Four years have passed since Western welcomed the first round of 25 undergraduate students to its School for Advanced Studies in the Arts and Humanities (SASAH), a unique-to-Canada program that offers interdisciplinary study options, new language skills, experiential learning, interaction with new technologies as well as international travel and exchange options – all under the same degree umbrella.
SASAH provides a rigorous, though flexible, academic experience that fosters the application of skills that come with a humanities degree. Students who apply to the program out of high school are screened based on a portfolio of exemplary academic work, community engagement and extracurricular activities. They spend their undergraduate years in classrooms, in the community, in museums, working with local organizations, businesses and other cultural institutions. A capstone course in the fourth year offers international travel and exchange opportunities and students graduate with a double major – one from the school, another from an existing program at Western.
This year, SASAH is graduating its first cohort – a diverse group of students who are moving on to jobs in business, the arts and not-for profit organizations. Some are choosing to pursue more education in Canada and abroad, while others are taking time to explore travel and volunteer opportunities they discovered during their studies. Below you’ll find stories of four graduating SASAH students and the value they found in their singular degree experience.
Rachael DiMenna picked Western because of the opportunity to pursue a dual degree – one half liberal arts, one half business. SASAH, paired with a degree from Ivey Business School, proved to be the perfect fit.
“I wanted to focus on Arts and Humanities because the skills you get from a humanities degree are very valuable. But I also wanted to go into business. A lot of people who go to Ivey don’t do a dual degree, but at SASAH, the people I’m surrounded with, the classes I take, are inspiring and you learn a lot of skills you wouldn’t get from another degree,” she said.
Exposure to the humanities, alongside business, strengthened DiMenna’s communication skills, her writing, her ability to think and strategize in ways a business student might not be able to match. She credits this – and a business internship while at SASAH – for helping her land a strategy consulting job in Toronto, helping businesses decide future directions.
“While the business degree was useful in giving me the opportunity to apply for that job, it was SASAH that differentiated me, and allowed me to bring something different than other business candidates,” DiMenna said.
“In the arts, you study the past and the present in critical or creative ways to understand where we might be going in the future, and what the implications of that are. In the business world, going forward, I think this is what’s going to allow me to succeed.”
As she was completing her high school education in Tokyo, Japan, Mari Fujiwara’s father was offering her guidance on postsecondary opportunities. He stumbled upon SASAH online and encouraged his daughter, who had already completed a one-year exchange in rural Ontario, to apply.
“I chose Western specifically because of SASAH and the scholarship I got. It turned out well. I never had any specific dreams – I still don’t have any. Because of that, I wanted to try everything and SASAH allows you to take many courses. You take bits and pieces from the Arts and Humanities in general, and you have to do a double major, so you are forced to study something else. I thought it would be good for me to explore my possibilities and preferences,” said Fujiwara, whose other major is Philosophy.
The highlight of her SASAH experience, she said, was a one-year exchange in Copenhagen, Denmark. It was a culturally eye-opening experience, Fujiwara noted. She was an international student from Canada heading out on an international exchange. She loved it and followed the experience with two business internships in San Francisco over the summer. She hopes to attend graduate school for Media Studies in Amsterdam next year.
“When I was abroad and when I was here, I experienced the inequality of accessibility to information. For example, English speakers get more information than non-English speakers because a lot of sources are in English, and that’s the world’s language. Non-English speakers can’t do much except learn English. I don’t know how to improve media, but I want to seek ways we can improve it,” said Fujiwara. “SASAH helps you reflect on and apply your experiences.”
Adam Helmers chose Western because of SASAH, its small class size and the interdisciplinary aspect of its study program.
“I never liked the idea of specialization in university. I have many interests and I never want to lose the diversity of knowing a bunch of different things and being able to do different things. But at the same time, I saw the value of having a major in English Language and Literature because I enjoyed it in high school,” he said.
The ability to study a variety of subjects wasn’t the only perk of a SASAH degree, Helmers added. Because of the small scale of the school, he was able to work closely with classmates and professors, which opened doors and provided connections in the community. He got to work on projects like running the SASAH blog, taking a leadership position in overseeing the site’s content and web development. He had opportunities to publish work and lead student focus groups. And all of this will help him going forward, he noted.
“My plan right now is to take a year off. The dream is full-time creative work – writing, making music, art. Right now, I do arts planning and promotion on the side. I write for blogs, do event previews, reviews for artists, music premiers and I run events,” he said, adding SASAH helped him connect that which he values in creative work with something he can pursue as a career.
Helmers runs So Far Sounds, a music concert series that originated in London, England and is in more than 200 cities world-wide. The series promote off-the-grid musicians that might not get a lot of play or attention.
“With SASAH, there’s a push to look for the Arts and Humanities outside of the classroom and this was something I latched onto. I had the desire to do something and my experience working with people in SASAH, and understanding the skills and values of a humanities degree, getting to know what artists do and what that means in a bigger picture, it gave me the confidence to pursue this,” he said.
When Sarah Shaughnessy was applying to university, she had a clear-cut plan. She would finish an undergraduate degree, go to law school and start a career. While pursuing a double major in SASAH and English, with Classical Studies as a minor, Shaughnessy fell in love with the arts. In the fall, she will start a master’s degree in Classical Studies at Western.
A first-year project, in which students worked to unearth histories of century homes in London, connected Shaughnessy with the community, and while law school remained on the back-burner, her plans started to shift. SASAH taught her to connect what she was studying in class to the outside world, she said. The experience opened doors and opportunities she didn’t know existed and she wants to explore these further.
“The emphasis on experiential learning caught my eye and I had the opportunity to take a variety of courses. I never thought I would be the kind of person to go do a master’s, but I think SASAH has helped me realize there’s a lot of interesting experiences out there to have. It’s opened me up to a lot of possibilities,” Shaughnessy said. “In SASAH, we have Chemistry majors, English majors, Business students, and we’re all coming together in this open space to discuss things going on in the world.”