Great Issues program gains new components
By Heather Szilagyi, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Thursday, September 13, 2012
The Great Issues Scholars program was created by the Dickey Center for International Understanding in 2009 with the intent of engaging first-year students, and it has since provided an opportunity for participants to pursue their global ambitions both on campus and around the world, according to Dickey Center Student Programs Officer Amy Newcomb.
Before the creation of the program, administrators at the Dickey Center realized that most events and programs in international affairs were targeted at upperclassmen, according to Acting Director of the Dickey Center and government professor Christianne Wohlforth. First-year students came to the Dickey Center with an interest in international affairs, but “didn’t have a very concrete way to go to pursue those interests or that curiosity,” she said.
The Great Issues Scholars program is a year-long program that allows students to explore contemporary international issues. Participants explore different topics each term, including violence and security, climate and global health, she said.
The program has evolved since its inception with the Class of 2013, with the largest change being the creation of a mentoring program, according to students. As part of the program, born out of the first participants’ desire to stay involved with the program in subsequent years, graduates of the program serve as mentors to the current freshman class, according to Newcomb.
As a result, Newcomb has been able to step away from basic leadership roles to facilitate a balance of student and administrative leadership as the program continues to grow, she said.
Alexander Lopez ’15, now a mentor for the program, said that a member of the Class of 2013 told him about the opportunities that could stem from the Great Issues Scholars program.
About 50 percent of program participants apply for another year-long commitment to be mentors for younger students, Wohlforth said.
The Dickey Center is also making a greater effort to keep students engaged by introducing themes throughout the year instead of presenting isolated modules each term, according to Tommy McQuillan ’13.
Last year, each of three terms covered a different global topic; in this year’s iteration of the program, the Dickey Center is focusing on how these topics intersect with one another, Ming Koh ’15 said.
Paul Strauch ’13, who participated in the program during its first year, said he would have benefited from such linking of topics and from events beyond faculty lectures.
Since 2009, the program has evolved to become more “fun and interactive” while crossing all disciplines on a global scale, Wohlforth said. Hands-on events, including simulations and conferences off campus, have become an integral part of the program.
The perception of the role of the Dickey Center has also evolved since the program’s inception, as the center has become a point of connection between students and all international-focused campus organizations rather than a “one-stop shop” for global engagement, she said.
Over time, the Great Issues Scholars program has unintentionally become very competitive, according to Newcomb.
About three times as many students apply as can be accepted into the program, making the process “randomly selective,” Wohlforth said. Because all applications are submitted from first-year students with no prior experience at Dartmouth, applicants must be gauged by apparent level of interest, she said. Of the 143 applicants from the Class of 2016, approximately 50 students will be selected.
The relatively new program has influenced participants’ careers at Dartmouth beyond their freshman year, according to students.
After being exposed to the Great Issues Scholars program his freshman year, Strauch said he went on to become involved with Dickey Center in numerous ways, including the War and Peace Fellows program.
Portia Schultz ’15 said that participation in the Great Issues Scholars program compelled her to apply for the First-Year Fellows program, enabling her to spend the summer working in Washington, D.C.
Additionally, the program enables participants to meet the heads of other organizations across campus to discuss various opportunities, enabling Schultz to apply for programs of which she was previously unaware, she said.
A student who had never traveled outside the United States before coming to Dartmouth, McQuillan said he applied for the program to gain an international perspective.
“Great Issues allowed me to get my foot in the door in global health,” he said.
The Spring term’s focus on global health initially connected him with the DarDar internship in Tanzania during his sophomore winter and the Global Health Initiative, with which he is still involved, McQuillan said.
Barbara Richards ’13 said her most important takeaway from the program was the ability to “look beyond the surface when it comes to humanitarian aid,” a topic discussed in the program’s first year.
As a government major with a focus on international relations, Richards said she expects the humanitarian emphasis from the first-year program to be relevant to a course she is taking this year titled “Africa and the World.”
Lopez said that meeting friends that shared similar interests was a large benefit of the program.
Encouraging students to consider how they can increase their awareness of global issues in their first years at the College is the program’s founding goal, according to administrators.
“The key is that we try to take students innate curiosity about the world and help them discover all the different ways they can pursue their interests here at Dartmouth,” Wohlforth said.
Applications for this year’s program were due Sept. 11. Applicants will be notified of their status this Friday, and those accepted will participate in a retreat beginning on Sept. 21. Features of this year’s program include a conflict simulation run by the U.S. State Department and a private dinner discussion with Zainab Salbi, the founder of Women for Women International.