Ithaca College Will Make You Ready
With a vibrant community, professors who inspire, and the hands-on experience you need to dive into your field with confidence.
Shea O’Neill helps rebuild communities. But he’s not constructing new homes or upgrading old infrastructure. Instead, he uses geographic data to identify trends and patterns in how people live, work, and spend money in a community, and then he proposes recommendations based on that information to help revitalize neighborhoods.
Shea’s work is done in partnership with “anchor” institutions such as universities or hospitals whose administrators understand that their organization’s relationship to the community is more complex than simply existing within it. It’s a lesson Shea learned early on at Ithaca College.
“I think IC’s greatest asset is the fact that it’s in Ithaca. The best classes I took, the best experiences I had were from professors and people who made that connection [between institution and community],” he says.
Shea credits history professor Michael Smith as a professional influence. “I remember from his classes that, yes, history is of the past, but the past is constantly connecting to the present. Michael was always having us do service learning projects that would connect us with what was going on in Ithaca.”
As a geographic information systems analyst at U3 Ventures, Shea looks at complex data and interprets the meaning behind the numbers. His minor in environmental studies may have helped prepare him for the work he does now, but he also places great value on the skills he learned as a history major.
“If you truly engage with a liberal arts degree, you learn a number of skills that are invaluable for any profession. You learn how to form your argument, how to compose your thoughts, how to compose your narrative. You’re surrounded by people who encourage you to think critically.”
Shea knows how transferable those skills are. “You don’t have to keep a liberal arts background just in the liberal arts. The manner in which you think critically can be applied to science, engineering, architecture—all the fields you tend to think of as more fact- or statistics-based.”
Shea currently teaches part time as an adjunct faculty member in the College of Architecture and the Built Environment at Philadelphia University. To his surprise, he has discovered a passion for teaching and hopes to grow professionally in that role.
In high school, I considered myself a pretty good student. Most of my friends took the same classes I did and knew they wanted to be biomedical engineers, environmental scientists, or doctors someday. I was confident in my abilities and had plenty of ideas about my interests, but I wasn’t prepared at 18 to make what I thought was a huge choice. When I was looking for colleges, I wanted a school that acknowledged that it takes time and experience to make that decision. Ithaca College’s Exploratory Program offered me just that.
The Exploratory Program provided me with so many resources. I took a course specifically designed to help college students discover their passions. My faculty advisor, Elizabeth Bleicher, asked me focused questions to reveal potential majors that might suit both my personality and abilities.
In high school I enjoyed physics, and I knew coming in that I wanted to take a college-level course on the subject. Professor Bleicher referred me to Professor Michael “Bodhi” Rogers. His passion is infectious. After completing the introductory class, I realized that I loved physics. I like the logic involved in it. It’s not about memorization—it’s about problem-solving in real life. That intellectual challenge is exactly what I was looking for in my college experience.
The enthusiasm of the people in the physics department also really impressed me. They’re totally dedicated to using a teaching style based on the most current research about how students best learn. I had a class in the performance-based physics classroom—a collaborative learning environment where the professor is in the center with projectors all around, and students are seated in groups so that they can discuss questions before answering. It was one of the most powerful educational experiences I have ever had.
By talking to my faculty advisor and professors, I learned what I can do with a physics major. I can be anything from an engineer to a lawyer or teacher. Educators in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) are in demand, and teaching is something I’m definitely interested in. Physics majors score well on law school entrance tests, and I accepted a summer internship working in the legal department of a technologies corporation. The idea that I could major in a subject that was really important, had a great job outlook, and would still let me do a variety of different things down the road really appealed to me.
I also visited Career Services as part of my exploration, and they helped me discover ways my preferences could be matched with potential careers. That led me to realize that I could actually pursue multiple interests. Now, not only am I a physics major, but I am also a business administration minor.
The Exploratory Program was the reason I came to Ithaca College. Though I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, I didn’t like calling myself “undecided” because I had decided that I wasn’t ready to choose a major yet. I wanted time to explore; I wanted guidance along the way—and that’s exactly what Ithaca gave me.
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