How the Arts Help Create a Balanced Life at College

University of Rochester. Prestigious. Heavily STEM focused, with huge draws for students in engineering, business, or pre-med. But fear not. This is not a rant about humanities vs. STEM, or the benefits of cons of any major over another. This is about something all students can benefit from—art. Not just art in the sense of painting or pottery, but any kind of arts classes—theater, dance, studio art, film, etc. Anything you do to get creative, and work outside of a strictly academic setting. I talked to a few of my friends on campus about what they do to study the arts while still getting their degrees in non-arts related fields.

Vargas with a self-portrait

First off, my friend Federico Vargas. From the Class of 2022, he’s double majoring in molecular biology and psychology. Before coming to college he took some art classes at his local cultural center, as well as regular high school art and art history class. However, coming to college opened his horizons to explore more. He did take an art class—Intro to Painting—but what really got him into art on campus was the creative arts club. The club takes place once a week, Fridays from 4-6 pm in Rettner. They provide supplies and offer a variety of projects to try out—pastels, origami, calligraphy—but you’re allowed to bring whatever supplies or craft you’re working on, as opposed to class which required sketches and other more strict assignments.

Vargas thinks that art is critical for STEM orientated students, as a place for self-analysis and exploration, and where you can move focus into yourself from the outside world. “I feel a well-rounded student needs to not only learn about the world as they go through college but learn about themselves as well.” He also encourages everyone to try out the arts classes, even just for fun. This year they have a good deal of more experienced artists, but all skill levels are welcome.

Next, I talked to my first-year roommate, Rebecca Sarin. She’s majoring in data science and math, but she came in knowing she wanted to keep dance as a part of her life. She took Intermediate Contemporary Dance her first semester on campus, and joined Ballet Performance Group (BPG) as soon as she could. She wanted the opportunity to dance, but also to choreograph, which she found in BPG, and Roc Players, who produce an entirety student-run musical every year. She says, “I feel lucky, because the large size of the club means that there’s a big group available to bring my vision to life. It’s great to see other people enjoying themselves performing my choreography.” Other bonuses of being involved in dance include a fun way to get exercise, and a chance to bond with a group of people that have the same interests as you do, according to Sarin.

And lastly, I talked to…me! Unlike my friends, I took two classes in an area I had very limited experience in—ballet. I haven’t taken ballet seriously since I was about eight or nine, but I was psyched to be back in a dance studio. Beginner Ballet will always hold a place as one of my favorite classes I’ve taken at the University of Rochester, ever. It was, as Sarin spoke to, a great way to consistently have a fun kind of exercise in my schedule, but it was also a fun skill to work on that required focus, strength, and effort, but with significantly less of the frustration that comes with struggling with a coding problem or English paper. If I couldn’t do an exercise or step as well as a peer, there was no pressure to. I simply did it the best that I could, or if I couldn’t, waited patiently until we moved on. This is a vital experience that I think students severely lack in the environment of a high pressure university.

I’m also a theatre major, and I always encourage people to get involved with the arts if at all possible. The school offers such a wide breadth of arts opportunities—The Opposite of People, Roc Players, Off Broadway Off Campus, the Creative Arts Club, Ballet Performance Group, Louvre, Rice Crew, Beatbox Collective, Bhangra, Celtic, No Jackets Required, and all the a cappella groups as well. You can take your pick from levels of commitment and intensity, or even try out a few to see who you gel best with. It’s all about having a low-stress environment to try something that feeds your brain, body, and soul.

About the author

Madeleine Fordham

My name is Madeleine Fordham, I'm from Amherst, Massachusetts, and I am a sophomore at the University of Rochester. Right now I am planning to double major in American Sign Language and theatre, with clusters in web design and British history. I also do every extracurricular activity I possibly can, including (but not limited to) ASL Club, Debate Union, TOOP, Todd Theatre, Campus Times, and Quidditch—go UR Thestrals!

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