International Studies department profile

By Phineas Rueckert

They’re not afraid of four flights of stairs. Or much else, either. They’re really quite fearless,” Professor Nadya Nedelsky said of Macalester International Studies students. Macalester, the institution that turned out international political and cultural figures Walter Mondale, Kofi Annan and Tim O’Brien, has a long legacy of orienting its students towards internationalism. Since its inception in 1949, the International Studies department has given Macalester students the opportunity to pursue their interests across a wide range of international and global subject areas. As International Studies (IS) department chair, David Moore, put it, International Studies majors can choose to focus on anything from “the remittance economy in Morocco” to “hospital medical waste disposal policies in Peru.” According to IS/Political Science double major Ezequiel Jimenez ’13, a native of Salta, Argentina, the International Studies department is broadly divided into three themes of study. There is a human rights theme, which is mainly comprised of classes taught by professors Nedelsky and James von Geldern; a literature and media theme, largely taught by Moore and professor Amanda Ciafone; and a theme of globalization and international theory, headed by professor Ahmed Samatar. Most of all, however, IS is characterized by its interdisciplinary nature. “International Studies is a collection of fields,” said von Geldern. “What brings us together is the study of globalization.” There is no IS minor because, according to Moore, along with the broad, global scale of the IS major, there is a necessity for depth and specialization. “We require the full 14-course major because when you get to that level…you have depth,” he said. “You’ve taken enough international studies courses, especially at the 200 and 300 levels, that you begin to really get the global perspective, and when you’ve taken five courses in a specific department, you’re able to get depth in a particular field.” Some students said that the ability to concentrate their studies in a particular disciplinary department while also having a broad, international background was a primary reason for choosing to major in IS. “The IS major was something that I knew I wanted to do since I was a freshman,” said IS/Religious Studies double major Hannah McIntire ’13, “mostly because it had a global focus, but [also because] I could concentrate on a subject area that was of interest to me.” Jimenez, who said that higher education in Argentina requires students to choose a “very specific” topic and study only that, “wanted to do something that was specific, but at the same time broad.” According to IS major and pre-med student Taryn Valley ’14, “Most people at Macalester could be IS majors because they chose to come to Macalester, and the major is incredibly flexible and personalizable.” “You can do pretty much anything [with it],” she said. IS classes tend to be discussion-based, even at the introductory level. Von Geldern, a member of the IS department since 2002, views the discussion-based aspect of IS classes as “the joy of it.” “Discussions get heated, but they’re always well-informed,” he said. “The discussion is always moving around. Everyone is taking part and everyone has a different point of view.” As for the students, he said, they tend to be “really bright students who are engaged in the material [and] who aren’t scared to venture into areas unknown to them.” Recently, there has been an influx in the amount of declared IS majors. According to Moore, “the classes of 2013 and 2014 will be the biggest classes in the history of the IS major.” “Clearly [the classes of 2013 and 2014] have brought a lot of excitement [to the department],” he said, “and we’re just reflecting that [excitement] back to them.” There are many directions IS majors can go after graduation from Macalester. According to the IS website, “a significant majority [of IS majors] go on to graduate school within five years, in a broad variety of fields,” and graduates are geographically dispersed. Moore estimated that, of the students for whom he writes graduate school recommendations, “roughly a quarter will go off to get degrees in international affairs or public policy and then the next biggest cluster of them are law schools.” “After that,” Moore added, “there is incredible dispersion.” He added that, “there are many informal networks of IS majors that exist and persist after graduation.” The department currently consists of 127 majors (making it the second largest department, just behind Biology), five full-time tenure-track faculty, a range of visiting lecturers and the entire fourth floor of Carnegie Hall. It seeks to, as its website says, “[combine] a demanding overarching global perspective with language training, study abroad, and thematic, regional and disciplinary focuses.” The IS major is 14 classes, consisting of any one Introduction to International Studies course (INTL 110-114), any five intermediate level courses, a five-course disciplinary focus in which all classes are “drawn from a single disciplinary department” on campus (such as anthropology, biology or economics), any two remaining courses with an internationalist focus, and a senior capstone—either a senior seminar or an advanced independent project, according to the Macalester College Catalog. Furthermore, students must take a minimum of six classes in a foreign language or prove an equal level of language proficiency and, unless they are international students to begin with, study abroad for a semester. (More detailed information about IS major requirements can be found in the online Macalester College Catalog.) “I think that we have a tremendously large amount of fun here,” Moore said, “and I’m continuously amazed at what my students do.”