A Matter of Course: Senior Seminar in Global Studies

By Rita Buettner  |  Photos by Peter Howard

Offered to global studies majors in the spring semester of their senior year, this seminar is designed to integrate each student’s experience in the program through a senior project, guest lectures, and other work selected by Fabio Mendez, Ph.D., professor of economics and the Hanway Chair in Global Studies.

Students work in groups to take on projects that address global issues in the local community, such as creating informational materials on laws and policies affecting women in the job market; donating feminine hygiene products to local shelters; and conducting a public awareness campaign and raising money for refugee education.

Fabio Mendez, Ph.D., (right) listens as students present their research from the semester during a poster presentation in spring 2017.

What is the purpose of the course?

This seminar asks the students to merge what they have learned in the global studies major into a practical way as a tool to solve problems that affect us all. In the spirit of the Jesuit tradition, I thought the best way was to make it a practical application. So the students are asked to find a partner in the community or develop a project on their own that is of service to a client outside the University.

Each project deals with a global problem—a problem that affects people because of the geographic place where they live—and each one is addressing one of those needs or global problems. By the time they present their projects, the students are very knowledgeable, they have read and done research, they are well-traveled, and they have been in contact with someone in the community.

So the class is a requirement for every global studies student to take before graduation?

I tell the students, “This is not an obstacle for graduation. This is a celebration of who you have become. Now you know who you are, and you didn’t know that before today. The degree in global studies is intended to help you grow into someone who can address problems and the needs of the community.”

Could you describe one of the projects?

One group decided to go to the Loyola community and ask each person to write a personal letter to an immigrant. They created a mural. Then at the end, the letters were delivered to immigrants. When you read the letters, you discover some people wrote very personal things. There are some projects where your jaw drops. Some of them are flat-out outstanding.

How did you decide to design the class in this way?

In economics, a seminar-style class is not common. Economics classes are lecture-style classes for the most part, so I realized I had to change. This class is the solution I came up with.

A seminar is supposed to be learning initiated by the students. In the seminar, the students come and present and say, this is a problem we are facing. This is what we encountering.

In the seminar style, the students are dealing with discernment, and their conversation becomes more practical. We learn from one another.

One student’s perspective on the course:

“The global studies seminar has a number of strengths. Applying all four disciplines in one course is certainly one of them. Another is that as global studies majors, we are often mixed in with political science, sociology, economics, and history majors, so it is hard to tell who is actually a global studies major. This course really gives us a chance to get to know each other,” said Julia Muirhead, ’17.

“For me, though, what I found most beneficial was the service-learning component. Each week I saw the students at Archbishop Borders Elementary School progress and learn. I was so incredibly proud of the work that they created at the end of the program, and the impact that these 3rd-6th grade students had on the greater community of Baltimore.”

Visiting Archbishop Borders Elementary became a highlight of Muirhead’s week and helped shape her career path. “I loved the experience so much that it made me want to teach,” she said. “I was able to use that experience for talking points in interviews and bring the newspaper and our curriculum as examples of work for potential employers. Shortly after graduation, I accepted a position as a social studies teacher at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Baltimore. Before the global studies seminar, I did not really know what I wanted to do in life. Now I could not be more excited to start my new career.”

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