For as long as I can remember I wanted to be a Veterinarian. My mother calls me an “animal lover, tree huger,” and I always tried to make the family pet as exotic as possible. I grew up with everything from fish, dogs, a cat, various garden snakes, lizards, a ferret, and a host of lovable horses. My childhood shelves were filled with books on the animal kingdom and I even had an African savannah themed bedroom once.
Even my closest Aunt and Uncle had no idea I had changed my path from Animal Science until 2013. It had been that engrained into everyone’s minds that I was going to be a vet. Not but a few days ago I found my PSATs from 2007 and 2008 with my “future area of study” printed with Animal Science. It made me think about how I went from helping animals to teaching for the Peace Corps.
By my senior year my high school I had no idea what I wanted to major in when I went to college. I planned to apply to five schools but got in to The Pennsylvania State University before I completed all my applications. It was my top choice. With 160 majors available I knew that if I couldn’t find it there I wouldn’t find it anywhere. So I went in to “The Division of Undergraduate Studies” (DUS) aka “I have no idea what I’m doing with my life.”
I spent a good year and a half in DUS taking classes in everything from intro to Art History, a philosophy class on nature and the environment, and I even sat in an intro Chemistry class for a day. It is worth noting that the Chem class was at 8 am and I’m a little squeamish when it comes to the hard sciences. Emphasis on hard. I dropped it immediately.
In every class I did ok but knew I would never go on to major in the subject. I spent a lot of time with the advisor’s in DUS looking at different majors. I was a Environmental Engineering major, an Environmental Resource Management major, and even Sociology major- till I learned I would probably have to go to grad school. So mostly I was just undecided.
It was worth going back to DUS time and time again till I found that one advisor that was able to turn me in the right direction. He was a man of an unremarkable appearance that I remember telling, “I don’t do math, I don’t do science, I don’t want to take another language, and I like to talk to people.”
“Have you heard of CED?” he asked in an unmemorable voice.
A major that has only been around since 2007, prides itself on being interdisciplinary, has the most ridiculous long winded name, and only exists at one other college and by a different name (lucky bastards).
The Penn State website describes it as, “An interdisciplinary social science degree designed for students to develop the knowledge and critical skills needed to work with individuals, communities, governments, and organizations to solve the tough problems facing society today.” Helpful..right? (Don’t worry if it doesn’t make any sense as a major. Even CED majors don’t know what it means. I even went to an info session and still only had a vague idea).
It was nestled in the College of Agriculture, the black sheep of the bunch, and came with three sub-options. Community and Economic Development, Environmental Economics and Policy, and International Development.
It was the economic focus in two of the three options that turned me to International Development, that in my eternal interest in travel. I took the first class in CED the first semester of my Sophmore year before running off to New Zealand for a study abroad. The class was small, I made one friend (who later changed his major), I liked the material, but didn’t really know what the major was all about. It took me a long time to figure out what the major was all about. All I really knew was there were a lot of required classes, but the math requirements weren’t hard, I could take whatever bullshit science classes I wanted for credit, it was a “social” science, and I was not required to take another language. Good enough for me.
By the time I got back to Penn State from my study abroad I jumped right into more CED classes. I rationalized the major as a tool to work with people, talk to people, and help them help themselves. My studies slowly directed me to be interested in West Africa, so by my Junior year I started taking French I. The more classes I took the more I loved the major. It was about power struggles, politics, demographics, colonialism, resources, economics, decision making, and international relationships. Ultimately it was about people and humanity.
Every CED major sees it a different way, but that is what it was to me. Just humanity.
As the CED majors of 2014 moved into their Junior and Senior years we were all trying to figure out what CED meant. How to market ourselves. How to get a job. How to answer that question, “Why should I hire you?” It was a struggle for all 23 of us graduating. How to break into the Development sector as easy as possible. For me, it was about finding something that I didn’t hate. I’m smart, I love to read, I’ll have a debate or discussion in a heartbeat, I have an opinion about everything, but I hated school. I got tired of Penn State after about a year (thus the study abroad) and I sure couldn’t stand it after I got back. I didn’t want to waste more years of my life in a job I couldn’t stand after being in school for 4 years. That is where the Peace Corps came in.
So I graduated from The Pennsylvania State University with a Bachelor of Science in Community, Environment, and Development. International Development Option. With a minor in Sociology from the College of Agriculture with the plan to head to Cameroon by 2015.
Lesson 1: Going into College without a clue is OK, you’ll figure it out eventually.