Savannah Dawson, McDaniel College grad as of May 19, 2018, hopes quadruple major will lead to life of science writing.

When Savannah Dawson crosses the stage at McDaniel College on Saturday, May 19, she’ll walk away with four very different degrees.

The born-and-raised Carroll countian will graduate will degrees in English, biology, music and a self-designed major that focuses on scientific writing.


But while learning and education have always been a large part of Dawson’s life, getting to come to college, and coming out after accomplishing so much, is “kind of crazy,” she said.

Dawson, who grew up on her family’s farm north of Westminster, said she’s the first in her family to have gone to college. McDaniel was never on her radar, but she and her mom were looking at different schools and decided to give the college a chance.

“We stopped in and fell in love with the place and I said ‘this is home,’” she said.

Dawson never intended to leave with four degrees.

She came in as a double major, she said, adding originally she planned to study English and biology.

“What I’ve always wanted to do is scientific writing — in particular taking the kind of the gobbledygook that scientists spit out and turning it into plain English without losing any of the content,” she said.

Marquise Findley-Smith was brought up in a single-family household with his older brother and mother. He credit’s his mom’s sacrifices in life to make sure he stayed on the right path, and in the right school system.

But her family is also artistic and musical, so being active within the music department was a “no-brainer,” Dawson said.

The plan was to develop music into a minor, but when it looked like she couldn’t double major with biology and English, she started to create her own major, and do music and biology as minors.

“When my advisors looked at my transcripts they went, ‘wait a minute, you only have four classes left in biology and only four classes left in music to make them majors.’”

Dawson finished the last two majors this past year.

Music — primarily singing — has been a large part of her life growing up, as well as during her time at McDaniel. Dawson, in addition to singing, has also learned to play piano, electric bass, violin, ukulele and also a bit of the hammer dulcimer, she said.

“Music, to me, is everything. I find music in everything I do, be it in writing, in the rhythms that you can create in a well-crafted argument, to even in science. I mean, the stars sing.”

And music has helped her become a better learner. Dawson said she’s taken the learning strategies gained from music and applied it to everything, like learning a second language.

Understanding how to read sheet music — which, Dawson said, is in itself a language — was instrumental in helping her learn Spanish.


Dana Ferraris, associate professor of chemistry who taught Dawson her senior year, called Dawson “very hardworking.”

Ferraris taught organic chemistry, and said Dawson always came in for extra help and extra work so she could practice.

May 19 McDaniel College graduate Agut Odolla plans to work with refugees and immigrants, something she always wanted to do, having been one herself. Her personal experience, she said, gives her something to offer others.

He said his class isn’t a “walk in the park,” and that he was almost surprised Dawson was taking it, because he’d known her as an English major. It’s a class that requires a lot of practice, and Dawson always put in the effort.

“Learning organic chemistry is like learning a new language,” he said.

Dawson took that mindset in taking the class, and was actively involved and an excellent student, Farraris said.

Ferraris said he can see how someone like her could come out with four degrees, because she was so dedicated. Every class, she was there, and always worked well with other students.

Growing up as an only child, she said she and her family are very close. She’s lived at home while attending McDaniel and has continued work on the family farm. Dawson said she soon hopes to move into a management position there and work with training horses.

Dawson credits much of her success at McDaniel, and her ability to be such a strong learner, to having been homeschooled for most of her schooling career.

“I always tell everyone if you can homeschool, do it,” she said.

At home, Dawson said, she was able to learn how to learn, and could spend months diving into subjects. It also helped her to understand that while some areas of focus could be different, there are always relations between them.

Working on a farm her whole life has also helped her to be a dedicated and successful student, she said.

“I’ve learned hard work pays off,” she said, adding that if you keep after something, eventually a change will come.