding, yet quite important degree.

Bakery Science Since baked goods aren't a product that's likely to become an import any time soon, I would think it makes quite a bit of sense to major in bakery science - especially if you're in Kansas, where Kansas State offers the major, and you're close enough to wheat fields and silos to learn how the metaphorical 'bill becomes a law' (grain becomes a bun?), up close and personal. Jobs in food production are important, and I'd rather have someone figure out how to cost-effectively produce bread that's delicious, nutritious, and builds strong bodies twelve ways, than have some food science major focusing on how to create square tomatoes with no taste, or more ways to torture factory-bred chickens. ('Let's take their beaks off and pluck their eyes out....')

Canadian Studies  A number of schools, including the University of Vermont, offer this major. I don't know exactly what you'd do with it, other than teach Canadian Studies, but what's wrong with learning a bit more about our neighbors to the north. Let's face it, most of us know only that they say 'aboot', that they're police force wears red jackets and funny hats, and that boy-children are kidnapped at the age of 6 and forced to become hockey stars. And that the Quebecois periodically agitate to secede so they can go speak French in peace. Culture vultures can probably add Alice Munro and Gordon Lightfoot to their mix of knowledge  Canadian.  I have a cousin who majored in Irish Studies and, if that had been around in my day, I might have, too. So, other than questioning its utility, it seems to me that Canadian Studies  - which I'm guessing covers history, politics, geography, and literature - seems to at least pass a not entirely rock-bottom threshold of academic rigor.

Ecogastronomy Speaking of neighbors to the north, the University of New Hampshire lets you major in this subject, offering:

...a program that will educate students on how food gets from farms to their plates. With an eye towards sustainability, students study food at a number of steps along the road to their mouth to gauge the ecological impact of what they eat.

This sounds like a reasonably good thing to learn and/or worry about. We are, after all, becoming more attuned to eating locally, not depleting the oceans of tuna, etc. But I must admit, it sounds more like a course or two than it does like a major.

There are a couple of music-related majors on the list.

Jazz Studies As with Canadian Studies (and probably most major that includes the word "Studies" in it), Jazz Studies - which covers both playing jazz and learning about "its history, cultural significance, and major figures," seems like it would be only good if you wanted to teach, well, Jazz Studies. But, given how precarious the income stream of most jazz musicians is, this may not be a bad fall-back position. But it's really hard to see true hipsters taking Coltrane 101, or Advanced Miles Davis. Wouldn't they just, like, listen to their old 33's and 78's, man? Or go to some smoke-filled dive and make music?

Piano Pedagogy  This is just a fancy name for becoming a piano teacher. So why isn't this just called "Music Education"? Sure, you will want to specialize in some instrument or family of instruments, but I wonder whether there is something inherently different (other than the obvious) about teaching piano vs. teaching the violin vs. teaching the oboe? Of course, making sure that piano teachers have a clue is not such a bad idea. I took piano lessons from a very nice woman, a widow who gave lessons in the living room of a three-decker next to my grammar school. She was extremely sweet and kind, and I was an extremely lazy and indifferent student, but she really wasn't very effective. She did have very nice looking son who was a couple of years older, and the thrilling aspect of being at Mrs. B's was that we might get a glimpse of her boy Donny. Other than that, the only good thing about piano lessons was that, if you took from Mrs. B - and she was pretty much the only game in the parish, if you didn't want to get on the bus and go to a "real" music school like St. Gabriel's, where the serious pianists went - you never had to participate in a recital. There was no such thing.

What else can you take in college these days?

At University of Maryland, there's an offshoot of a plant science  degree that's specific to "Turf and Golf Course Management." The growth in interest in golf may have slowed down, but it's still a big business, and - with all the chemicals and pests that greenskeepers have to worry about, it's not a bad idea that they learn a bit about what's in those jars and bags with the skull and crossbones signs on them. It does make me wonder, though, whether you can take a course in Mini-golf Management as well, with more of a focus on where to put the lighthouse vs. the whale hole.

Becker College, which is just outside of that well-known equestrian center, Worcester, Massachusetts, lets students major in Equine Studies, where they can "concentrate in riding instruction so that they can eventually teach lessons." (What did I just say about "teaching" and "studies". Those who study studies teach.... ) But elsewhere, Equine Studies is more about equine business management. (So call it Equine Management, why don't you?)

At Southern Illinois University you can take up Blacksmithing, which really doesn't seem like anything you'd need to major in. My very own grandfather, before he figured out the car was going to replace the nag, had a blacksmith shop. (He dumped smithing to open a tavern, wrongly guessing that there was no end in sight for this business. Alas, he got whacked in the head by Prohibition, which closed down the Rogers Brothers Saloon. And I wonder where my business acumen comes from....)

Family & Consumer Sciences sounds an awful lot like Home-Ec, other than when it's taught at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University, which "prepare(s) the student to acquire the values, knowledge, and skills necessary to be proactive to strengthen the function of the contemporary family from a Biblical perspective." One wonders what the Biblical perspective on microwaving might be. Or top load washing machine vs. front load.  Hmmmmm.

My favorite major has to be the one offered by Vincennes University, where you can major in Bowling Industry Management.  Subjects taught there include "pinsetter mechanics and lane care."  Well, I suppose that there is an awful lot going on at a bowling alley that needs study. Should you allow adults to play with gutter guards? How much spray should get shot into bowling shoes between rentals? What's the right proportion of revenue between 10 year old video games and bowling? How crisp is crisp enough for chicken fingers. Are flat screen televisions and/or blaring music essentials?

Kind of makes you want to go back to college, doesn't it?

1 comment:

NancyB said...

Ah, laid off looking for jobs. Who knew? I could just go back to school and taking bowling as a major? Thanks for the tip...of course, my luck now would see me fixing lanes and getting struck by a big ten pin ball! But then, there's workmans comp right?