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A major without borders

BY CHRIS HIGGINS | APRIL 08, 2014 5:00 AM

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A new major track at the University of Iowa could drive social change in places as far away as Las Vegas or India.

Engaged Social Innovation is a new track in the Interdepartmental Studies major. Between eight and 12 current UI Honors freshmen will be selected to participate in the three-year program, which officials said intends to bring students’ ideas to change communities to fruition.

“I find it very encouraging to find a major that moves student learning beyond the classroom and into the real world, so that students don’t have to wait to see their ideas put into action,” said UI Rhetoric Department lecturer Tom Keegan, who was involved with development and will teach the new course for the major.

Students will be required to take three core courses filled out with classes related to their other majors and a semester-long internship anywhere in the world to implement their ideas. They will be encouraged to participate in academic-break programs and Iowa City community projects throughout the year as well.

“A person who falls in love with art, who falls in loves with literature, who falls in love with anthropology [will be able] to discover how that can really plug into the world,” said David Gould, the Las Vegas Downtown Project director of imagination. “Your education takes on a more purposeful level.”

The track was inspired by College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean Chaden Djalali’s desire to experiment with a “borderless major” and Gould’s experience working with the Downtown Project, which was started to redevelop downtown Las Vegas.

Gould said the track is “compatible” with a growing focus among university officials to encourage student community involvement, such as through the expansion of the Iowa Initiative for Sustainable Communities and a rhetoric class traveling to Muscatine to document sustainability efforts there.

UI freshman Jake Porter attended an informational meeting on Monday after hearing about the track in his rhetoric class.

“Mental health is a certain area of concern to me, not only removing the stigma around mental-health issues but also making resources available to people, especially the poorer population,” Porter said. “I’m astounded by the level of faculty that are involved, and it seems like it will be a unique way to connect with students and work on something practical.”

Keegan said he is enthusiastic and hopeful the track will benefit both faculty and students.

“I think it’s really important that students understand that education is something that is fluid and ongoing and that matters in a way that is visible in their everyday existence and the everyday existence of other people, and not just the promise of a piece of paper or a paycheck,” he said.


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