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Vero Testa likes to defy conventions – especially when those conventions double as Brunonian superstitions.

Testa, who for four years has gone out of his way to step on the Pembroke seal — supposedly incurring the curse of not graduating — plans to walk through the Van Wickle gates an extra time this weekend, risking the same fate. Curses be damned, he expects to walk through the gates again when he really graduates a year from now.

That's right – while some of those who passed through those gates with him in the fall of 2006 are finding they won't have a chance to participate in Commencement at all, others, like Testa, have decided to do it twice.

"It's a symbolic thing to graduate with my friends," said Testa, an international student from Italy. Even though he has spent eight semesters as an undergraduate and lists himself as a member of the class of 2010 on his Facebook profile, he must wait until next May to receive both his  Bachelor of Arts degree in International Relations and his  Bachelor of Science in Applied Math.

Under Brown's five-year combined A.B./Sc.B. program, students like Testa are able to merge academic "interests that span the sciences and the humanities" into a single undergraduate curriculum that can have more depth than a double concentration, said Associate Dean of the College for Science Education David Targan '78, who serves as the adviser for combined degree students.

The tradeoff? While their classmates receive their diplomas and venture out into the world beyond Brown, dual-degree students are expected to spend an extra year before the University will give them its imprimatur – albeit twice over. In recent years, an average of about a dozen students per class have opted for a dual degree.

"You need to know how to do a lot of things" to succeed in the workforce, said Testa, when asked why he chose to stay on for a fifth undergraduate year. "You need to have several degrees."

Even though he is looking forward to writing a thesis and being "very old and wise" next year, Testa said he is a bit nervous about returning to College Hill in the fall without all of his classmates.

"The downside of the (dual degree) program is that I'm scared that all my friends are gone," he said.

Before students sign up for the combined degree program in their fifth semester, Targan said he tries to help them decide if they really want to put in the additional time and cost associated with an extra year.

"For many things, two A.B.s would be okay," he said. "From the outside world's point of view, a double degree and a double major kind of have similar connotations."

The burden of staying a fifth year is no small consideration for those who enter the program, and for all the Vero Testas who decide it's worth the sacrifice, there is also an occasional Kristie Chin. Chin, who just finished her sixth semester, is petitioning University Hall to let her complete both an A.B. in Architectural Studies and a Civil Engineering Sc.B. in four years, so she can graduate alongside her peers in the class of 2011.

"To me it is really important to graduate with my class," she said. "I came in knowing that I wanted to do it in four years."

Most students, Targan said, do not decide to work toward a combined degree until they have spent a few semesters trying to pursue two completely distinct areas of study.
Indeed, Testa only received official approval for his fifth year last fall, during his seventh semester. When Testa first came to Brown he hoped for an A.B. in economics, but his "interests evolved throughout the years," and he eventually decided that the more intensive, multidisciplinary study of a combined degree would be more useful.

After all, with two degrees, Testa said, "I'm really qualified for a lot of things."

Although Testa said he wished he knew more students in the combined degree program, he is generally quite happy to stick around Providence for another year.

"It just worked perfectly for me," he said.


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