Sara Jackson Shumate, Ph.D., is the new director of the Individualized Degree Program.

Sara Jackson Shumate, Ph.D.

Jackson Shumate first joined Metropolitan State University of Denver as a lecturer in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences in 2015. Her teaching and research focused on economic and political geography through the lens of how infrastructure transforms our relationships to place. Before embracing her scientific side, however, Jackson Shumate was a musician with aspirations to become a professional oboe player. Having found her own zigzaggy path through and to higher education, she is excited to help Roadrunners pave their own way to success.

Jackson Shumate shared her wisdom and advice with the Early Bird and discussed her vision for the Center for Individualized Learning.

Early Bird: As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Jackson Shumate: As a child, I wanted to be an archaeologist; as a tween/teenager, a professional oboe player.

Early Bird: What advice would you offer students looking to pick a major?

Jackson Shumate: First off, it’s OK to feel overwhelmed. Sometimes, students think their entire future depends on choosing the “right” major. While that is important for certain careers such as engineering or accounting, there are so many different careers that students may not be aware of until they’re on the job market or applying to graduate school. Also, many students may feel a lot of pressure to “follow their passion.” But some of us are interested in many, many different things and can’t narrow it down. The best way to figure out a major is to have an idea of what you want out of your University education. Is it a straight path to a career? Is it to broaden your worldview? Is it to “change the world”? And if so, in what way(s)? Each student has different goals, and our jobs are to help students figure out a meaningful path based on their goals and the options available.

Early Bird: What individualized degree can you imagine Rowdy the Roadrunner pursuing?

Jackson Shumate: Aerial Sports Leadership. I’m imagining a future global sports craze inspired by Quidditch, using drones instead of magical brooms. Rowdy would need classes ranging from Aviation to Literature to Sports Management to Zoology. I could go on!



Early Bird: What are you most excited for in your new role as CIL director?

Jackson Shumate: I am excited to continue working with MSU Denver students, faculty and staff in new ways. It is a lot of fun working with students to help them develop creative programs to meet their goals. The “Finish What You Started” grant offers new motivations for students who left higher education to return to MSU Denver and build on their previous academic work and professional experiences. At the same time, the “Great Resignation” creates opportunities for current and returning students to rethink their values and goals. We’re excited to support these students and work with programs across campus to help increase graduation rates among returning students.

Early Bird: What’s the best professional advice you’ve ever received?

Jackson Shumate: I studied with Peter Cooper, principal oboist with the Colorado Symphony, during high school, and he gave me the best advice anyone has ever given me careerwise. He said something along the lines of “If you ever find yourself wanting to do something else professionally, go do that instead.” He wasn’t trying to discourage me; he was just being honest about how difficult it is to be a successful classical musician. The summer after my freshman year in college, I realized I didn’t want to spend the next 10 years in a practice room. I switched my major from Music to International Studies because I wanted to learn how the world works as a global system.