5 College Mashups That Make Great Majors

Broaden Your Career Appeal by Expanding Across Traditional Boundaries

Female student with cinematography equipment
Ariel Robbins, who graduated this month, says she found her “own voice as a media-based artist” in the study of cinema and digital media. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

You know the pop culture phenomenon that mashes up existing video, song and more to create something new and exciting? UC Davis does that — we think and work across traditional boundaries of subject areas. In fact, we’re a leader in the mashups that, in the academic world, are called interdisciplinary studies. If you want to innovate, help contribute to solving the world’s most pressing problems and open up your career opportunities, here are five major mashups to check out.

1. Global disease biology

Male student working in lab
Don Nguyen, who graduated this June, had been involved in HIV research since his sophomore year. (UC Davis photo) 

UC Davis is a world leader in the concept of One Health — that the health of people, animals and the environment is interdependent and can best be addressed together. So combining the expertise of our vet school, medical school and the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences to focus on disease seemed, well, natural. Students in global disease biology study disease and its relationship to the health of people, animals, plants and the environment in a global context.

Majors learn about global disease issues, how diseases work and scientific research. David Rizzo, professor and chair of the Department of Plant Pathology, helps students get off to a good start with a course that introduces the major, research and internship opportunities, and possible career paths. Want to be a veterinarian? Work at the Centers for Disease Control? The degree prepares graduates for careers in health care, health policy and regulations, food and water quality, environmental protection and more. Don Nguyen, a 2017 graduate, is now studying for a medical degree and a doctorate so he can be a physician and do research. “The major has done a good job in making sure I have a holistic perspective,” he says.

2. Cinema and digital media

A woman with a video camera
Ariel Robbins, who served as a peer advisor before graduating this month, says the major provides a "well-rounded education in anything related to media." (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

Last year, Ariel Robbins’ mother reminded her that as a senior, she should take some fun classes. “Mom, my classes are the fun classes,” the student of cinema and digital media protested. Born in 2015 from two other majors, this one explores what happens when music, performance, literature, media arts and the visual arts meet science and technology. Topics include the history and analysis of film and video, film and video production, electronic music, digital content creation and design, the digital arts, community media and activism, computer graphics, animation and gaming. “Students begin to see the connections among media that they may not have thought about before,” says Michael Neff, associate professor and chair of the Department of Cinema and Digital Media. For Robbins, the hands-on program made her familiar with many roles and skills. “You get this well-rounded education in anything related to media,” she says. The 2017 graduate, who concentrated on experimental and documentary filmmaking, adds: “It allowed me to find my own voice as a media-based artist.”

3. Science and technology studies

Three people stand amid the projection of red computer code
Colin Milburn, left, professor and incoming chair of the Science and Technology Studies Program, stands amid red computer code in the ModLab with student Ashley Han, center, and Gerardo Con Diaz, an assistant professor in the program. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

This major asks: “Is there any part of your social, personal, medical or political world that is not transformed and challenged by science and technology?” Colin Milburn, professor and incoming director of the Science and Technology Studies Program, says students examine how science works, how it changes over time and how it impacts everyday life. The science and technology studies major offers students a broad understanding of the sciences, and they learn to interpret science, technology and medicine as part of society and culture. It sets up graduates for careers that address the broader ramifications of science, technology and medicine like law, journalism, public policy, economics, government and science education. Part of what the major does, Milburn says, is help students understand the different cultures of labs depending on their corporate or academic setting and field of study. One of the perks of this major: Students can participate in the ModLab, an experimental laboratory for scholarship at the intersection of the humanities, the sciences, the social sciences and the arts.

4. Cognitive science

An image of the brain

You might have thought about studying psychology, neuroscience, philosophy or even linguistics to learn some aspect of how the mind works. The cognitive science major pulls these and other disciplines together to offer a holistic perspective on the mind and how it determines behavior. “The major aims to produce graduates with an understanding of computation, of human psychology, of our most powerful code of communication — language — and of the related philosophical and ethical issues,” says Bernard Molyneux, associate professor of philosophy and director of the Cognitive Science Program. Because understanding human behavior is a key strength in many fields, career options are wide open including artificial intelligence, business, data analysis, education, government intelligence, healthcare, human performance, information processing, law, marketing, product design, psychology, research and software design. Students can earn a Bachelor of Arts or opt for a Bachelor of Science with either a computational or neuroscience emphasis.

5. Biological systems engineering

Mix biological systems with engineering, and you’ve got this major. And while it is a mashup, students can opt for specialties including biotechnical engineering, food engineering, or agricultural and natural resources engineering. A recent showcase of engineering students’ design projects gives us examples of what biological systems engineering majors work on. Their teams developed a robot to collect, sort and deliver eggs to incubation stations; equipment that a Brazilian community without electricity can use to distill essential oils for a larger market; a chamber for warming trees so researchers can study the effects of climate change; and a scaled-up system for growing algae to make biodiesel fuel.

Professor Bryan Jenkins chairs the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering, which is home to the major. “This is an outstanding major for addressing many of the grand challenges facing global sustainability,” he says, adding that it prepares graduates to work on hot issues including climate change, global food security and environmental protection. Graduates can pursue careers in the biotech, food and pharmaceutical industries; work for government agencies; and go on to graduate or professional school.

Julia Ann Easley of News and Media Relations supports communication and writes stories at the heart of the university. Her career includes a noble cause, adventures in learning, working with wonderful people and a beautiful green setting.

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