Where Skills Meet Passion

U.S. universities help students build interdisciplinary skills through specialized majors like object design and sports management.

By Jason Chiang

April 2023

Where Skills Meet Passion

Gopi Patel (fourth from right) and her classmates from University of South Florida (USF) at a Tampa Bay Buccaneers game. Patel is pursuing a two-year dual-degree program at USF, where students earn both an M.B.A. with a concentration in sport business and M.S. in sport and entertainment management. (Photograph courtesy Gopi Patel)  

Majors in STEM fields and business are the most common programs selected by Indian students in the United States. However, American universities also offer many niche programs that are perfect for international students who are passionate about pursuing a future in a specialized industry that combines interdisciplinary skills with their unique set of interests.  

 Different designs  

For more than 155 years, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) has helped shape the next generation of influential artists and designers.  The institute provides an interdisciplinary approach to art and design with Chicago’s world-class resources, museums and architecture. Students are encouraged to create bold ideas while exploring different disciplines to hone their creativity and skills. 

 It was the freedom to explore disciplines that intrigued Anavi Nugyal from Mumbai, when she was researching different types of education systems that would best fit her interests. “I was looking for an interdisciplinary course that would allow me to develop my vague interest in the creative world, and better understand its potential,” says Nugyal, who graduated from SAIC with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in designed objects. “The School of the Art Institute of Chicago offers a unique interdisciplinary program, with no majors and access across different disciplines in the creative world and that is what made me apply and commit.”  

Designed objects, which falls under the Architecture, Interior Architecture and Designed Objects Department, is an interdisciplinary field where product design, space design, UI/UX (user interface/user experience) and social design meet. Students develop critical skills to imagine and create meaningful objects, systems and experiences through a structured curriculum. “I found my introductory class to be very enlightening and it helped me focus and take more courses within the department,” says Nugyal. “During this time, I was also taking classes in fiber and material studies, art and technology, fashion and various liberal arts courses that helped me better my practice and develop stronger projects.”  

Nugyal began attending virtual sessions hosted by SAIC’s admissions team when she was in 11th grade. She also reached out to a faculty member to learn more about the classes and followed the institute’s social media. She later applied to SAIC by the school’s early action deadline and was overjoyed when she was accepted.  

 Sullivan Galleries of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. (Photograph courtesy Anavi Nugyal)

Sullivan Galleries of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. (Photograph courtesy Anavi Nugyal)

Nugyal received several scholarships and grants that helped with the cost of living and tuition. She also worked as a residence adviser on campus to help cover her housing, food and supply costs. “I really recommend using all the resources, and pushing for what you need,” she says.  

Graduates from SAIC work across multiple diverse disciplines. “I think the unique education equips graduates to apply their skills in many different industries. There are alums I know in straightforward UI/UX positions, alternatively many are working within tech and think tanks,” says Nugyal, who works as a freelance designer across film, theater, UI/UX and social impact design.  

“Personally, I am interested in many fields and find joy in developing my own practice for shows and also work freelance in various projects that interest me,” she adds. “My dream career is to be able to retain that freedom, to be able to apply design and critical thinking in the social sector, and use the skills I have to help with city planning and problem-solving and also be able to develop a project in theater about climate change.”  

The business of sports  

The University of South Florida (USF) graduate program for sport and entertainment management emphasizes the business fundamentals that are needed to work in the world of sports. The Vinik Sport and Entertainment Management (VSEM) program is a two-year dual-degree program where students earn both an M.B.A. with a concentration in sport business and M.S. in sport and entertainment management.  

 “In the two years of the program we learn about the business management of the sports industry in the United States and, at times, we collaborate on projects for international entities like a football club from Europe or an entertainment entity like MGM Resorts,” says Gopi Patel, a national medalist gymnast, who grew up in Vadodara. Students also travel to national and international locations for presentations and networking within the sports and entertainment industry. “Our course focuses on marketing, sales, partnerships and analytics for a league or a team within the league,” she says. 

The VSEM program accepts applications online, where students are required to upload their résumé, a statement of purpose, recommendation letters, transcripts, as well as a video about themselves and why they are interested in the program. International students, like Patel, must also submit a TOEFL score or other proof of English proficiency. Financial aid is also available for the program—Patel received a tuition waiver for her final two semesters as well as fellowships through USF. 

​​There are multiple career paths graduates of the program might choose in either pro sports or collegiate athletics, including the community impact side of sport and sports and entertainment commissions of different cities. Each student is required to have at least one semester’s worth of fellowship experience in order to graduate with an M.B.A. after the first three semesters. Students also need to have fellowships for three semesters in total, one being the summer break, to graduate with both M.B.A. and M.S. degrees. ​ 

 Due to her undergraduate studies in photography and visual arts, Patel was drawn to social media in sports. “I am doing all my fellowships in the social media department either as an analyst or content creator,” she says.   

 The VSEM program places students directly inside a professional sports setting, where they can experience how the lessons taught in the classroom play out in the actual industry. Students attend classes for two days and work three days per week as a fellow or intern with program partners including pro teams, NCAA teams or sports commissions, in the Tampa Bay Area. “In the first year I worked for Tampa Bay Lightning as a social media strategist, archivist and analyst,” says Patel. “I am currently in the second year and I am working for USF Athletics’ social media department as their digital content creator.” 

 Jason Chiang is a freelance writer based in Silver Lake, Los Angeles.


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