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The Art of Multidisciplinary Studies

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Jaxon Bonsack

Some learners prefer to color within the lines, stay in their lanes, and go deep in one area of study. But that style of learning is not for Jaxon Bonsack. When it comes to education, he wants to blend the colors, so to speak, and take a multidisciplinary approach. And that’s precisely what he did starting in 2001, designing his own bachelor’s degree through CCAPS’s Program for Individualized Learning (PIL). Moving at his own pace, Jaxon took classes incrementally and built a degree that centered on architecture, sociology, and cultural identity. However, as personal circumstances in his life converged, it became impossible for him to proceed with his education, and in the meantime, PIL was discontinued in 2014. The years passed, but Jaxon never forgot about the degree he’d been building.

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In the fall of 2019, Jaxon made the pivotal decision to return to CCAPS as a full-time student and devote himself to finishing the individualized degree he’d started 18 years before. The Multidisciplinary Studies (MdS) program allowed him to transfer the credits from his previous coursework, remaining true to the individualized nature of his original degree and preferred learning style. Jaxon worked with his advisor to develop a clear plan for the academic year that lay before him. With only a handful of required courses needed in order to graduate with his bachelor’s, Jaxon was back on the path to finally gaining his diploma.

 

Passion for Heritage Preservation

 

In 2005, Jaxon took advantage of a study abroad opportunity that dramatically shaped his way of thinking and his professional pursuits. Spending the summer in India, he researched community participation, traditional building technology, and the preservation of historical sites. The experience was so eye-opening that it inspired Jaxon to turn his full attention to heritage preservation.

“I look at heritage preservation as a very large umbrella that encompasses not only the built environment but also the non-built environment,” Jaxon says. “I’m interested in peeling back the layers and understanding what composes a space and how people look at it and experience it, define it and think about it.”

With this interest fixed in his mind, Jaxon moved through requirements to complete his MdS degree, setting his sights on furthering his education by pursuing a master’s degree in heritage studies and public history. He’s driven to understand the stories that historic places have to tell and to help preserve those stories for communities to appreciate. As he pondered this, Jaxon realized that having a storytelling credential would be beneficial—so, he’s entertaining the possibility of adding a creative writing minor to his degree. 

 

The Last Year of School

 

It’s been an interesting year, to say the least. Jaxon blazed through fall semester, enjoying the experience of being on campus again and attending a variety of classes like American literature and Chicano politics. Spring semester brought with it the COVID-19 pandemic and the shift to distance learning, which left Jaxon completing the degree he’d started almost 20 years ago fully online and at home. While he’s been able to adjust to the schedule well—having run his own upholstery, custom sewing, and furniture repair business out of his home for years—the end of the semester felt somewhat lackluster. In lieu of all the fanfare that being on campus would’ve provided, Jaxon set aside time to reflect on his journey. 

“It’s more important than ever to find a way to personally mark this transition,” Jaxon says. “This is the point in history where things changed, you know? The tree fell—even if there was no one in the woods to hear it, the tree fell.”

“I think it’s a really great program because there are so many people like me who have interests that fall outside of the standardized major. It’s as flexible as it can be, while still checking the boxes.” 

Jaxon looks forward to finally having his bachelor’s degree in hand, and unless he decides to earn a minor in creative writing, he’ll graduate once and for all this spring. When asked about the value of the MdS degree program, he says, “I think it’s a really great program because there are so many people like me who have interests that fall outside of the standardized major. It’s as flexible as it can be, while still checking the boxes.” 

Having checked those boxes with a final flourish, Jaxon is already anticipating what’s next. “I’d really like to work with the narratives of a city’s urban areas. I’d love to do something in heritage preservation or museum studies. Something like that.”

 

Jaxon Bonsack is a recipient of the Osher Reentry Scholarship.