SFS Academic Council holds town hall on minors versus certificates

Last night at the Mortara Center, the School of Foreign Service Academic Council held a full town hall meeting to get student input on the SFS Curriculum Committee’s review of both the merits of the existing certificate program and the possible introduction of minors into the BSFS curriculum.

Interim Dean James Reardon-Anderson and Director of the Undergraduate Program Mitch Kaneda were also present to answer questions and provide clarification on the options currently available to SFS students.

“First of all, the College and the School of Foreign Service are organized differently,” Reardon-Anderson said. “The college is divided into departments, each of which focuses on a particular discipline while the [SFS] has no disciplinary divisions. Its divisions, such as they are, are programs and centers, all of which are interdisciplinary.”

Currently, SFS students have the option to supplement one of the eight interdisciplinary majors offered in the school with either a certificate from one of the 17 certificate programs or participation in the new business fellow program. All of the certificates focus on a different region or theme, including Asian Studies, Justice and Peace Studies, and Religion, Ethics, and World Affairs.

“If you are talking about a minor as they exist, they are offerings of disciplinarly-based departments in the college. In the [SFS], the equivalent, or the secondary organization of the curriculum is by definition an interdisciplinary phenomenon, and that is what a certificate is,” Reardon-Anderson said. “There are two approaches—one is not necessarily better than the other—but they are different.”

Kaneda focused on whether a minor or certificate is deemed more meaningful in terms of a credential.  “To give you a bit of what I have been thinking about personally…is thinking about what would make that entire SFS learning special,” he said. “That took me somewhat beyond this fourth level credential thinking, to pose this certificate as an academic experience beyond what other areas of the curriculum have to offer.”

He also asked students to consider the research component of the certificate program, a feature that distinguishes it from a minor in the College.  “Could certificates be a vehicle to allow students to experience this research process where you would not just learn a programmed, prescribed package of knowledge, but for you to pursue the frontier of knowledge yourself in terms of research?” he said.

In addition to an invitation to last night’s town hall, the email from the Undergraduate Dean’s Office also included a link to a survey asking about SFS students’ curricular preferences.

One of the questions cut straight to the chase: “Would you rather have the option to earn a certificate or a minor?” It also reminded students that minors do not allow double-counting and carry elevated weight as a credential while certificates do not.

As a SFSer herself, Vox is very interested in seeing the progression of this discussion—and hopefully being able to complete her tentative certificate in African Studies.

Photo: Georgetown University

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