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Penn Admissions Blog
The Opportunity in Interdisciplinary
Olivia O'Dwyer | April 2, 2018

Growing up, I rotated through a growing list of possible career choices and majors, including but not limited to an actress, architect, author, lawyer, doctor, teacher, something business-related, and engineering. As I headed into my junior year of high school, I remember being particularly conflicted; my favorite class had always been English, writing being a hobby I’d grown up loving, but I couldn’t ever see myself not pursuing something more in math and science as well. Ultimately, I chose engineering, knowing I would always be able to pursue my interests in writing and art in my free time, but I am still very unsure of what I want to pursue long term.

One of the factors that attracted me to Penn was that it was very interdisciplinary, a strength they focused on in their information sessions, but beyond being able to take classes in different schools and the dual-degree programs that spanned across schools, I didn’t truly know what this meant until I began to involve myself in all aspects of Penn life.

This year, I’ve made sure to balance my math and science heavy curriculum with classes I’m interested in in other areas, taking Chinese and graphic design this semester, for example. But something I wasn’t expecting was to draw so many similarities across my classes that are in completely unrelated areas. One focus that many of my classes seem to center on is design, whether it’s artistic, mechanical, or tech-related. Before Penn, when I heard the word “designer,” my mind primarily went to fashion or graphic design. But I’ve realized that innovating and designing creatively is involved in so many different fields. My writing seminar, titled “Politics of Design,” focuses on the many social and cultural implications of design choices, a topic that’s closely intertwined with much of the work that I’m doing in my fine arts visual studies class, as we create logos, animations, and abstract art. Perhaps more surprisingly, this work also closely connects to my coursework in my mechanical engineering electives, which are focused on designing efficient and visually appealing products. Even though I’m working with drills and metal in one class and Photoshop in the other, I find my mind being pushed in the same ways. I also signed up for a Wharton seminar taught by a few seniors named “Design of Mobile Products,” where we’re learning how to create user-friendly and aesthetically pleasing apps using programs like Figma. Even in my computer science class, we’re learning to design algorithms efficiently, a task that constantly challenges me to think in new directions.

One of the main things I’ve learned about myself this year is that I love creating and designing things, and this does not need to be constrained to a particular discipline. The concrete skills I’ve learned in my classes – computer science, Solidworks, graphic design, machining – have lead me to developing the soft skills, learning to think critically and create and learn quickly, which I’ll be able to apply to whatever I want to go into. My dad always told me going into college that the most important thing you’ll learn in college is learning how to think, and I am beginning to understand what he meant by that. I feel confident that in the future, I will be able to look at a problem and approach it from an engineer, and artist, and a designer’s perspective – three approaches of many that together, form a stronger, more informed mindset.

About the author
Olivia O'Dwyer

I am a sophomore from Wilmington, Delaware, majoring in Computer Science. On campus, I’m involved in Access Engineering, a group that teaches engineering classes to local Philly high school students, I am playing Ultimate Frisbee for the first time, and I write for the ( In my free time, I love to paint, write, and listen to music. Join me on my quest to find the best running trails and coffee shops around Penn’s campus and in Philly. I’m looking forward to journeying through my freshmen year with all of you!

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