To some, it might be ironic that LSA junior Xiaoxiao Liu calls himself a “risk-averse person.”

After all, the Beijing native is pursuing a triple concentration in actuarial mathematics, economics and statistics. According to data obtained from the Office of Student Academic Affairs, of the 16,162 LSA students registered for the winter 2011 semester, only 65 students are triple concentrators — less than 1 percent of the LSA students, and considerably less than the 1,922 double concentrators currently registered with LSA.

By the numbers, Liu is in sparse company. However, multiple concentration and dual-degree University students reap the benefits and withstand the difficulties inevitable to intense immersion in separate academic disciplines.

The triple threat

Liu transferred to the University after his freshman year at Michigan State University. Having already set his sights on concentrations in actuarial mathematics and economics, Liu decided to secure a statistics major in an effort to add to his intellectual skill set.

“I realized I actually need some more like statistical analysis skill and like some knowledge about it,” Liu said. “So I just decided to major in stats as well.”

Liu attests that course overlapping between the three departments help reduce the difficulty of his course load, which requires an average of 16 or 17 credits a semester in addition to spring classes.

Nonetheless, Liu admits to periods of duress and he laments the limited opportunity to take classes outside of his concentration areas.

“If I drop one major, it means like heaven to me because I can take psychology classes or I can take some other class I really enjoy doing,” Liu said. “But it happens to me a lot. But I mean, you need to be strong over yourself. It looks bad if you like, on transcripts say you’ve declared and then undeclared it.”

Given that his schedule affords little room to repeat a class — because some courses are not offered on a yearly basis — there is high pressure to earn satisfactory grades.

Despite its difficulties however, his triple concentration offers Liu numerous advantages. In particular, Liu believes it will result in numerous employment or educational options after graduation.

It also lends him a broad base of knowledge that he can leverage in interview settings. Liu, an aspiring actuarial analyst, notes with a good-humored caveat that prospective employers seem to appreciate his ability to efficiently manage three concentrations.

“They are all pretty impressed about it, but I don’t know if it really helps me to do anything good because … they probably don’t think I have a life with three majors,” Liu joked.

The Stage Economist

Many University students take advantage of Multiple Dependent Degree Programs, which allow them to pursue cross-college degrees.

Music, Theatre & Dance and LSA junior Emily Berman is one of 168 School of Music, Theatre & Dance students pursuing a degree in LSA. Berman came to the University as a prospective chemistry major, but switched to the theatre program after successfully auditioning for the department during the winter semester of her freshman year.

Berman, a performance BFA with a concentration in acting, said the small size of the Music, Theatre & Dance School — its population stands at about 1,050 students — has provided her with a more intimate interaction with advisors and eased the cross-college path.

“The advisor in the music school said I should probably chose the music school as the home school because they’re really good about taking care of dual-degree students, and I found that to be the case instantly,” Berman said. “It’s a smaller school. It’s easier to get on a first name basis with the registrar.”

As a sophomore, Berman decided to concentrate in economics. The smaller credit requirement of that degree, compared to requirements of a theatre concentration, makes both degrees obtainable.

Despite their apparent incongruence, Berman ascribes an overarching similarity between theatre and economics.

“In both cases, it’s the fact that it’s a study of human beings, and the little decisions they make, and how the decisions they make effect all the human beings around them and their decisions,” Berman said. “It’s about network effects between people and decision making.”

While Berman appreciates the variety afforded by a quantitative degree and a qualitative degree, and has learned to better manage the workload of the respective disciplines, she professes that dual-school status can be turbulent at times.

“They’re just such different mindsets that sometimes I have trouble switching right away from coming out of a theatre class where we’re delving into these really intense scenes, and then sitting down and doing econ or stats can be kind of tricky,” Berman said.

Though potentially restrained in the extent to which she can explore both disciplines, Berman does not believe that she is limiting her educational or intellectual growth.

“Until one thing is the only thing you can possibly see yourself doing, you want to do as much as you humanly can because all of that feeds into experiences and life,” Berman said.

The Violist as Educator

Another student transcending a single degree from the Music, Theatre, & Dance School is freshman Dan Brown, a viola performance major who plans to apply to the University’s two-year School of Education program at the end of his sophomore year. If admitted, Brown will concentrate in French, complemented by a German minor.

According to Brown, the trend of disappearing symphony jobs prompted him to reevaluate his career options and consider the School of Education. If joining a symphony should prove unattainable, he plans to teach French.

“I always knew that music was competitive,” Brown said. “I was fine with that. I’m happy with a competitive edge, and I’ll go for that. But if symphonies are literally disappearing, there are no jobs available, it doesn’t matter how good I am.”

Though his heavy course load demands that he also take classes during the spring semester, Brown said consulting School of Education advisors has thus far been helpful in planning his forthcoming semesters.

Potentially problematic for Brown is the scheduling conflict between his education courses and, per the requirements of his music scholarships, the necessary orchestra class he must take each semester. He also will not be able to take many music electives, which he calls his “biggest sacrifice.”

But despite any surfacing logistical friction, Brown is confident in his ability to split time between both schools.

“Growing up in high school, you have the public school and then you have music,” Brown said. “When you get here, it’s really no different.”

Business and Engineering

College of Engineering and Ross School of Business senior Zubair Ahsan is part of the very select community of University students seeking a BBA and an Engineering degree ― 23 out of 5,588 total Engineering students, according to Mercedes Barcia, director of the Engineering Advising Center.

“When I was looking into what I wanted to do with my future, and my plans to make a positive impact on the world,” Ahsan said, “I felt that having a combination of both engineering and business early on will help me better problem solve in the future.”

However, Ahsan has found that such select company can have its obstacles, which is why he co-founded the Society of Business Engineers in 2009. This group aims to combat logistical difficulties between the respective departments.

The organization has three-prongs: to lobby for a degree auditing system and more course equivalencies between engineering and business classes (the lack of which requires dual-degree students take more credits in both schools), to provide academic advising to students and to coach students on professional development.

The organization’s efforts are a response to what Ahsan believes to be a lack of administrative support and oversight.

“All advisors have no idea how this process should work, and they’re making it up as they go. There’s no administration behind (it) actually,” Ahsan said.

“I’m sure you’ve gone to an advisor and say, ‘Oh, I’m going to take 18 credits.’ They usually push you away from that. Now think of a student saying, ‘I’m going to take 20 credits per semester in both these programs and whatever else I’m doing.’ Advisors are going to definitely say that’s nearly impossible because they haven’t seen students actually succeed.”

However, Barcia, who advises freshmen and undeclared engineering students, cautioned that students need to be patient with the recently developed dual-degree program and that it may take several years to finalize the process.

“I don’t think that it’s an issue of the advisors not wanting to work together, and that’s why we ask the students to really write it down so that when we meet with the Business School we can say from a business perspective, ‘What are the issues you see?’ and we can talk about it from the engineering perspective,” Barcia said. “The students want it facilitated, and I think it should be.”

Barcia also contends that advisors exercise caution because they want to make sure students are taking on the academic load “for the right reasons.”

Business School Student Programs Advisor Sarah Powers echoed a similar sentiment.

“We are sympathetic to the fact that our students need a way to accurately track their degree progress in order to graduate as planned. Therefore we have dedicated advisors who are trained to provide this vital function,” Powers wrote in an e-mail to the Daily.

Despite the logistical interference he has experienced, Ahsan appreciates the educational synergy between the respective schools.

“You need all these business financial institutions in place, in terms of management, accounting, strategy, to execute on top of the problem you just solved technically,” Ahsan said. “So it gives me inspiration when I’m going between both schools, and I’m learning how to actually execute it and execute what I’m learning theoretically.”

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