University of Rochester

New International Relations Major Offers Grounding in World Politics

May 21, 2008

Building on growing student interest in world affairs and the expertise of one the nation's top ranked political science departments, the University of Rochester has created a major in international relations to give students a grounding in the concepts and theories of how nations relate to each other, coupled with an understanding of the political and cultural context within countries. The new program was formally approved by the New York State Department of Education this spring.

"We live in an increasingly complex and interdependent world," says Bingham Powell, Marie C. Wilson and Joseph C. Wilson Professor of Political Science and one of the faculty members who has helped established the new program. "This major provides a splendid opportunity for students to better understand the world outside the United States."

International relations historically has been considered a subfield in political science. As such, the new 12-course program draws heavily from political science offerings and long-established faculty expertise in the area. All international relations majors will take four core political science courses in comparative politics and international relations. Five additional courses can be chosen in the areas of global security, political economy and development, and governance of nations.

Beyond the core coursework, however, the international relations major is highly interdisciplinary. Three elective courses can be drawn from history, economics, religion, anthropology, philosophy, or other departments. In addition, students are required to study a modern language and to spend a semester abroad. The structure, says Gerald Gamm, associate professor of political science and history and chair of the political science department, guarantees that all international relations majors will graduate with three key experiences: systematic training in the field, exposure to a foreign culture, and familiarity with a language other than English.

Dovetailing with the University's strategic plan to increase across the College programs and scholarly opportunities with an international focus, the new major has received strong support from the administration, including funding for two additional tenure-track faculty in international relations. The political science department is actively recruiting for those new hires.

The new major is also seen as an important draw for potential undergraduates and excellent preparation for graduates. "We recognize that some of the most talented students are looking for international relations majors," says Gamm. "We want to tell those students that inquiry into cultures other than the United States can be done at Rochester in a systematic, analytical way and with some of the country's most respected scholars."

Beyond the undergraduate years, a global perspective provides a solid foundation for many fields or further study, says Richard Niemi, Don Alonzo Watson Professor of Political Science and the department's director of undergraduate studies. "Just as the world is becoming smaller through the Internet and other new media, there are increasingly jobs in business and government that require an awareness of, knowledge of, and some experience with other countries."

Rising junior Patrick Little, one of the first undergraduates to sign up for the new major, couldn't be more enthusiastic. "This is the most relevant field to today's society that I think you can have," says the double political science and international relations major. "These days, especially after Sept. 11, students realize that foreign relations play a huge role in our life. We cannot afford to remain ethnocentric, only concerned with equality and conditions in our country."