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A major change

February 16, 2015

by Grant Miller, Class of 2010

What is your major?” That question and its answer, loved and dreaded by so many, can be a defining piece of the college experience. Choosing a major can be accompanied by a variety of emotions—confidence, fear, certainty, stress—and at a place like NNU, which offers a broad liberal arts core that exposes the student to numerous fields, many have decided to make that choice more than once.

In fact, coming to college without a decided major or switching majors in the middle of the academic career has become more the norm than the exception, according to Heidi Tracht, who serves NNU as an assistant professor and as the director of the Center for Academic Success & Advising. Many first-time students, she says, come in without a full understanding of the possibilities for their future. “Course work, co-curricular activities, extra-curricular pursuits, relationships and personal development open students’ perspectives to new ideas about how to productively engage themselves in the world.”

Guided discoveries

Ask a few students around NNU’s campus about their personal journeys with choosing a major, and you’ll hear stories that exemplify Heidi Tracht’s impression. Sophomore Kelly Nigro of Woodland, Washington went through a number of choices during her first year. “I came into my freshman year frustrated because I didn’t have a plan for the next four years. After exploring options and changing from undecided to social work to communication, the contentment I feel from being in the right major is well worth the coordination and effort it took to get here.”

Although Kelly was a little nervous about how switching majors would affect her schedule and graduation, her concerns were quickly answered. “I had tons of help! My advisors were very helpful and willing to spend time molding my schedule to make sure that all of my requirements could be met.”

because of the expertise of the advisors and staff that helped these students, all of them are on track to graduate on time
Those sentiments of excitement and contentment can also be heard from Spencer Hassman, a senior from Portland, Oregon, who has at one time or another declared six different majors. He says he had changed majors so often that his final decision to settle down with a double major in political science and medicine felt like a shock. “I knew that I wanted my career to either directly help people or give me the time and means to do so,” he said. “This broad goal didn’t help me much, but after taking lots of different classes and doing significant research on my own, 
I fell in love with my major fields.”

It took a lot of time to arrive at his decision, but the guidance he received along the way helped make the choice an easier one. “The support I had at NNU made that final decision much easier and left me with a far greater sense of peace than I would have experienced making that decision on my own.”

Kalyn Nelson, a junior from Longview, Washington, came to NNU as a nursing major, but experienced some doubt as she began her studies. “As I got more and more into the program I began to realize that, while it was interesting, I wasn’t as passionate about it as I felt I should be.” Kalyn then began to explore other options, and even though she was initially uncertain about a switch, she is now a proud elementary education major and cannot wait to begin her career.

She credits the advice and guidance she received from NNU faculty and advisors with helping her find the path she desired. “The community of NNU is something that is so unique and wonderful, and the relationships between the staff and students are special,” she says. “There is no other place I would rather have been than here at NNU during this challenging time of transition.”

Supportive relationships

The theme of relationship in the midst of academic advising and decisions about majors is evident in every student’s academic story. In all the accounts, there are numerous people the students can identify by name who helped them shape their desires by 

asking insightful questions, posing possibilities, and encouraging them to take risks. There is also a practical element to these relationship stories: because of the expertise of the advisors and staff that helped these students, all of them are on track to graduate on time.

It’s indeed one of the core strengths of the NNU education that students are opened up to new ideas through a strong liberal arts curriculum and have personal relationship with faculty and staff who can help them process their new discoveries. In ticking off all the departments on campus that contribute to this journey—Residential Life, the Career Center, Academic Advising, and many more—Heidi Tracht summarizes it well: “The distinctive factor in support at NNU is the opportunity for personal relationship development with a wide variety of caring people.”

Photo caption: Kalyn Nelson (middle) studying with friends 
in the Leah Peterson Learning Commons.

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