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Saturday February 4th

'A rather unique year': UNC to add three new majors this fall

<p>New majors starting in the Fall 2020 semester include Medical Anthropology, Human and Organizational Leadership and Development, and Economics.</p>
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New majors starting in the Fall 2020 semester include Medical Anthropology, Human and Organizational Leadership and Development, and Economics.

CLARIFICATION: A previous version of this story stated that all three new majors will begin enrolling at UNC this fall. While the School of Education will begin recruiting students for its new human and organizational leadership and development program this fall and may begin working toward the major in some respects, the application for the major is planned to open in spring 2021. 

Given last week's announcement about a shortened semester and an early FDOC, it's likely that UNC's campus will look different this fall — and so will its course catalog.

Three new degree programs will be offered at UNC this academic year: a Bachelor of Arts in medical anthropology, a Bachelor of Arts in human and organizational leadership and development and a Bachelor of Science in economics.

Nicholas Siedentop, curriculum director for undergraduate curricula at UNC, said in an email statement that this is a “rather unique year” with regard to the number of majors that have been approved and added at UNC. He said only one other new undergraduate major — a Bachelor of Science in neuroscience — has been approved in the last three years.

No other universities within the UNC System currently offer the medical anthropology or human and organizational leadership and development degree programs, while 12 other universities within the System offer a Bachelor of Science in economics.

Establishing new majors

The process for establishing a new major under the UNC System is extensive, involving extensive discussion, planning and revisions. 

“All program proposals receive a complete and thorough review at the University-level, involving faculty and administrative professionals to ensure the program will provide an outstanding educational experience,” Siedentop said in an email statement from UNC Media Relations.

Once the major has been examined by all the appropriate University units, the degree proposal is submitted to the UNC System Office, where it is evaluated for approval. Proposals must address several criteria, including student demand, budget requirements and societal need for the program. 

Requests to establish new degree programs are then presented to the UNC System Board of Governors for a vote. 

Members of the Board of Governors' Committee on Educational Planning, Policies and Programs voted to approve UNC’s proposal to establish a Bachelor of Science in economics in March. The committee, and then the full BOG, voted to approve the medical anthropology and human and organizational leadership and development majors at their virtual meetings in May. 

All three majors will begin enrolling or recruiting students this fall.

Medical anthropology

Michele Rivkin-Fish, an anthropology professor who led the development of the medical anthropology major, said the Department of Anthropology’s medical anthropology minor is popular and has steadily grown since its creation. In fact, she said the department has had more students minor in medical anthropology than major in anthropology.

Amanda Thompson, a professor in the department who teaches courses for the medical anthropology minor, said students have been sharing for years that they would be interested in pursuing a major if it was available.

When Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz — then dean of the College of Arts and Sciences  — asked all departments to develop a strategic plan articulating the direction of their departments and curriculum for the next five years, Rivkin-Fish said the Department of Anthropology made the creation of the major a main goal. She said the department began formal work on establishing the major in 2017 by conducting research, formulating proposals and planning curriculum.

Thompson said the medical anthropology major will provide students with a broader perspective on human health.

“We talk about how health is shaped by people's social contacts, by their cultural beliefs and practices, by their environments, by our evolutionary history,” Thompson said. “Students really like seeing how the biology that they're learning is put into place in individuals’ lives and within populations — and so I think that's the unique perspective of medical anthropology.”

Rivkin-Fish said the understanding this major will foster is especially important now. 

“We have this COVID-19 epidemic, and so much of this is demonstrating how social and cultural influences matter in how we handle our health, as a society and as individuals,” Rivkin-Fish said.

Rivkin-Fish said the medical anthropology major will require 27 credit hours of coursework, and course topics will range from health inequities to the intersections of spirituality and religion in healing.

The major will not have an application process, she said.

“I think that this major is really going to help shape the next generations of healthcare providers to be sensitive to cultural differences and diversity, and the importance of equality in health care and public health,” Rivkin-Fish said.

While Rivkin-Fish said the degree will prepare students for healthcare professions, she also said the major can help students pursue other career goals, such as in social service and political justice fields.

Human and organizational leadership and development

Fouad Abd-El-Khalick, dean of the School of Education, said the idea for the human and organizational leadership and development major, or HOLD, emerged from a strategic planning exercise conducted by the school in 2017

“We wanted to translate the intellectual research and disciplinary expertise of the School of Education into programming that is impactful, especially in terms of education and careers,” Abd-El-Khalick said.

Abd-El-Khalick said evidence-based assessments about the uniqueness of the major, employment opportunities and student interest indicated the need and viability of the degree, leading the school to pursue the two-and-a-half-year process of establishing the HOLD major.

Thad Domina, a professor in the School of Education who led the development of the major, said that faculty members have lots of expertise in thinking about organizations and what it takes to lead, which will be the major's focus.

Abd-El-Khalick said the new major will extend the reach of the School of Education in terms of preparing future leaders of nongovernmental agencies, corporations and businesses.

He also said this is a “cutting-edge” program for schools of education, since few majors of this kind are offered at other universities nationwide.

Domina said students will need to apply to enroll in the major, with the application tentatively planned to open for the first time in spring 2021. The application will have a minimum GPA requirement and include a statement of interest. 

The major will require 45 hours of coursework, which includes a 12-hour internship/capstone sequence.

Three new courses have been developed for the HOLD major, Domina said. The courses will discuss research methods for studying organizations, translating research into practice to change organizations and understanding one’s role and agency as part of an organization. 

“I think one of the really exciting things about the major and the internship is that we're going to be able to create and consolidate a network of peers and community developers and organizational actors from across the state who can then network with our students and work with our students as interns,” Domina said. “It's a sort of intergenerational linkage that we're hoping to build.”

Bachelor of Science in economics

Brian McManus, chairperson of the economics department’s curriculum committee who was heavily involved in developing the major, said the addition of the Bachelor of Science in economics will give students interested in economics more choice. 

McManus said it is not uncommon for universities to offer both a Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Arts in economics. The Bachelor of Arts in economics will remain an option, but he said the Bachelor of Science was developed to serve the interests of students wanting a more quantitative-intensive degree. 

“We are in this data analytic world, really, and economic studies fit so nicely with that,” Geetha Vaidyanathan, director of undergraduate studies for the department, said. “We felt we needed to have this in a formal way.”

The economics department had the idea to add the Bachelor of Science degree for several years in response to student demand, but only recently found the opportunity to formally organize the major, said McManus.

“The department has known for a long time that it would be possible to deepen our B.A. in a direction that would include more opportunities that are more similar to the types of research that economics faculty members do, and use some of the more advanced techniques that are used by economists in the business world and in policy analysis,” McManus said.

The process of establishing the major took about two years, McManus said.

McManus said that UNC’s Bachelor of Science in economics will be different from others offered at different UNC System institutions since it is awarded by the College of Arts and Sciences department, rather than the business school. The degree’s structure will allow students to take courses offered by other UNC departments, he said, such as math, computer science and statistics.

The Bachelor of Science degree includes all the requirements for the Bachelor of Arts degree, plus additional quantitative courses. The 16-course degree will not require an application and will amount to 51 to 52 credit hours of coursework.

Vaidyanathan said that prior to having a formal structure of quantitative courses outlined as part of their degree, many students were already taking courses to develop and enhance their technical skills.

Now that the degree is officially available for the fall, Vaidyanathan said she has already heard of students wanting to pursue the Bachelor of Science instead of the Bachelor of Arts. She's had a couple of inquiries from students who think they can fulfill the requirements for the Bachelor of Science degree by December, but expects students to graduate with the degree as early as May 2021.

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