What’s that Major? American Studies

By Brigid McLaughlin

Have you ever wondered what the building blocks of American culture are? Perhaps you’re interested in looking at history from a “ground-up” perspective based on culture, race, and religion instead of the typical “top-down” method. In today’s world, creating an interdisciplinary skill set for yourself is what sets you apart in an age where we’re required to brand ourselves. An American studies major at California State University, Long Beach gives students the freedom to focus on just that—a personally tailored learning experience that is entirely unique to you.

Dr. Brett Mizelle, department chair for American studies, says the major changes with time, “We have to teach people what it is.” The coursework isn’t as straightforward as engineering, for example, and with 15 out of 36 of the major requirements being entirely up to the student, you essentially create a field of study that you love. During major coursework classes, Dr. Mizelle often asks students to reflect on different facets of society saying, “Why this thing? Why this form? And why now?” as an icebreaker.

Courses range from “Surfing and American Culture” to “Foodways in Contemporary America” and allow students to evaluate, in-depth, why these topics are so deeply embedded into American culture.

Jillian Gronnerud is the major’s first incoming freshman student at CSULB; although it has been around for about a decade, this shows the major is still growing. Gronnerud speaks highly of American studies, only home to around 150 students, saying, “It’s really applicable in today’s world, because I’ve had to do research in so many different ways.” Because of the major’s customizability, Gronnerud is able to take on a second major, in journalism, and graduate early.

Because of the major’s flexibility, it’s largely comprised of students that have found themselves jaded by majors they chose in the beginning of their college career. Amanda Kincaid, a graduate of the American studies major as of fall 2018, was looking forward to being a graduate with a major in hospitality in her early college ventures when she found out she had exceeded the amount of units taken at CSULB before she had a chance to declare it. American studies was her only option at the time, but now, with a possible graduate degree in sight, she’s wishes she had known about the major sooner.

Amanda Kincaid, American studies graduate, at the 2018 commencement ceremony last May.

Amanda Kincaid, American studies graduate, at the 2018 commencement ceremony last May.

“Although American studies wasn’t my first choice, or even my second, I wouldn’t change a thing about the experience I had within the major leading up to my graduation. American studies has shaped me into the woke woman I am today,” Kincald said.

Students with an interest in how facets of American culture have become popularized are invited to look into a degree in American studies to fulfill their career goals. Upon major completion, career paths include marketing, journalism, teaching, museum curation, and more. In addition to personalized coursework, students can enjoy movie nights, walking tours, and other specialized American studies events.

Although the major isn't new, the interdisciplinary requirements that the major demands are beginning to attract more and more students. “Every professor knows my name and cares about my career path—where else can you find a major like that?” Gronnerud said.

For more information on American studies, visit http://www.cla.csulb.edu/programs/americanstudies/