Customized education is a matter of personal choice

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A. Sue Weisler

Fifth-year student Richard Cremin, left, and first-year student Harrison Canning are customizing their degrees through the School of Individualized Study.

“We’re different. Be different.”

The philosophy behind RIT’s School of Individualized Study has continued to attract a variety of students who want to design a multidisciplinary-customized degree to meet their own personal development, career and civic interests.

Harrison Canning applied to SOIS while attending high school in Granby, Conn. “I knew it was the absolute perfect fit for me because I’m interested in computer science, business and neuroscience,” said Canning who suffered a severe concussion at the end of seventh grade and spent his high school years recovering—relearning to speak, read and write—while suffering debilitating migraines.

During that time, Canning discovered his passion for entrepreneurship and became interested in running a business that could mass produce brain-computer interfaces to help people with disabilities.

“I chose the School of Individualized Study so I could mix and match courses,” he said. “With the rate technology is increasing, there really is no one job that’s safe. In order to differentiate yourself and remain relevant, you must have different skills and diversify your background so that whatever the problem is, you can approach it from a multidisciplinary solution.”

Canning’s entrepreneurial passion is matched by Richard Cremin from Easton, Conn., a fifth-year student who co-owns CBG Images Design (located on State Street in downtown Rochester) with company founder Carter Brown Grotta ’16 (professional photographic illustration-advertising).

“I recognized really early on that I wanted to work for myself, and if SOIS was a more widely known option when I came here, I would have chosen it first,” said Cremin, who started out in mechanical engineering. “You will meet with some skepticism about not going for a traditional degree, but I found the School of Individualized Study to be a mega-experiential learning experience that has really taught me how to run a business.”

According to SOIS Executive Director James Hall, these students have learned to take charge of their own education. “They understand the perceptions of how the job market job is changing; competency and skills are becoming more important than credentials from particular institutions.”

But SOIS is not just for entrepreneurs. Sarah Balaschak is a third-year student from Orlando, Fla., who says she is an industrial designer, scientist and innovator working toward creating a future of possibilities. She was initially in the industrial design program but felt she was missing the science she had loved in high school. SOIS enabled her to focus on how design and earthly environments interacted with each other.

“Combining biology, ecology and sustainability classes to create my own degree is allowing me to pursue my interests—whether it’s a career in productive architecture, design research, social design or the complexities of ocean conservation,” she said.

“I can take advantage of RIT’s many resources with a custom education that allows you to learn what you are interested in without feeling sidetracked by other mandatory classes. Everyone should graduate from college being able to say they learned what they needed.”