The School of Foreign Service Academic Council will continue its discussion on the merits of the certificate program and the possible introduction of minors into the SFS curriculum following a town hall discussion between students, SFS Associate Dean Mitch Kaneda and SFS Interim Dean James Reardon-Anderson last Tuesday.
SFSAC President Megan Murday (SFS ’15) said that the academic council prioritized student input in their evaluation of the differences between a certificate and a minor program.
“We wanted to evaluate the certificate program and see if it would be relevant to bring in minors instead,” Murday said. “The discussion unfolded regarding evaluating the current certificates — how they function for students, what roles they play in an undergraduate education — and if there’s room for minors. Before we’re going to take a vote, the academic council has to gather student input and have a formalized response on what students prefer and what would be in their best interest.”
In a survey sent out from the academic council to SFS students two weeks ago, the majority of students indicated an interest in introducing minors into the curriculum. Thus far, 423 students have responded.
“So far, it looks about 65 percent has favored minors to certificates from what we’ve seen so far at the survey,” Murday said.
According to Murday, the discussion originated this summer after the SFSAC learned of student concern about the difference between minors and certificates as credentials.
“The SFS is really unique, and that’s definitely a strength in looking for a job. But if we were to talk about the ethos of the school and explain what your major is, especially … one that less people have heard of like [Science, Technology and International Affairs], it’s hard to add an explanation on what a certificate is and what that means in terms of complementing your education,” Murday said. “It doesn’t have the natural ‘Oh, that means six organized courses that students had to take.’”
Murday said that students who attended the town hall meeting were also attracted to the possibility of earning a minor outside of the SFS, something students of the other three schools are able to pursue. For example, students in the College can receive a minor in Science, Technology and International Affairs from the SFS.
In addition, some certificates in the SFS can be achieved as minors in other schools. For example, SFS students can only receive a certificate in subjects such as women’s and gender studies, classical studies and Latin American studies, while students in the College can receive a minor in all of these subjects with the same number of credit classes.
“Minors would also allow more access to programs in other schools,” Murday said. “I think it’s important to know that … [we’re] also making sure that the classes that students have outside of the core multidisciplinary education also provides them with a knowledge base and skill set to have outside of Georgetown and beyond.”
SFSAC Vice President Anna Hernick (SFS ’16) added that students have expressed interest in earning minors in programs from other schools.
“It’s always been an issue that students have been about — not just earning a minor versus a certificate, but having access to programs across schools,” Hernick said. “What students are most worried about is having access to programs in other schools, and also having recognition for coursework that is completed like computer science or maybe a foreign language.”
Kaneda acknowledged that while it may be in the interest of students to earn minors from other schools, minors pose practical problems.
“We have heard from many students that College minors should be made available to SFS students, but at the same time, we need to be conscious about resources and costs,” Kaneda said.
In the SFS, certain classes can provide credit for both a major and a certificate in a process called double-counting. Kaneda noted minors would require students to take more courses because students would not be able to continue using courses from their major requirements to fulfill minor requirements through double-counting.
“Minors … would allow double-counting of courses with majors, possibly being more meaningful as a qualification than certificates, [which] would allow double-counting to some extent,” Kaneda said. “Without double-counting, minors would allow students to learn from more courses, but on the other hand, minors could be less accessible to students who do not come in with [Advanced Placement] and other credits.”
Kaneda said that the decision to introduce minors should be made considering the difference between the academic experiences of the certificate and minor programs.
“[The] focus should be on the learning achieved in the certificates rather than how much a certificate or minor means as resume qualification,” Kaneda said. “SFS centers and programs that provide the certificates can bring academic communities and thesis writing experiences to the students to deepen the SFS experience.”
According to Kaneda, a certificate program allows for a more comprehensive academic experience for students that a minor program would be unable to offer.
“[Since] minors by definition are combinations of courses, we cannot require departments to include thesis research or provide other co-curricular and extra-curricular experiences to the students pursuing minors,” Kaneda said. “SFS consists of multiple centers and programs that can provide such experiences to the students, and certificates can be designed to add to the overall learning experience of students beyond the majors and other SFS requirements.”
Emily Portuguese (SFS ’18) said she hopes that this initiative will eventually lead to an SFS minor program that encompasses a broader variety of topics.
“I wish students in the SFS were able to get minors in subjects unrelated to foreign service because a lot of us have interests in other areas like psychology, math or music,” Portuguese said. “Also, I think we should be able to have a minor in a language after we take so many language classes and have to pass a proficiency exam.”
Kelly Tierney (SFS ’18) said, conversely, that certificates are a more efficient and better way of gaining credibility in the SFS.
“It doesn’t particularly bother me because some certificates have overlap with major-required courses and can take fewer classes to fulfill,” Tierney said. “However, minors may allow for more options and variety.”
Timothy Yin (SFS ’17) agreed, and said that the certificate system allows students to further specialize within the SFS in a way that minors cannot.
“I guess I like the fact that the certificates are very well integrated into the SFS curriculum,” Yin said. “To me they seem to represent a deepened course of study in a particular field of international affairs.”
Yin said that despite this, he hopes the SFS will begin to recognize that students may have a desire to pursue other academic interests.
“It is important to realize that a lot of SFS students have interests outside of international affairs and I have friends who want to pursue minors in topics like math and journalism that they aren’t able to do so in the SFS,” Yin said. “I would not replace certificates with minors, but do think that the SFS should offer the flexibility to students to choose minors or certificates.