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This fall, a small group of University of Michigan undergraduate students will be the first cohort of the new Accelerated Master's Degree Program in Transcultural Studies.
The program officially launched this year, largely directed by Prof. David Porter, chair of the English Department. The effort took Porter and a team of dedicated University professors six years to define and refine.
The program offers students from diverse backgrounds the opportunity to earn an interdisciplinary Master of Arts degree only one year beyond their undergraduate study. Students are required to take two core transcultural studies courses, later selecting elective graduate-level courses in the 11 participating departments. Grounded in areas across the humanities and social sciences, the degree is largely catered to students’ visions.
Prof. Xiaobing Max Tang, director of the new program, highlighted the degree’s vanguard status.
“This is a new kind of master’s degree program. Not only on this campus, but also in the country,” he said. “I think we are one of the very few and leading programs in thinking about serving our undergrad students in this capacity.”
Prospective students begin their journey by applying junior year. If accepted into the program, senior year is considered a transition year, in which students are allowed to take one to two graduate-level courses. Students are fully emerged by the fifth year of the program, taking graduate courses in their field of study and later fulfilling a capstone project.
This year, LSA junior Jeremy Ray is applying by the April 1 deadline in hopes of being admitted into the program for his senior year.
“My areas of interest are especially related to this,” he said. “It’s also a year off of the regular grad school path. You don’t have to spend extra time, or the extra bills that are associated with that.”
Ray studies anthropology and linguistics at the University with the goal teaching English in the community or even abroad. University students interested in this program often come from diverse areas of study, and the degree offers them a practical way of fusing together their interests.
The master’s program prepares students for futures both in academia and careers, with easy accessibility into fields like anthropology, sociology and the humanities.
“In terms of career opportunities, I think what we can prepare our students for is a training and experience with a variety of approaches to not only different cultures, but also issues of diversity,” Tang said. “In thinking about how we can understand cultures beyond the national border, but also cultural difference within the national context.”
For LSA junior Ashley Tomaszewski, cross-cultural understanding is vital, as she aspires to enter a career in immigration law. Majoring in both political science and modern Greek, she said getting this degree made sense.
“Anything that can help me be better at translation, kind of on the fly, is helpful,” she said.
Tang said students will have free range in designing their education program. Students will work closely with their cohort and have the guidance of advisers. With their mentorship, students will select courses that will speak to their needs and interests, whether they want to work for cultural institutions or non-governmental organizations.
“I’m doing research this summer and next year, and so any program that I can find that is willing to help students with their research and have a plethora of advisors to do so … is amazing,” Tomaszewski said.
Over the past year, the program has received inquiries both on a national and international level, largely in part of the program’s avant-garde nature, Tang said.
As of now, however, the program is only offered to University juniors. The next few years will be dedicated to establishing a strong system and listening to student feedback.
Ray said the novelty of the program is attractive, as it allows students to mold the degree to their personal interests.
“It’s very new, which means I really get to decide a lot of the course work I’m doing,” he said.
Tang also emphasized the potential extent to which the program can grow.
“If it’s successful, there’s no reason not to expand it and make it available to students from outside the University of Michigan,” Tang said.
The program encourages students to be open-minded in their interests. Students with a sense of curiosity and interest in multi-cultural and personal understanding embody the values of the program, Tang said.
“You can’t excel if you’re not working in the field you’re passionate about,” he said. “The program is authentically a program that allows students the opportunity to make this discovery.”