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International Studies Program Goals and Objectives

As a multi-disciplinary program, ours is difficult to define in terms of what a "discipline" does. The simplest answer is we seek to teach the students to learn from and integrate the approaches of different disciplines. Our methods of inquiry are those taken from other disciplines (primarily, in our case, those of literary analysis and social science) but the key aspect is that of integration. We think that multidisciplinary study tends to prosper in a liberal arts environment, because that environment allows us freedom of inquiry independent of the "rigors" of traditional approach and certainly not constrained by pre-professional training. Vassar is rightly proud of the rapid progress it has made in multi-disciplinary studies; therefore, to be a part of this rich landscape is particularly gratifying.  An essential element of our approach is the role that the student plays, early in the sophomore year, in devising his/her own course of study in close cooperation with first the director, then the panel of advisors, the student' s academic advisor, and ultimately the two thesis supervisors from different disciplines. We think this student-driven program design is clear in the Freshman Handbook and the text there conforms to our approach.We offer few courses designed for non-majors. Our introductory course aims to introduce freshmen, but frequently sophomores, to a multi-disciplinary approach to learning. We do, however, offer a series of 200-level courses designed to address issues of contemporary importance through a multi-disciplinary lens (e.g. terrorism, globalization, modernization etc.). We also offer the annual study trip that exposes students to other cultures. This offering usually consists of a six-week course with material from a range of disciplines followed by a 15-day visit to a foreign country. This project is open to faculty of all disciplines and students of all majors. The role of the program is to select among competing alternatives, to guide the academic project, and to lift from the instructors as much of the institutional burden as possible. We feel that both this project and the campus-based 200 level courses fulfill the general-education goals articulated in the College's mission statement.Again, the disciplinary emphasis of this question is disconcerting to a program whose purpose is primarily to help students to transcend generally accepted disciplinary boundaries. Also we feel that we have answered this question, in a multidisciplinary context, in our response to the earlier questionnaire (which we repeat here):

What goals or objectives, including knowledge and skills, does your department or program set for students who reach the most advanced level (majors, correlates, etc.) in the subject? In what ways does your department or program articulate and communicate these expectations to students?

In simplest terms the objective of the Program in International Studies is to provide students with an interest in international affairs with an opportunity to pursue these interests in a multidisciplinary fashion. Consequently, each of our students must complete work at the senior (300) level in at least two traditional disciplines as well as meeting required coursework at the 200 level in a range of social science disciplines. This multi-disciplinary background is the foundation for writing of a senior research thesis.

A secondary, though important, objective is to ensure that each of our students directly experiences a foreign culture through a structured educational experience abroad.


A third objective is fluency in a foreign language through at least three years of study.

A final consideration is that all of our students meet at least the minimum entry requirements for a graduate school of international affairs or foreign service.


These objectives are communicated to the students during the advising process in the course of which the program and the student devise a program of study in which these objectives are embodied. This program, when approved by the Panel of Advisors and the Director, constitutes the student’s requirements for graduation.

The following response to question 3) of the earlier questionnaire is also relevant:

3) How is the structure of your course offerings and requirements designed to meet the goals set by the department or program? How coherent are the sets of courses selected by majors? Is this coherence achieved through advising or some other means? Is advising informed by shared objectives among your colleagues?

Our majors take most of their courses outside of the program and a considerable amount of it away from Vassar’s main campus. The coherence is assured by the rather labor intensive process of choosing a major referred to in 1) e above. Each prospective must submit a detailed proposal in the fall or his/her sophomore year. This is reviewed and amended at least twice before it is accepted later in the fall semester. Small amendments to this program are subject to approval by the advisor, and more substantial ones require the assent of the director.