For some students with idiosyncratic interests and ambitions, one academic major isn’t enough. Meet eight with especially creative combinations.
Story by David Fyten
Photos by Ken Bennett
IF THERE REALLY ARE two kinds of people in the world (beyond the two kinds we all acknowledge: those who think there are two kinds of people in the world and those who don’t), then, among college students, there are those who take the bull by the horns and those who are taken by the bull’s horns on the path the bull has been conditioned to follow. The latter kind seems more inclined to pursue familiar career destinations by following the well-traveled road of single major and minor. The former kind seems more prone to bushwhacking trails to uncharted objectives by wielding multiple cross-disciplinary majors or minors as their machetes.
Following are brief profiles of eight of those intrepid students. They may not always be clear about where they started, have been, will go, or even wind up as they proceed along their unorthodox and sometimes circuitous routes But then, we all know there really are just two kinds of people in the world: those who think it’s the journey and not the destination that counts and those who don’t.
There is nothing particularly unconventional about combining business and entrepreneurship, or philosophy, English, and French, as one’s concentration. It is the neuroscience, and their radically different reasons for studying it, that is the unusual part of Afton Vechery’s and Carleigh Morgan’s academic programs.
Technically, with one major and a double minor, Afton shouldn’t qualify for this story. But her scholastic program is so distinctive, eclectic, and carefully crafted for her career objective that we’ve made an exception.
For a science fair as a high school freshman, Afton conducted a study that she says exposed health hazards in residential well water.
Afton Vechery (’11)
Minors: Neuroscience and entrepreneurship
Carleigh Morgan (’11)
Majors: Philosophy and English
Minors: French and neuroscience
“But instead of working to inform the community and resolve the problem, [officials] tried to stop my work,” says the Presidential scholar in entrepreneurship. “So I decided to take matters into my own hands and start a community-oriented water testing and education company. I raised a staff of more than thirty volunteers and helped resolve this issue through our testing and education services.”
Ultimately she envisions herself running a company that converts scientific discoveries to marketplace products. She values her neuroscience minor for providing valuable knowledge in a promising field, and she was thankful for the opportunity to work this spring in a Wake Forest lab on a study of alcohol and monkeys. “Having partaken in this level of research,” she says, “will give me added credibility in the scientific business world.”
By her own admission, Carleigh has always held “seemingly contradictory or unusual interests.” She entered Wake Forest with medical school as her goal, but what she calls an “existential crisis” redirected her interest to philosophy and English. She briefly “flirted” with minoring in medieval studies, but the study of French as preparation for a semester’s study in Dijon has superseded that. “I’ve been motivated to pursue neuroscience for a large chunk of time,” she says, “because it embodies two enthralling characteristics: the pinnacle of human anatomy, and the unsolvable enigma of consciousness.” Her “ardent wish” is to “scour the globe, writing, publishing, drawing, and painting while living a gloriously nomadic lifestyle.” Eventually she plans to attend graduate school in Europe and earn a doctoral degree in English, focusing on medieval manuscripts.
It’s often assumed that students with double majors pursue one of them to earn a living with and the other to satisfy a personal interest. And that’s the case with Dan Applegate, although with a twist of conventional expectation. He plans to pursue a professional acting career and studies computer science because he enjoys it and is good at it. Sort of akin to a man biting a dog: not what you would expect from the elements involved.
Dan Applegate (’09)
Majors: Computer science and theatre
“Different things amaze me,” says Dan, whose impressive acting career at the University as a Presidential Scholar in theatre culminated in the role of Edgar in this spring’s production of King Lear. “What excites me about theatre is the depth of humanity in the words and stories it deals with. I love getting caught up in the moment, feeling out these people i’m portraying, and in the process widening my own experience. With computer science, I am constantly struck by the elegance of an algorithm used to solve a tough problem. It’s almost like childish wonderment at how simple and beautiful a solution can be.”
Dan graduated in May and is acting this summer in The Lost Colony outdoor drama on Roanoke Island while continuing to pursue internships and acting jobs for the coming year and beyond. Acting is a competitive career, no doubt about it. But just in case Dan’s night-job aspirations don’t pan out, some nice day job should be waiting for him somewhere.
In art, there is style and there is content, and it is content that distinguishes the truly great artists from the merely great stylists. Already well on her way to becoming the latter, printmaker Antonina Whaples aspires to become the former and has tailored her scholastic program accordingly.
Antonina Whaples (’10)
Majors: Studio art and philosophy
“I finished my studio art major rather quickly so I was on the lookout for a second major,” says Antonina, a Presidential scholar in art and the daughter of Professor of Economics Robert Whaples. “I happened to be lucky enough to take Introduction to Philosophy the summer before my sophomore year and something really clicked for me. I realized that if I really wanted to push my own art I would need to expand my mind and learn good arguments and how to think abstractly but critically.”
“I realized that if I really wanted to push my own art I would need to expand my mind and learn good arguments and how to think abstractly but critically.”
It is the simplest and most abstract philosophical concepts that have helped to develop her art the most, she says. “Logic has certainly helped me to perceive the underlying structures of an argument,” she notes. “And being able to find laws in arguments and soundness in structure has helped me in the cerebral processing of the intentions and executions of my [art] work. Philosophy also helps me to think very critically — to look at what an artist is doing (especially myself) and see if it matches up with what he/she is saying. When art is well executed, the dialogue between its formal qualities and its content establishes a cohesive argument that plays out on the picture-plane.”
Her professional goal is to become a master printmaker and she is strongly considering pursuing bachelors and masters of fine arts degrees to that end after graduation next year. But she is sufficiently pragmatic to appreciate the prudency of having a second career, perhaps in library science. “I live in the library [where she is compiling a database of the university’s contemporary art collection],” she notes. “I just think the [library] culture fosters a positive intellectual environment.”
The world’s urban areas are running low on most everything except people, and at or near the top of the list of scarcities is undeveloped—what some call “greenfield”— land. Given that fact, it doesn’t take an urban expert to foresee the extinction, and probably sooner rather than later, of growth as we know it.
John Clayton (’09)
Raleigh, North Carolina
Majors: Economics and Chinese
Fortunately, one resource earth’s megalopolises possess in great abundance is environmentally degraded—so-called “brownield”—land.
John Clayton graduated in May with academic credentials that would impress a Brookings Institution Fellow. Besides majors in economics and Chinese, he compiled enough credits to qualify for minors in International Studies and Italian and to receive the French business certiicate. His career ambition is to promote sustainable development around the globe, especially in China. So if the use of “fortunately” in the above paragraph seemed strange, he can clarify.
“I was fascinated by their ability to not only do good for the environment but also to make smart and profitable investments. For a long time I had thought the two goals were incompatible.”
“I was first exposed to sustainable development while serving as an intern at Cherokee Investment Partners, a private equity fund that’s the world’s largest brownfield redeveloper,” he explains. “Its specialty is to buy environmentally damaged pieces of property, remediate them, and redevelop them into smart-growth projects such as transit centers, office buildings, and mixed [residential and commercial] developments. I was fascinated by their ability to not only do good for the environment but also to make smart and profitable investments.
For a long time I had thought the two goals were incompatible.” For the short term, (“unless the economy dictates otherwise”), John will work for a boutique management consultancy in Washington, D.C. In five years, he hopes to be living in Shanghai and working for a real estate investment fund or development group. “I think China, over the next ten to thirty years, will be poised for growth in the sustainable development sector, especially on its eastern coast,” he states.
“The rapid growth of its cities has created a wealth of economic opportunities but also a rash of environmentally damaged properties. China’s government is beginning to push for cleanups and tougher regulatory standards. Once the real estate markets and urban land prices mature to where [remediation and] redevelopment becomes an economically feasible option, I think we will see a big swing toward these types of projects.”
“Less traveled” would be understating the solitary road toward double majors in English and biochemistry on which Nitya Anand and Leigh McDonald are companions. Their unconventional path will diverge next spring, when they mount the com- mencement stage on Hearn Plaza to collect their degrees. But their new roads will be equally purposeful — and still a bit undertraveled.”
Nitya has ambitions to become a patent attorney and will enroll in law school after graduation. “A science degree is required to qualify to take the patent bar exam, so with my majors, I will be able to combine my interest in the sciences with the writing, communication, and debate skills I have learned to love [by] studying English,” she explains.
Nitya Anand (’10)
Johnson City, Tenn.
Majors: Chemistry (biochemistry concentration) and English
Erin “Leigh” McDonald (’10)
Majors: Chemistry (biochemistry concentration) and English
“I would like to think that this will allow me to be an especially effective lawyer. Since I will have had a significant amount of theoretical and practical experience in the subject of biochemistry, I will be able to understand the technical jargon used [by scientists] and translate it in a clear, concise, and understandable manner.”
Leigh’s career goal is medical research, and she considers her study of English to be as relevant to it as the training she will receive in medical school. “The study of literature inspires a sense of empathetic creativity that I believe will be beneficial in my chosen career,” she says. “such work [as medical research] has little meaning outside its connection to people and the human condition. Literature provides unique and varying perspectives on the interactions and relationships between people, the roles of logic and emotion in how they live their lives, and the ways in which they interact with the world around them.”
John Galt, the existential hero of Ayn Rand’s magnum opus Atlas Shrugged, double majored in physics and philosophy, just like Wake Forest senior-to-be Adam Edwards. One of his friends has pointed this out to him, and although he appreciates the comparision, “I don’t intend on ‘stopping the motor of the world’ [as Galt did].”
Adam Edwards (’10)
Majors: Physics and philosophy
Still, Adam detects an intrinsic, complementary relationship between the two ostensibly dissimilar disciplines and hopes to parlay that combination into an academic career, in effect stopping the motor of the extremely competitive job market in higher education today.
“Ever since I was a young boy claiming I would be a world-famous geologist, I’ve always wanted to study science in some fashion,” he says. “Once I started reading physics texts in my early teens, I found that [also reading] philosophy was an excellent way to maintain intellectual balance.”
Adam is especially interested in axiology (the study of value) and the modern scientific establishment’s treatment, “and largely its dismissal,” of it. He hopes one day to teach the philosophy of science at the college level, but even if that does not come to fruition, he’s been enriched by the symbiosis. “By embracing both,” he says, “I find that I have a far fuller understanding of the world than either alone can give and am much happier for it.”