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This theme explores how students, faculty and staff are change agents: disrupting the status quo and contributing to an evolving understanding of our world.

By Janet Harron

With rapidly changing global media technology, the election of Donald Trump as America’s president and the ongoing refugee crisis, there is a greater need than ever to understand international interactions.

Pending approval by the Board of Regents, the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences has addressed this need by introducing a new degree program that students can complete instead of a BA: an international bachelor of arts (iBA).

Transcending borders

The iBA has been designed to encourage and recognize the study of peoples and institutions that transcend borders and aligns with Memorial University’s efforts to encourage global experiences and international perspectives.

As part of meeting the regular 120 credit-hour requirements of the BA, including declaring a major, an iBA student must select two additional language courses, complete a number of designated international studies (IS) courses and spend a semester either studying or working outside of Canada.

“Part of our objective was to create an exciting program within our existing resources that would appeal to students who might not otherwise choose Memorial University,” said Dr. Alex Marland, associate dean, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, who helped spearhead the initiative.

New degree

The iBA program is unique in Atlantic Canada; the criteria for courses receiving the IS designation are more rigorous than in comparable programs elsewhere in Canada.

From left are Drs. Kathleen Gordon and Lucian Ashworth.
From left are Drs. Kathy Gordon and Lucian Ashworth.
Photo: Chris Hammond

Dr. Lucian Ashworth, head, Department of Political Science, and Dr. Kathy Gordon, head, Department of Anthropology, were key members of the group who developed the iBA proposal.

Faculty, staff and students worked collectively to work out the considerable details associated with creating a new degree.

Dr. Ashworth believes the development of such innovative programs are critical in today’s world. He says that knowledge of how global phenomena and international interactions work is in short supply.

“In order to strengthen democracy for the 21st century, it is imperative that we give our students the tools to understand how global interactions work.” — Dr. Lucian Ashworth

“With the recent Brexit vote in the U.K., even quite senior politicians were dangerously ignorant of how, for example, international trade rules worked,” he said.

“Citizens do not fully understand the complexity of international relations, and this lack of knowledge can lead to electorates making questionable decisions based on a weak knowledge base. In order to strengthen democracy for the 21st century, it is imperative that we give our students the tools to understand how global interactions work.”

Dr. Gordon agrees.

“The iBA will allow students to develop a greater degree of cultural relativity.” — Dr. Kathy Gordon

She says that global interconnections means that interaction with a variety of different groups has become a more regular occurrence.

“The iBA will allow students to develop a greater degree of cultural relativity as well as a more comprehensive understanding and greater tolerance and acceptance of social and cultural differences.”

Local shapes global

Dr. Gordon also makes the argument that what happens within a locality is shaped by what is happening at a global level and vice versa.

“An example I often use in class is a Mattel factory in China,” she explained.

“Decisions regarding the production of toys in that factory are very much shaped by the demand for Mattel toys in North America and Europe, rather than local economic, social and political processes in the Chinese town or city where that factory is located.”

Agreeing on what constitutes an individual student’s “international experience” was among the more complicated aspects of the proposal.

Students participating in a semester at Memorial's Harlow Campus kick up their heels at an English manor house.
Students participating in a semester at Memorial’s Harlow Campus kick up their heels at an English manor house.
Photo: Submitted

“Since this experience is for a degree, there was also a need to ensure that there is some sort of documentation and/or supervision of an international experience,” Dr. Gordon said.

Ultimately, it was decided that iBA students will need to spend a semester living in any country outside of Canada, either by participating in a Memorial field school or by working or volunteering in an approved position.

“Vital” aspect

Madeline Shaw, a second-year history student, is excited about the prospect of the iBA.

“Exciting things are happening at Memorial.” — Madeline Shaw

She believes that adding an international aspect to her university education is “vital,” as it will broaden her social and cultural awareness, harness her communication skills and teach her the value of international relations.

“With today’s age of global connectivity, I believe an iBA will put me a step ahead in the job market,” said Ms. Shaw. “Exciting things are happening at Memorial and I know many students here who will be interested in the iBA and lots of potential students who would want to come for this opportunity.”

Want to declare?

Current students who wish to declare an iBA can do so at any time by emailing reghelp@mun.ca from their @mun email account.

An information session on the iBA will be held on Wednesday, March 22, at 1 p.m. in A-1043.

More information on the international BA can be found here.

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