Aspiring documentarian Cassandra Castillo sums up her double major in communication and humanities at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga like this.
“Communication answers the question of how I become a journalist. And humanities answers the question of why I should become a journalist,” said Castillo, who is minoring in Spanish.
With a lifelong passion for journalism, she initially planned a second major in political science.
Then she took biological anthropology (to satisfy a general education requirement) and it changed everything.
“It was incredible,” said Castillo, who soon discovered, thanks to an advisor, that she could take more “mind-blowing” courses with a second major in humanities.
“Humanities is broader and allows you to take a lot of different kinds of classes, not just the hard-and-fast politics you get in political science,” she said.
Still, the academic freedom students get in the UTC humanities program has allowed Castillo to take several political science courses plus a range of others. In fall 2023, she took Religions and Politics in a Globalized World during an Israel-Palestine conflict.
A staff writer for UTC’s student newspaper The Echo, Castillo wrote a first-person analysis of the war after discussing it in class. She said it exemplifies the synergy of her two majors.
“I’m not only learning the technical side of communication and journalism but also taking classes that help me put things into perspective, both for myself and for others,” Castillo said. “That’s a big part of what journalists do and that’s why the humanities program is so valuable.”
Her dream job, after graduating in May 2024, will take her abroad to document underserved communities. Her professional wanderlust drew her to the international studies track in the UTC humanities program, one of three that also include liberal arts and women, gender and sexuality studies.
A truly unique degree
The humanities are interdisciplinary studies that explore the human experience through history, literature, philosophy, art, languages and other fields.
The undergraduate humanities program at UTC is appealing to students like Castillo because it’s customizable, allowing them to choose almost any classes across the University’s four academic colleges for their nine hours of electives.
“Every major in the humanities is different from the other,” said Professor of Spanish José-Luis Gastañaga, the program’s coordinator.
There are specific degree requirements, but there is no set program of study, he said.
“We work with every student independently and use the flexibility of the program in favor of students with their goals in mind.”
Experiencing the world
Castillo grew up in Chattanooga and chose UTC because it was affordable and close to home. But she has literally gone far thanks to UTC Study Abroad. The University provides students with rich opportunities to travel, learn and earn credit toward their degrees with generous scholarships and stipends to offset out-of-pocket expenses.
Castillo spent a semester in Florence, Italy, in spring 2022 and a week in Budapest, Hungary, in spring 2023. Neither cost her much but proved priceless for her life and work, she said.
The documentary she helped produce in Hungary explored the history and modern lives of minority communities in the former Soviet bloc nation, now part of the European Union.
“It was my favorite. It incorporated humanities and communication all in one,” she said.
“I feel like I’ve been able to do the things I want to do in college,” Castillo said. “I’m definitely ready to go out and get the full-fledged job of my dreams after this.”
Knowledge that affects you
UTC humanities students like Castillo and Emma Sprayberry don’t just accumulate facts; they learn how to think. Graduates can analyze situations and develop innovative solutions, whether in a corporate setting or a far-flung humanitarian crisis.
“Because they’re able to see the big picture and understand the intricate web of connections that form our world, our students learn a lot of soft skills that are very important, not only to careers but in their lives in general,” Gastañaga said.
Majoring in humanities, he said, “You become more aware of yourself as a person and your surroundings. You know your place in the world, the history of your country and can reflect on politics, religion, current affairs and many other things.”
Who makes a good humanities student?
“We find students who are interested in the humanities have an interest in culture in general. They study other languages and are interested in current affairs,” Gastañaga said.
“Humanities students are aware of the world around them and want to learn about it. But there isn’t really a typical humanities student. They’re all different.”
Study abroad photos courtesy of Cassandra Castillo