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Winter 2001-02
Volume45, Number 2


Iowa's Budget Crisis: What It Means to Your Student

Old Capitol Dome Burns

Seeking the Elusive Major: for Some Iowa Students, It's a Hard Choice

NOTHING to Do? You Can't Be Serious!

Surfing Their Way Into Trouble: Copyright Law Violations Can Bring Discipline, Criminal Prosecution

To Sign Up for a Room, Just Press "Enter"

Currier Area Becoming Community Center

New Kiosks: Information Source for Residence Hall Students

Mom, Dad of the Year Honored

Paying for Quality: We Need Tuition Increase to Keep University Strong

Tutoring Help, Counsel Available in Many Academic Areas

Twister! Mayflower Students Relax in New Game Room

Parent Times Briefs

University Calendar

Seeking the Elusive Major
Lironne Lang, Amy Kincaid, and Nikki Blacksmith.
Lironne Lang, (center), and her best friend from high school, Amy Kincaid, both of Deerfield, Ill., chat with Nikki Blacksmith, a first-year student from Geneva, Ill. (left).
Lironne Lang, a first-year open major, agreed to talk to Parent Times about her decision to come to Iowa and her experiences at orientation. This two-part series will peek into her life as she decides on a major and adjusts to University life.

Lironne Lang has just come out of a psychology class.

“The teacher is just amazing!” she says. “He tells jokes and he doesn’t talk in a monotone that makes you think, ‘When will this class be over?’ We’re talking about Freud, who thought that everything was based on sex, and we may be getting to Jung soon. I think my major will be psychology.”

Then she reconsiders.

“The only problem is, like, neurotransmitters. . .the teacher says we’ll be getting into the science of psychology soon. I hate science and math. I’m never good at science and math except when I had outstanding teachers in high school who got me through it. If there’s a lot of science in psychology…”

Sometimes it’s not fun, being an open major. The term means that you haven’t decided on a major when you enter The University of Iowa. The University encourages students to enter as open majors, because it takes a while to know where their true interests lie. Introductory courses give students a look at several fields of study, and since they count as General Education Program courses in most majors, no time is lost by delaying the decision.

Deciding on a Major

When Lang arrived at orientation, she thought she might major in art.

“I’m an art-lover but I decided I couldn’t dedicate myself to it for four years, taking all those prerequisites, in order to finally get to what I really want to do—graphic design—only in the last year,” she says.

“When I registered, all the French classes were full,” she says. “So I took Masterpieces of Art. But over the summer I was so determined that I didn’t want to take French in second semester and then again in the first semester of my sophomore year, that I kept checking with the Department of French and Italian to see if anything had opened up. I finally found an open French class and signed up for it. I tried to call my adviser, but she wasn’t available. So I dropped Masterpieces and also Online at Iowa, which I can take later.”

“Great!” says Ginger Russell, Lang’s academic adviser. “The more she learns to do herself, the better for her.”

So far, Lang’s process is not unusual, Russell notes, especially her decision not to major in art. The biggest challenge of working with first-year students is their lack of understanding of what a potential major involves, especially when they start by identifying a glamorous career field first.

“Obviously, television is a great influence,” she says. “Every year some of them want to become a profiler, for example, but they don’t want to take chemistry! Twenty years ago, everyone wanted to be a computer science major but not take math.”

But Russell has a hunch that Lang may well wind up in psychology despite her nervousness about science, because she is enjoying her first class.

“Most students hate it (psychology),” Russell says. “They enroll thinking that they’ll get to talk about their parents or how they’re affected by their zodiac signs, and it turns out to be animals in cages. That isn’t at all what they had in mind.”

Several weeks later, Lang confirms that hunch.

“I’m still thinking of majoring in psychology and I love it,” she says. “Next semester I’m getting into cognitive psychology.”

Surprises at Orientation

For students accustomed to having a high school adviser choose courses for them, orientation can be a real shock. Lang realized her life was changing.

“It worried me when Erin (McKee, the student adviser for Lang and a small group of other students) said, ‘Here’s your book, select the courses you want, then check the times they’re offered and work out your schedule.’ I thought, ‘Excuse me? My counselor always did that for me. I’m not with my parents, and I have to make this decision before I see them again. My life has been all about discussing things with my parents and making a decision based on their feedback. That’s just the way it is.’ ”

While that was unnerving, she says, “I realized that everyone there was where I am, and the advisers had made sure I had what I needed to make a decision.”

Parents Have to Adjust, Too

“Parents have trouble with the idea that their student has to make important decisions without them,” says Andrew Cinoman, director of Orientation Services. “We tell them, ‘Your student has to make hundreds of important decisions each day without you; that’s the meaning of college.’

“There will be mistakes, and your student will learn from them. That’s what students come to college for,” Cinoman tells parents. “Iowa is a huge institution. Some class sizes may be larger than your hometown. Your student will have to be assertive to get needs met. He or she will have to ask questions and persist.”

Advising Open Majors

Russell met with Lang for about 15 minutes at orientation. Russell says that’s about the average length for a first visit. She checks schedules to make sure they’ll work, but her goal is to reassure students.

“I don’t give a lot of details then,” she says. “They wouldn’t hear them. I look at the choices they’ve made. The goal is to get a good fit, so I look at high school rank, high school grade-point average, courses taken, test scores, preferences, and major, if they’ve chosen one.”

When a student finally is ready to choose a major, Russell says, “I get them to talk to a person in that department, perhaps the undergraduate head. I can give information on how to sequence the courses, but I can’t get them as excited as someone who teaches the courses. And it’s excitement that is important when they’re ready to begin a major.”

Good-bye, Psychology?

With second semester registration looming, Lang went to see Russell to figure out her schedule.

“She told me I had to have my measles shot before I could register, so I did that. I didn’t have too many decisions to make, since I began two-semester courses this semester. So I sat down at the computer and registered for Rhetoric twice a week, a General Education Program course called Technology and Society, and Introduction to Cognitive Psychology, to study the way we think. I tried to register for second-semester French, but the only class available was at 8:30 a.m., and I know myself too well for that. So I registered for Religion and Society for my humanities requirement, but I might change that if a section of French opens up. Otherwise, I’ll have to take French in summer school or wait until fall semester for it. I also registered for Medical and Technical Terminology, which is a two-semester-hour course on the Internet that teaches terms I’ll need to know.

“I have 16 hours now, but if I need to I can drop courses to take French,” she says.

Beyond the next semester, Russell and Lang talked about requirements for the psychology major. The conversation raised a major problem for Lang.

“I don’t know about majoring in psychology any longer,” Lang says. “It would take way longer than I really thought, with graduate school necessary. I really love psychology and perhaps I’ll still major in it, but I’m not sure I’m ready to say I’ll go that long. I have to think about it.

“Actually,” she says, “I have to talk to my parents next.”

–By Anne Tanner



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