Student Efforts Inspire New Global Development Major

April 29, 2009 — In 2006, Kendall Wallace saw a gap in the University of Virginia's curriculum. But instead of just complaining about it, Wallace, along with more than a dozen other students and faculty, did something about it.

The gap involved the study of global development. While students have been able to major in foreign affairs or in programs studying various regions of the world, there wasn't an interdisciplinary offering that focused on the problems of developing countries. Until now.

On Monday, the University's newest major, Global Development, was officially unveiled at the Colonnade Club.

"We saw an incredible, growing interest among students at the University in international development issues, based on class registrations, clubs and research projects," Wallace said. "We also saw an incredible gap in the curriculum, which had relegated the topic of development to particular departments, such as economics and anthropology. But you can't understand the economic development of a location without multiple perspectives."

In the spring of 2006, a group of interested students founded the Global Development Organization, a contracted independent organization. They held weekly meetings to discuss international development issues, brought in outside speakers, and decided to create a Development Major Committee to spearhead the creation of a new interdisciplinary program in global development in the College of Arts & Sciences.

The Development Major Committee took a systematic approach. It looked at similar programs elsewhere, particularly at UCLA, the University of California at Berkeley and at Georgetown University. It looked at other interdisciplinary programs at U.Va. to understand their structures. And it looked at current course offerings within the College to see which existing courses would fit into the new program. In that way, the committee, working in conjunction with faculty advisers, was able to identify gaps in the curriculum and construct the new program to fill them.

The new interdisciplinary global development major will offer students a grounding in the fundamental issues of development, while allowing them to pursue in-depth research on topics of particular interest, according to a brochure produced by the Global Development Organization.

Second-year students will apply to enter the program for their third and fourth years. Global development majors will take a yearlong seminar in their third year, along with nine credits of courses in economics, politics, anthropology or sociology. In their fourth year, they will take a three-credit independent research seminar along with another nine credits of courses chosen under the guidance of the program director. Students who are also accepted into a distinguished majors program may choose to write a 60-page thesis instead of a 30-page paper for their fourth-year research seminar.

In addition, all the students enrolled in the major will be encouraged, but not required, to participate in some form of internship or service learning project in the U.S. or abroad, in the summer after their third year or in the first semester of their fourth year.

"Experiential learning can't be required, but we can look for ways to provide grants for students who need them to get some kind of international experience," Wallace said.

While modeled on other interdisciplinary majors at U.Va., the global development major includes three new elements, she said: the yearlong seminar that introduces broad social theories among other fundamentals of development; a follow-up course that relates the theories to current events; and the opportunity for students to pursue case studies in areas of particular interest.

The College of Arts & Sciences' Committee on Educational Policy and Curriculum approved the new courses in March and the new major in April. Dean Meredith Jung-En Woo has agreed to fund the new major for the first four years by covering the cost of the development fundamentals seminar and release time for a program director. The Office of the Provost is also providing start-up funding.

The first program director will be Richard Handler, professor of anthropology and associate dean for academic programs in the College, who has been actively involved in helping to develop the new major.

The deadline for second-year students interested in enrolling in the major next fall was March 16 and the first class of 24 students has already been chosen. Selection for the subsequent class of 20 to 24 students will open in the spring of 2010.

To sustain the major, the program's supporters hope to create a $9 million endowment, which would cover the cost of two co-directors, at endowments of $3 million each, and a student research fund, also endowed at $3 million. The project is currently seeking support through discussions with potential donors and is working with Wayne Cozart, vice president of alumni engagement at the U.Va. Alumni Association, to create an alumni group interested in global development and global health.

The major comes too late for Wallace, a fourth-year student from Richmond who is completing a distinguished major in history and a minor in anthropology with a focus on global culture and commerce. She became interested in global development through the experience of her older brother, Cameron Wallace, who graduated from U.Va. in 2000 with a double major in economics and foreign affairs, and served as a Peace Corps volunteer in the West African nation of Benin.

"I wanted to carve my own path," she said.

Wallace has done this through designing her own academic program and through her work creating a new major and opening doors for students who will come after her. And this year, three years after finding a gap in the curriculum, she can graduate knowing that, thanks in large part to her efforts, the gap has been filled.

For information about the Global Development Organization and the global development major, visit here.

— By Charlotte Crystal