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Undergraduate Curriculum Changes Implemented

Professor Elizabeth Cohn instructs her first-year seminar students in her course

Professor Elizabeth Cohn instructs her first-year seminar students in her course "Reflections: U.S. in a Mirror."

The SIS administration has implemented changes in the undergraduate curriculum as part of an evolving process to focus on challenges and issues in international affairs in an interdisciplinary way, said Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education Patrick Thaddeus Jackson.

"The degree as a whole is grounded in a liberal arts philosophy," said Jackson. "This is a 'how to think critically and creatively about pressing global challenges' kind of degree. It will prepare students to live in the world rather than training them how to do particular things in the world."

One of the highlights of the revised curriculum was the introduction of first-year seminars in fall 2012. The classes, which will be capped at 19 students in fall 2013, are designed by professors teaching a topic "near and dear to their hearts," said Jackson.

Professor Elizabeth Cohn hopes to emphasize the importance of critical thinking in her course, "Reflections: U.S. in a Mirror."

"Students must begin with a text and fully understand what that author is saying," said Cohn. "Then they compare different authors' views on a subject, and then, only thirdly, do they bring in their own views. I think critical thinking is a hugely important skill, given the blog-filled world we live in."

Academic skills aren't the only ones Cohn wants her students to pick up throughout the course.

"I'm using the seminar as an opportunity for them to either develop or hone the skills necessary to be a successful student," she said. "In addition, they need to have a safe space to ask questions of faculty members."

Other changes to the undergraduate curriculum include developing a second-level research methodology course to allow the material presently covered in SIS-206 to be addressed over the course of a full year and thematic areas based on eight broad themes: Peace, Global Security and Conflict Resolution; The Global Economy; Foreign Policy and National Security; Global Inequality and Development; Environmental Sustainability and Global Health; Identity, Race, Gender, Culture; Justice, Ethics, and Human Rights; and Global and Comparative Governance. Another notable offering is the proposal of a public diplomacy certificate, which will be the first offered in an American university, according to Jackson.

Committees, groups and task forces worked for over two years to design and recommend the changes. The SIS Undergraduate Council discussed the alterations and eventually presented their recommendation to the SIS faculty.

"We liked that the curriculum had a set pathway for students," said Miso Juhnn, SIS/BA '15, the Undergraduate Council president. "A lot of SIS students come in knowing what they want to study, so the themes seem like an easier road to get them there."

"The way I like to think about it is developing critical thinkers rather than training people in particular technical skills." said Jackson. "We want to pursue this goal of growing that kind of intellectual disposition in our students. That's what we'd like to have happen."