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How the Dual Degree at Eastman Program Provides Stability and Variety

by Anna Lenhert, Class of 2017

The Dual Degree at Eastman (DDE) program allowed me to follow my curiosity, and by doing so enriched my education and broadened my career opportunities. 

A lot of career advice will say that you should follow your passion. But if you don’t know what you’re passionate about yet, where do you start? Elizabeth Gilbert, New York Times best-selling author, decided that sometimes it is more helpful to listen for curiosity. “To Liz, there are two categories of people when it comes to this subject: jackhammers and hummingbirds. The jackhammers, which she identifies herself as, are the ones that have always known what they wanted to do; they’re loud and impulsive and determined. Then there are the hummingbirds. The hummingbirds exist to cross-pollinate, taking ideas from multiple places, and are responsible for keeping the culture open to new ideas.” —Lewis Howe,

To enter a professional music school such as the Eastman School of Music, it is usually more necessary to have a jackhammer mindset. Studying at a level this high requires years of instruction, and preparation for auditions requires focus and determination. Applying for a music degree was my primary priority because I knew I loved the harp. My experience in my high school youth orchestra had convinced me I would really enjoy a life in music.

However, I always knew that I wanted to do something else in addition to my studies in music. I applied to the Combined Degree Program but I honestly wasn’t sure of what I wanted to study; I listed English on my application simply because it was my strongest academic subject. During orientation, my academic advisor told me not to worry too much and just register for a class that sounded interesting. When I met with my advisor at the end of my first year, I complained that the photo and video courses I was really hoping to take as electives were immediately filled by students majoring in those departments. She asked me if I had heard of the school’s newest degree, Digital Media Studies. I looked up the details of the degree that evening, and looking through the offered courses felt like looking through a candy shop. I changed degrees and dove right in next fall. 

Later on in my degree, my video arts professor gave our class a frank discussion of career advice. While she said that she was grateful for her graduate studies, jumping in and getting your hands dirty with work experience as soon as possible would be invaluable for us. I knew that she worked full time as the manager of a local photography studio, so one day after class I asked if they had any openings for summer interns. They took me on, and in exchange for being a human light stand I was invited to ask any and all questions I might have about photography. Fast forward to today, and I am now an associate photographer at the same studio and I have the privilege of photographing weddings, events, and high school senior portraits. I still freelance as a harpist and am invested in furthering my abilities and career as a musician, but I also love the variety and added stability of creating beauty in an altogether different capacity.

Similar to career advice, students applying to the dual degree program are often advised to only pursue it if they are equally passionate about both fields and this is for a good reason. There is no doubt that I needed to refine my time management skills in order to successfully complete both degrees. I learned that I couldn’t equally prioritize everything all the time; instead, I would need to constantly shift my schedule to direct time and energy to whatever projects were most pressing. 

This May I will be graduating with a foot in both fields, and, like a hummingbird, I am excited to explore what new endeavors can be created from combining my two interests. Not every scenario in life gives you the flexibility to follow your curiosity. Eastman’s unique positioning as a professional music school within a larger university is such a fantastic opportunity. Even if you don’t end up as a dual degree student and you just learn at Eastman, I would encourage you to make it over to the River Campus for an elective at least once and explore something that piques your interest. 

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