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Dasha Schaaf
August 2, 2023

How This Graduate Designed Her Own Major: Organizational Leadership Development

Wanting to deepen her knowledge of leadership, Dasha Schaaf ’23 used the individually designed major to create a pathway in organizational leadership development. As a result, she is headed to Vanderbilt University to pursue her master’s degree in learning, diversity and urban studies.

Loving Berry for the academic culture and community it created for her, Dasha initially decided to double major in psychology and communication, with the hopes that she could make leadership the focal point for her master’s. But struggling to find the needed courses focused on leadership and development, she took another direction in her sophomore year.

Berry offers the option for its students to craft their own major if their educational aspirations do not fall within the variety of majors offered in the educational catalog. With the help of Interim Dean of Academic Services Casey Dexter and Associate Professor of Business Communication Samantha Nazione, Dasha streamlined the concept for her own major: organizational leadership development. Both professors then supported her in the course selection process each semester.

For Dasha, organizational leadership development is “the fostering of integrity and leadership skills of those in a position of power within an organization.” With career goals to cultivate leadership skills for teens, she developed a cross-curricular schedule focused on disciplines in psychology, communication, business and marketing. This was carefully crafted with the intent of enriching her understanding of the psychological view of oneself as an individual while investigating the ways in which members of groups utilize their unique contributions to achieve organizational success. She also learned about the inner workings of business while researching the cultural makeup of successful organizations and the leaders who are created and thrive in these settings. 

Dasha’s experience with her major opened the door to a plethora of amazing work and leadership opportunities that complemented her expanding education. To garner direct experience, Dasha worked with the Darlington School in Rome as they were implementing a new leadership course. She also served as the student director for the Emerging Leaders Program at Berry, whose purpose is to mentor and encourage current freshmen on how they can step into leadership roles throughout the course of their college careers.

“Each opportunity has given me invaluable knowledge and experience that I’ve been able to combine with the information learned in my classes,” she says. “This has led me to acquire a deeper understanding and appreciation for the field of leadership — equipping me with the skills and training to prosper in my career.”

Last spring, Dasha graduated from Berry with a unique degree tailored to how she wants to impact her field. Along the way, she gained practical experience and a network of mentors that propelled and supported her dreams.

For incoming freshmen or current students considering designing their own major, Dasha advises them to ask questions and speak to as many people as possible to help them figure out their options. She adds, “It is a worthwhile experience that opens many doors. I would encourage anyone considering an individually designed major to start having those conversations and to take that jump.”

Story by junior Amani Pyron

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