By Elaina Palada

Choosing a college major can be overwhelming because there is so much to explore. At Northwestern, undergraduate students are welcome to pursue multiple interests via a variety of educational opportunities, including the University’s dual degree program.

Akie Kadota, a fourth-year dual degree music education and social policy student, shares some advice and insight on how the Bienen School and Northwestern have provided her with ample opportunities to combine her passions.

If you could go back in time and give advice to your younger self on the college experience, what would you say?

I think I would tell myself that I belong at Northwestern! Pretty much everyone has a bit of an existential crisis coming into college; it’s hard not to experience some impostor syndrome because everyone at this school is so talented. Throughout my time at Northwestern, though, my mentality has shifted. I have such an opportunity to learn from my peers. It was also really important for me to realize I have my own individual path at Northwestern. I began my undergraduate studies trying to fit the mold of what I felt was a “model” performance major, but then realized there were many subjects I wanted to embrace in addition to music, including education, community service, and social work. College is a great time to figure things out and trust the process.

You are a dual degree student pursuing music education and social policy. What made you decide to pursue these two degrees?

I actually began my studies at Northwestern majoring in music education and flute performance. Around spring quarter of my sophomore year, I realized I wanted to broaden my interests. Being a low-income student has always heightened my awareness of access issues within education and has fueled my passion for education equality. I loved being able to work directly with students in classrooms, but I also wanted to consider how I could make an impact from a policy-focused approach.

What have been your fondest memories as a Bienen student so far?

The community here is so kind, and I’ve made a lot of my closest friends at Bienen. One of my most memorable experiences was participating in competitions with my woodwind quintet during sophomore and junior year. It was so fun to perform with such high-level musicians who are also good friends, and we had fun exploring different cities together.

Recently, you helped organize a remote bagel delivery through Northwestern’s National Association for Music Education (NAfME) collegiate chapter. What has your community involvement looked like during the pandemic? Are there other projects you have been working on?

Yes! I am kind of a textbook Northwestern student who thinks it’s a good idea to do too many things every quarter. I feel really lucky to be able to be where I am now. It wouldn’t have been without the help of all my mentors, teachers, and community members, who all have taken the time to believe and invest in me. That’s why I feel such an urge to give back to my own community and put my coursework into practice.

I currently serve as a Peer Advisor for first-year and transfer NU students, tutor elementary school students in Evanston through Books&Breakfast, teach music production to residents in the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center through Arts and Music Programs for Education in Detention Centers (AMPED), serve as president of NU’s NAfME collegiate chapter, and am continuing my summer role with the Chicago Arts Partnerships in Education (CAPE).

Engaging with these different communities has definitely required extra creativity during the pandemic. Although my involvement has looked different this year, I think now is an even more pertinent time to keep these connections alive. I am always thankful to have opportunities to connect with peers and find other creative ways to serve, from making care packages to teaching virtual lessons.

How has the Bienen School shaped you as a musician, educator, and person?

I think Northwestern and the Bienen School have been wonderful places in that they’ve allowed me to think about my academic and personal interests more holistically. Rather than fragmenting my passions, Northwestern and Bienen have given me the space to pursue both my musical interests as well as my desire to learn more about education and social policy. The University also has so many extracurricular activities, grants, and opportunities. Northwestern really lets you explore your options.

Elaina Palada is a master's flute performance student.

  • music education
  • students