Photo by Ramsha Asad on Unsplash

Interdisciplinary Isolation

Marissa Maldonado

The only fear of a blank canvas should be that you have not yet started. 


When I have my mind set on a goal, I tend to get tunnel vision in order to achieve it. As my academic maturity developed throughout my time at Boise State University, I came to realize that I wanted to spend my time pursuing projects with more intense learning curves. At a myopic level, I understood that I had to meet my degree requirements in order to graduate, yet at a panoramic level, I deeply trusted that the margins of my education would be padded by my own intellectual pursuits with the same rigor I practiced throughout my required studies. This motivational shift pushed me to evolve my efforts of contributing to BSU organizations, maintaining connection with my peers and professors, and continually sharing my writing with the surrounding community. It became essential to my workflow once the pandemic impacted the structure of in-person engagement on campus and I had the opportunity to create my own curricular world from the comfort of my bedroom. 


Productive Familiarity


My computer science and mathematics degree was becoming rigid by sophomore year. I was a designer who committed to the more structured path of front-end web development. I had this naive, bold idea that I could become a web developer for the Information Technology department at my community college with only a couple years of experience under my belt. 


My coworker told me that a jack of all trades is a master of none and that I would have to earn my bachelor's degree before I would be vaguely acknowledged by an organization. I took a couple weeks to build a theme from scratch for my portfolio website, and I am proud to say that I was a web developer within that department for over a year. To this day, it has continued to be an integral part of my engagement in the technology industry.


Eventually, coding behind a dimly lit screen in my office became too sterile. Unbeknownst to me, this initial form of isolation prepared me to confront whether I was genuinely satisfied with what I was learning. I wanted to intertwine my passion for art and coding. It was taboo within academia to challenge the narrative and create cohesion between the two, so I simultaneously pursued a position as a graphic designer under the Public Relations Department and a web developer under the Information Technology Department.


I soon realized that I missed experiencing the logic of mathematics within my career path, but I also missed genuine interaction with my local community. So, I ran for Student Body Treasurer. This gave me the opportunity to be deeply involved with on-campus events, as well as make sure that funding was distributed equitably throughout diverse student organizations.


The thing is: I was working all three of these jobs at the same time. As treasurer, I was able to update our budgets immediately due to my position as a web developer, and I was able to update our community events due to my role as a graphic designer. It humbled me to discover that I had the ability to create an interdisciplinary learning environment for myself outside of what was required. Becoming a self-directed learner required the ability to dissect my passions in solitude so that my work ethic would not be disrupted by a 12-credit workload, the influence of others, and shortly thereafter, the isolation of COVID-19.


Unmitigated Change


I had wrapped up my three positions at the College of Southern Idaho and was in the last year of my associate’s degree. Almost immediately after COVID-19 reached the United States, I had to move out of my dorm on campus and was removed from the life I had built for myself. The rug was swept out from under me, as if my growth had come to an abrupt halt. I mourned the engaging ideas I learned during calculus lectures, the curious students at the tutoring center, and the informative conversations with other web developers during coffee breaks.


I came to the realization that I was still proud of all the work I accomplished. And so, I persisted. I wanted to take advantage of my isolation. I developed unique note-taking methods for advanced math courses, discovered my niche style in graphic design, and continued to curate my portfolio website to be absolutely representative of my true self. I no longer felt that I had to make myself small to fit inside an academic institution. 


I created a YouTube channel, Marissa Develops, in order to share my experience combining my passions while earning a college degree. I wanted my videos to feel like I was having a conversation with whoever was watching and to challenge them to develop their own ideas and projects, regardless of the distance created by the pandemic. Initially, Marissa Develops came into existence for the sake of accountability within my philosophy of education. Those videos became my own personal lecture series that I hoped could emulate the dynamic classroom engagement I experienced before remote courses. 


While acknowledging that students have unique pursuits and dreams, I pushed to organize my educational videos like an essay outline that viewers could fill out themselves. I didn’t need to explicitly share my experience, but to implicitly plant a seed of intrinsic curiosity in others. Could I contribute to dissolving the possible dissonance that students may have developed once removed from the physical community of a college campus? Documenting my connection between subject and self in the last three years became the foundation of my pursuit to uplift students in their education. Through personal reflection, I pressed to develop more engaging learning methods, both academically and recreationally.


There always seems to be this pressure in academia that we have to fit inside a box, but no one tells us its dimensions. To think outside the box seems ironic because we have to define that box. Do we allow our thoughts to be wide in quantity, yet lack the depth of quality? Our transcripts are not simply an archive of college credits; they are a roadmap of the perspectives we have developed along the way.


Out of all the integrals I have solved over the years, I do not have a solution for finding validation in the work we create. It is an endless, blind process. Reciprocity is a consequence of creation and cannot exist until the idea has come to fruition. It takes time, perhaps the length of the pandemic, maybe a decade — it may not happen until you are in your 50s. The gratifying reality is that there is no limit. Isolation granted me the ability to simmer in curiosity, followed by throwing myself into the endless void of innovation.

Hi, hello! I am Marissa Maldonado. I enjoy writing recreationally and for academic journals, as well as recording YouTube videos that offer guidance to other students in hopes of inspiring them to develop a connection between subject and self in their education. I also do research on the andragogy and curriculum design of undergraduate courses in web development and mathematics. You can learn more about me and my work on my YouTube channel or my website

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