Today: Apr 21, 2024

Lone major: Our metal program rusts away

Ellis McGinleyManaging Editor

“You’re a what major?” My neighbor asked, eyebrows shooting up in surprise.  

“Metals,” I said. “Like – jewelry? Have you seen the shop in Earl?”  

“No,” they said, incredulous like everyone else I ever disclosed my major to.  

“I haven’t.” Of course not. I did not know it was there until half-way through freshman year, and no wonder: after I changed my degree program, I learned I had just become the sole metals major left on campus.  

I wrote before about the conditions in Earl Hall, from the cockroaches to the humidity rusting away the very equipment which makes my degree possible, and the building has received no renovation beyond an elevator since 1959. Still, are we really so scared of some possibly radioactive insects no one else has dared venture into the metals shop?  

This school has approximately 8,000 undergraduate students: how could it be, out of all of them, only one currently chose to major in jewelry? I figured there would at least be two of us, given the probability of restrictive bug phobias. And yes, technically the full degree is a Bachelor of Science in studio art with a concentration, but you try making that snappy.  

Part of the problem is in credits: we draw many transfers and commuters. For transfers, it is likely declaring the concentration would add extra semesters. For commuters, the outside-class studio hours required to study metals are not as accessible as they could be. But there are other studio art majors on campus, and other students in art concentrations.  

While it may never be a large major, the math as to why it is all but an endangered major fails to add up for me. I think part of it lies in utilization. We have the only four-year metalworking degree program of this kind in the state.  

I have written on this before: UMass Dartmouth, the nearest comparable program, is ranked second-best in all fine arts programs in the state of Mass. They have eight dedicated rooms and multiple student sculptures around campus, as well as a dedicated, renovated fine arts center. In Conn., Southern also ranks second, according to CollegeFactual, although only in public fine arts programs. Only UConn beats us—which has no metalworking or jewelry minor, never mind major or concentration. Yet Earl remains in its current state with no plans for upcoming upgrade. 

 Our single metals room is cramped and humid, some limited space dedicated to ancient equipment from Earl’s laboratory days. UMass Dartmouth is also a fellow public institution otherwise known for its programs in healthcare, education and other STEM fields. They are part of a broader state university system, often the choice of commuter and transfer students within local communities. They started as a specialty trade school, and then gradually expanded during post-industrialization eras. Sound familiar? The key difference: Southern has one metals major. Equivalent programs at UMass Dartmouth, which has a different categorization system, boast anywhere from three to 295.  

If our institution advertised and supported its art programs with the same pride as our peers, maybe more students could take advantage of this unique opportunity: a four-year creative trade program in metalworking and jewelry design into an unsaturated niche. It is the only one like it; it is here; it is unheard of.  

We can do better. 

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