June 13, 2024
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Dual major finds academic success blending inspiration and pragmatism

Riya Bolander has considered many career paths, but degrees in music and psychology perfectly merge two of them.

Riya Bolander in Binghamton University's Q Center. Riya Bolander in Binghamton University's Q Center.
Riya Bolander in Binghamton University's Q Center. Image Credit: Jonathan Cohen.

Throughout their life, psychology and music dual major Riya Bolander (they/them) has wanted to be a dentist, dermatologist, psychologist, psychiatrist, biology researcher, spy, artist and pop star. From a young age, they were interested in music and aspired to a career as a singer, but in high school, pragmatism and an interest in science steered them toward a more secure career path.

“I am generally a pretty indecisive person,” Bolander said. “I also love doing as many things as I can. So, music and psychology offered a diversity in course content, which helped satisfy my desire to learn as much as possible.”

Bolander is the middle of six siblings, all of whom are very close. Their family moved from Wisconsin to Vestal at the start of their senior year, and Bolander was excited to learn that a highly-rated public university was right down the road. Although they applied to two schools, “Binghamton was the obvious choice,” they said. “I am incredibly grateful to my past self for making that decision because it has led me to many incredible opportunities.”

While studying music was a given for Bolander, finding a complementary degree was a journey.

“If time and money were no object, I would get a degree in everything because I truly love learning,” Bolander said. “But having dealt with anxiety and depression throughout my life, I thought learning about psychology would be of interest. I also thought I could combine my two majors in a music therapy way.”

Bolander notes that their passion for music includes performing. They are the soprano section leader for the United Presbyterian Church in Binghamton and a first soprano for the Southern Tier Singers’ Collective and the Binghamton University Harpur Chorale and Chamber Singers. Bolander serves as vice president for the Student Association organization, Sound of Binghamton. In addition to singing, Bolander plays the tuba and has performed with various entities in the Binghamton University Music Department.

“One of the highlights of my time at Binghamton was a solo I did in one of the first post-Covid concerts during my second year,” Bolander said. “It feels really special because even two years later, people still stop and ask me if I was the person who performed.”

A record of accomplishment and leadership

Additionally, Bolander has earned high academic honors at Binghamton. They are a member of the Binghamton University Scholars Program and will graduate with the distinction of President’s Honors, the highest honor awarded to students with a cumulative GPA of 3.5 or higher.

Last year, Bolander received the President’s Award for Undergraduate Excellence, recognizing students who have “enriched the Binghamton University community through a record of accomplishment and leadership in such areas as scholarship, student life, and community life, all of which reflect the University’s purposes and priorities.”

“It was pretty surreal at the award ceremony banquet to hear the bios of everyone who received the award and to be told that I was part of that group. It was difficult to accept that I might actually be on the same level as the others there,” they said.

They are also a recipient of this year’s Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence (CASE), a State University of New York-wide recognition for academic excellence and achievement.

Katherine Bouman, associate director of the Binghamton University Scholars Program, nominated Bolander for the President’s Award and CASE.

Bouman praised Bolander as an inspiring student who adopts an interdisciplinary approach to their research and scholarship. “In addition to their research on auditory processing in Dr. [Assistant Professor of Psychology Sung-Joo] Lim’s lab, Riya has supported many offices and organizations throughout their time at Binghamton: New Student Programs, the Q Center, Wind Symphony, Harpur Chorale, Chamber Singers and Orchestra, to name a few,” said Bouman. “Riya’s extensive campus involvement has impacted many Binghamton University communities.”

Bolander, who worked as an orientation advisor between their second and third years, credits their ensuing experience on campus to that role. “That position contributed significantly to where I am today,” they said. “It helped me connect with all the opportunities available at Binghamton.”

Making campus connections

One advantageous connection Bolander made at the University was with the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion’s Q Center. Bolander was initially intimidated about visiting the center and thought it over for a year before finally applying for an internship. After securing the internship, they met with the center’s graduate assistant, who suggested that the peer mentorship program needed volunteers. So, that year, Bolander and their peer mentor co-leader Tom Holland worked on getting the program off the ground: writing guidelines and securing mentors to kick off the pilot program.

As the program gained popularity, the Q Center received additional funding, turning the volunteer position into a paid one. The program now has several volunteer mentors who work with younger students on issues related to school, career and LGBTQ+ identity. Bolander and Holland are currently working on documentation to ensure the program continues to thrive after they have graduated.

Bolander has also worked as a student manager in the Q Center, attending new student orientation sessions and tabling events on the center’s behalf. “It brings me such joy to see new students excited about our stickers and our events and to answer questions from parents about how they can best support their LGBTQ+ child,” they said.

Bolander shares that they had a fulfilling time at Binghamton. They are currently working on an honors project as part of the bachelor of music in performance degree. They are also part of the Summer Scholars and Artists Program (SSAP) and are concluding their research in cognitive psychology under the supervision of Lim. Additionally, Bolander recently gave a TEDx talk on “amatonormativity,” which assumes that all human beings pursue love and romance, typically through long-term monogamous relationships.

“I have loved my time at Binghamton more than I could have imagined,” Bolander said, “and I feel like I am getting the opportunity to close out my undergraduate experience with ‘capstone-esque’ projects in all my passion areas, which is a really wonderful and satisfying way to end my time here.”

Bolander is currently exploring options for the future, such as applying for positions as a research assistant, laboratory manager or lab coordinator. Ultimately, they want to pursue a PhD in cognitive psychology, specifically a program that examines the cognitive aspects of music. Bolander aspires to become a professor who integrates both music and psychology in a highly-regarded institution with excellent programs in both areas. Moreover, they will continue performing.

“Throughout all this, I hope to continue singing and continue my involvement with choirs on a community and professional level,” they said.

Bolander acknowledges that the campus has a wide range of organizations and activities, making it possible for anyone to find something that interests them. Even as graduation nears, they emphasize that there are always opportunities to explore and grow.

“There really is something for everyone,” they said, “and it’s okay if it takes some time to find a place for yourself. As a senior, I am still finding new ways to be involved, so it’s really never too late.”

Posted in: Harpur