Global studies major and minor added to University curriculum

by Sam Kean

Drawing on the strength of two different areas, the University instituted a new global studies major and minor for the 2000-01 academic year.
Global studies replaced the old international relations major and other majors specific to a geographic area. Program director Gloria Raheja said combining the two only made sense.
International relations gave students a strong theoretical background in global processes, while the area studies majors provided an intimate knowledge of the social, political and historical circumstances of an area of the world.
In the new major, students select both a theoretical emphasis, such as population or international economies, and an area emphasis, such as East Asia or Russia.
The result is an interdisciplinary major which, in Raheja’s opinion, is “the best international studies major in the country.”
To supplement course work, the global studies major requires a cultural immersion experience. Many students study abroad, although other immersion programs such as an internship with an American-based international organization also fulfill the requirement.
While the major is new, the University’s Global Studies Institute is entering its third year of existence. The past two years were spent revising old courses, as well as finding and preparing faculty members to handle the interdisciplinary study.
All global studies professors hold joint positions in the institute and in other departments.
Vinay Gidwani teaches one of the two core global studies courses in addition to his professorship in the geography department. So far, he said he’s been pleased with the enthusiasm of his students, especially considering how abstract many of the topics he teaches are.
He said these theories, though, are essential to understanding concrete global processes that occur every day.
But Raheja said most of her students already have an extraordinary perception of global events.
Moreover, she admitted she was stunned at the huge percentage of students in her Introduction to Area Studies class who had already studied abroad, some of them more than once.
Raheja said she believes even students who do not intend to pursue an international career may find this program beneficial. She emphasized that the critical thinking skills produced in a global studies major can be applied to any number of professions.
Raheja cited a student interested in attending a local law school, and noted that medical schools sometimes pursue students with a knowledge of global events because they can better serve an international community of patients.
More than anything, Raheja said, the global studies major forces students to be critical of their own assumptions about global processes and the ways they know the world.

Sam Kean covers faculty and welcomes comments at (612) 27-4070 x3212.