Paving the Way

Changing Majors Student

By the third week of freshman year, Rohan Suriyage knew he had to switch majors.

Suriyage had entered Widener as a biology major. Although he was doing well in his science courses, he had a life-changing realization in Professor Janine Utell’s English 101 class.

“I decided I want to do what she does,” recalled Suriyage. “I enjoy the sciences, but my heart is in English.”

By the end of his freshman year, Suriyage had changed majors to English, and never looked back. The transition was smooth, said the now-senior, crediting the support from Utell and other professors, who discussed the different career paths he could pursue.

People hear ‘changing majors’ and it turns them away because they think of the logistics. But my professors made it seamless. — Rohan Suriyage '19

At Widener, students like Suriyage, who are considering changing tracks, have access to a network of campus resources and support, including from faculty, career counselors, and other staff members within academic services.

The guidance these individuals provide takes many forms – from informal one-on-one conversations to career assessments – all with the goal of helping students carve out the right path forward to achieve both personal and professional success.

“Cultivating those relationships is something Widener does well,” said Utell. “We focus on student success, student-by-student. College is supposed to get you ready for meaningful, productive work. But it’s also devoted to helping you figure out who you are.”

Utell and others advise students to explore their interests and try different courses, taking advantage of Widener’s depth and breadth of offerings. They also recommend students get involved in different activities, keep an open mind, and remember that there’s no shame in switching directions.

“Changing majors is not only possible, it’s normal,” said Lauren Barlow, senior career counselor.

It’s so common that a national study found that about 30 percent of 25,000 undergraduate students analyzed had changed majors at least once within the first three years of their enrollment.

In many cases, students come to realize that a particular field is just not right for them, and that their abilities and passions lay elsewhere.

That was the case with alumna Dana Schweizer, who thought she was destined to become a nurse. But by sophomore year, she was struggling; she had lost her passion for the profession.

“I knew that choosing a major at 18-years-old did not determine the path I was determined to take,” said Schweizer, who turned to the Office of Career Design and Development (formally Career Services) and its director, Janet Long, for guidance.

Together, the pair explored Schweizer’s other interests, including social media, and possible career trajectories. Schweizer participated in the Widener Works externship program, spending a day shadowing a social media coordinator at a Philadelphia marketing agency. By the end of the day, she had found her new direction.

In 2017, Schweizer graduated with a degree in English, and landed her “perfect job” as a global account manager for a public relations firm, helping cosmetics and wellness companies gain publicity for their businesses. She also helps coordinate social media.

“Widener did everything they could to ease this transition,” said Schweizer. “They turned what I saw as a failure into a small bump in the road that needed to curve in a different direction.”

Experiencing directional shifts, said Barlow, can actually help students hone their adaptability skill, which will serve them well in an economy where switching jobs, and occupational fields, is common.

Sophomore Dayshan Bullock is in the process of changing majors from biology to psychology. He credits Amy Yarlett, director of exploratory studies, with guiding him through the process.

“I wasn’t sure if I should make the jump or stick with bio,” said Bullock. “We had some chats and I decided psychology was the best route for me. She brought me out of a dark spot, and I owe her a lot.”

Bullock advises other students to not be afraid to seek out campus resources for help. “There are people here that want to help you, to see you succeed,” he said.

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