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Academic program timing fosters one student’s career vision

Political science and public administration department offers new programs

Contact: Dan Digmann


​​​A hypothetical mission trip Lauren Gillette developed as a high school graduation requirement now is the foundation for her academic reality at Central Michigan University.

Three years ago, the Berrien Springs junior researched the expenses, communications, logistics and fundraising associated with a trip to teach vacation Bible school in Haiti. It only needed to be a senior project idea, but continued encouragement from friends and family members — "You've already done the work," they said — led Gillette to complete the mission last summer.

Then CMU started offering students something she couldn't refuse.

Gillette recently became the first student to officially pursue the newly established public and nonprofit administration major, which is one of several updated degree and certificate programs the political science and public administration department began offering this academic year. Such an interdisciplinary program is exactly what Gillette needs to realize her dreams of working with and managing an international nonprofit organization.

"It truly was a matter of perfect timing that CMU offered this major right after I did my mission trip," Gillette said. "I declared it as my major as soon as I found out about it, and I'm excited to see what it has in store for me."

In addition to public and nonprofit administration, other political science-related majors are political science and international relations. Newly developed certificate programs also include public policy analysis, international security studies and political advocacy and elections.

David Jesuit, chair of the political science and public administration department, said the academic program changes were made to reflect shifts in how political scientists connect with the world today and also to help students develop the skills that will more directly translate to their future careers.

"Rather than have a specialty in Latin America, Western Europe or even the USA, political scientists examine problems and questions that transcend any particular region, such as democratization, social movements or political violence," Jesuit said. "The certificates we created are good examples of this."

Students benefit when department 'walks the walk'

Interest in the new programs continues to grow, and the department is increasing opportunities for students to get involved in their community and throughout world. This includes one Saturday i​n October when a group of 30 students and faculty — most from majors within the political science and public administration department — volunteered for a Habitat For Humanity service event in Coleman.

The event was coordinated by Emma Powell, a political science and public administration faculty member who helps manage the public and nonprofit administration major. She said the goal is to coordinate one service event each semester.

"As a department, we need to walk the walk," Powell said. "We can't say getting involved in the community is important for our students and not provide access to such opportunities."

The certificate programs are available to students of all majors. These specialized concentrations offer students opportunities to focus their studies and boost professional credentials, said Cherie Strachan, the political science and public administration faculty member who oversees the civic engagement certificate. She explained that the certificate programs help students to approach situations and critique information in a different way.

"For example, people within the civic engagement program will see that engagement isn't just voting, it's more about cultivating a sense of long-term interest in the political process," she said.


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