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SPRING 2001-02
Volume 45, Number 3


Engineering Tutors: Building Confidence in a Complex New Subject

On Health Care, Research, the Budget, and Old Cap

Open Major Struggles with Decision

Beyond the Varsity: Clubs Yield Opportunities to Enjoy Sports, Games, Martial Arts

Work-Study: State Program Cut, but Federal Funds Continue

Student Drive Succeeds: Pitch That Bottle in the Recycling Bin

Letters, Petitions Result in New Major: Women's Studies

Both Side Are Right

Snow Scene

Parent Times Briefs

Important Numbers

University Calendar

In the winter issue of Parent Times, first-year student Lironne Lang let us follow her progress as she worked to find the perfect major. She registered last summer as an open major after discarding a planned art major, then considered psychology because she loved her first class in that subject. Still undecided at the end of fall semester, she said she’d talk with her parents over the holidays and let us know where she was heading. This is the conclusion of a two-part series.

After some useful conversations with her parents, Lironne Lang returned to campus with an old idea that had become new again.

“I’m thinking about a double major in art and psychology,” Lang says. “Yes, back to art! I’m really interested in art, but not art history—and that’s what I’d need to take. So I had decided against it. But I’ve always loved art. My mom used to draw with me when I was a kid.

Determined to raise her grade-point average, Lironne Lang meets friends for study sessions this semester instead of going out with them.

“I had stopped thinking about it as a major because it seemed like a leisure activity, not a career. But lots of people here major in art, so I’m changing my mind on that. My parents reminded me how much I enjoy art, and as I talked with them, it seemed like something I should reconsider.

“A lot of people come here knowing exactly what they want,” she sighs. “I’m not one of them.”

Open Majors Are OK

Lang is not alone. “Open” is one of the most-chosen major fields when students register for their first classes. Some students have trouble choosing a major because they like too many fields; to others, nothing sounds exactly right.

The University of Iowa encourages open majors, advising students to take time making the decision, which is one of the most important they’ll make as an undergraduate. General Education Program courses, which are required, are designed to introduce students to fields of study that can become strong interests and develop into a major. So students lose nothing in most majors by completing those requirements and waiting a few semesters to decide.

Lang currently is taking her second semester of Rhetoric and French, Cognitive Psychology, and a General Education course called Technology and Society.

“I’m in the Tech and Society course with my boyfriend and seven other friends, so we study together,” she says. “I’m getting a Gen Ed credit and it’s fun and easy. I wanted to enroll in a religion course called Quest for Human Destiny, but it’s so popular that it filled really fast. I’ll do that next year when I can outrank any freshman at registration!”

Lang’s big interest this semester is cognitive psychology. The decision about whether she’ll combine it with art will have to wait until fall semester next year, when she’ll take her first art courses, she says.

“I took Fundamentals of Art in high school, and then in the summer, I took a course in ceramics and loved it,” she says. “I worked at a ceramics store for six months. Next year, I’ll take Basic Drawing and Art History and then see if that’s something I want to do.”

Learning About Herself

While she’s still working on her choice of major, Lang says she notices other changes in herself from first semester.

“I’m more focused this semester,” she says. “I went out with friends a lot last semester and had a lot of fun. I got decent grades, but I know I can do a lot better. I think, ‘it’s second semester and I should be getting better at this.’ ”

She says she’s learned not to overload her schedule.

“I’ve decided I don’t really want to take five courses a semester during the year,” she says. “I’ll stick to four per semester and try to do better with them. I had signed up for a fifth course this semester, Medical and Technical Terminology. because it would give me two more hours. But all I would be doing is memorizing terminology I wouldn’t need again. So I dropped it and now I have only 14 semester hours of courses. I’ll make up for that this summer, when I plan to take a mathematics course and a science course with a laboratory section.

Since Lang signed up for the Four-Year Graduation Plan, which requires students to take at least 15 semester hours of courses in order to accumulate the required 120 semester hours of credits in eight semesters, summer school is a necessity. But she thinks it will be fun, too, to take the courses then instead of during the year, since she’s not a great fan of math and science.


She says her academic adviser, Ginger Russell, advised her to get her math and science courses out of the way as soon as possible.

Russell says it’s not unusual that a student who enrolls with an open major would not find the right major by the end of the first year.

“Sometimes, a student does choose a major in the first year and still winds up changing it later, too,” she says.

“We (academic advisers) sometimes need to anticipate what route the student is taking and try to move her into two camps: ‘OK, while you work on X academic area, why don’t you also take courses in Y, too, to get another General Education credit.’ We may be thinking that Y is a likely choice that this student hasn’t thought about yet.

“In Lironne's case, for example, I've mentioned art therapy to her because it combines her interest in psychology and art.”

By asking questions and making suggestions, advisers hope to head off problems and nudge students toward the majors that match their interests.

“Let’s just say that we think of Plan B more often than the students do,” she says. “We’re here to serve and protect!”

While students are told about academic advising and urged to make appointments, frequently advisers grab opportunities to see their students as they come by for another reason–to get a signature on a drop card, for example.

“We deal with whatever crisis has brought them there, and then urge them to talk about how they’re doing beyond that crisis,” she says. “If they just pop in without an appointment, we might not be able to see them right away, but we do urge them to make the appointment and come back in.”

Time to Study

Lang says she’s learned how to manage friendships, too. After getting her final grades for her first semester, she knows she needs to work harder on her courses.

“I think my friends are focused on doing well, and I’m dedicated to doing better myself,” she says. “I’ve learned you can’t let personal issues get before school in your priorities.”

She’s convinced that the 2.80 grade-point average she earned last semester is not a good guide to what she can do. Her parents don’t think so, either.

“They said, ‘Don’t come home if your average is below 3.30,’ ” she says with a smile. “I didn’t make it last semester. I know I can do better.”

One strategy is to get to know her professors before the end of the semester, she notes.

“Actually, I’ve been closer to the TAs (teaching assistants) in my classes,” she says. “I can relate more to them. But I would like to talk to my professors this semester.

“Last semester after classes ended, I went to see my psychology professor and thanked him, telling him I had found the class really interesting. I got to know him—but not until the end of the semester. He thanked me for coming because students don’t often do that. But I realized that if I had gotten to know him earlier it would have been better. So I’m going to see my current professor and have her explain to me some things about the course. I think I will like the course better if I do that.”

Lang and her Rhetoric professor have conversations on e-mail, and in French, Lang participates a lot in class, she says. Her Technology and Society professor has been thorough in taking the class step by step through the material, she says, so that course is not a problem.

Then There’s Homesickness

Over the holiday break, Lang considered transferring to a college closer to her home in the Chicago suburbs, in order to be closer to her family, especially a sister who is just beginning high school.

“I was thinking that if I could go to school closer to my home, I wouldn’t miss out on my sister’s life,” she says. “I wanted to be closer to her.”

She admits that she’s very close to her family and their advice and support is important to her when she needs to make a decision.

“If I have an idea, I ask them about it and I take their opinions into consideration,” she says. “They’re wiser than I am in many ways. My dad has always been really big on being a close family, and we are.”

She thought about a possible transfer while working in a food shop for the month-long semester break. But at the end, she knew she wanted to return to Iowa.

“I’m really looking forward to starting art classes next fall,” she says. “I’m thinking about interior design as a career.”

–By Anne Tanner


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