Hidden gems: Lesser known departments at Dartmouth

by Rebecca Flowers | 8/13/17 11:35pm


A project in Engineering 12, “Deisign Thinking,” involves transpor ng a ball 

This article was featured in the 2017 Freshman Issue.

When there are over 50 majors and minors provided, choosing a discipline to concentrate in can be difficult. Beyond traditional biology, English and history majors are a variety of programs unique to the College that may encourage students to think broadly and bring them to far ends of the earth.

The John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding is the College’s “focal point for international affairs,” director Daniel Benjamin said. His mission is to provide opportunities to students to outstanding issues such as security, the climate and the arctic and global health. The International Studies minor is one of these programs and consists of four core courses such as International Studies 15, “Violence and Security” and International Studies 16, “Introduction to International Development,” senior programs officer at the Dickey Center Amy Newcomb said. Students must also complete one advanced language, literature course and one elective course.

“The core courses kind of interplay a lot of the big topics of concern that pop up around the globe, and the electives allow the students to bridge their specific interests in the minor with their major or with particular regions in the world,” Newcomb said.

In addition, the Dickey Center supports the Institute of Arctic Studies, which focuses on polar studies and climate issues, and runs the Global Health Initiative, which offers internships around the globe and the global health fellows program.

The War and Peace Fellowship program is also run through the Dickey Center and funds speakers on campus and a trip to Washington D.C. to meet high-level policy makers in the Senate, Pentagon and State Department. In the past, students have even met with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. For first-year students, Benjamin especially encourages participation in the Great Issues Scholars program, which involves a crisis simulation, such as a clash in the South China Sea, and students “spend a weekend role-playing and learning from expert faculty on issues.” Benjamin feels that the Dickey Center is important because it often allows students to get to know experts in international affairs.

The Native American Studies program offers both a major and a minor, with courses including a prerequisite course called “Perspectives in Native American Studies,” one class on literature and languages, others on history and culture and governance and sovereignty and a culminating experience. The program began in 1972, and intended to revisit the initial purpose of Dartmouth’s founding in 1769 of Native American education. It also offers an off-campus program at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Rachel Kesler ’19, who is pursuing a double major in History and Native American studies, said she has gotten to know many of the professors who teach the classes so well that she feels comfortable going into Sherman House, where the Native American studies offices are, just to say hello. As a history major, she said many of the classes she has taken through the program have been an important supplement to “fill in the gaps” of the curriculum taught in most high school American history courses and added that the scholarship surrounding Native American studies at the College is unparalleled in comparison to other universities.

The minor in materials science is sponsored by the chemistry, physics and engineering departments, and can be combined with majors in any of these departments. Required courses include “Science of Materials,” “Methods of Experimental Physics” and “Methods of Materials Characterization.” Students can then choose two courses from three groups of electives: solid state science, macromolecules chemistry, materials processing and thermodynamics.

Dartmouth also has a Medieval and Renaissance studies program, which allows students to modify their majors with courses from a variety of departments, including art history, classics, comparative Jewish studies, philosophy, Spanish and Portuguese and theatre. Art history professor Jane Carroll, who is one of the members of the steering committee for the program, said that the program began with a conversation between her and a fellow faculty member about the faculty members who focus on the Medieval and Renaissance time periods, but are in different departments. A student named Dana Polanichka ’02 then came to them asking for a program exactly like this.

“We helped her build a major,” Carroll said, “and she was so successful, and in fact she did a senior honors thesis that won an award. We thought ‘hey, we can do this,’ and we started sitting down all around a table … thinking about ways that we could make this something formal that students could use.”

Carroll thinks the program is important because of its intense focus on a single time period.

“What you learn in a religious history course taught by professor [Christopher] MacEvitt about the crusades plays out when you’re suddenly doing a course in the English department on Medieval legends, or when you’re doing my course on Gothic [art],” Carroll said. She estimates that three to five students receive the major modification, or the Medieval and Renaissance Studies “certificate,” each year. Some former students have even gone on to become colleagues in the field.

The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences offers a public policy minor and a variety of leadership programs for students. The public policy minor is geared towards preparing students for careers such as policy analysts, researchers for nonprofit organizations and consultants for businesses and the government. The minor includes a statistics course, a policymaking process course, two public policy methods courses, such as “The Economics of Public Policymaking” or “Writing and Speaking about Public Policy,” as well as high-level policy track and seminar courses, such as “Urban Politics and Public Policymaking.” Students can concentrate on a variety of topics from healthcare policy to international development. The senior seminar, Public Policy 85, “Global Policy Leadership,” even includes an in-depth study of a country and travel to that country during the winter break to develop a policy memo.

The program in Quantitative Social Sciences is one of the newest interdisciplinary programs on campus. Both majors and minors in the QSS program must take prerequisites in introductory programming, statistics, game theory and social science. All minors and majors must also work on an independent research project, for one or two terms respectively, that addresses an important social science question and has the goal of publication in a scientific journal. The program has rapidly expanded over the past couple of years, government professor and interim chair of the QSS program Yusaku Horiuchi said, with only two majors and five minors in the class of 2017, and 17 to 18 anticipated majors and about 10 minors in the class of 2019. Horiuchi said he believes that the interdisciplinary approach is important for today’s students.

“This is the age of big data,” he said. “Most of the QSS people think that there is a huge demand in the business industry and academia for the young scholars who can apply computational, mathematical and statistical skills to study important social science issues.”

The Ethics Institute offers an ethics minor as well as lectures open to campus. Sonu Bedi, the recently appointed director of the Ethics Institute, said that, while the minor is currently being reviewed by a new faculty minor committee, the Institute will support the Dorsett fellowship lecture series this coming year, which will discuss free speech on college campuses. The first speaker will be Geoffrey Stone, from the University of Chicago law school. Bedi hopes to approach ethics with a more law-related focus than has been the case in the past.

“We don’t have a law school,” Bedi said. “We really don’t have any institute at Dartmouth that is focused on understanding the law from a liberal arts perspective.”

Bedi himself has a background in law and political theory and believes that the Ethics Institute is important for asking the question of what one “ought” to do, which may have more than one answer. He hopes that the lecture series this coming year will address free speech from a variety of different angles and approach thought from the student body. In the future, Bedi hopes to establish a leadership fellows program similar to that at the Nelson A. Rockefeller Center.

The Thayer School of Engineering also offers a human-centered design minor, which focuses on innovation for addressing human needs. Prerequisites include “Design Thinking” and “Introduction to Engineering,” as well as upper-level courses that focus on ethnographic methods, human psychology and design electives. The human-centered design minor allows students to get a understanding of how to address societal needs through the lens of human behavior and interdisciplinary classes. In “Design Thinking,” assignments often consist of observing everyday systems and objects and proposing solutions. The final project is a group project based around campus issues and involves qualitiative research.

Amanda Zhou contributed to reporting.

Advertise your student group in The Dartmouth for free!