A new international relations major is being offered at St. Michael’s, having been approved by the Board of Trustees on Oct. 4. The new major contributes to a growing movement at St. Michael’s to give students a better global perspective, which includes an initiative to bolster opportunities for short-term international study trips and an increase in courses with an international focus.
Matthew Connolly, ’12, was the first student to graduate with an international relations major, which he self-designed.
“I decided that I wanted to form my own major after I studied abroad in Switzerland,” Connolly said. “The program in Geneva was based around international relations and included a full-time internship with an NGO.”
Kirsten Wilson, ’14, also designed her own international relations major after hearing about Connolly’s initiative.
“The experiences I have had through MOVE and different activist groups on campus were helping me think in a more global context and see the bigger picture,” Wilson said. “I wanted my major to match that framework.”
As a response to student interest, Jeffrey Ayres, chair of the political science and environmental studies departments, developed the international relations curriculum over a period of 10 months. Ayres explained that the new major is a sub-field of political science and said that the establishment of it “allows students to pursue a much more intentional approach to their studies that’s focused on international issues.”
He also highlights that the major is already “well-supported by the college” due to the large number of faculty focused on international issues. “We have six political science professors, four of which are strongly international relations oriented,” Ayres said.
Wilson said that one of the main reasons she was drawn to this field is because it is highly interdisciplinary. According to Ayres, professors who will teach courses that count towards the international relations major include Richard Kujawa in geography, Tara Natarajan in economics and Adrie Kusserow in anthropology. Possible electives span an array of disciplines, including courses such as International Business, History of Modern Ireland and Millennial Development Goals.
In addition to taking comparative courses, international relations majors will also be required to achieve a 206-level foreign language competency and complete an international relations practicum. The practicum can be fulfilled through a study abroad experience, an international experiential learning activity or an international relations internship.
“Having a foreign language competency in the 21st century is essential,” Ayres said.
Connolly, who minored in French, said that his major helped him develop interpersonal and intercultural communication skills.
“You have to be thinking about more than just yourself, more than just the United States and take in a larger perspective,” Connolly said.
Wilson, who designed her major around concentrations in African studies and conflict resolution, was able to study post-conflict transformation in Uganda and Rwanda as her practicum.
While Ayres is currently the chair of both the political science department and the environmental studies program, he will be stepping down as political science chair by the end of spring 2014. The next political science chair will oversee the international relations major.
Around 15 current students have expressed interest in the major, according to Ayres. He expects interest to increase when the major is included on the St. Michael’s website and students are more aware of its offerings.
As an example, he said that all prospective students who attended the political science presentation during Academic Preview Day on Oct. 12 had expressed interest in the major. He anticipates that the major will be listed on the website by the next Academic Preview Day on Nov. 9.
“One of the cornerstones of a liberal arts education is international learning and having an awareness of international issues,” Ayers said. “If you’re following the debates in the world today, everyone is debating the place of the United States. Are we entering a post-American world? If we’re in an era in which United States influence is at least changing if not waning, we can’t afford to live in a bubble anymore.”
By Tarah Srethwatanakul