byAlexandra Huzyk ’20
In an increasingly competitive professional environment, students’ interests are expanding and changing. In response, Providence College continues to create new majors and courses, such as the new environmental biology major.
The process of creating a new major begins with deciding what the major will be. After that is decided, Dr. Fred Drogula, professor and president of the faculty senate, shared that a proposal must be put together. This entails the predicted course requirements and a list of the courses currently available at the College that could fulfill the requirements previously specified.
Drogula said, “We must think about the staffing, the funding, and if the College has the capacity for the major.” The proposal also requires an in-depth rationale, proof that this major aligns with the College’s mission statement, and a letter of support from a dean. After this proposal is completed, it is submitted to the faculty senate, and eventually to Father Brian Shanley, O.P., the president of the College. Overall, this process takes around four to five years.
“The administration,” Drogula said, “wants to know whether the proposed major is a suitable field and if it is something we should be offering.” Many factors have to be taken into consideration, including the resources the College has available and the expenditures that would be involved.
For instance, Drogula said the most recently introduced majors, global studies and classics, are very different in the resources that they required to become an official major. He explained, “Global studies pulls together a lot of classes from different departments to make an interdisciplinary major,” and required, “a group of faculty with expertise in those fields,” which the College did not necessarily have prior to the creation of this major. This prompted the College to hire specialized faculty and create completely new courses. Classics, on the other hand, did not require many resources, for most of the courses, and faculty for the major previously existed. Yet, Drogula asserted that both majors are valuable assets to the College and to the students themselves.
“Faculty are responding to student interest,” Drogula stated. “The administration has a responsibility to use student tuition wisely.” If interest in particular subjects and courses grows at such a rapid pace, it is clear to the administration that a major would be a beneficial addition.
Tom Bernard ’21, a member of the academics committee within Student Congress, has been working alongside Gabi Dess ’18 and Dr. Charles Toth to create a new major: environmental biology. Together, Bernard says he and Toth planned out the logistics of the major’s curriculum. Afterwards, congress passed a piece of legislation asking for the students’ collective support behind this new major. “I think that this major will be able to draw kids in who desire to study environmental studies or environmental biology,” said Bernard. “Adding this major to our school will give PC even more ground to stand on in terms of competing with academically-similar schools such as Fordham, Holy Cross, and Boston College.”
Regarding the creation of individual courses, Drogula explained that sometimes an individual professor wishes to create and teach a class of their liking. In this case, the professor would create a proposal that must be approved by the department chairs of the major the course would be offered under, the dean, the faculty senate, and the president. If a course will be taught by multiple professors, the planning process of the course is more collaborative in nature. The faculty senate, which has a committee dedicated to reviewing new courses, “approved at least 30 classes last year,” said Drogula.
“If a student wants to propose a course, they should ask a professor in that field about the possibility of the course being introduced,” said Drogula. Most departments offer courses called “Special Topic Courses” which can be fast-tracked in regards to processing. These classes can be offered a maximum of three times before they must go through the full process of becoming an available course. Drogula also mentioned that it is especially effective when a group of students shows interest in a certain topic or potential course.
Katie Comber ’18 recently proposed a course titled “Understanding Suicide: Prevention, Intervention, and Postvention.” Comber, a social work major, said, “As an aspiring social worker, when I found out that there is no required suicide prevention training in Rhode Island, I was shocked.” Inspired to help others become more educated on this topic, Comber said that she shared a public syllabus that a master of social work student had created while at Simmons College with Providence College’s Social Work department. They have approved the syllabus, and Comber shared that the course will most likely be offered next year.