When More Is More

Fall/Winter 2024 Saint Michael's College Magazine

February 7, 2024

Braden Dwinell sat at the front of class queuing up short, animated clips and music samples to show his First-Year Seminar students how trains have long been a metaphor for death. He’s co-teaching a course called Dungeons & Dragons twice a week at Saint Michael’s College. The class aims to help students write a fantasy-based novella.

“We’re having really meaningful discussions,” Dwinell said. Initially, the students were hesitant to talk about subjects like racism, but “When we started to talk about racism in a fantastical world with elves, dwarves, and humans,” it opened up a discussion about racism, slurs, and equality that hadn’t felt accessible before.

It’s hard to remember that Dwinell, Class of 2024, is receiving credit for the class himself. It’s an internship for his Medieval Studies minor.

Braden Dwinell ’24 (Photo by Cat Cutillo)

He is not the only student benefiting from changes made several years ago, when the core curriculum requirements at Saint Michael’s were streamlined. The shift left room for more electives and more possibilities for students to pursue multiple majors and minors. Any course, study abroad experience, or internship can serve as an elective, which allows students to try things out and create their own recipe for their education. Some are building a mix-and-match approach with majors and minors, blending atypical combinations like ingredients in a powerful potion that reflects the unique colors of their own personality to design their own niche.

Ryan Braeger (Photo by Cat Cutillo)

Ryan Braeger, assistant dean for Advising and Student Development, said he wants students to feel that they are authoring their own education. “There are opportunities here to craft really amazing narratives. … It’s an advantage to be here,” Braeger said.

Dakota Thomas ’24 is considering going to law school after she graduates, and is leaning toward civil rights and advocacy law. Thomas said her triple major in History, Philosophy, and Equity Studies has taught her “how to think; how to be critical and analyze the world that we live in as a problem solver.” Thomas said her chosen combination of majors will give her a foothold in the job market.

“The three of them together have given me a really interesting niche,” Thomas added.

As a History major, Thomas said she has learned more about the context of today’s world. Her Philosophy major has taught her how to critically engage. Her Equity Studies major has helped her put all the pieces together “to include and engage with groups that have been marginalized.”

Thomas said, “What I’ve loved about being able to play with majors and minors is that you can really create your own synthesis of the perfect mix. … I think all of them have really made me a more introspective thinker.”

Thomas is this year’s student body president for the Student Government Association and the former secretary of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion student organization. She was the co-executive editor of the Defender, the college newspaper, and she’s been a been a core team leader with MOVE, the campus community service organization.

Dakota Thomas ’24 (Photo by Cat Cutillo)

Dwinell is also a triple major, specializing in History, Anthropology, and Education Studies, with a focus on museum studies. He has five minors, in Psychology, Global Health, Medieval Studies, Art History, and Public History.

Dwinell said his education has not followed a linear path, and he believes the “zigs and zags” have led him to create a concoction of expanded learning that has made him “almost an expert” in his chosen studies. When writing his Anthropology thesis, he was able to weave in information about neural neurons as a means of empathy, which was something he learned about in his Education Studies major.

“That’s a perspective that anthropology doesn’t talk about,” Dwinell said.

For his history thesis, he wrote about organized religion in Greece and pulled in anthropological ideas about how

the culture was formed and the relationship between worshippers and a God.

In the summer of 2023, Dwinell was selected as a Freeman Fellow for the Global Citizenship International Internship Program in Seoul, South Korea, where he taught English to Korean children. He is part of three honor societies, and has participated in internships at the National Guard Museum and the Historical Society in his Massachusetts hometown’s museum.

Swapnil Jhajharia ’24 has chosen a unique combination for his double major, in Statistics and Psychology, and his double minor, in Mathematics and Anthropology.

“It’s allowed me to have a wider [assortment] of things that I could taste,” Jhajharia said.

Swapnil Jhajharia ’24 (Photo by Cat Cutillo)

He came to Saint Michael’s knowing he wanted to pursue statistics and mathematics but was surprised to learn how much he enjoyed psychology after taking it to fulfill a core credit. He’s applying to graduate programs now in the field of cross-cultural psychology and wants to work as a translator between cultures for mental health.

“Because of the cultural power in the West, a lot of cultures have to re-contextualize themselves based on how the DSM [the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders] defines what a disorder is or what a mental condition is, which doesn’t necessarily fit well in all cultures,” Jhajharia said. “My dream job is to be the person who is able to navigate through all of those channels and communicate between cultures what a cultural concept of distress is for that particular culture.”

Jhajharia is an international honors student from India who is part of four honor societies. He was selected as a Freeman Fellow for a Global Citizenship International Internship Program in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, last summer. He studied social and environmental change in Oceania during a field-based semester abroad program in Samoa. He is also a resident assistant, works with the campus Adventure Sports Center, and is an athlete on the men’s cross-country team.

“We are such multifaceted people. It’s natural, in a way, that you would get these rich and unique combinations,” Professor Peter Vantine said.

Vantine is the director of the First-Year Seminar Program and chair and associate professor of Classical and Modern Languages and literature in French. Last year, Vantine had a student who was a Physics and French major. The student was originally from the Congo and was a native French speaker who wanted to study French as well as pursue a future in physics. The College’s flexible learning model allowed for that.

That flexibility has extended to the professors as well.

Karen Popovich, professor of Business Administration and Accounting, and John Devlin, professor of Fine Arts/Theater, resident designer, and technical director, teamed up this semester to reimagine a required business core course. The business students are reading plays this semester and pitching their own proposal for how they would design the play through lighting, sound, stage, costumes, and characters, if they were the design company.

Popovich said, “It was just awesome to see students apply all these management concepts and then develop their presenta- tion skills” by working to cultivate their theater skills with Devlin. “There’s a nice overlap that allows the students to really customize their academic program to what their eventual future plans are,” Popovich added.

Dwinell hopes his future includes pursuing a graduate degree in Classics. He said the multiple majors and minors he’s combined were the perfect prescription to satisfy his curiosity.

“I was always trying to find a way to appease all of my interests,” Dwinell said. Instead of confining himself to one major and being condemned to “be” that as a profession, Dwinell said, “I want to be a verb [instead of] a noun, constantly changing, developing, evolving, and learning.”

“I want to be a verb [instead of] a noun, constantly changing, developing, evolving, and learning.”

Braden Dwinell '24

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