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Phil Hinton

Phil Hinton

Photographer: Rick Fatica

Lauren Smith

Lauren Smith

Photographer: Brad Chaffin

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University College alumni as distinct as their self-directed majors


In 1970, Ohio University became one of the first universities in the nation to offer an individually designed degree program.

Originally named the bachelor's in general studies -- now the bachelor's in specialized studies -- its purpose has stayed the same: to allow students to design their own interdisciplinary degrees that best suit their career and educational goals. From the first dozen graduates in 1974 to 215 bachelor's in specialized studies recipients in 2011, the program has drawn students who are open-minded, flexible and independent.

"(Employers) want people who are adaptable, people who are broadly educated, people who are self-starters," said David Descutner, dean of University College, which administers the program. "Every time I read those descriptors, I think, 'Well, they're talking about a bachelor's in specialized studies student.'"

Ohio Today spoke with five alumni whose opportunities, successes and experiences can be traced back to their individually designed degrees.

Phil Hinton, bachelor's in specialized studies (2004)
Focus: English and history
by Kaitrin McCoy

Although originally part of the class of 1954, Phil Hilton left Ohio University after just two years to take a commission in the U.S. Air Force. Almost 50 years later, he decided to finish the education he started.

"It wasn't until around 2000 that I decided I'd like to get my degree," Hilton said, recalling the hurdles in the way until then. "I was trying to make a living and support my family, and it just wasn't possible to take that time and spend that money until I was retired. It was mainly a matter of pride."

After his military service, Hilton incorporated his love of art — he studied art education at Ohio University — into his career in sales management by representing an art studio in Cleveland, selling art to advertising agencies. After retirement, he contacted Ohio University and learned about the bachelor's in specialized studies program.

The program allowed Hilton to take the remainder of his courses via correspondence so that he could learn from his home in Fort Myers, Fla. He focused on English and history, taking courses from the Uuniversity and reciprocating schools.

Hilton joked about being a better student as a retiree than as a 20-something young man.

"When you're sitting at home, you don't have all of those distractions," he said.

Currently, Hilton teaches watercolor painting, his passion for more than 20 years, and sells his work online and at craft shows. He has donated several paintings of Ohio University landmarks over the years, including one of the college gate owned by Alden Library.

Lauren Smith, bachelor's in specialized studies (2011)
Focus: creative entrepreneurship
by Mary Reed

Lauren Smith's enthusiasm for her Ohio experience -- and more specifically her University College experience -- was so great that she was selected to be one of the "Voices of Ohio" for the University's 2011 marketing campaign.

"I feel really lucky and honored," she said of her participation in the campaign, which tens of thousands of would-be students saw last year.

But more important to Smith was her message.

"I've always really believed in making your education what you want it to be. ... It was really refreshing to be in an academic institution that encourages (creating) your own path," she said.

More specifically, Smith said, the bachelor's in specialized studies provided her a faculty-approved plan for an academic and professional career. In her case, this meant a self-directed degree called creative entrepreneurship.

"I (took) everything from business management to entrepreneurship classes, marketing, retail, studio art classes, even singing," she said.

Her co-curricular opportunities reinforced the creative and entrepreneurial elements of her degree: She performed at Baker Center's open stage, participated in business consulting in Hungary through Ohio University's Global Consulting Program and she completed a sales internship in the New York office of Aeffe, a company that represents several Italian and French fashion houses.

Smith is now applying to graduate programs in business, still with her goal in mind of becoming an entrepreneur someday in either the fashion or hospitality business.

She's not surprised to be on the path she set out when she was just a college sophomore.

"When you're young and you look at your dreams, hopefully that's what comes to fruition," she said.

To read the rest of the profiles, visit http://issuu.com/ohiotoday/docs/ot.fall.issuu-1 and turn to page 30. Watch for the next issue of Ohio Today coming soon.