Taking classes outside of your major should be the rule, not the exception | Duke Kunshan University

Taking classes outside of your major should be the rule, not the exception

Students in Duke Kunshan’s undergraduate degree program declare a major toward the end of their second year, providing them the time to explore a diverse range of interests. Remington Gillis from Dallas, Texas, explains her reasons for choosing media and arts (creative practice track).


Remington Gillis ’22 (right) joins classmate Peter Ballentine at an arts event on campus

What major did you have in mind when you enrolled at DKU?

I was set originally on political economy (public policy track) due to my experiences in high school. I did very well in AP Economics, and I was involved in the Congress Bundestag Youth Exchange to Germany, where the students involved were framed as youth ambassadors and were responsible for reading various policies and being involved with their local community. This was something I enjoyed, and my program mentor at the time recommended I go into public policy if law and international relations interested me.

What DKU courses do you feel have had the largest impact on you?

Two courses during my first two years at DKU stick out as being extremely impactful. First was Film Editing 212, a course I took in my very first session of my first year. My advisor had recommended that I take any class I wanted, to broaden my interests, because I would only need to worry about my major requirements after sophomore year. I had already decided to take STATS101 to further myself for political economy, but I decided to take her advice and do something purely for myself rather than for my future major. The class was great, I learned a multitude of hard skills in video and audio editing, and despite having no prior experience, professor Kaley Clements encouraged me to do more despite my misgivings.

Having this class as one of my first at DKU made it clear to me from the beginning that taking classes outside of your major should be the rule, not the exception. I was still focused on political economy, but I understood that I’d be doing myself a disservice if I didn’t take advantage of the vast range of classes being offered when I had the chance.

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“I feel confident that I can sit down and have a conversation with an applied mathematics major, a sociology major, or any other major, and be able to discuss genuinely a topic in their field. I’m not just a media and arts student.”

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Another impactful course from my freshman year was the introductory course for public policy, PUBPOL101, taught by Jeffrey Moe, a visiting Duke professor. He pushed his students to think critically, and I gained niche knowledge through in-depth research that I could apply to current issues. Beyond strengthening my desire to work in public policy, this class opened my eyes to the interdisciplinarity of the modern world, as public policy researchers work with scientists, media consultants, and more.

When did you start considering alternative majors?

After I took Film Editing 212 at the start of my freshman year, I didn’t take another media and arts class. I focused on sociology, public policy and core classes; I was still set on political economy (public policy track) as my major right up until the first week of my second year. I was talking over some early readings with my friends in a team room, and we got onto the topic of regret and if we’d ever have a decision where 30 years later we’d look back and say, “I really should have made a different decision.” It hit me all of a sudden that even though I’d been talking up my interest in public policy and economics, the class I talked about most, the class I daydreamed about on subways and was looking up YouTube videos for even a year later, was film editing.

I realized that ever since I was young I’d been in love with film. I’d often gotten into trouble for talking about movies too much at the dinner table, and the only reason I hadn’t pursued it in college was because my parents had made it clear that media and art was not an acceptable career path in our family. I kept thinking, “I’m never going to forgive myself if 30 years from now I’m doing a job I hate when I could have been doing something else.” My friends agreed, and I ended up using the last 24 hours of the drop/add period to change two of my classes to media and art courses. My advisor pulled out a lot of stops to help make that happen, and the media and arts professors added an extra seat to their classes so that I could attend.

After taking film editing with professor Clements, whenever he would see me he would ask if my parents had given up on making me a banker and if I was ready to do what I was passionate about. He kept catching me unawares at bus stops and during school tours, but having a professor believe that media and art was the right major for me made me feel supported. I’m glad to say he no longer has to ask me that question.

Do you have any plans after graduation?

While I don’t have any concrete plans, I am thinking about going to law school, where my media and art degree, and the knowledge that comes with it, will set me apart from the political science applicants. However, my pre-law advisor recommends that law school applicants do something else for a few years before applying, such as volunteer work or other jobs. I’m also looking into trying to break into the film industry or work in public relations.

What do you feel have been the benefits of a liberal arts education?

The biggest benefit that I’m aware of is the diverse range of knowledge students at DKU have been exposed to. I feel confident that I can sit down and have a conversation with an applied mathematics major, a sociology major, or any other major, and be able to discuss genuinely a topic in their field. I’m not just a media and arts student; I can interpret data sets, understand dense scientific research papers, analyze public policy, and think critically about political theory. A liberal arts education has made it clear how interdisciplinary the world is, and I can recognize how this education is setting me up to flourish in that interdisciplinary environment.

Hear more students discuss the reasons behind their major decision in this video.