Students often complain that the divide between extracurricular activities and academic curriculum is rarely bridged. Faculty members tend to play a relatively small role in undergraduate organizations, and it is difficult to apply certain extracurricular goals to the classroom. Student clubs and academic departments should work together more closely to make their activities more tangible and motivating for students who are deeply passionate about select issues.
As a recent partnership between Georgetown’s student-led Sustainable Oceans Alliance and the science, technology, international affairs program in the School of Foreign Service shows, cooperation and collaboration between on-campus clubs and academic departments is very possible. SOA’s faculty advisor, Monica Medina who had previous worked in ocean development and policy at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Geographic Society, taught a class called “Ocean Law, Sustainable Development and Global Security.”
Club members had approached the faculty advisor, who prepared a syllabus and curriculum with the idea for a course in 2014; together they met with the vice-provost and the head of the STIA program to successfully add it to the curriculum. Even though this is the first such example in recent memory, the success of the course demonstrates the crossover interest that many professors may have in undergraduate organizations they are involved in.
Such academic partnerships offer the chance for students to deepen their extracurricular involvement with serious scholarly study.
Moreover, new classes can allow those passionate about service and social justice issues to add academic experience to sustained extracurricular or professional engagement that future employers look for.
The potential for collaboration between organizations and faculty extends beyond merely service and environmental based topics.
For example, Georgetown regularly teaches courses on public speaking and oration; surely students involved in speech and debate organizations, or clubs that put a premium on such activities — Model United Nations or Mock Trial are notable examples — could benefit from a substantive relationship that reflects the particular topical interests and rhetorical styles of those organizations.
Likewise, groups focused on encouraging diversity on campus should be able to provide input in classes on sociology and in departments focused on studies of minority groups.
Much of this kind of collaboration already exists in an informal series of relationships between students and faculty, but Georgetown has the opportunity to institutionalize these relationships.
A formalized relationship between academic departments and student organizations would encourage students to engage with the department while adding another outlet for dialogue between said academic departments and student organizations.
In turn, the academic councils of the various undergraduate schools should reach out to student organizations that might have an interest in academic collaboration and begin putting them in contact with those departments that might benefit from the relationship.
It is a chance that Georgetown should not soon pass up.
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