Major rivalry

Story highlights

I go to Cal Poly – You must be an _ng_n__r_ng major!

It is not unusual for Joi Sullivan to be mistaken for an engineering major for one reason: She goes to Cal Poly. When Sullivan says she is a political science major, people think “these people are the most opinionated people,” she said.

“All my professors, sure, they have opinions, but their whole purpose is to understand what’s happening in the past and what’s happening now politically, and how it’s going to affect the future and how to—maybe—predict what’s going to happen,” she said.

Although Sullivan (20) is still a third-year student, she is graduating in the spring. In fact, this is the first quarter she allows herself to take 16 units.

Third-year political science major Joi Sullivan is graduating in the spring.

Third-year political science major Joi Sullivan is graduating in the spring.

“I tend to thrive on a really busy schedule,” she said. “The quarter that I had 20 units, four of the units was an internship, and it was my favorite quarter: I got my best GPA I’d ever gotten at Cal Poly, and because I had no time to breathe—and I knew it.”

Despite being such a hard worker, Sullivan still has to confront the stereotype that majors in the College of Liberal Arts are easy compared to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), she admitted.

“I hate that,” she said. “It makes me feel like, I don’t know, I hate that statement. Yeah that’s true, I’m not very good at math. I’m not super great at science.”

“I hate that. It makes me feel like, I don’t know, I hate that statement. Yeah that’s true, I’m not very good at math. I’m not super great at science.”

She said each major is different and everyone has their own unique skills.

“It’s just funny because there are so many misunderstandings of different majors,” she said. “And I’m sure I have misunderstandings of other majors.”

She said sometimes she feels like English is “not necessarily a worthwhile major” even though her favorite teachers in high school are English teachers. She also wonders what theater and dance majors are going to do, she added.

Sullivan said during her junior year in high school, she thought about majoring in history, but was afraid there wouldn’t be many career options for that field—as said by her history teacher.

However, Sullivan is happy that she chose political science because it’s not “just history—what it was—but what it is and what should it be,” she said.

“I want to make a difference; I think everyone does,” she said. “I kind of want to have a tangible impact on some part of the world, and for me, political science is the root by which I’ve found that I can make most impact, I think.

“It combines all my skills: communication, writing, analytical thinking, lots of reading, history, all of it. I love it.”

Sullivan said she thinks the misunderstanding between liberal arts majors and STEM majors is the biggest one, but assumes that competition within the College of Liberal Arts itself will increase if the college-based fee increases, because “majors are going to compete for money.”

 Why stick with one career when there are too many options?

What do you want to do in the future—It’s a terrible question, Sullivan said.

“I’m not exactly sure, which is another, I feel like, stereotype of liberal arts majors and I think part of that is not the lack of options though,” she said. It’s so funny because there are so many different things, every possible, every existing corporation that needs someone that understands how to interact with the government.”

She said she does not know what her dream career is because there are too many options, and she’s a “terrible decision maker,” and she might jump from one job to another.

Although Sullivan was aware of the Winter Career Fair that took place Jan. 29 and 30, 2014, she didn’t attend it and knew there was a lack of liberal arts employers at the fair, she said.

“If you think about it, even engineering corporations, they need accountants, they need writers and people who understand government,” she said. “I just wonder if they’re recruiting elsewhere, at other schools, you know, schools that are known for their liberal arts program.”

Political Science Concentrations:

  • Global Politics
  • Pre-Law
  • American Politics (Sullivan’s concentration)
  • Individualized Course of Study (ICS)

How do you define intelligence?

Sullivan said intelligence is defined differently by different individuals: whether they think math is the “core root of intelligence.”

“The measurement of math makes you wonder why, why that’s the measurement,” she said, “and it’s because it is a hard fact … It would be harder to use papers or writing as the measurement of intelligence.”

Mathematics and Science building (38) on the Cal Poly campus. STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) are often used as a measurement of intelligence.

Mathematics and Science building (38) on the Cal Poly campus. STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) are often used as a measurement of intelligence.

She said her major is both the scientific and “normative view of the world.”

“If I was to only look at it as facts like math, nothing would ever get better, you know,” she said.

To Sullivan, intelligence is measurable and should be measured, but there should be a balance of measurement between intelligence and skills, she said.

Sullivan is not the only one who finds it hard to define intelligence. For a second, third-year civil engineering major Connor Paquin almost assumed intelligence is knowledge.

“I think there are a lot of things that go into intelligence because intelligence is such a big word, you know,” he said.

Paquin is the engineering representative on the Associate Students Inc.’s board of directors.

He agreed with Sullivan that math is often chosen as a measurement of intelligence because it is quantitative.

“We’re good at math, but people in liberal arts, they’re good at critically thinking; they’re good at communication,” he said. “There are other skills that aren’t taught within engineering and vice versa.”

Paquin said creativity can also be considered intelligence because “it’s hard to come up with.”

Major rivalry on many levels

Talking about the rivalry between liberal arts and STEM, Paquin said he has heard students say liberal arts majors are not applicable to the workforce. He assumed when people say liberal arts is easier than engineering, then it’s probably because of the difference in lab time.

“A lot of times we think that people are choosing [liberal arts] because it may seem easier, but it’s really about what you’re passionate about,” he said. “I know a lot of people that have switched out of engineering because they weren’t passionate about it. And if you’re not passionate about something, no matter what it is in college, it’s going to be hard.”

Connor Paquin said engineering is in his blood: His two uncles are electrical engineers and his grandfather was involved with electrical and structural engineering.

As a little kid, Paquin would use Jenga blocks to build bridges and structures instead of playing the game, he said.

Connor Paquin is the engineering representative on the Associate Student Inc.'s board of directors.

Connor Paquin is the engineering representative on the Associate Student Inc.’s board of directors.

He said he doesn’t think liberal arts is easy; it only requires a different set of skills that he wishes his college offered, too.

“I really like how out of the box they are in terms of thinking,” he said. “Because of the skills that they learned—the type of critical thinking skill and analysis—they could take a situation that I might not be able to handle, and they could say ‘okay here are all the different things or all the different ways that you can go about it.’”

Paquin said he thinks pride is the reason for major rivalry.

“Other universities, they have sports or they have, you know, whatever that is,” he said, “but here at Cal Poly, we really identify ourselves with our college … there’s a lot more pride there.”

He said we all think our major is the harder and more important one. He added that major rivalry occurs not only between liberal arts and STEM majors but also within each college itself.

“Within the College of Engineering, there is major rivalry,” he said. “You have aerospace versus mechanical and civil, and they’re all kind of like, ‘oh our majors are better than yours.’ But once you expand it out, and it’s Cal Poly, suddenly we’re all together and there is none of that.’

“The UCSB game for example, it’s ‘we have such pride in Cal Poly,’ and it’s not ‘us versus you guys’ and all of that.”

Recalling his time at Cal Poly, Paquin said he hears a lot less of major rivalry as a junior than he did as a freshman.

“It’s so ingrained in us, you know,” he said. “We come into it and we just hear it from being in clubs and just from other people, and then as a freshman, we don’t really know a lot about Cal Poly or about our majors, about different colleges.”

Paquin said he thinks the rivalry between College of Engineering and Orfalea College of Business is more intense than the rivalry between STEM and Liberal Arts.

“All we were told is that college of business doesn’t have Friday class or something like that,” he said. “It’s something as small as that.”

Paquin said lab time also plays into it, because engineering majors think they work so hard compared to business majors.

“It’s kind of interesting when you think about it, isn’t it,” he said. “I don’t know why necessarily … Part of it is jealousy, but when I hear people talking about engineering versus anyone else, it’s always business.”

Engineering west building on the Cal Poly campus.

Engineering west building on the Cal Poly campus.

Business majors can’t care less

As a third-year business major with a concentration in consumer packaging solutions, Emily Mallett said she knows there’s a rivalry between business majors and engineering and architecture majors.

“I don’t know if they’re jealous,” she said. “I think it’s just a different way of looking at things. We’re more collaborative in the business college whereas other majors are more individualistic.”

Third-year business major Emily Mallett said major rivalry is just a mindset.

Third-year business major Emily Mallett said major rivalry is just a mindset.

The most common stereotype that Mallett hears of is business majors are slackers, because they don’t have Friday class and lab time, she said.

She explained that although business majors don’t have lab time, they have to spend their own free time on group projects. She also added that she knows some engineering majors who don’t have Friday class.

“I think classes that have labs or classes that have Friday class or something like that … things are hard in a different way; business is hard in a way that you creatively think,” she said.

Mallett thinks the stereotype about business majors is just a joke, and there is not a real tension between engineering and business majors, she said.

“I think the rivalry is there,” she said, “but it’s more like a mindset than an actuality.”

Mallett doesn’t have an opinion on either the College of Engineering or the College of Liberal Arts, she said.

“We know what we’re good at and we know what we’re not good at,” she said, “and honestly, we clung on everyone else’s strength, because that’s smart business.”

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