Submitted Fall, 2006
This year’s assessment of the International Studies program took a different route. Instead of sending out surveys to find out opinions of students, I conducted historical research on the similarities and differences of International Studies programs to see where UNK’s program differs and where it is similar with other International Studies program throughout the U.S. Ultimately, it is time to make a decision about the progress of the program and whether it is viable as it is or if changes need to be made in the structure of the program.
The program at UNK is over 20 years old and few structural changes have been made since its inception. Over the years the course offerings have changed basically because teaching faculty has changed. The overall structure of the program has, however, not changed.
While reviewing programs offered at similar institutions to UNK and at large research one institutions, I discovered that UNK’s program is very similar to most International Studies program throughout the country whether it be a research one institution or a four year college. To compare UNK’s program to other programs, I’d like to look at the following program components: an introductory course, a capstone course, language requirement, study abroad requirement, and concentration possibilities. In International Studies Perspective (2006) Jonathan Brown, Scott Pegg and Jacob Shively asked these same questions of 140 different IS programs throughout the U.S. Their conclusions were similar to the conclusions I reached after reviewing 10 such programs. I wish to review each of the 5 components of an IS program to review where UNK is and then make some suggestions as to which direction it might head.
All of the programs I reviewed required an introductory course. Of the 140 programs reviewed by Brown et. al. all but 4 had a requirement for some form of introductory course. The introductory courses are all quite different and only about half require an interdisciplinary introductory course.
At the present time, UNK does not offer an introductory course. There is no such course because of the history of the creation of the program at UNK. When the program was created by the Dean of Fine Arts and Humanities, it was done without any financial commitment from the institution. The Dean simply looked at the various curricular offerings throughout the University and created the program from existing courses.
From all the research I have found, an interdisciplinary introductory course would improve the program greatly and help to create a sense of community for the students in the program something students said they lacked in the surveys taken over the past three years. Students in the present program are not acquainted with other IS majors except when they take required courses in other departments. The introductory course would also be the place to introduce the concept of the port-folio. Port-folio construction could be a major focus of the introductory course. And the port-folio production could become a major part of the international growth of the IS major.
An interdisciplinary international studies course would help focus the curriculum and develop international glasses through which to view topics taught in the subsequent courses and the port-folio concept would help focus those glasses.
If UNK were to offer an interdisciplinary introductory course, some problems would need to be addressed. Since the course is by definition interdisciplinary, the Dean of Fine Arts and Humanities must work with all of the other Deans to fund the course. The course should be team taught by a group of internationally minded professors from different departments of the University. Each of the professors would be designated as International Studies Fellows. One professor would serve as the overall manager of the course and be in charge of the schedule and the class management. Each professor would receive either course load credit or financial remuneration in the form of money placed in a special fund to be used by the professor for purposes such as research, course development, office supplies or student assistance.
In Brown et.al., 72% of those surveyed required some form of capstone course. Capstone courses in general have been used to define undergraduate learning. They allow students to integrate, apply and actively learn as an appropriate conclusion to their major. Capstone courses also provide higher education with outcome assessments.
The International Studies program at UNK would improve if a capstone course were offered. The most common form of capstone would be a senior lecture course. Once again, if a new course were developed, UNK would need to develop a plan to finance the course.
The 36 hour IS major is divided into 24 hours of required courses and 12 hours of electives. The electives can be either thematic in nature of an area study approach. The options available to students are worked out in advising meetings between the IS major and the program director. Changes in the present balance are not necessary at this time. A yearly survey of course offerings by departments needs to begin because of the growth in the number of internationally focused courses and the influx of new faculty.
At the present time study abroad is only strongly advised. It has never been required because of the complications with financing the experience.
Bowman and Jennings (2005) found that the number of students studying abroad has doubled in the past few years with growth in short-term programs increasing at a rate of 485% over the past five years.
At UNK study abroad needs to become the norm instead of the exception. Students with an IS major need to be encouraged instead of required to study abroad. More departmentally run short-term programs need to be developed to give the ISA student an introduction to study abroad with the hope that the student will chose later to study abroad for one semester or one year. The International Studies program is mostly a feeder program for graduate study when students can specialize in a concept or region. At this point they need to spend a minimum of one semester abroad.
Americans have always had difficulty with foreign languages. The norm is that only those students majoring or minoring in a foreign language are required to study a foreign. The number of students studying a foreign language to obtain a proficiency in that language is dwindling very rapidly.
UNK has always required a proficiency that has been defined as taking one course in the 300 or 400-level that is taught entirely in the target language. The course of choice has always been a course on civilization of the target country.
The general studies program at UNK will need to address the question of language requirement for all students. At the present time the requirement UNK has of an advanced degree of proficiency using our definition is sufficient.
Doing historical research of existing international studies programs has been very useful as an assessment tool for the IS program. After doing surveys over the past two years, it seemed more important to look at the program instead of doing another survey of students that would give the same results. If programmatic changes are made because of this assessment, the surveys could be used again and refined to reflect the changes.
Over the past year there has been an active IS Committee made up of the IS director, two political scientists, one historian, one sociologist, the Dean of the College of Business and Technology, and the Chair of the Department of Modern Languages. The committee has looked at the five points of an IS program.
Base on the results of the survey of IS majors from the past three years, an International Studies Committee was established to examine the IS program. The committee looked at introductory courses, capstone courses, study abroad, concentration and language study. The recommendation from the committee was to create a group of professors to teach an introductory course for IS majors. The professors would receive the designation of IS Fellows. The application process and the requirements to receive this designation need to be developed by the committee but it was the committee’s unanimous opinion that such a designation should be created and that an introductory course should also be created. During the 2006-2007 academic year, the substance of the course needs to be developed by looking at existing courses taught at universities throughout the U.S. and at courses taught at UNK. The process for selecting IS Fellows also needs to be developed as well as a means to pay the Fellows. Since credit hour production is the most convenient way to address payment for courses, a new system of payment will have to be developed.
The present language requirement should remain the same. The Director of International Studies should work with the Department of Modern Languages to develop a proficiency measurement that could be used for IS majors. The Department of Modern Languages offers German, French and Spanish majors and first year courses in Japanese, Arabic and Chinese. Joint programs with partner universities need to be developed to permit students to obtain a proficiency in these languages and other languages not taught by the Department.
The 8 courses presently required should also remain the same for the present time until new courses are developed on campus that might be considered. Since the IS program is an interdisciplinary course, IS program director needs to encourage departments to develop more internationally focuses courses. The concept of the four elective courses needs to be explained better in the IS literature so that students have a better understanding of the reason for the thematic or area studies approach to the courses. At the present time students are a bit confused by the idea of the concentration. This confusion was expressed in the surveys.
The requirement of a study abroad experience needs to wait. Although there are myriad of study abroad programs available to students more departmentally based programs need to be developed. New IS based short term study abroad programs also need to be developed in such areas as China, Africa, South America and the Middle East since many of the present majors are interested in concentrations in these areas. The IS Fellows could then serve as group leaders for these programs.
The IS program at UNK has been successful for over 20 years. It has, however, not developed due to the structure of the university and how payment is made within colleges based on departmental credit hour production. For the program to develop further, a university wide decision needs to be made as to how to pay for interdisciplinary courses and programs.