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Designing the Dream Degree

McMicken student Ayla Rapoport takes advantage of the Interdisciplinary Studies program to combine her love for religion, science and art.

Date: 1/31/2009
By: Kim Burdett
Phone: (513) 556-8577
Photos By: Melanie Cannon
In the DAAP ceramic studio, McMicken senior Ayla Rapoport pulls the plastic covering off her current art project to show her progress. Newspapers clutter the table with various ceramic tools as she showcases the large clay tubes aligned like a ladder.

“I am in the beginning stages of making a large-scale ceramic DNA model,” Rapoport warns. “Overall, this project seeks to challenge viewers about examining the interaction between science and religion.”

She holds up a small-scale conceptual model for comparison. The piece starts as a ladder and transforms into the DNA double helix. Covering the piece are Hebrew Scriptures by Judaic philosopher Maimonides.

Ayla Rapoport.
Ayla Rapoport holds a lifelong interest in art. McMicken's BIS program allowed her to focus on that love with other concentrations as well.

This piece, titled “Cosmology of the Human Soul: Mapping Our Genome through Science and Religion,” combines many facets of Rapoport’s life. She found herself drawn to the intersection of religion and science a few years ago, and is now using her artistic tendencies to express her rare views on the subject.

Such unique interests made it difficult for Rapoport to find her niche at the University of Cincinnati. But when she learned that she was able to create her own major within McMicken’s Interdisciplinary Studies program, she jumped at the opportunity to create an individualized curriculum molded to her aspirations and interests.

Rapoport will graduate from UC spring quarter with an interdisciplinary degree concentrating in spirituality and healing, with an honors certificate in research and creative arts.

“She encompasses what the College of Arts and Sciences is all about. She has been able to take lots of different areas from the college and merge them into a unique program,” says Mike Sitko, a physics professor who acts as one of Rapoport’s advisors. “It’s the kind of thing one should be able to do in McMicken.”

Designing one’s own major entails a lot of extra effort because it requires the student to form a proposal, complete with a well-rounded and challenging curriculum that has to be approved by a committee of faculty members.

“You have to really be willing to take that extra step or two,” says Terri Premo, director of the BIS program who also helped Rapoport develop her degree. “It requires a student who’s really creative, well organized, a self-starter and very bright. That’s Ayla.”

Cosmology of the Human Soul: Mapping Our Genome through Science and Religion.
This small-scale model of Rapoport's latest work features DNA covered in Hebrew Scriptures by philosopher Maimonides.

Rapoport, a Cincinnati native from Montgomery, managed to take all the core classes required of an A&S major along with the classes that interested her, from art courses in DAAP to religious studies in McMicken and Hebrew Union College to science- and medicine-related courses.

“One reason I like the interdisciplinary approach is that it gives me a chance to shine mirrors on multiple subjects to see how subjects reflect one another,” Rapoport says. “Nothing develops in a vacuum. Every academic subject develops within a larger context.”

Rapoport’s ultimate goal is to become a hospital chaplain. After establishing her career in chaplaincy, she hopes to incorporate her love for art into her work.

She is already getting firsthand experience in the field due to her own gumption and unyielding support from faculty. Rapoport managed to set up her senior capstone project with the Ronald McDonald House in Cincinnati. A few hours a week, she interacts one-on-one with the young patients from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, helping them express themselves creatively through art projects.

“It’s not about whether they can draw or their technical skills, but their freedom of expression. I’m getting a lot of fulfillment developing relationships with the kids and their families,” she says. “To see some kids vigorously getting involved with their work is a joy.”

She continues, “I’m doing this so I can give. That feeling of knowing you touched another person is great. The results aren’t tangible like they are in medicine, where variables can be measured. Spirituality in the clinical realm isn’t like that.”

Yet she’s immensely interested in the medical aspects as well. Rapoport spent last summer interning at Children’s, researching the connections between spirituality and health and their applications in a clinical genetic setting.

These experiences have aided Rapoport in her decision to continue her education at UC. After receiving her BIS, she plans to get a master’s degree in the same line of work. But in order to do so, Rapoport will, again, have to create her own degree.

“I’ve always known what I wanted to study but I didn’t have a label to put on it,” she says.

Luckily, her undergraduate experiences as a trailblazer have opened doors for her. Faculty on UC’s medical campus are aware of Rapoport’s ambitions and they plan to guide her through interdisciplinary courses at the graduate level.

“She’s very special and unique,” says Premo. “There’s nothing typical about Ayla; she has creativity and a desire for designing her own dream. And she makes it happen.”

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