USC prides itself on its emphasis on the “Renaissance Ideal,” an undergraduate experience centered around interdisciplinary studies. From the Renaissance Scholar distinction and the Thematic Option program to the various combinations of majors and minors made available to students, it’s clear that USC encourages students to be as polymathic as possible. But aside from creating a rich undergraduate experience, interdisciplinary studies shape the way students choose to lead their lives in the most fulfilling manner. We need to debunk the idea that a job will be emotionally fulfilling on its own, and instead uphold USC’s “Renaissance Ideal” as we venture out into the working world. More importantly, we need to take this knowledge with us as we grapple with both personal and societal problems.
In a world where specialized jobs are increasingly popular, many students may find their transition from undergrad to the working world to be tough. According to Gallup, over half of employees are not engaged, meaning they are generally satisfied but not cognitively and emotionally connected to their work. In fact, the number of those who are “actively engaged” drops to 29% for those in the millennial generation. In contrast to the career-oriented, capitalistic Kool-Aid we’ve been drinking since grade school, most people do not find their jobs to be wholly fulfilling.
To be clear, the idea of being disengaged with work is not a new phenomenon. In the 19th century, Karl Marx wrote all sorts of literature on workers and the alienation of labor. As Marx explained, “The worker therefore only feels himself outside his work, and in his work feels outside himself.” Historically, labor does not function as a significant part of someone’s identity, but rather as a means to survive and support oneself. And to live a life solely determined by specialized work is to deprive us of our natural curiosity and balance.
For those who are emotionally invested and satisfied in their work experience, a job may be fulfilling. Those who are truly lucky may be able to find work that incorporates all of their interests. However, for those who are lamenting graduation and finding a way to pursue a more specialized field, it is important to understand — no, embrace — the fact that living an interdisciplinary life is still possible.
The very notion of humans and scholars as curious beings is what USC’s “Renaissance Ideal” celebrates. It comes from the classic idea of the Renaissance man, or the jack-of-all-trades — someone who is inquisitive, insatiable and skilled in many fields. In fact, during the Renaissance, universities were seen as essential in receiving a well-rounded, “universal” education. Especially now, in a world where job engagement is low and unprecedented environmental and political problems are constantly looming, it is essential that schools like USC continue to abide by this tradition.
This is all to say that life is and should be interdisciplinary. As such, students should take advantage of all USC has to offer in order to lead well-rounded, varied lives and foster diverse approaches to solving the problems we face. Just as the great thinkers of the Renaissance believed, it is important to have a broad foundation of knowledge to take with you into the world.
And now, with never-before-seen problems such as global climate change and high-tech automation emerging, we need thinkers who can use this broad knowledge to make change, both in their own lives and on a greater scale.