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The Daily Tar Heel

Students Make Great Decisions

Students interested in studying foreign affairs or still need one credit hour can find both elements in one course offered next semester.

International Studies 093 is an undergraduate-run, for-credit course offered during the spring semester. Entitled Great Decisions, the mission of the eight-week course is to facilitate national awareness and critical analysis of the current events shaping foreign affairs.

Established 12 years ago, UNC's Great Decisions program is the largest of more than 2,000 nationally accredited courses sponsored by the Foreign Policy Association.

"Great Decisions is unique here because essentially there's no professor. Basically, it's just students getting together to talk and learn from each other," said senior Rye Barcott, chairman and head teaching assistant.

The University's program offers two core parts. In the fall, about 20 students are chosen from a pool of applicants to form a coordination committee.

Students are in charge of finding speakers for eight current international topics to form a lecture series that will take place the following semester.

This specially selected committee is responsible for managing all logistical, financial and administrative aspects of the series.

The following spring, committee members become the teaching assistants for the class. As TAs, students are responsible for leading discussion sections after each lecture and assigning weekly reading and written work.

"TAs usually find their hard work to be a gratifying experience," Barcott said. "All the responsibility helps them grow as people and as students."

Committee members receive four graded credit hours for completing both semesters. Students enrolled in Great Decisions receive one pass-fail credit.

The class's motto, "Critical

Thinking in a Collaborative Setting," stresses its emphasis on alternative ways of learning. The goal is for students to learn not only facts about foreign affairs but question their meaning through discussion and analysis.

"Great Decisions is definitely unlike any other class I've taken here," said Ritu Agarwal, a senior political science major from Durham. "There was a real broad perspective of students who seemed more willing and able to talk in a student-run environment."

Coordinators say diversity is a key component of Great Decisions, which has grown from an enrollment of about 250 students three years ago to an expected 400 this year.

Past classes have had students of all ages and majors, as well as a handful of residents from the local community.

"We want everybody, even those who aren't interested in foreign affairs but may have that little seed there so we can develop it," Barcott said. "It's a real eclectic group."

Lecture topics show the same diversity as the students who take the class. Examples include discussions of China and Taiwan, the international health crisis, tensions between the United States and Iraq, missile defense and European integration.

"Great Decisions offers an opportunity to see and hear decision-makers who wouldn't normally be in the area," Barcott said. "You learn a lot about the issues shaping the international spirit."

Speakers from the past two years included the assistant secretary general for External Affairs of the United Nations, a four-star general and former commander of nuclear weapons in the United States and the foreign policy advisor to Vice President Al Gore.

"We want people with authentic and credible experiences who can share them with the class," Barcott said.

Letters were recently sent to prospective speakers for the spring semester.

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"We're aiming really high, but we're also aiming from a real perspective," Barcott said.

The program's organizers believe influential speakers coupled with dedicated students make Great Decisions a great option for students.

Coordinating committee member Kris Karvelas said, "The program is a great way to educate and learn from each other. It's a good way to expand our knowledge together as students."

But before students can benefit from the class, student-organizers must prepare for the spring semester.

"Getting everything together for the class has been an equally hectic and rewarding experience," Barcott said.

Michele Strong, a history graduate student, is the overall instructor. She will work with the committee throughout the semester and evaluate the TAs at the end of the program.

"It's amazing that students do all the work and all the teaching," Strong said. "It's the intellectual climate come to life on campus."

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