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From the dean

Coming Attractions: The New Education Minor

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Bill McDiarmid

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Fall will see the official opening of the new education minor at Carolina. At the behest of Chancellor Holden Thorp, a committee of School of Education faculty and graduate students as well as undergraduates from the College of Arts and Sciences planned the program during the spring of 2011. Faculty have subsequently developed new undergraduate courses, the first of which is currently under way. The Chancellor has also helped us raise funds to support the new program from two generous friends of the School and University.

A minor in education has special appeal Carolina undergraduates. In 2010, UNC ranked 6th among large schools contributing the most graduating seniors to Teach for America. Teach for America hired more Carolina graduates than any other single employer in 2009 and 2010. Carolina students tend to be highly committed to public service, having created more than 600 nonprofits over the years and volunteering in impressive numbers for various service activities. Carolina was named one of the best universities for service learning in 2011. During the 2009-10, roughly 2,080 students were enrolled in service-learning courses, completing more than 70,000 hours of service. As someone noted, public service is embedded in Carolina students’ DNA.

Carolina undergraduates have also created their own interest groups focused on education and educational policy. Students from the student government’s Committee on the University’s Role in State Education participated in the minor planning committee. In addition, other student organizations also focus on educational policy issues, including the Roosevelt Institute.

Until now, formal coursework in the School of Education has been unavailable to undergraduate students who are not enrolled in any of the School’s professional preparation programs. Undergraduates who may be considering teaching but remain unsure of their career goals, including those eyeing TFA, have had few structured opportunities to observe and work in school classrooms or investigate current educational issues.

The minor is designed to serve a wide range of student educational interests. Potential applicants to TFA are but one segment. Another group consists of those who want to “test drive” education as a major or teaching as a career. Yet another is students who are unlikely to enter teaching either as service or as a career but are interested in educational policies, reforms, and issues. Typically, Carolina graduates provide leadership in their communities, career fields, and civic organizations. They frequently are elected to city and county councils, school boards, and other policy-making bodies. The minor provides these leaders-to-be a broad and solid grounding in educational policy, ideas, innovations, and research.

Students may apply for the education minor at any point in their undergraduate career and will be required to complete a five-course sequence. The Undergraduate Minor in Education program will be organized and administered in the School of Education and must conform to the mission, goals, and requirements of the College of Arts and Sciences.

In sum, the minor provide opportunities for undergraduates to

  • investigate current schooling, community, and policy directions including charter schools and vouchers, school reform models, and private initiatives;
  • develop the capacity to think critically about current educational issues and participate knowledgeably and productively in public debates about these issues;
  • observe and work in schools and other educational settings (e.g., museums and community-based programs, non-profits, and governmental organizations);
  • make connections with other disciplines as possible and integrate perspectives from a student’s major with the courses taken in the Education Minor.

As you might expect, School of Education faculty are excited about this opportunity to expand our involvement in undergraduate education. We feel privileged to work with students who are not merely academically exceptional but who care deeply about the most pressing issues we face as a democratic society.

Bill McDiarmid is dean of the School of Education at UNC-Chapel Hill.