For Dena, her academic experience at BU might best be summed up as “unexpected.”
During her first year, she had a semester abroad in London, where she was studying World War II. “The city’s countless museums and memorials brought history to life every time I stepped out the door,” she recalls. “I left my social science discussions many times, thinking how right in front of me there are connections to what we just talked about.”
Recognizing and harnessing the value of those connections, abroad and on campus, would become a theme. As a student in the College of General Studies, her Capstone project during her sophomore year required a collaborative effort. “There were six of us working on a project about US–China trade relations,” she recalls. “We were all coming from different majors: environmental policy, communications, political science. It made for incredibly enriching discussions. We might never have met if we weren’t taking those CGS classes.”
“BU has pushed me academically but has also exposed me to numerous perspectives, helping me see situations from various viewpoints and historical contexts.”
Even her environmental research work with a professor on the last salt marsh in Boston forced her to examine how climate change isn’t just impacting the environment, but is affecting regional economic development, including gentrification in nearby neighborhoods.
A passionate advocate for environmental causes since middle school, Dena found access to programs and communities that she could relate to as soon as she arrived on campus. She has since joined the Environmental Student Organization, the Environmental Affairs Office, a Student Government group called FEAST (Food Equality Accountability Sustainability and Transparency), and the campus environmental fraternity.
But one of her most important discoveries at BU?
That the University offered a means to earn both a bachelor’s and master’s degree within four years. “The joint master’s/bachelor’s program gives me so much more experience,” she said. “It was something I had no idea about before I applied to BU. It will also be really helpful when applying for jobs to have the master’s degree as well.”
But ultimately, Dena says BU has taught her to become a better learner and more confident leader. “I’ve had to step outside of my comfort zone through challenging classes and group presentations, and in extracurricular activities and studying abroad,” she says. “BU has pushed me academically but has also exposed me to numerous perspectives, helping me see situations from various viewpoints and historical contexts.”
To read Dena’s full interview, please scroll below.
Q: When you arrived on campus, was there anything academically that knocked you back on your heels?
A: Well, calculus was challenging at first, but I was able to reach out to the Educational Resource Center for assistance. It was an interesting transition from high school, where everything is very structured, to college, where you have class for two hours a day and can make the remainder of your day your own. You have the freedom and the challenge of managing your own time.
Q: How did you figure out your major?
A: When I got to BU, I decided that I wanted to pursue the policy part of environmental studies rather than the scientific. Right now, I’m taking an environmental justice class. That’s one of the things about environmental policy—it is very interdisciplinary. You need to know about the science as well as the history and ethics.
Q: Why the dual degree?
A: I wanted to do environmental analysis and policy, and I was thinking about a minor in business so that I could be more versatile with implementing sustainability in the business world. Then I heard about the joint master’s/bachelor’s program and that I could actually complete it within four years. It gives me much more experience. I had to overload my schedule last year, and I’ll have to take one extra class, but I am still able to graduate on time. The program was something I had no idea about before I applied to BU. It will also be really helpful when applying for jobs to have the master’s degree as well.
Q: Describe an “aha” moment where you felt transformed by a particular academic experience?
A: My study abroad summer in London with CGS. I loved my classes, especially social science, because we would read about WWII and then go explore London. The city’s countless museums and memorials brought history to life every time I stepped out the door. I left my social science discussions many times thinking how right in front of me there are connections to what we just talked about—the Zimbardo prison experiment, for example. Even though the experiment may only seem a historical event, the lessons we draw from it and its legacy live on today.
Q: Did you pursue any research opportunities at BU?
A: I was able to do research last semester with Professor Adam Sweeting on the Belle Isle Marsh, which is the last salt marsh in Boston, north of Logan Airport, and how it might be affected by climate change and rising sea levels. He would also give me other perspectives to research, like how Logan Airport and the Suffolk Downs development could be affected by climate change, gentrification issues for nearby residents in East Boston, and drawing connections with other cities with salt coves. Professor Sweeting used some of my research for a conference presentation.
Q: Is there a faculty relationship that stands out for you?
A: The social science professor who taught my class first year in the spring, and also over the summer in London: Professor Michael Holm. I really loved his class, the discussions were so insightful. I would go to office hours with questions about the readings or papers that we were writing, and he was always engaging. I remember discussing primary source readings and some of them were hundreds of years old. He helped me see the connections to the present day, even though they were written so long ago.
Q: Can you talk about an academic or research experience where you collaborated with students from other disciplines?
A: At CGS, during our sophomore year, we work in groups on a Capstone project. There were six of us working on a project about US–China trade relations. We were all coming from different majors: environmental policy, communications, political science. It made for incredibly enriching discussions. We might never have met if we weren’t taking those CGS classes.
Q: How else have you experienced BU’s interdisciplinary culture?
A: This idea of taking what we learn in class beyond the classroom has continued throughout my time at BU. I’ve had many realizations of how a certain story or concept in a class is applicable, even though it might be a humanities or historical primary source reading from hundreds of years ago or a particular injustice case study from halfway around the world. These lessons may not directly affect or alter our lives, but they are all real and meaningful and help put everything into perspective. I’m taking a course on sustainable development and environmental justice, and there is a lot of overlap. They back each other up and I’m able to see all the connections between them.
Q: Can you talk about a non-classroom experience that has been impactful?
A: The BU running club has been a great experience. I got involved right away my first year. It was a really nice way to get integrated into the community. It’s just a great social way to de-stress as well as meet a lot of great people I might not have met in any of my classes.
Q: How has BU changed you as a student and as a person?
A: BU has shaped me into a better learner and more confident leader, managing my schoolwork and balancing it with other responsibilities. I’ve had to step outside of my comfort zone through challenging classes and group presentations, and in extracurricular activities and studying abroad. BU has pushed me academically but has also exposed me to numerous perspectives, helping me see situations from various viewpoints and historical contexts.