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Student Stories
Alumni Staff & Students
Xiaoxin Xu
Undergraduate Applied Arts & Science 2013

CMS gives me the opportunity to study in many different fields that I need to broaden my scope of knowledge. For example, my principal field of study is mathematics because I want to be a math teacher. However, I have added two areas, which include finance and accounting, because they offer me broad knowledge of business and another possible option for my future career. I am very excited to study in these broad fields for a productive future.

I chose CMS because I realized it offers a truly multidisciplinary and vibrant approach to gaining knowledge in various fields. My advisor, Michelle Firnstein, is wonderful and like a friend to me. I am excited to work with her! I am looking forward to a successful graduation!

Tanner Newcomb
Bachelor of Science 2014

My academic journey at RIT has been a whirlwind. I started as a psychology major, and transferred into the University Studies Program after my first quarter. By the end of my first year, I moved into biotechnology, where I stayed for two years. By the end of my junior year, I realized that my passion was in working with students, so higher education became my career pathway. However, RIT doesn’t offer education courses in a devoted major. CMS was a perfect fit for me; I was able to design a program that would best prepare me for graduate work in the fields of higher education and student affairs. And, for once, I feel happy and confident that I made the right choice of study. CMS was the only program that allowed me to find classes I felt were relevant to achieve my dreams, while also providing me with direction and focus to make sure I was on track.

I have gained and continue to gain extensive experience in my field through my work in the New Student Orientation and Undergraduate Admissions offices. They allow me to connect uniquely and meaningfully with new and prospective students in a number of ways. To me, this is the best experience RIT can offer me, and I love every minute of it.

The CMS staff is incredible. My advisors have seen me through hardship and success, and are more than happy to guide me every step of the way through my academic career. Having become a CMS student late in the game (end of my junior year), I was nervous about graduating on time. Although I will be at RIT an extra year, I don’t mind at all. I’ve been able to find the path that suits me best, and I am grateful to have determined what I want to do. CMS has been a blessing to me, and I’ve never felt more at home.


Zachary Jodlowski
Bachelor of Science 2013

I chose CMS because they allowed me to combine my interests and goals into one major. I was able to construct a plan that went well with my future goals in mind, and I didn't have to start over transferring to the CMS program. A degree from CMS has allowed me to choose a wealth of courses that focus on the two subjects I want to teach as a future high school teacher: English & Theater.

By allowing me to pick a wide variety of courses within each subject, I am able to develop my interests in certain areas of the subject further, while learning new things about both.

I've been involved with the RIT Players as a member and was involved with NTID's production of Inherit The Wind in Fall 2010 as an actor. Both allowed me to further my theater experience and learn more about the subjects.

I am now pursuing my Master's degree in Secondary Education and Teaching through RIT.



Abby Cantwell
Manager of Student & Administrative Services

CMS students amaze me with their commitment to their education and for many, their commitments to a community or cause for which they hope to apply their knowledge after graduation. Since I began advising for CMS in 2001, I continue to be amazed by the level of creativity and innovation students have when designing their individualized plans-of-study. Each student has the desire to do something different with their education and challenge themselves to think beyond the traditional.   I am lucky to have the opportunity to meet and collaborate with such great students.

Akilah Clark
Masters in Professional Studies 2013

After receiving my Bachelors in Advertising and Public Relations, I decided to pursue a Masters in Professional Studies to separate myself from others in the field of public relations. Through CMS, I knew I could add something unique to the field by closing the gaps in problem solving.

Entering into CMS, I interned for Paychex in their public relations department. I was amazed that five women handled the communication and affairs of over 12,000 employees across the nation. It was also rewarding to know I alone could affect the well being of others.  I loved every bit of the experience and was sure the career choice was for me. It also assured me in my decision to pursue a Masters degree.

Having completed the program throughout the pregnancy and birth of my daughter I am especially grateful to those who encouraged me to keep marching forward without skipping a beat.

Jaime-Lynn Witz
Student 2013

CMS has given me a second opportunity that I didn't have before. The program had provided a release from the standard pace of college life and had provided a way for me to make my mark on the world, one course at a time. I can choose any field I want and pursue the interests that I thought were not possible in a traditional program. Being involved in such a program had reignited my passions; I wanted to learn more every single day! I chose CMS because it had offered me a better future, more in tune with the person I had become at RIT. I thank the Center of Multidisciplinary Studies for helping me find out who I am as an individual. You made it so warm and welcoming to be part of the CMS family, thank you so much!

Jeremy DeCausemaker
Professional Studies, concentrations in Communications and Media Technology, and Public Policy 2013

As an undergrad, I had switched my major twice. I entered RIT as a Software Engineering Major, and quickly found that an engineer I was not. I excelled at the interpersonal side of computing and development, so I switched into the more business oriented Management Information Systems major. After completing all of my prerequisites, I had come to learn there was a limited number of tracks I could concentrate in, and each of them required me to specialize in a proprietary software toolkit. I felt as though concentrating in a software system, one that would inevitably become obsolete, was a poor choice for my future. I was at a loss.

After doing some research about different programs available at RIT, I found the Organizational Change and Leadership Certificate. I found CMS through this certificate program, and sat down with advisor Abby Berner to discuss my options. After speaking with her I found out that all the time I had put into business school would not be wasted if I switched majors, and that I could not only concentrate in business, but I could obtain an Associates Degree, while obtaining my bachelors, and get the certificate I was interested in! I was able to add political science, and writing studies to my concentrations, do an internship in Albany as a registered lobbyist, and get course credit. By the time I was done with my undergrad I had accumulated 2 years of work experience and 3 degrees.

I started working directly in my field because of the unique mix of courses I was able to put together in CMS. At the completion of an internship I co-founded my first company with another RIT Alumni, and a staffer from the firm I had been working with. That position allowed me to travel to conferences all over the country, and eventually back to RIT.

I recently began studies for my Master's Degree in Professional Studies through CMS. This degree will improve my professional skills as an advocate of my Lab's work, while providing me with both the media and political theory needed to engage in meaningful collaborations in the private and public sector. At the completion of my degree, I will be eligible to officially teach in a university setting, where I can continue to push the state of the art of not only Free/Open Source technologies, but also the academic disciplines that are rapidly developing around this exciting new industry. All because I knew exactly what I wanted to do, and there was an academic program that allowed me to build out the best degree to do it.


Michelle Firnstein
Sr. Academic Advisor

It’s hard to believe, but I have been advising at RIT since 2001.  Time has definitely flown!  Working in the Center for Multidisciplinary Studies has been and continues to be a wonderful experience.  The faculty and staff that I work with are one hundred percent dedicated and committed towards student learning and success.  I love having the opportunity to assist in the creation of customizable degree programs with our diverse population of students.  From full-time to part-time, traditional age (local, national and international) to adult learner, there is nothing more rewarding than helping our students reach their career and educational goals!

Tom Hanney

CMS is a creative place to work. This may be because we work with our multidisciplinary degrees or perhaps creative people are drawn to this atmosphere of thinking broadly about learning. Either way, it makes for a collaborative environment where faculty and staff share ideas without taking themselves too seriously. I wouldn’t want it any other way.

CMS students are about as interesting as you’ll find anywhere.  Our classes are a mix of youth and adults, international and American, students from every RIT college, and students with remarkable academic and career experiences and interests. Allowed to pursue their diverse passions, CMS is a real melting pot of ideas. At the end of my classes, I often tell students that if they learned half as much as I did, the class has been a success. I really mean it.

I am lucky that our degrees are offered at RIT’s international campuses and have provided me with the chance to teach abroad. I have met a lot of interesting people, broadened my global perspective and increased my teaching skills. My trips abroad help me see that we all have more in common than we have differences.


Yvette Chirenje
Bachelor of Science 2014

Returning to school after so many years was at first a scary experience but after meeting with my CMS advisor Michelle Firnstein, I’ve gained new insight on what I want my career path to be. I like the concept of customizing my learning experience so that I’m not stuck within a traditional mode of learning.

My current position as a Staff Assistant within the NTID Student Life Team allows me the opportunity to apply what I’ve learned to the RIT community.

Megan Kobus
Bachelor of Science 2012

I began RIT as a photography major in 2004. Prior to enrolling at RIT, I grew up involved heavily in the arts. I expected I would build a career in a field that was art-related. I spent my pre-college years in art classes (painting, drawing, sculpture, etc.) and also took dance and music lessons. I attended a creative and performing arts high school for visual arts. High school is where I encountered photography and became passionately involved in the field. My initial career plan was to become a fashion photographer.

            My pursuit of a photography career changed during my first two years at RIT. At the end of my freshman year my focus changed. I had conflicting feelings about my career path. My next decision was to participate in a co-op with a sports photography company after my second year at RIT to test the waters. After my co-op ended I decided to leave RIT. Loosing my initial focus while in college made me feel like my world was falling apart. After this realization, I went on a path to discover my next focus. I never realized that it was okay to be interested in more than one thing.

            For the next few years I traveled within the U.S. and tried to find myself. While living in New Mexico, I became intrigued by nature. I was taking a public speaking class at the community college in Santa Fe and I was given an assignment to write a persuasive speech. This speech changed my life. I chose to write my speech about tiger conservation. I became so inspired by tigers that I decided to take a huge chance and go back to school for biology. My new goal was to work with and help save tigers from extinction.

            The following fall in 2010, I enrolled in biology classes at RIT. I chose to return to RIT to finish my Bachelors degree under the Center for Multidisciplinary Studies with concentrations in photography and biology. With my return to RIT, the tiger was a symbol of hope and inspiration for me to finish my degree in a concentration that was completely foreign to me.

            Starting my new concentration in biology was a learning process. My knowledge of biology was lacking and I felt clueless. Being a biology student was extremely difficult for me initially. My entire life was spent as an artist. I felt overwhelmed being enrolled with other students who knew they wanted to be biologists and were better prepared. I was very intimidated and felt awkward. In the beginning, the process of learning biology was very slow. As I completed more and more biology classes the material became much clearer.

            My Bachelors degree in Applied Arts and Sciences from CMS that I will complete in May is a perfect fit for my needs. This degree allowed me to study in two areas that I am passionate about, art and science, and it afforded me the completion of my degree in the same time period as a single major in a four year degree. After I graduate, I would like to continue being involved in both art and science. My knowledge and education in biology will aid me in obtaining a career working with tigers and other exotic cats.  My education in photography from RIT has allowed me to further develop my artistic skills. I hope to be able to use my artistic talents and sell my art as a supplement to my day job of working with animals. I have completed internships working with animals at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium and also at the Seneca Park Zoo in Rochester. After graduation, I started interning with lions, tigers, and leopards OH MY! My internship has taken me to The Wildcat Sanctuary in Sandstone, Minnesota.

Sara Paduano
Bachelor of Science 2009

Despite being valedictorian of my high school and being voted “most likely to succeed”, I never fooled myself.  Like most other high school seniors, I had no idea where I wanted to end up in my career.  One thing I was sure of: I wanted to be an RIT student. 

Entering RIT as a film and animation student in the fall of 2005, I spent the first five quarters of my college career juggling tennis, intramurals, two jobs, and countless nights spent in the film or animation labs - often clocking 3-4 hours of sleep a night.  Not ideal.  Still, switching my major was a huge decision for me.  I had a passion for animation, and despite not being the best at it (and admittedly needing more sleep), it was not the easiest thing to leave.  I had fallen in with a great group of people (all insomniacs, and I say that admiringly) who came to call the lab home, and I would be walking away from that if I left the program.

During the spring quarter of my sophomore year, I took the plunge.  I adamantly switched into the College of Liberal Arts’ advertising and marketing program, despite being certain of the marketing aspect only.  My uncertainty, however, for the advertising portion, quickly became apparent, and as I signed up for classes the following fall, I couldn’t help but ask myself why I was choosing to do a program I was only going to enjoy half of.  Not only that, but because of the curriculum and how far I was behind in it, I was out of luck on the Italian classes I wanted to take and the study abroad in Italy I dreamed of.

Still as lost as I was as an animation student, I couldn’t help but wonder why I was working so hard in programs that I just wasn’t comfortable in.  Why couldn’t I create a program for myself that would cater to my interests and set me on a career path I was certain of?  Enter the Center for Multidisciplinary Studies (CMS).

With the multidisciplinary program, I was able to apply my film background to the marketing classes I had already taken, while adding a more diverse set of marketing classes and a phenomenal public relations writing program.  What’s more, I even had time to take three quarters of Italian classes for a minor and the opportunity to head to Italy the summer before my senior year.  Che bella.

Upon graduation with my BS in 2009, I still wasn’t exactly certain of where I was going to go, but I was completely sure of one thing: I had an array of skills and a portfolio of completed class work that would prepare me for anything.  And as I interviewed and networked, my multidisciplinary degree was a sound talking point. 

CMS is a realistic college program – it’s flexible, adaptable, and challenging.  I was afforded opportunities and networking via the multidisciplinary program that I would not have received had I stayed locked into a rigid curriculum elsewhere.  As someone who has an intense love of learning, CMS allowed me to expand that love into several different interests. 

Had I not broadened my horizons and opened so many doors through the multidisciplinary program, I would most likely not have spent the past three years exploring four foreign countries, working in several different marketing positions, and completing my Masters.  What’s more, I may not have ended up being fortunate enough to absolutely love my full-time job with the Finger Lakes Visitors Connection - so much so, that it’s tough to call it a job in the first place.

The faculty and staff in CMS understand that diversity is what maintains interest, and were ready and willing to work with me until I was finally satisfied with the amazing degree they helped me craft.  If there’s a will, there’s a way, and the CMS program will help you find it.  Ciao!

Sara Paduano

Joe Delgado
Professional Studies, Concentrations: Human Resources/Business 2011

The Professional Studies Program offered me the opportunity to customize my experience based on my professional needs. Finishing the program with expertise in two concentrations has made me more valuable in the workplace. As the demand for cross-trained employees rises, I feel I am better suited to be successful.

Classes are strategically selected and structured for the student to gain knowledge in specific areas of each concentration and the capstone project ties the courses of study with a real-life solution to trending issues. As the co-creator and co-manager of the Better Me Wellness Program at RIT, I was able to directly use the knowledge gained in my coursework to help me research and provide solutions to areas of concern in our program on campus.

Being able to use a multidisciplinary approach to problem solving has been invaluable. I would encourage prospective students to take a hard look at the Professional Studies Program. In my opinion, this program prepares students to be successful and happy in the workforce.

Charles Moreland
Bachelor of Science 2010

I started at RIT in the Fine Arts program with a concentration in sculpture. By my third year I realized there was so much more that I wanted to do in life and switched into the Center for Multidisciplinary Studies (CMS). This move allowed me to finish my last year in Anatomy and Physiology.

By the end of my time at RIT, I didn't entirely know what I wanted out of life at this point but I knew I wasn't meant for a typical career or a regular 9 to 5 job. I’m extremely independent and I feel the need to do everything myself. I had been thinking about self-employment for a while, I just didn’t know how I was going to apply myself.

In 2007, when I was starting my second year at RIT, I started the Rochester Parkour community (RocPK) with my roommate Zachary Cohn. We had originally tried to create an RIT recognized club, but weren’t in a place for that to happen. After graduating, I realized how much I enjoyed Rochester and the amount of hard work I had put into RocPK was too much for me to walk away from. I felt like I wasn’t done yet.

In 2011, I opened the Rochester Parkour Gym in an old Kodak plant downtown. We teach the art of movement, or parkour, and help assist in getting people excited about moving again. My art concentration helped me develop an artist’s eye for the world around me and my science concentration forces me to question and test my methods. I believe the two to be a powerful combination.

CMS allowed me to combine two different methods of cognition - the artistic and the analytical. I like being the hybrid and it allows me the benefit of drawing from both thought processes with every decision I make. I feel like a more rounded and capable person because of this.

From the moment I sat down in Michelle Firnstein’s office I knew I was in the right place. CMS allowed me the grace of deciding what classes would influence and shape my thinking and made me the ultimate decider of what I would do and how I would apply myself. Had I known about CMS from the beginning, I would have chosen this program right away.

Dan Worthy
Master of Science 2011

I chose the Professional Studies program because it allowed me to select a combination of skills that I knew I would need to be successful. I loved the fact that I could use the best of several disciplines to advance my career. This type of program gives students a distinct advantage in the work place because they are able to connect the dots whereas others may be restricted to their area of expertise.

During my co-op experiences, I worked with the Veteran Center, American Legion, Department of Veterans Affairs, the Wounded Warrior Project, Disabled American Veterans, and the Veterans Court. I was able to use my multidisciplinary experiences from the classroom and enhance the services they provide. I have also had the opportunity to consult with other academic institutes to help create programs for veterans, paving the way for future veterans centers at area colleges.

Throughout my time at RIT I was able to develop a company of my own which I named Capstone HEROES. Capstone HEROES offers transitional services to veterans in areas of education, employment, finance, housing, etc. RIT recognized my company as a co-op experience as I have mentored under, partnered with, and worked alongside influential people and organizations in the Rochester community.

Capstone HEROES is now operating in New Jersey on a 10,000 square foot facility. I was able to receive funding from two counties in New Jersey to get up and running in our new location.

Benjamin Woelk
Professional Studies, concentrations in Public Policy, Tourism, Marketing 2011

I am pursuing my degree in the hope of developing skills for not only a new career but ultimately to address a need that I feel exists within the world which is to build community and celebrate culture within the context of urban and community development based around the arts and agriculture. My belief is that a degree through CMS gives me the ability to market myself within a broader context to government, non-profit and private organizations. Abby Berner has been an incredible resource as she has met with me on multiple occasions to discuss the best direction going forward in my academic pursuit to accomplish my goals. The recent opportunity to work on an Independent Study with Dr. James Myers has been one of the most meaningful and exciting opportunities I have been given during my time with CMS. The independent study gave me the rare ability to truly take an in-depth look at the incredible resource that is our local markets here in Rochester and to better understand why sustaining local agritourism is so important. More about my independent study can found online:

Ryan Gaynor
Bachelor of Science 2015

I started at RIT as a student of the Digital Cinema program in CIAS, which was renamed to Motion Picture Science. I enjoyed a lot of classes in that program, however, I was especially interested in the creative side of film & video production, with emphasis in sound design and music production. The RIT School of Film & Animation offers many classes in film and video production, post-production, and sound, however does not offer classes in music composition, film music history, applications of music in film or video, and has a limited selection of sound design and editing classes. I determined that the focus of the Digital Cinema program did not relate to the occupations I intended to pursue after school (filmmaking, music/sound production, or media arts), so I switched into Multidisciplinary Studies. Multidisciplinary Studies gives me the flexibility to design my own degree program based on my educational and career interests.  
For my plan of study,  I took all of the course work I completed in film & video production, video post-production, animation, 3D modeling, and writing for film from Digital Cinema, and applied that to the concentration of Film & Video Studies. For Music & Technology, I took the course work I completed in sound recording, sound mixing, and film sound theory from Digital Cinema, and then added courses in music, applied music, and audio from the College of Liberal Arts and the College of Applied Science & Technology. The two concentrations represent two distinct areas of media arts. 

I think this degree is a great design. It allows me to study what I want from multiple colleges and programs, while still requiring a liberal arts foundation and meeting the standards of a Bachelor of Science degree program. The Multidisciplinary program has given me the freedom to declare an area of study based from an existing RIT program and in a unique area.  When applying for occupational opportunities in one of my chosen fields, I can say, officially, I have a Bachelor of Science degree in Applied Arts & Sciences. However, more specifically, I can say I have a degree where I concentrated heavily in a) film & video courses, b) music, sound, and audio engineering courses, and c) math, science, and liberal arts foundation courses.  I think if I were to apply for a position in the film or music industry, I would be able to explain how my degree qualifies me for the required work, and I would be able to apply the knowledge, skills, and experience from my core concentrations to the position.

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