Minors, double majors, progressive degrees—oh, my!

March 27, 2019

four students looking at a laptop in a classroom

Paulo Hernandez-Farella, Olivia Euritt, Coco Alvarez-Mena and Sophia Oddi in class | Photo by Heather Toner

One of things that separates USC Kaufman’s BFA program from conservatory dance programs is access to the rigorous and robust academic offerings of a top-tier research university. In addition to completing general education requirements, BFA dance students have the opportunity to pursue minors, second majors or even progressive degrees. I talked to current students Sidney Ramsey, Paulo Hernandez-Farella, Justin Pham and Alyssa Allen about these opportunities.

Current students’ areas of interest: majors

Sidney Ramsey (BFA ’21) is double majoring in dance and health and human sciences. She is currently working with USC Kaufman professor Patrick Corbin on a research project looking into gerontology. The project focuses on the effects of dance on physical and mental health. She came to USC knowing she wanted to major in both of these schools. However, she didn’t realize how directly the areas would overlap.

“After talking to William Forsythe about my interests, I learned that Professor Patrick Corbin had recently begun an experiment. It incorporated line dancing into nursing homes to track and analyze the influence of dance upon the participants’ overall quality of life. This seemed like a sign for me to look into gerontology as a more specific subject of interest,” she said.

Upon graduating, Ramsey plans to dance in a concert company that performs contemporary and contemporary ballet repertory. After her dance career, she wants to continue the research she started at USC. Her mission: to increase longevity for dancers and encourage healthier practices.

Current students’ areas of interest: master’s

Similarly, Paulo Hernandez-Farella (BFA ’19) is completing his BFA in dance (performance concentration). He is also finishing a minor in nonprofits, philanthropy and volunteerism, and a master’s in public administration. When he was accepted into USC, he was awarded a Trustee Scholarship. He knew he wanted to take advantage of this by completing a USC Progressive Degree. After completing his minor in the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy, he knew he wanted a master’s in the same school. There are two elective courses he will take this summer to complete his master’s. Essentially, he will has completed all the required courses for a BFA, minor, and master’s degree in only four years.

Current students’ areas of interest: minors

Justin Pham (BFA ’20) is pursuing a minor in cinematic arts. Coming to USC as a dancer, Justin knew he wanted to take advantage of USC’s academic offerings by adding a minor in another school. He says he always had, “a deep appreciation for dance on film, so a minor in cinematic arts felt like the best fit.” Upon graduating, Pham plans to choreograph in the realm of television and film. Eventually, he hopes to take on more leadership positions as a producer or director.

Overlaps in learning

Ramsey has found that her interest in health sciences has led her to a more thoughtful approach to dance. She is able to recognize unhealthy mental or physical patterns in her dance life. Now, she can self-correct to better prepare herself for performance. She better understands movement beyond the physical practice and stresses the mind-body connection.

Hernandez-Farella has noticed a huge overlap in the subjects he studies, especially as a senior applying for jobs. His minor in nonprofits, philanthropy, and volunteerism complements his dance degree, as many dance companies are also nonprofit organizations. He also knows how the entire organization functions, from fundraising to tax filings. This allows him to not only compare the artistic qualities of his dream companies, but also to evaluate their financials. He can then make more informed decisions when it comes to the business side of dance.

Pham’s minor in film also has artistic overlap.

“The intersection has driven me to explore ideas of expanding what dance on film can be within popular culture and how we can present dance to a larger audience, while staying true to our artistic integrity,” he said.

In the choreographic work that Pham is doing now, he is informed by the research from composition classes at USC Kaufman. He is also influenced by the camera and editing practice from his cinematic arts classes.

Finding time

Our schedule as BFA students is jam packed, so adding another program is no easy feat. Double majoring is generally not possible in four years. However, the BFA in dance includes 16-units of free electives to accommodate one of USC’s 150 minors.

Pham notes that finding the time to schedule his minor courses was challenging at first, but became easier as an upperclassman. This is due to the added flexibility in the junior and senior years. It is designed to give students the opportunity to focus purely on dance or to pursue both dance and other interests. Both Ramsey and Hernandez-Farella credit their ability to complete a second degree to their time management skills. Ramsey attended a high school with rigorous academics while dancing long hours at a competition studio. This gave her years to hone her time management skills prior to coming to USC.

While most USC students take a maximum of 18 units, Hernandez-Farella has had four semesters of 21 units. This schedule required strategic planning. His academic and artistic success earned him the Academic Achievement Award, allowing him to take additional units at no additional cost. He also chose to complete general education courses during the summer.

As organized and proficient as these students are, anyone at USC Kaufman completing a second major, minor, or progressive degree will be quick to tell you that it is a lot of work.

What’s right for you?

Our academic advisors and faculty mentors encourage us to take advantage of the amazing academic programs at USC during our four years. They do everything possible to make sure we can study what truly interests us. Given that the dance major is already a significant time commitment, the addition of another degree or minor isn’t the best option for everyone. Alyssa Allen (BFA ’19) learned that the minor she was pursuing was detracting from her experience.

“When the workload of my minor began to conflict with my dance courses, I realized that it was not worth me losing focus on what I so wholeheartedly wanted, which is to dance,” she said.

Dropping her minor also opened up her schedule. It allowed her to take classes she really wanted, rather than courses specifically for a minor.

Fortunately, most BFA students don’t start their minor until their junior and senior years. This allows time for underclassmen to adjust to schedules and sample other academic disciplines. A great way to do this is through the general education program.

Hernandez-Farella points out that his degree is not a backup plan for his career, but it is the plan. As a soon-to-be professional dancer with plans of teaching dance within a university, receiving his doctorate and reaching higher positions at a university, he knows exactly how his hard work will pay off and relate to his future goals. He recommends that students avoid feeling pressured to pursue a supplemental degree just because they are attending USC. It is a major commitment and not at all required.

In short, one of the great things about USC Kaufman’s location within a top university is our students’ ability to tailor their dance and academic studies to their interests and future professional goals.

By Lillie Pincus