Cool majors get students fired up

By Andrew J. Pulskamp

It's just another manic school day, eight o'clock in the morning and time to endure another round of academic drudgery. Students know the drill. First it's off to the all-too-familiar golf course to play a quick nine holes, then it's back to campus for a training session with that damn baboon, then of course it's time to set fire to something - anything, as long as it burns. And then to top off the day, well, it's the depths of scholastic suffering -- underwater archaeology.

This may not be a typical day in the life of most students, but for some it is.

Exotic Animal Training 101
At Moorpark Community College in Moorpark, California students are talking about lions and tigers and bears - at least when it comes to the school's exotic animal training and management program.

The major actually offers more than just lions and tigers and bears, there's also Asian elephants, alligators, baboons, marmosets and ostriches. Then there is the African serval, which Beverly Critcher, a graduate of the program and now an instructor, describes as "a cat that has spots and stripes, it's very sleek and jumps about seven feet in the air to eat birds right out of the sky. It's from the African savannah."

"We don't take the tiger out anymore, but we do have two mountain lion cubs that we walk."

Moorpark Community College exotic animal management instructor

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That African serval won't be lonely at Moorpark despite the presences of a lone wolf here and there; the school has its very own animal house with more than 150 critters in all. And to some degree or another students get to work with each. Critcher says, "We don't take the tiger out anymore, but we do have two mountain lion cubs that we walk."

Critcher goes on to say that the course of study is a demanding one. Students spend their entire day from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. either working side-by-side with singing birds and babbling baboons, or learning about the creatures in the classroom.

Circus 101
At Florida State University, parents need not worry about their students running off to join the circus because there's already a big-top bonanza right on campus. The Flying High Circus offers students the chance to do gymnastics, trapeze and high wire acts, as well as juggling - all netting students school credit.

Margie Peters, the associate director of the Flying High Circus, says, "We have our own big top tent, we spread sawdust, paint stages and sew our own costumes. It's a real circus, we just don't have any live animals." Peters says students who get involved in the Florida State program, which is the only one like it in the collegiate world, seem to love it. "We're going into our 53rd year. We haven't lost a game yet, we're still number one," she jokes.

"[Students] have to have at least an eight handicap before they start the courses. Basically one of the pre-requisites is to be a good golfer."

Mississippi State golf management school

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Golf Management 101
If the thrill of dealing with wild animals and balancing atop the high wire is too much for some students, they may want to consider something a bit less stressful - like golf.

At Mississippi State University, aspiring swingers can major in professional golf management, a program that will have them dabbling in plant biology, food course management and golf management.

But with just 190 students making the cut to be a part of the program, it's obvious this major is not for everyone. Duffers with wicked slices and awesome hooks might have a problem getting admitted to the program, says Elaine White, who works in the golf management school. "[Students] have to have at least an eight handicap before they start the courses. Basically one of the pre-requisites is to be a good golfer," she says.

Fire 101
Those matriculating at the University of Maryland won't be torching the links any time soon but they do get fired up about other academic disciplines - like fire protection engineering. It's definitely a hot major, blazing a trail of its own as the only accredited program in the country.

"We get a lot of seniors who say, 'I wish I did this my freshman year.'"

associate director of the Flying High Circus at Florida State University

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"We burn fabrics, burn different kinds of stuff. We basically burn everything and then we chart the results and look at what the fire response is," says inferno-setting senior Nathan Vander Roest.

Vander Roest does admit some fellow students look at the major as a Beavis and Butthead paradise, but that's not the case at all. The major is under the larger umbrella of engineering, a field that quickly weeds out the Beavis or Butthead types.

Underwater Archaeology 101
Students who can't take the heat of fire protection engineering may want to cool off with some underwater archaeology. Scuba diving students at Brown University, Texas A & M and Florida State all have the opportunity to dive right into the discipline. Each school offers programs where students not only learn in the classroom, but also get up close and personal with hands on lessons down in the depths of the deep blue sea.

Whether majors leave you soaking wet or burning for knowledge, the wild and wacky side of academia is out there - you just have to look for it. Though not the first item in the schedule of courses, these classes can help break up a student's tough coursework - and leave them with a lasting impression. Peters says, "We get a lot of seniors who say, 'I wish I did this my freshman year.'"