Since he began his tenure as the dean of the School of Foreign Service in 2015, Joel Hellman has restructured the Dean’s Office, overseen the implementation of foreign language minors and begun preparations for the school’s centennial in 2019.
By 2019, Hellman plans to institute changes to the school’s core curriculum, require all students to participate in a form of global engagement and increase diversity in the SFS community.
A year and half into his tenure, The Hoya interviewed the dean to discuss his plans for the SFS and the impact of President-elect Donald Trump’s victory on the school’s future.
What are your greatest accomplishments from your first year?
In the first year, one of the things that we really wanted to do was take a close look and begin the process of rethinking the undergraduate curriculum. One of the first things I did was appoint a senior associate dean for the undergraduate program — we never had a faculty dean over the undergraduate program — Dan Byman.
He’s begun a conversation with faculty members, students and other inputs, and begun the first rethinking of the undergraduate curriculum that we’ve had in years, which is looking at how we make it more flexible, whether or not some of the requirements are still relevant as the global situation changes and the kinds of skill base that people need changes and how we introduce more flexibility and room for innovation in the program. I’m pleased to see that work has moved ahead. Some aspects of reforming the undergraduate curriculum have already been agreed by the faculty, and that’s a long time been coming.
What is your vision for the SFS going forward?
I think one of the underlying principles that is motivating us is a recognition that students want to combine their liberal arts education and international affairs with an increasingly wide range of different skill sets. So it could be business; it could be arts and culture; it could be engineering and sciences; and it could be things that we can’t even anticipate.
As a result, we want to give students more flexibility to still be able to take advantage of the core skills that we think are critical for a global affairs education in economics, history, politics, but also reach a wider range of types of intellectual pursuits. Whether it’s to further a depth in a language, whether it’s creating more room for scientists to do core lab science and combine that with an international affairs degree, whether it’s allowing students to delve deeper into business, I think that’s the core principle we are trying to do.
The second core principle is how do we take advantage of our location in Washington and our commitment to service and practice to create more engagements where students are not only learning in a classroom, but applying those learnings in real practical situations. We’ve created these centennial labs, but it’s really taking advantage of a practical way of applying the knowledge we are learning in classes into practical problems. We’ve got one on drought; we’ve got one on trade; we’re developing one on global governance; and we’ve been doing policy simulations and trying to build that much more into the program.
Thirdly, we are trying to take advantage of the opportunities that are available in this area to create one-credit experiences where students could get together over an opportunity and turn that into actual credit and learning.
How do you think the recent presidential election will affect the SFS in terms of enrollment rates, curriculum or careers graduates may enter?
There has been a trend in the United States and across Europe of essentially what looks like the beginnings of a backlash against globalization, a sense of promoting the world as the others versus us. We see it in the U.S. election, but we saw it in Brexit — we see it in the increasing rise of right and populist parties across Europe. There is a global tide that is actually turning more and more of the national political dialogues of countries inwards.
In that kind of environment, the SFS has never been more important. The core mission for which the SFS was created was precisely to move in the opposite direction, to help build and preserve the foundation for our global commitments, engagements and service, to create the educational preparation for students to build global careers.
It’s even more important now, because even though the national dialogues are turning inwards, it doesn’t mean that the economic, political and multilateral relationships are unraveling. We are as entwined as we have ever been, and I think that will continue to intensify. This means that the need for our students and the preparation is as great as ever.
What are your short-term goals for the next year?
We’ve got a lot of the ideas for curriculum reform, but now we want to implement that: start to change some of the key and core requirements.
Second, one of the big priorities for our centennial is that we want to give every student the opportunity to do some form of global engagement. It may be a service or business engagement, or maybe a research and study engagement — for students to not only go abroad, but do something abroad and have a task to complete. That task gets them the experience of trying to work abroad. What we would love to do over the course of the centennial is move toward a requirement that every SFS student has a global engagement as part of their time here at Georgetown. Now, we’re not going to get that overnight, but next year we really want to focus on creating more engagement experiences.
Do the centennial labs fit into your vision for the centennial, which has been a focus for the SFS over the last year?
The centennial vision committee also talked about the importance of strengthening the international component of our student body and really building a stronger international student base, so we better reflect the diversity of the world in which we make decisions. We are really pleased to see a strong spike in international students this year and partly because of efforts to reach out more strongly to international and strengthen the yield to international students. We want to invest significantly to try to increase scholarship support for international students and others to bring in a greater diversity into the SFS classroom.
If you were to choose three things that you would like to accomplish by the time we reach the centennial, what would they be?
We’ve introduced the concept of sophomore seminars, and we want to build in a peak experience every year in the SFS undergraduate experience, like you have your proseminar as a freshman. Your senior year would be some kind of capstone or practice-oriented experience in which you are applying ideas in a setting you wish to enter, like simulations, service engagements.
The second thing is building up and strengthening the diversity of our SFS student body — global diversity as well as socio-economic diversity. I think that is just so critical to the quality of conversation that we have in our classrooms that if we can build up a stronger financial aid pool to attract an even more diverse set of students, domestically and internationally, I think that would be another core priority.
Lastly, the priority of giving every student the opportunity to do a global engagement would be something I would really love to achieve and is a “must achieve” for the centennial.
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