University of Vermont

University Communications

World Without Walls

Release Date: 09-16-2009

Author: Thomas James Weaver
Phone: 802/656-7996 Fax: (802) 656-3203

Vivanco and Michel

"Though it sounds trite, I don't think there's any job in this century that won't require a global perspective," says Global Studies major Julia Michel, seen here with program director Luis Vivanco. (Photo: Sally McCay)

Preparing for life in a world of interwoven and ever-shifting divides between countries and cultures requires an education built upon many perspectives, a passport to cross academic borders freely. That spirit drives the structure and name of the "new" Global and Regional Studies Program, which debuted with the fall semester. The program, directed by Luis Vivanco, associate professor of anthropology, is the latest evolution of the program formerly known as Area and International Studies, part of UVM for nearly five decades.

The new Global and Regional Studies Program features a brand new major in Global Studies, which has quickly drawn students with 43 undergraduates, approximately half of them in the first-year class.

Julia Michel '11, an Honors College student who carries a double major in global studies and political science with a minor in community development and applied economics, says "I decided to declare my major after getting a sense that Global Studies actually means a trans-disciplinary look at the world I'm going to inherit. Global Studies is for students who don't want to see the world through the confines of one lens — be it political science, economics, anthropology or history."

Sparked by Sputnik

For an academic focus that is all about a world drawn closer, Global Studies' origins are, ironically, in the Cold War years.

On the heels of Sputnik, the American government moved quickly to enact the National Defense Act of 1958, providing support to educate specialists in foreign languages, politics, and culture. The goal was to create experts with the ability to inform and advise on strategically important parts of the globe in the Cold War years, Vivanco says. "It was forged in an era when this was seen as national service." UVM's Area Studies program was created in 1962; the name amended to Area and International Studies in 1990.

So much changed with the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall, the symbolic end of the Cold War. "With the collapse of the Soviet Union, there's the notion that the world is no longer bi-polar — not the United States and the Soviet Union. It's a different global reality," says Kevin McKenna. A professor of Russian, McKenna was director of Area and International Studies at UVM for eighteen years, helping to lay the groundwork for the latest change before handing the reins to Vivanco two-and-a-half years ago.

"Suddenly we start talking about globalization in the 1990s," Vivanco says. "Many of the younger faculty who were trained during the 1990s came of age during an era when we were doing research in Latin America, but didn't really think of ourselves as Latin Americanists in service to the United States' strategic interests. We were interested in how regions connect to other regions of the world through dynamics like migration — how a small village in Costa Rica, or Mexico, or El Salvador was connected to Santa Monica, California. We were starting to melt those boundaries that the old area studies had."

Crossing disciplines

Demolishing the concrete of the Berlin Wall, one could argue, is an easier job than breaking down long-standing academic structures. But as the term "area" began to disappear from use as a way to define places under study, universities looked to rename and retool their programs. Vivanco estimates UVM is somewhere in the middle of the pack when it comes to formalizing this shift. Conceding the cutting edge, he notes the university has had the advantage of learning from other schools' experience.

Pushing forward with the addition of a Global Studies major and the name change of the umbrella program to Global and Regional Studies was an early priority for Eleanor Miller, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, when she arrived at UVM in 2005. Miller had experience with a broad-based global studies program at her previous institution, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and saw a similar opportunity at UVM. When the dean asked Vivanco to explore how the program might be revamped, she urged him to not only look across departments in Arts and Sciences, but also across all of UVM's schools and colleges.

"I saw immediately that we had a solid base in the Area and International Studies major and a great core of faculty already on board," Miller says. "Over the next three years CAS hired 22 new faculty with expertise in different areas of global studies." She adds that the global emphasis has flowered in other ways — a new Department of Asian Languages and Literatures, new majors in Chinese and Japanese, a new minor in linguistics, and the introduction of courses in Arabic and Portuguese.

From the strong student response, the Global Studies change has been a wise move for meeting undergraduates' interests and building enrollments. More importantly, the program is well-geared to produce a class of graduates ready and able to make a difference in the world.

"Many of the problems we have today — be it global warming, human trafficking, or terrorism — transcend national borders," Amanda Fox, a junior majoring in Global Studies, writes in an e-mail from Valparaiso, Chile where she is doing study abroad.

"The first step in solving these problems (which is, of course, an extremely difficult task and will take lots of time and patience) is to foster communication, understanding, and cooperation across the globe. The trans-disciplinary structure of the major allows us to have a more comprehensive look at the problems we face."

Fellow student Julia Michel thinks along similar lines as she considers where her education might take her. "I don't have specific plans for how to use my Global Studies degree, but in a certain sense, I think that's exactly the point," she says. "This type of flexible degree should prepare me for any number of possibilities, from politics to journalism to working with an international non-profit. Though it sounds trite, I don't think there's any job in this century that won't require a global perspective."

The Global and Regional Studies Program offers majors and minors in six academic areas: Asian Studies, Canadian Studies, European Studies, Global Studies, Latin American Studies, and Russian and East European Studies. Minors are available in African Studies and Middle Eastern Studies.

More information:

Look for two upcoming events from Global Studies, both held in John Dewey Lounge, Old Mill:
  • Global and Regional Studies Program Study Abroad Information Night, Sept. 24 from 7:30 to 9 p.m.
  • Global and Regional Studies Program Fall Lecture Series: "The Incurable Feminine: Women Without a Country in East Asian Cinema" by Hyon Joo Yoo Murphree, assistant professor of English, Sept. 30 at 12:15 p.m.