International Relations Course Brings Current Events Into the Classroom

In INTL 201: Global Issues Seminar, students examine global problems to better frame worldly solutions.

What do the Chinese army, Hugo Chavez and the Keystone XL Pipeline have in common? The answer lies in Pamela Chasek’s Global Issues Seminar.

This course, the first requirement for international studies majors and minors, delves into the bevy of issues and current affairs that our world faces. By guiding students to look at these problems critically and in a larger global context, Chasek, Ph.D., professor of government and director of the College’s International Studies program, removes the fear and sense of powerlessness normally associated with topics, such as poverty, climate change and war, and replaces them with a desire to make a thought-out difference in the international community.

“This course looks at a whole bunch of political, historical, social and economic topics, and exposes students to the different types of issues that are out there,” Chasek explains. “And hopefully there is something in there that they can connect with.”

It is hard to describe a typical class, as Chasek challenges students with a variety of learning tools. A session might start with a current events quiz, where students explain the significance of everyday international happenings. A weekly theme may be introduced, so students can analyze their current knowledge on the topic. Perhaps a formal lecture on the definition and context will follow, concluding with a lively discussion on what it all means.

The course takes particular advantage, though, of the wealth of thought-leaders that move through New York City, and guest speakers often enrich classroom discussions. This semester, for example, Jérome Sauvage, former United Nations Development Programme Representative to North Korea, will speak with students about his international experiences; Lois Harr, director of Campus Ministry and Social Action, will talk about fair trade and campus involvement; members of Catholic Relief Services will discuss what they do in Burkina Faso; and guest professors with topical expertise will present their perspectives.

Claire Leaden ’15, who’s taking this class as part of her peace studies minor, notes how Global Issues Seminar has changed her college experience. “As a global citizen, I think that it is everyone’s responsibility to know what is going on in the world and have an opinion about it, but previously I’ve been pretty bad about keeping up with the news. This class has helped me to be really aware and care about the issues in our world today.”

Global Issues Seminar doesn’t just teach students about world problems, it teaches students how to think about them.

“What I always say to students [about this class] is when you go home, I want you to be able to wow everyone at the dinner table with your knowledge of what’s going on in the world, of its different issues,” Chasek concludes. “And beyond the table, to be able to take the ideas and share them with a larger audience.”