— Sophie Wilkus
Early on at her small liberal arts college, Sophie Wilkus began confronting barriers and frustrations in the more traditional academic system. She has always thought of life in a very interconnected way, and didn’t understand why knowledge and skills were so compartmentalized in higher education when we live in a world where everything is entangled and related to everything else. “My dad’s an engineer,” she explains, “and he was constantly taking things apart and putting it back together. And so I got to see the inside of things, like remote controls, cell phones, cameras, all these electronic things and how they were put together. I could see these connections that you couldn’t see from the outside. So I was used to and encouraged to think about how things are connected even when they may not seem to be.” In the fall semester of her sophomore year, Sophie began studying biology and the human body, as her talent and interest lies in healing. She would ask questions in her science classes relating to how the material they were learning was connected to other disciplines and receive answers such as “that goes beyond the scope of this class.” It was around this time that she decided to seek out a change in her educational path.After having originally visited the Evergreen State College during her freshman year, Sophie decided to transfer there mid-way through her sophomore year. Evergreen is known as a very alternative state school in Washington, where students can taken interdisciplinary courses, design their own syllabi with the support of professors, and even design their own study abroad experiences for credit. Sophie departed for India and China in the fall of her junior year for a full nine months of independent study after having designed her own learning journey, which encompasses elements of language, community health and healing, and a biodiversity internship. She received full credit for her experience, and was able to stay in contact with her professors for guidance and review of her work. She kept a blog which was used as part of her coursework while abroad. When asked about where Sophie sees the future of higher education going, she says, “Student-designed. Simple as that. Let students tailor their education towards what they find important, let them follow where their initial interest leads them, through all the cracks and crannies of academia and the real world. Professors should provide a support structure."
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