Texas Tech's Global Studies Program
By John Barkdull, Ph.D.
Texas Tech University is one of the state's three major public systems, with Texas
A&M and the University of Texas. Texas Tech enrolls over 38,000 students. In addition
to the main campus in Lubbock, Texas, Texas Tech is affiliated with Angelo State University
and has operations in Abilene, Amarillo, Midland, Odessa, Fredericksburg, El Paso,
Dallas, Highland Lakes, Cleburne, Junction and Waco. The university has long had a
study abroad facility in Seville, Spain and recently opened a campus in Costa Rica.
The new campus in Costa Rica highlights the emphasis Texas Tech has placed on international education. This includes attracting foreign students, sponsoring study abroad in dozens of countries, internationalizing the curriculum, and holding numerous academic and cultural events. The university's Quality Enhancement Plan included the theme of global communications. Texas Tech's administration includes an Office of International Affairs, led by a Vice Provost and housed in the International Cultural Center. The ICC provides meeting space, a passport office, and support for international education from kindergarten through graduate study. TTU also offers degrees in international business and international economics. Nearly every program incorporates a focus on world affairs, and some require an international experience to earn the degree. In short, TTU has committed to a global orientation and put that commitment into practice.
The Global Studies major is an important element of the university's international curriculum. Texas Tech's undergraduate major in Global Studies is an interdisciplinary degree, emphasizing social, political, historical and cultural aspects of world affairs. Students must take a set of core classes including classes in political science, history, communications, geography, and culture. Students select another set of elective classes from a list developed by the Director of Global Studies and the academic advisor for the Department of Political Science. In addition, they are required to achieve competence in a foreign language. The university requires the degree plan to encompass instruction in written, spoken, graphic, and numeric communications literacy.
Advanced undergraduates are required to take a capstone course which has several purposes; only Global Studies majors are allowed into the course. The capstone calls on students to synthesize their interdisciplinary course of studies, reflecting on how various disciplinary approaches, regions of the world,
and issue areas relate to one another. The capstone also emphasizes communications literacy, with assignments and exercises aimed at developing written, oral, graphic, and numerical communication skills. The class provides the best opportunity to engage in program evaluation. Global Studies has established several goals for the curriculum, but gathering data to assess these goals is difficult when students are taking a wide variety of courses across the university. The data on such questions as whether students feel the program has met their expectations is most readily collected in a course for advanced Global Studies students. Moreover, the capstone facilitates assessing whether communications literacy goals have been met.
The Global Studies program at Texas Tech was established in 2013. In its first year, one student declared the major and graduated in Spring 2014. Today, Global Studies majors number about 90, in some semesters exceeding 100 students. The enrollment expectations specified in the plan to create the degree have been met. Thus, Global Studies has grown to account for about one fifth to one-quarter of undergraduate students counted as part of the Political Science department.
The Global Studies program has addressed two important challenges. First, the question arises whether the program should stipulate an international experience to earn the degree. An international experience could include study abroad, scholarships that involve foreign study and research, internships, work experience, and the like. The premise of an international experience requirement is that a student ought not to earn a degree in Global Studies without ever having crossed a U.S. border — or even leaving West Texas. Consequently, an international experience requirement would seem mandatory.
This raises the question of how to meet the needs of students who already have had significant international experience. Some students have military experience, or grew up in families that traveled and lived abroad (children of diplomats, for instance), or have worked abroad. Does it make sense to require such a student to undertake an international experience, at added cost in time and money, when it is not likely to add much to their appreciation for living abroad? Because Texas Tech mandates that any degree requirement apply to all students, it is not possible to treat students with international experience differently from those who have not gone abroad. Consequently, Global Studies does not encompass an international experience requirement. Instead, the emphasis is to be on positive incentives, rather than a requirement. This includes encouraging students to take Study Abroad, raising awareness of internship opportunities, and providing scholarships.
Global Studies has established a scholarship fund, with the goal of making it an endowed fund to provide a permanent source of scholarship funding for students engaging international experiences. Currently, the fund offers a prize in an annual essay competition. The Steering Committee proposes topics for the essay competition and selects winners, who are awarded $750.
Second, an interdisciplinary program faces the challenge of finding a focus. The director consulted with faculty, advisors and administrators about the broad purpose of the Global Studies undergraduate degree. A consensus emerged that the program must answer the question, "What can I do with a Global Studies degree?" Consequently, beyond providing advice on career options, Global Studies at TTU has adopted a career development focus. When fully implemented, this focus will entail forming a network of potential employers, providing regular career counseling, and raising student awareness regarding the wide variety of career paths available to the Global Studies major. Students can design their degree plan to prepare for potential career paths.
In Fall 2018 Global Studies initiated a course to further this focus, Professional Career Paths in Global Studies. The class is numbered as lower division, because the idea is to provide guidance and outline options for freshmen and sophomores so they can have the knowledge to design appropriate degree plans. However, upper division students are welcome and indeed the class is open to all majors, not only Global Studies. The career paths addressed in the class include diplomacy, law enforcement, the military, global health, development, international organizations, and humanitarian organizations. Professionals holding positions in these fields visited the first offering of the class, both in person and via Skype. The units provided background information about each area and advice on how to get started in a given field. Background information included the organization of the profession, the legal framework governing the field, ethical issues, and day to day life as a professional in a given occupation. Visitors were especially valuable for enlightening students about the rewards and frustrations of their professional lives. Student evaluations showed 83 percent of responding students believing that the class was a valuable learning experience.
The Global Studies program is the home to the Peace Corps Certificate at Texas Tech. The PCP allows students to combine course work with volunteer experience to earn the certificate, which offers favorable consideration in Peace Corps applications. The PCP encompasses six tracks, including education, health, environment, youth in development, agriculture, and community economic development.
Global Studies at Texas Tech has enjoyed some significant successes. Of course, room for improvement and for further development remains. In particular, the career orientation needs more than just a single class. Materials for career counseling will be compiled and made available to counselors and students. The network of international professionals demands cultivation. Further outreach to those with global careers will provide opportunities for recent graduates.
In sum, Texas Tech University has adopted an institutional orientation toward international affairs. The Global Studies program is an important component of the university's broader efforts. The growth of the Global Studies major and the range of associated activities indicate that a healthy, successful program will continue to make an important contribution to Texas Tech's academic mission.
This article is a revised version of the piece originally published in the Florida Political Science Newsletter, and is published here with the author's permission.