Thematic Options program gives science enthusiast a chance to explore pursuits
Bethany Chen has flourished in her first year in college, taking advantage of the wide range of available activities at USC. (Photo: Eric Lindberg.)

Thematic Options program gives science enthusiast a chance to explore pursuits

Rather than worrying about finding a career path right away, undergrads can explore their diverse interests through USC Dornsife programs. [2¼ min read]
ByEric Lindberg

You could certainly call Bethany Chen a chemist. Or a robot programmer. She’s definitely a computer scientist. Don’t forget about hip-hop dancer, philosopher and black belt expert in hapkido.

A longtime science enthusiast, the rising sophomore has interests that range across the map. And like many undergrads, she’s taking advantage of opportunities at USC to consider options for her future and gain experience in diverse fields.

“I’m kind of dipping my toe in everything,” said Chen, 19. She majors in computer science at USC Viterbi School of Engineering, but she is also pondering a minor in philosophy through USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and designing mobile phone apps. She also took a class on natural hazards and climate change. It’s all part of her plan to try new things and find a way forward in life that fits her interests, rather than stressing about settling on a career right away.

Her willingness to explore, experiment and discover herself is what academic counselors and many teachers encourage for undergraduates — and what studying at a university makes possible.

College exploration

Openness is a healthy attitude for a young college student to have, said Trisha Tucker, an assistant professor of writing at USC Dornsife. She sees a lot of high-achieving students as head of writing instruction in USC Dornsife’s interdisciplinary honors program, Thematic Option, and faculty-in-residence at McCarthy Honors College.

Some of them worry about declaring the wrong major or pursuing a path that might lead to failure.

“One thing I’ve noticed about this generation of students is they feel positive pressure to follow their passion, to find a major and then a career that will make them feel passionate about their work,” Tucker said. “On the flip side, I’ve noticed an anxiety about being 18 and not knowing what their passion is.”

She encourages undergrads who seem overly concerned about their future to embrace Chen’s approach to college — by exploring interesting courses and trying new things through student clubs and other extracurricular programs.

“You don’t have to specialize right away, especially if you aren’t ready,” she said. “Life is a long journey. You have four years here, and it’s true the things you can do in that time are limited. But this is just the beginning.”

Chen, who also performed research through USC Dornsife’s Bridge Undergraduate Science Jr. program, agrees with that sentiment.

“Sometimes students lose sight of why we try so hard in school and feel like it’s the end of the world if we get an A-minus,” Chen said. “We try so hard because we want to be happy in the end. And that comfort comes from doing what you love every day.” 

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