Academic open house helps plebes find majors

Story and photos by Brandon O’Connor PV Assistant Editor

January 30th, 2020 | News, News and Features
 Behavorial Sciences and Leadership instructor Capt. Kevin Kumlien talks to Class of 2023 cadets about the U.S. Military Academy’s management major during an academic open house Jan. 22.
 Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Assistant Professor Lt. Col. Joseph Heyman talks to Class of 2023 Cadet Alexander Sheehan about the course options electrical engineering majors have to choose from during an academic open house Jan. 22.

Class of 2023 Cadet Jack Perreault had until March 2 to choose one of the 36 majors available to him at the U.S. Military Academy, but within a few moments of the academic open house starting he had made his decision.
Perreault found the math department and quickly declared his intention to major in applied statistics and data science. Then, as is tradition for the department, he was allowed to ring a bell alerting the entire department a new cadet had declared his major.
The academic open house was held Jan. 22 and gave plebes (freshmen) at the academy the chance to learn more about each major before signing up.
Before being set loose to explore each of the majors, the members of the Class of 2023 attended a briefing with deputy registrar Russ Lachance who worked to debunk myths about choosing a major.
First and foremost, there was the myth that majors are first come, first served and plebes need to rush to sign up. Instead, he encouraged plebes to check out the various majors, take their time and find something they have a passion for before choosing. If there are limited spots, they will be filled based on order of merit not on who signed up first, he said.
For some like Perreault, the encouragement to take their time didn’t matter because the decision was easy and they immediately jumped on board, but for others the open house was another step in a broader fact-finding mission.
“I know I want to do engineering because I have a natural affinity for math and I like building things, but I’m not exactly sure what engineering (major) in particular,” Class of 2023 Cadet Eli Short said. “I’m going through all the different engineering departments seeing which one I have a preference for, and which one feels like it clicks the most.”
The engineering majors set up in adjacent classrooms along a hallway in Thayer Hall, making Short’s desire to collect as much information as possible infinitely easier. Instead of having to find someone to talk to from each department on his own time, representatives from each discipline were on hand in one place at one time.
“It’s good because I can bounce back and forth and right there be able to compare,” Short said. “Then, if in discussing with one department, I realize I have another question for a different department, I can go back there and ask them that.”
By the end of the open house Short had tentatively narrowed his choice to either mechanical or civil engineering, but he was still looking to see if “anything else still pops out.”
On his search for a major, Class of 2023 Cadet Ethan Bowen started with the broad desire to get the most out of his West Point experience as possible and specifically have the chance to travel overseas. A native of Tennessee, Bowen said he wants a major that will give him a chance to experience different cultures. That desire led him to the possibility of majoring in Russian or defense strategic studies.
For Class of 2023 Cadet Annalise Callaghan, the academic open house wasn’t so much about finding a major as it was checking to see if her plan is feasible.
Callaghan is set on doing a double major in international affairs and economics and maybe picking up a minor in Arabic for good measure. The issue was people had told her pairing those two majors just wasn’t doable, so she went to the open house to get an expert answer from the departments themselves.
“I was able to find out it has been done before, so it’s a possibility,” Callaghan said. “I think they’re both incredibly interesting because they help you to analyze and critically think about the way the world works and why individuals, large scale institutions and governments make the decisions they do. It affects power on the global stage.”
The members of the Class of 2023 have until March 2 to make their initial major selections, or as Lachance warned them during the brief, one will be chosen for them.