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Sean Pauley: Interdisciplinary Education

Grand Rapids senior says he’s ready for graduate school thanks to varied learning opportunities

ALMA — As Sean Pauley, of Grand Rapids, prepares to graduate from Alma College and enter the job market, he has many options available, as wide-ranging as his varied interests.

He could pursue a career in media and communications, computer science, education, or another industry all together.

That’s because of the deeply interdisciplinary education Pauley received during his time at Alma, he says, which allowed him to work closely with faculty members from different disciplines in spite of not being a committed major in their individual programs.

“The education I’ve received here has prepared me well for a variety of things,” said Pauley, a senior in the new media studies program. If I didn’t go to a liberal arts college, I feel confident in saying I wouldn’t have a quarter of the opportunities I’ve been given. All you have to do is show up and work hard, and the faculty and staff will go out of their way to help you do whatever it is that you’re interested in.”

Pauley is interested in media and communications, first and foremost. It is possible that no other undergraduate currently attending Alma College has presented at more academic conferences than Pauley has; he has four to his credit, including the prestigious National Communication Association conference, where he spoke alongside tenured faculty members.

But Pauley has other interests as well. This past fall, he served as a publicity assistant on “Three Nights at the Opera,” a local history project funded by a National Endowment for the Humanities grant that recreates performances that took place in Alma’s Wright Leppien Opera House about 100 years ago. He previously parlayed a connection he made in a computer science class into a part-time job as a software programmer with the City of Grand Rapids, where he’s using JavaScript to build an app for the Grand Rapids Public Museum. He has also worked part-time as a consultant in the Alma College Writing Center for three years.

“I think it’s a major credit to the professors I’ve had here that they’re willing to reach out and make connections with me, even if I’m not in their programs,” Pauley said. “I’ve really appreciated the opportunities I’ve had to work with them and learn from them.”

In addition to his academic work, Pauley is a four-year member of the cross country and track and field teams at Alma. In his last two seasons Pauley was the top runner on the cross country team. For track, he’s in the top-10 for school records in the indoor 5K and the indoor mile.

“Because we have a small team, it’s a tight-knit group. It’s fun to strive with people toward the same goal of doing well in meets.”

Upon graduation, Pauley intends to take part in the master’s program for journalism and mass media at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and he has been fully funded for a teaching assistantship. He’s considering becoming a college communications professor — but he’s leaving his options open.

“I feel like I’ve done a lot at Alma, but there’s a lot more that I wish I could have done. There are a lot of interesting people to meet here and projects to work on,” Pauley said.

Story published on February 21, 2022