A non-STEM degree from a U.S. university opens a plethora of career options in diverse fields.
Aishwarya Kumar, a sports journalist, and Ranjit Arul Singh, an indie filmmaker, pursued their non-STEM interests and turned them into flourishing careers in the United States. Photographs courtesy Aishwarya Kumar and Ranjit Arul Singh.
The United States is home to some of the world’s best liberal arts and social science universities, each with a history of nurturing its students for success. Non-STEM programs like arts, social sciences and management open a plethora of career options for students in fields like film and TV production, journalism, public policy, digital marketing and industrial distribution. STEM is the acronym for the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Aishwarya Kumar, a sports journalist, and Ranjit Arul Singh, an indie filmmaker, recognized this and chose to pursue their non-STEM interests in the United States, where they both found their niches and were able to add international perspectives to their respective careers.
Like a lot of Indian families, Kumar and Singh’s conversations about careers and their future plans revolved around STEM. But Kumar was also pretty sure she wanted to be a sports journalist. She had grown up on cricket and tennis commentaries, listening and mimicking them alongside her mother and grandfather. By the time she was in Class 12, Kumar was excelling in her studies, which included accountancy, economics and business math. “But I like writing stories and wanted to explore sports journalism,” she says. She went on to complete her bachelor’s degree in journalism from an arts and science college in Chennai.
Even though Singh earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering, he felt this field was not the right fit for him. “It was tedious, tiring and boring,” he says. “I was never interested in STEM.” From the age of 5, Singh had actively participated in dramas and variety shows. He recognized pretty early on the influence and impact stories have on an audience. “That was when I decided I should be telling stories my entire life,” he says.
Singh was introduced to film editing by a friend and began to develop techniques and his own style to tell a story through cinema, while honing his editing, writing and directing skills. He became fascinated with filmmaking in the United States. “I believed exploring a new place would inspire me to take my storytelling to a new level and I was not wrong,” he says.
Kumar, too, had her eyes set on a U.S. journalism school to launch a successful career. “I knew Northwestern University in Illinois was one of the best journalism programs in the world,” she says. “With my family’s support and a scholarship from Northwestern, I completed my master’s in journalism in 2016.”
In spite of being a student of engineering, Singh was able to transition to a non-STEM field after he was accepted in 2015 at Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD) in Atlanta, Georgia. He earned a master’s degree in film/cinema/video studies in 2018. Singh created his first experimental film “Strings” at SCAD, followed by another film, “Legs,” and his graduate thesis “Rose,” which he is currently submitting to the festival circuit.
Though Kumar started out to be a sports journalist, the journalism degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism also took her to places around the United States and internationally for freelance work and internships. Along the way, she contributed features, essays and video stories to numerous publications online and in the Chicago and the D.C. Metro areas, including SB Nation, VICE Sports, McClatchy newspapers, The Star in Johannesburg and The New Indian Express in Chennai.
Making a mark
In 2017, Kumar settled in Hartford, Connecticut, as a longform feature writer at ESPN. In five short years, she has developed a reputation for telling stories at the intersection of sports, race, immigration, culture and politics of people who are marginalized. For instance, Kumar’s features have delved into a toxic sports culture affecting female swimmers and the renaming of a winter Olympics site to remove a word that is derogatory to Native American women.
One of Kumar’s memorable articles with ESPN is on 9-year-old Tanitoluwa Adewumi, who is striving to become the youngest chess grandmaster. Adewumi’s family had escaped Boko Haram threats in Nigeria in 2017. Kumar’s work traces Adewumi’s introduction to chess in 2018 and his journey as a child prodigy who could think 20 moves ahead on the chessboard.
“Aish is a genuinely curious journalist whose passion for writing enriches every profile and longform feature she shares with readers,” says Kumar’s ESPN editor Jena Janovy. “She reports with energy and determination as well as understanding and empathy—often seeking out and amplifying underrepresented voices.”
Singh, too, has made a mark and is now a recognizable name in his industry. He appears on the credits of the Netflix trilogy “Fear Street,” which he worked on at Company3 in Atlanta after his graduation. “It was an amazing stepping stone into the world of filmmaking, bridging production and post production as we worked to edit the film overnight,” he says.
Currently, Singh is working on two indie films. He says the short film is a story based on the urban legend Hookman. He has also teamed up with fellow SCAD alumnus James Newton to create a full feature indie film, which they will shoot in Savannah, Georgia. In addition to the screenwriting, Singh and Newton are co-producing and directing the film.
In 2020, Kumar earned The Best American Sportswriter for her longform article, The Chess Grandmaster’s Diet, detailing the bizarre metabolic phenomenon causing intense weight loss in chess players. Recently, she created Catapult, a resource for writers, to share her expertise and enthusiasm for writing, and offer storytelling non-fiction workshops to potential journalists.
Kumar’s advice for Indian students who want to pursue their passion? “Buck the trend and follow your gut. It’s magical when you follow what you want to do.”
Singh too advises prospective Indian students to explore non-STEM fields in the United States. “Don’t let others get in your head and scare you,” he says. “Just go for it if you love it.”
Hillary Hoppock is a freelance writer, former newspaper publisher and reporter based in Orinda, California.