Out of the Ordinary Degrees
Students follow their hearts into unique degree programs—from Equine to Forensic Science or Music Merchandising & Marketing, Craft Design & Manufacturing, Aviation Maintenance, Fitness and Sports Management, or Professional Nanny
Deanna Pié has been around horses since childhood, taking her first riding lesson at age 12, and working at a barn in her hometown of Doylestown, Pennsylvania, just one year later. So when the time came for Pié to go to college, she knew exactly what she wanted to study. But she had to decide which school would prepare her for a career without putting her equine interest on the back burner.
“I always wanted to work around horses and my goal is to go on to veterinary school, specializing in equine reproduction,” says Pié, age 20 and a sophomore at Midway College near Lexington. “But I couldn’t see myself spending four years in college as a biology major. So I chose the equine science program at Midway College. From the very first semester, we were out there working with the horses—inoculating them and doing other things.”
In fact, Midway has educated generations of students to earn bachelor’s degrees in equine science, equine therapy, equine studies with concentrations in management and equitation instruction, equine business, and psychology/equine-assisted psychotherapy, says Sally Haydon, Ph.D., the college’s director of equine studies. Along the way, she adds, the school has made a name for itself as an innovator among learning institutions in its field by initiating an equine therapy program to train students to perform physical therapy techniques on horses.
This past fall, Midway began offering a degree program in Equine Assisted Psycho-Therapy (psychotherapy used on humans by using horses), which Haydon says is the first such degree program in the country. According to Haydon, the program combines studies in human psychology with equine studies. Graduates, she says, will be prepared for jobs working in a number of therapeutic settings with a mental health counselor, including adolescent group homes, therapy-focused summer camps, and correctional institutions.
Haydon says Midway designed its EAP program in response to interest from the mental health community. In other cases, Haydon explains, the school tailors programming to respond to student needs and marketplace trends.
“But the overall mission is to prepare students for careers within the horse industry. Our programs offer degree programs that allow students to do what they love and make a living doing it,” she says.
Midway is not alone. Throughout Kentucky, colleges and universities are offering academic programming that allows students to follow their hearts while pursuing useful degrees toward jobs beyond the mundane.
Since 1974, the Forensic Science program at Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond has been preparing students for jobs in crime labs and police departments across the country. These days, says program director Diane Vance, Ph.D., EKU is welcoming new students from the U.S. and around the world thanks in part to lots of exposure from a surprising source.
“We used to graduate students in very small numbers—like three or four a year,” says Vance. “But since television shows such as CSI and Cold Case Files have become so popular, we’re graduating between 15 and 20 a year.”
According to Vance, Forensic Science graduates earn a Bachelor of Science degree in Forensic Science with a concentration in either chemistry or biology. All students serve internships in crime lab settings. Upon graduation, she says, most become employed by state police departments and work in labs investigating drug-related and other criminal cases.
“The program is appealing to people who want to study chemistry and who want to see their work put to practical use,” Vance says.
In fact, it was the prospect of mixing science with real-world application that drew LaGrange resident Gena Fabiani Brittain to forensic science at EKU. Fascinated with the field long before the media spotlight was on it, Brittain wanted not only a science degree, but also an alternative to research work in a commercial lab.
“The forensic degree allows me to work in science and to contribute to the justice system,” says Brittain, 22, who graduated from EKU’s Forensic Science program in December. “Beyond that, I know that when I go do a job, every day is going to be different because every case is different.”
Music Merchandising & Marketing
Across campus at Eastern Kentucky University, students in the music department are pursuing dreams of their own in a field formerly offering few opportunities outside performance or education. But the university mixes music with business in its Music Merchandising program and a newly developed Music Marketing program begun in January.
“In the past, people with an interest in music had few options,” says Rob James, EKU’s music department chairman, “and there were even fewer options for people who loved music but who were not performers. We’ve created a program open to people with an interest in music whether they play an instrument or not.”
According to James, students in the program earn bachelor’s degrees in business with a concentration in music. As a result, he says, graduates can land jobs in more than 50 different fields—from artist management to music marketing—within the music industry.
Craft Design & Manufacturing
Combining creativity and commerce is also the aim of the Kentucky School of Craft’s degree programs. According to Dean Tim Glotzbach, students in the school’s two- and half-year programs can study jewelry design and manufacture, wood/furniture design and manufacture (and eventually ceramics), architectural/ornamental iron and fiber—all while earning an associate degree that includes design, technical expertise, and multiple business courses.
“Basically, we’re graduating entrepreneurs,” says Glotzbach. “Every student is prepared to not only work in the arts, but manage a studio or other small arts-related business. When they graduate, they not only have a portfolio, but a five-year business plan, marketing knowledge, and other tools they need to present themselves not only as artists, but small-businesspeople as well.”
According to Glotzbach, the school draws students—ranging from adults pursuing a second career to recent high school graduates, including Valerie Lee, age 18 of Jackson County.
With just one semester of school under her belt, Lee is studying woodworking with the goal of designing and manufacturing furniture. She believes the school’s combination of craft and business classes will give her a leg up in the marketplace.
“I want to be able to take a piece of raw wood and turn it into a beautiful table,” Lee says. “But the business classes show us how to work in the real world. If I can’t make a living, I’d have invested the time in my education and still have to start over.”
Colleges and universities are studying real-world trends, too, says Jennifer Schramm, manager of Workplace Trends and Forecasting for the Alexandria, Virginia-based Society for Human Resource Management, and they’re discovering that service industries continue to boom.
“The need for people in all kinds of services from hospitality to childcare to technical services is not going to slow down,” Schramm says.
Mike Calder, director of Somerset Community College’s 25-month Aviation Maintenance associate degree program, knows that’s true. It’s not unusual for him to field requests for multiple graduate referrals every month. According to Calder, students learn to maintain and rebuild aircraft from helicopters to corporate jets. And the demand for graduates is high, he says.
“It’s not unusual for us to get calls from employers looking for 20 or 30 graduates at a time,” Calder says. “And the demand is not going to go away.”
Calder says Aviation Maintenance graduates are in demand by corporations, military aviation contractors, and air cargo carriers such as UPS and FedEx (although he informs his students not to expect to get a position with a high-profile company such as UPS or FedEx without years of experience).
“Graduates go to work all over the world and all over the country,” he says. “Because of the opportunities, we get a lot of interest from potential students.”
Fitness & Sports Management
Graduates from Kentucky Wesleyan College’s Fitness and Sports Management degree program are prepared for the corporate world, too—within the multi-billion dollar sports and fitness industry. According to Roger Gardner, Ph.D., chair of the school’s department of physical education and health, students study both physical education and business toward a bachelor’s degree. Kentucky Wesleyan designed the program, he says, “to provide students with the opportunity to go in either of two directions: the fitness side or the business side of the industry.”
“Although many of our students are athletes and have been all their lives, most people interested in the sports industry realize they’re not going to make a living playing professional sports,” says Gardner. “Graduates of our program are qualified for a variety of careers such as jobs in corporate fitness, sports marketing and promotion, personal training, managing health clubs, or they may become athletics directors or program directors for community organizations such as the Boys & Girls Clubs of America or YMCA.”
New market services are not the only ones getting attention from higher learning institutions. As working families take a fresh look at an old childcare option, Sullivan University in Louisville is training students to become professional nannies.
According to program spokesperson Lisa Likins, Sullivan’s Professional Nanny program has been graduating between 12-40 professional nannies annually since launching the program in 1988. They have four yearlong classes per year, one beginning each quarter. Likins says students may take part in a one-year program to become a Certified Professional Nanny to look after children in a family home, or continue on to earn an associate degree in Early Childhood Education through the school’s 18-month study plan qualifying them to work in or direct a childcare center.
Students in the nanny program participate in three externships totaling 180 hours. Students who opt for the Early Childhood Education degree participate in five externships, totaling 300 hours.
“All of our students come here knowing they want to work with children,” Likins says.
Jenna Vetter, age 20, will complete her studies at Sullivan in March. Though she chose to become a professional nanny and work in a family home, she says she appreciated the opportunity to explore another option.
“One externship was working with a family, the other was working at a day-care facility,” she says. “I discovered that I wanted to work with a family because I want an ongoing relationship with the children and the family.”
Vetter says finding an opportunity to do what she enjoys figured significantly in her educational choices.
“In the end,” she says, “it’s all about the fact that I really love working with children.”
And according to Eastern Kentucky University music department Chairman Rob James, Vetter is typical among students who are less willing than their predecessors to trade love for money in the marketplace.
“Increasingly, students are looking for ways to combine the things they love with a career,” he says. “They are aware they have to make a living, but they’re interested in enjoying their jobs, too. By creating new educational options, schools are helping them to do that.”
FINDING YOUR FIT
The notion of promoting the rise of the next hot rock band, looking after a prize herd of horses, or helping close the book on a long-unsolved crime all have strong appeal to those who want to mix work with glamour and excitement. But students and graduates in unusual and high-profile fields warn that there’s more than glitz involved in their chosen fields.
“The first thing people say to me is, ‘Wow, just like CSI,” says Eastern Kentucky University graduate Gena Brittain. “But it is nothing like what people see on television. This is nerdy science. There’s no running around the crime scene in a miniskirt and heels and no driving around in a Hummer all day. It’s science at work.”
In fact, those pursuing out-of-the ordinary degrees recommend that students go out of their way to uncover the downside of their dream jobs before committing to their program of choice. Here’s what they suggest:
Turn the tables
Most college-bound students are interviewed by faculty and staff before signing on to a program. But, graduates say, prospective students should quiz department heads and program counselors about specifics. Then request the names of current students and alumni who can paint a real-world picture of the field and its study requirements.
Internships have long been a part of college-level programming. But internship opportunities may not be available until a student has completed as many as two or three years of course work. It’s better, say graduates, to get a feel for the field early on by connecting with professionals willing to take a student along for the day, or visiting companies or agencies that employ people in the chosen field.
No matter how exciting a job looks in the media, there is still a certain amount of routine involved. Understand that getting your hands dirty and dealing with all aspects of the job is necessary.
“You have to love it,” says Midway College sophomore Pié of a career in equine science. “If a person is not willing to work in all kinds of weather, get up early in the morning, and do lots of physical work, an equine program is probably not for them.”