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Diversity & Community Studies

Diversity & Community Studies

SRSC Audio Transcript



The purpose of this recording is to share with you some of the expectations that come with graduate education and particularly the MA in Social Responsibility & Sustainable Communities.

First, let's think about what graduate education means. In some ways, it's simply the next level of learning—but since our undergraduate (or previous graduate) experience is so varied, this may mean a big shift for some of you and a smaller one for others. Furthermore, graduate programs vary so widely across disciplines, it only makes sense to talk about the expectations of this particular program.

As we say in our description, we approach sustainability through a humanities and social science lens, focusing on the ways in which sustainability, social justice, and community-based research interconnect. Characteristic of our courses is intensive reading of theory, cultural analysis, and literary non-fiction. A second characteristic is an emphasis on writing—critically reflecting on the readings and discussions, as well as on our experiences and research projects. Students whose previous experience did not include much of these kinds of activities will struggle as they learn to accommodate the time it takes to do deep reading and writing. Finally, this graduate program requires that you engage in your community in concrete ways—hands-on—and this requires initiative and discipline, as well as curiosity and respect as you learn the principles and practice of community-based research and problem-solving.

Related to these points is the fact that as an interdisciplinary program—organized around themes rather than disciplinary expectations—the SRSC requires that you adapt to working with people from diverse disciplinary backgrounds. Just as in local and global problem-solving, the solutions that work require a variety of perspectives. Too much all-of-a-kind thinking will inevitably hamper efforts to create meaningful social change. This principle is central to our perspective, and I think you'll find the challenges worth it.

A second area of consideration when we're talking about expectations is the impact that an online program has on your learning. We do what we can to help create a sense of community. Joining a cohort helps with this, as you take a number of courses together. You are likely to do some work in groups. I often hear students complain about working in small groups because they've had experiences where they've ended up doing the bulk of the work or their grade has been negatively affected by someone else's inferior work. These are legitimate worries, but I encourage you to expect the best from your fellow students and also to be generous in your group participation. Don't try to control the experience, but don't let others worry about why you're not participating. Be responsible to the group and to your own growth.

Since there are no required f2f classes, your experience of "graduate seminar" discussion will take place in Discussion Board within Blackboard. This means that you will need to follow whatever guidelines your professors post for making Db work. Don't come to discussions with a sense of "I just want this to be over," as you will read and write in haste and thus will miss the opportunity to learn from others and to delve more deeply into the material and thus to develop your critical skills.

For these reasons, I encourage you to plan as follows: set aside from 6-9 hours per week for each of your courses. Do not wait until Thursday to begin reading. Nor should you wait until the end of the week to turn to your discussion posts. If you are taking two 3-hour courses, I recommend planning 3 hours a day dedicated to reading, posting comments on Db, and doing whatever research or project development is going on. In other words, if you're taking two courses, it's reasonable to expect that you'll put in 15-18 hours of good effort every week. Some weeks will be "light" and you may put in only a few hours, and other weeks will seem grueling. The point is to begin with the assumption that your graduate education will take time and effort and that you cannot just "get it over with."

If you take a summer, and you are all likely to take at least one (such as LEAD 500), plan your vacation for a different month than that in which you're taking the course. Summer classes are intensive—you're finished sooner but you need to account for the compressed pace.

I don't want to overwhelm you with warnings about time. The MA is intensive but manageable, as long as you are prepared for the commitment. As with any worthy endeavor, you will get out of the SRSC what you put into it. You have the potential to develop some friendships and to cultivate a relationship with faculty mentors. Our graduates—even those with tremendous experience—tell us that they did not expect to grow as much as they did. That's what we like to hear. If you have an unexpected challenge, feel free to talk to me—and of course, always let your professors know when something's going on that's going to impact your ability to succeed.

Good luck and enjoy the ride!

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 Last Modified 1/25/16