The Story of Quadruple—maybe Quintuple—Major Michael Opheim ’24

Many students—about 30%—pursue more than one major at Bethel. But only one is pursuing four. With broad interests and an eye toward his future, Michael Opheim ’24 is currently pursuing four majors—neuroscience, history, computer science, and chemistry—and may add a fifth in mathematics.

By Jason Schoonover ’09, senior web content specialist

June 01, 2023 | 12:45 p.m.

Michael Opheim ’24

Michael Opheim ’24 poses at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library in Toronto.

It’s one of the most common questions for any college student: What’s your major? Ask Michael Opheim ’24 and the answer will take longer than most. That’s because Opheim is pursuing four majors—and may add a fifth. If you think that’s crazy, Opheim is used to it. “The general consensus is: ‘That’s nuts. Why would you ever do that? But hey, that’s pretty cool, though,’” he says with a laugh.

As of last fall, about 30% of Bethel students pursued more than one major, and about 5% declared three majors. Only one was pursuing four. Here is the story of Bethel’s rare quadruple—probably quintuple—major:

He started with one.

Like most students, Opheim didn’t start his college journey with a perfectly formed plan—it changed over time. Here is how he chose his majors:

Major 1: B.S. in Neuroscience

Coming to Bethel, Opheim knew he wanted to study science. But with broad interests, he found it difficult to choose one major. He declared his first major in neuroscience with plans to pursue a career as a radiologist, which would require medical school.

Major 2: B.A. in History

As Opheim took his general education courses, he found he loved studying history—and that he could focus his general education and elective courses on history to earn two degrees in four years. Planning for medical school, an additional humanities-centric major would help set him apart. Opheim also describes history as useful knowledge for being a well-rounded person, and it works a different part of his brain since it’s not a STEM—science, technology, engineering, and math—subject.

“I figured, well, I’m already here, why not? It doesn’t hurt to have all this education. Having more degrees, more skills, more knowledge—it can never be a detriment to you.”

— Michael Opheim ’24

Major 3: B.S. in Computer Science

Over time, Opheim grew unsure of the commitment required for medical school—especially as he considered starting a family and other commitments after Bethel. He and his fiancée, Katie Hendricksen ’21, plan to get married next summer. Opheim took computer science courses as part of his neuroscience major, and he loved the rigor and complexity of the subject. He realized the technological side of radiology is what drew him to the field, and technological skills could serve as a different pathway into a medical or research career—one that wouldn’t require medical school. And he saw how tech—especially emerging technologies—will play a significant role as things like supercomputers and artificial intelligence become more advanced. “I thought, I want to build up my skills in this way since it’s so hard to learn on your own. I thought, if I take another two years to do this, I’ve got my whole life to work—why not?” Opheim says with a laugh.

Such shifts in career goals aren’t rare. Professor of Psychology Sherryse Corrow—one of Opheim’s advisors—sees him as a good example of how students often land on their passion and interest area after taking classes sampling several intro courses.

Major 4: B.A. in Chemistry

After deciding to forgo medical school and stay two more years at Bethel to study computer science, Opheim realized he could fit in a chemistry major. He loves the subject and took some chemistry courses during his neuroscience studies. “I figured, well, I’m already here, why not?” he says with a wry smile. “It doesn’t hurt to have all this education. Having more degrees, more skills, more knowledge—it can never be a detriment to you.”

Major 5: B.A. in Mathematics

Opheim is currently minoring in mathematics, but he’s leaning toward declaring it as his fifth major. Multiple math and computer science courses overlap, so he’s already completed some required courses for the math major. Taking them, he’s noticed how mathematics is foundational to STEM and he’s seen value in building a strong mathematics base.

Michael Opheim ’24

Michael Opheim ’24 poses on a balcony overlooking Niagara Falls.

Students think he’s crazy. His professors just laugh.

When people learn Opheim’s story, responses range from impressed to surprised. “Students think I’m crazy,” he says with a laugh. “Many people don’t understand why I’d want to spend so much time doing all of this, especially these hard classes. Because it’s a challenge. No doubt, it’s really difficult.” Opheim says many of his professors just laugh at him—in a good way.

While Corrow recalls Opheim arriving motivated from his first neuroscience course, she says he’s become more well-rounded as he’s developed a deeper appreciation of both the sciences and humanities. “He is possibly one of the most motivated students I know,” she says. “He is a very independent learner and has the ability to tackle goals that have no deadline. This is a rare trait! Furthermore, he is a kind and caring individual.” Similarly, Associate Professor of Math and Computer Science Carl Albing describes Opheim as humble and inquisitive—always asking good questions to learn more. “As talented and capable as he is, he remains modest and unassuming,” Albing says. “He doesn't brag about his accomplishments; he just quietly goes about getting so much done.” In fact, Albing only found out about Opheim’s many majors after he recommended him for a summer high-performance computing (HPC) internship connected with the Department of Defense. As part of the recommendation, he checked Opheim’s transcript. “That's when I found the four majors!” he says. Neither Corrow nor Albing recalls ever seeing another student with four majors, let alone five.

For Opheim, he loves getting to work directly with professors, and he loves the personal relationships he’s formed with them. At larger universities, it’s often hard to get in touch with your professors, and you may need to rely on teaching assistants. “It’s really nice to be on a one-on-one basis with your professors,” he says. “Because if you’re stuck on something, you can just go right to their office and, if they’re there, you can ask them directly.”

Opheim has seen the tangible benefits of that relationship. He is about to head to Washington, D.C., for the high-performance computing internship that Albing helped him secure.

"It’s really nice to be on a one-on-one basis with your professors. Because if you’re stuck on something, you can just go right to their office and, if they’re there, you can ask them directly."

— Michael Opheim ’24

His advice: Definitely consider multiple majors.

For those wondering about declaring more than one major, Opheim says: “Definitely consider it!” It comes with challenges, but Opheim offers his advice:

You need to be on top of your schedule. Professors are a huge help, and he meets with all four of his advisors every advising day. But overall planning requires some independence. “You have to make sure, on your own, that you are scheduling things in ways that they work with all our other majors,” he says.

Time management is also crucial. “If you’re doing multiple majors that are in very different fields, your brain is going to be pulled in two different directions,” he says. “You need to know when you work best. And you need to know how you can, I guess, work to make things fit in your personal schedule.”

“It’s definitely worth it.”

Opheim’s course load has come with some sacrifices. He was the president of the Neuroscience Club but stepped down. Though it can be hard to get involved with organizations on campus, he still has free time and time for extracurriculars he enjoys.

Though Opheim admits his workload can be “a little hectic,” Opheim has no regrets. He’s talked with many people who changed careers—or wanted to—at least once. He loves each subject, and each could also serve well in years to come. “The thing that keeps me going is just I really am just interested in all these areas,” he says. “I like to have a vast wealth of knowledge that I can, I guess, take from in any different case. Because the future is so uncertain. You never know what’s going to be useful in 15-20 years.” While Opheim knows he could get a job with any one—or two—of his degrees, he has no regrets. “I’m enjoying it. It’s definitely worth it,” he says.

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