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Student Stories
Alumni Current Students
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. An individualized degree 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. This 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 SOIS 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 custom-degree student late in the game (end of my junior year), I was nervous about graduating on time. Although I was at RIT an extra year, I didn't mind at all. I was able to find the path that suits me best, and I am grateful to have determined what I want to do. SOIS has been a blessing to me, and I’ve never felt more at home.


Jeremy DeCausemaker
Masters in Professional Studies (concentrations: communications & media technology, 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, offered through what was then CMS (now SOIS). I 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 my individualized degree. 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.

After Graduation

Since finishing his MS in Professional Studies in '13 (Communications & Media Technology and Public Policy) Remy has had a hand in a number of Historic Firsts in his field:

  • The first Academic Minor in Free/Open Source Software and Free Culture in the United States here at RIT, teaching three of the five required courses as an Adjunct Professor.
  • The first Community Action & Impact Lead for the Fedora Project at Red Hat Inc, founding their Community Operations Team, supporting Diversity and Inclusion as an administrator of the Google Summer of Code and Outreachy programs.
  • The first-ever Open Source Community Manager for a Presidential Campaign, developing the first open source contribution policy for a major national political party.


"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."


Yvette Chirenje
Bachelor of Science 2014

Returning to school after so many years was at first a scary experience but after meeting with my 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.

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 to the School of Individualized Study. 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.

An individualized degree 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. SOIS 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 SOIS 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 an individualized degree gives me the ability to market myself within a broader context to government, non-profit and private organizations. Abby Cantwell 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 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 at RIT. 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 (concentrations: film & video, music & technology) 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 to a customized degree. The School of Individualized Study 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 individualized 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.

Rachel McGinnis
Bachelor of Science (concentrations: women’s studies, public policy, psychology) 2005

Rachel E. McGinnis learned early how important a multidisciplinary approach was in her career field. 

After graduating from Perry High School, Rachel thought that her passion for affecting grassroots change and improving human rights could be accomplished through hard work alone.  But she saw that passion alone can lead to a narrow approach to problem-solving.  She quickly learned that social problems required multiple skills and the ability to see issues from multiple perspectives.

After graduating from Monroe Community College with honors in 2003, Rachel enrolled in RIT’s BS in Applied Arts and Science degree program in what was then called the Center for Multidisciplinary Studies. Her concentrations in women’s studies, public policy and psychology were strategically designed to provide her with the critical thinking skills needed to address issues in the areas of genocide, sexual violence and conflict. Before graduating in 2005, she won the Rochester Area Colleges Association’s Outstanding Adult Student award, the same award she won at MCC.

After completing her masters in Service Leadership and Innovation at RIT, Rachel was accepted into Nova Southeastern University’s PhD program in Conflict Analysis and Resolution.

“I was told that my multidisciplinary approach to my studies at RIT was one of the reasons I was accepted into the program,” Rachel said.

In May, 2015, Rachel received her PhD and is now an adjunct faculty member at RIT and MCC as well as the submissions editor for The Journal of Interdisciplinary Conflict Science and the executive secretary of the International Network of Genocide Scholars. Her work has taken her to Ireland, Northern Ireland, Italy, Jordan and Lebanon.

Rachel proudly points out that her daughter is a CMS (now SOIS) graduate and sees that she also has learned to see that “although there may be one issue there are many parts to it.”  

Kaylee Murray
Bachelors of Science (Event Management) 2018

Kaylee, originally from Weedsport, NY, has been living in Rochester for the last nine years. This fall she will begin taking classes fulltime in pursuit of a Bachelor’s degree from SOIS.  Her goal: a career in event management for a nonprofit agency. By taking classes in her three concentrations; hospitality, marketing and communication, Kaylee says she “gets all the pieces of each major that I wanted to have a more integrated career path.”

Before joining SOIS, Kaylee worked various fulltime jobs. 

“I started when I was 20 and worked my way up but got to a place where I couldn’t go any further. I had to find another job or move to keep working there, which was not something I wanted to do. I had already worked a few events and really enjoyed it so I decided that I was going to figure out a way to go back to school and do what I wanted.”

In 2013 she began working on campus while taking classes part-time. After a few years she decided to leave her job to be a fulltime student, complete her degree faster and begin a new career she would love.

Kaylee’s advice to new SOIS students: “Have a really good elevator speech.”

Tyler Barley
Bachelor of Science (History, Anthropology, Political Science) 2016

The RIT Student - Tyler Barley from RIT Production Services on Vimeo.

Weston Hall
Bachelors of Science (Marketing and Advertising & Public Relations) 2017

Weston, originally from Williamson, NY is a fourth year student in the SOIS program and currently on CO-OP as their Marketing and Communications Assistant. 

“I came into RIT declared with a major I chose mainly on influence. This soon began to show my second year, as my interest level, motivation and happiness level all dropped. I knew right there and then, this wasn’t what I wanted to do. After talking with my advisor and a referral to SOIS, I knew it was time to sit down with a SOIS advisor and build a degree path based on MY interest, values and career goals-and that’s exactly what we did.”

“After being self-employed for over five years, creating and building my own “business” was something I always enjoyed. This led to me choosing concentrations in Marketing and Advertising & Public Relations, along with minors in entrepreneurship and environmental science (my previous major).”

What are Weston’s future plans?

“I have many goals I want to accomplish throughout my life time, but if I listed them all, we would be here all day. My plans after graduation are continue to develop and build my current businesses-my lifestyle clothing company and my business & marketing consulting services. I would also like to work at a larger marketing agency to develop my knowledge and skills, then apply what I’ve learned to my businesses and my client’s as well.” 

Jade Myers
Masters in Professional Studies (Neurotechnological Convergence) 2017

Jade Myers from Canandaigua, NY is working toward an MS Professional Studies degree in the area of Neurotechnological Convergence, a field that combines concentrations in Experimental Psychology & Science Writing with supporting electives in Electrical Engineering.

“I chose SOIS because I knew the research I was interested in doing involved a unique combination of disciplines that are not represented in current traditional degree programs.  SOIS gives me the freedom, tools, and resources to design a program that best serves my educational goals and aspirations. The best part about my experience at SOIS has been working with a unified, hard-working SOIS team that will do whatever it takes to ensure their students have the best opportunity for success.”

When asked about her advice to new SOIS student, "Ask questions when you need help. Someone here will stay with you and guide you until you have an answer. Don’t be afraid to create a program that doesn’t yet exist. It will be hard. It will also be rewarding in ways you might never have expected."

Jade is currently involved in two projects at RIT. One of these is serving as Student Lab Manager at the MAGIC ACT Lab, where I have been able to start an Enable Community Foundation (ECF) RIT Chapter. The other project I most enjoyed was being a part of an experimental Graduate Salon on Worldmaking.    

What are Jade's future plans? 

"After graduation, I plan to continue working in my current field of research and development of ultra-low-cost 3D-printable assistive devices and thought-actuated prostheses while forging ahead on my educational path toward a doctoral degree."

Anthony Dreas
Bachelors of Science (concentrations: Graphic Design, Business Marketing) 2017

Anthony Dreas is a SOIS student with concentrations Graphic Design, Business and Marketing and Advertising and Public Relations (Immersion). In 2010 after completing his associates at MCC, he decided to take a break from school and pursue his desired career.

In 2015, Anthony decided to continue his education through RIT. He wanted to supplement his knowledge and skills for design, with knowledge on how to market and run his own business.

“I decided that SOIS offered the best solution for me to meet my life goals as they stand today. With this program I have the flexibility to study what I need to be a well-rounded individual. As I peruse this field of study, I know that I will leave RIT with a wealth of knowledge and experiences that will ultimately shape me into the person I intend to become and I will make my seven year old self proud.”

Some projects he has been involved with here at RIT include a mock DIY car repair shop in his Entrepreneurship course. He also helped create a solution for dorm heating issues in his Design Thinking course, and brought music back to MTV in his Principles of Advertising course.When he’s not in school, you can find Anthony working for the City of Rochester, in the recreation and youth services department. He teaches kids how to swim, and trains teens on how to become lifeguards.

His advice to future SOIS students? “What you want to be when you grow up doesn’t have to be black and white. Find a variety of skills that will make you desirable to employers. And you can always start your own business.”

What are Anthony’s future plans? “Work at a marketing, advertising, or graphic design firm until I have the market knowledge and clientele to start my own firm.”


Jason Martin
Bachelors of Science (concentrations:Business Administration and Manufacturing Technology) 2016

“The best part of SOIS is that you can create flexibility in your schedule without compromising the quality of education.” says recent SOIS graduate, Jason Martin.

 Jason says he chose SOIS so he could focus the education to the application of his career aspirations and balance a busy schedule by taking online courses. His favorite thing about the SOIS program are “it’s tangible in the sense that I selected courses that were applicable to my current job, career aspirations, and everyday life.”

He says a few of his previous courses such as Technical Communication, Ethics, New Venture Development, Practicing and Assessing Leadership, and Multi-Disciplinary Life have impacted his quality of life. 

Jason is currently an Engineering Technician for Advanced Atomization Technologies in Clyde, NY. During his free time Jason leads a Canning Hunger project where his team collects food from his hometown community and gives it to their local food distribution experts, The House of Concern in Seneca Falls, NY. When he’s not working, Jason likes to fish, hunt and camp with his family.


His advice to new SOIS students?

“Get to know the staff early on in your learning experience.  They can give you some great advice in how to get where you want to go.”


Sara Tibbetts
Bachelors of Science and Computer Engineering (concentration: Geographic Information Systems) 2018

Sara, who is working towards her Bachelor’s degree with a major in Computer Engineering and a concentration in Geographic Information Systems, hopes to be working on software used by hardware in the GIS field after she graduates in 2018.

Sara says she chose because “SOIS gave me the opportunity to get a dual degree without graduating any later than originally planned.” With her favorite things about SOIS being the flexibility, support and opportunity.

Sara has already partook in numerous projects and clubs on campus. She has built a CPU from the ground up and has created a web application that maps the stars in a particular location factoring in light pollution.  She is also a member of the Equestrian Team, President of Amateur Radio Club, Software Development Engineer Co-op for Pictometry International Corp. and a sister of the Delta Phi Epsilon Sorority.

When asked about her advice to new SOIS students, “meet with an advisor!  If you are even remotely interested in SOIS I highly suggest meeting with an SOIS advisor to see if the program is for you!”

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