Molly Rossi, ’16

As an interdisciplinary major just starting the process, I was interested in hearing from a senior who had carved her own path and gone through the process of creating her own academic venture. One of my advisors, Scott Johnson, recommended Bianca Nikic, ’14, who took her natural interest in pop culture and developed a major that combines concepts from communications and marketing to analyze branding strategies.

“People highlight the great things we have, like the leadership school and the business school, but we also need to highlight how well those things can work together,” Nikic says. “So many things interrelate, and interdisciplinary studies shows how you can take advantage of that. Things that you don’t expect to connect actually do, and it gives you such a fresh perspective.”

I asked her to tell me more about why an interdisciplinary studies major worked for her, and what her experience has been like.

What led you to an interdisciplinary studies major?

I think when you come in, some people are really structured and they know what they want. I always knew I wanted to do something in marketing, but I wasn’t quite sure where to go with it. When it came time to declare my major, I felt behind. I didn’t know what I could do, so I felt stuck.

What did it allow you to do that you couldn’t have done with a traditional marketing path?

I wanted to focus on things I could do creatively with marketing, and that’s why I brought communications into it. I’ve gotten a great writing background from communications courses I’ve taken, and that’s a skill that is extremely important, whatever you want to do. I took creative writing, which was really, really hard for me, but I feel it was necessary. I wasn’t comfortable writing poems and stories, but it was so helpful in taking me out of my comfort zone and building those communication skills.

Even though applying to jobs is scary, I have a lot of options. I have experience from Robins [School of Business] and the creative aspects from the other side of my studies, so I have gotten to see both sides of how the industry works.

How did your journey differ from someone with a singular focus?

Whenever I talk about what classes I am taking now, what I am studying and what I am interested in, people are honestly shocked. They want to know how I get to take these courses. To be honest, it’s fun. I’m able to see how things overlap among disciplines — concepts from the business school overlap with things I’ve learned in the theater department. I got to design my major around what I’m interested in and what I think will help me in the future.

How have internships contributed to your experience?

Freshman year, I interned with at a social media and marketing company, so that tied communications and marketing together really well. At that point, I didn’t know what my major was going to be, so it helped it take shape.

The next summer I worked for Star Magazine, all about gossip and pop culture. I didn’t think journalism was the thing for me, but I got to work in the marketing department and that was an interesting perspective.

My internship with Interbrand last summer was the jumping off point for my thesis. I got to see how a company marketed themselves, and there is so much detail you would never realize. I wanted to apply what I learned at Interbrand to how people brand themselves on the personal level.

Tell me about your thesis.

It’s about how celebrities brand themselves and build followings. I’m analyzing four case studies of what happens when these celebrities fall from grace. For actors, I’m studying Angelina Jolie and Robert Downey Jr., and for athletes I’m studying Tiger Woods and Lance Armstrong. There is not a lot of literature about crisis management and celebrities and branding, so I’m doing something that hasn’t really been done before.

What are the challenges of creating a thesis across disciplines?

There aren’t a lot of people at Richmond who are interdisciplinary studies, and they aren’t necessarily the same one you are, so you don’t have one person to look to. You have teachers and advisors, but it is really up to you to make the independent decision as to what you think is really going to work.

But that’s what I think is really special about this major — it’s about me and my interests and my passions. I get to build my creativity skills in the process.