UC Berkeley News


New interdisciplinary minor, Global Poverty and Practice, is launched

| 29 August 2007

A new undergraduate program has been created that seeks to motivate and prepare students to become active in alleviating poverty worldwide. The Global Poverty and Practice minor, developed in response to strong student demand for a globally based curriculum, will be housed in the International and Area Studies Teaching Program.

"This minor seeks to train students in the study and analysis of global poverty and to allow students the opportunity to participate in forms of praxis that engage global poverty in imaginative and practical ways," says Ananya Roy, associate professor of city and regional planning and curriculum director for the Blum Center for Developing Economies. Roy expects that initial enrollment in the new minor will be at least 25 students, expanding to more than 100 within the next few years.

The minor is different from related offerings at other institutions in that it has a specific (thematic) concentration on global poverty, a focus on undergraduates, a requirement for a hands-on practice or research experience, and training in the key theoretical and ethical debates around poverty, inequality, and development.

Of these four unique elements, students appear most excited about the transformative field experience - working shoulder-to-shoulder with the local organizations and individuals confronting poverty. "For many students, grinding poverty is an issue, a theme that we write about, read about, but hardly ever think about," says Vanessa Chen, a third-year undergraduate major in the political economy of industrial societies who intends to enroll in the program. "I think that this minor will allow me to address and confront the issue more directly and to understand the issues behind poverty, not just know of them."

The faculty committee that designed the new minor (members of which will serve as its advisory board) includes Nezar AlSayyad (architecture), Eric Brewer (computer science), Alain de Janvry (agricultural and resource economics), Eva Harris (public health), David Levine (business), Edward Miguel (economics), Kara Nelson (engineering), Aihwa Ong (anthropology), Isha Ray (energy and resources), Raka Ray (sociology), Eric Stover (Human Rights Center), and Michael Watts (geography).

The signature course of the minor will be an expanded version of the popular Global Poverty: Challenges and Hopes in the New Millennium course led by Roy, recipient of Berkeley's 2006 Distinguished Teaching Award. Enrollment in this course last year was increased from 80 students to 220 in an attempt to meet student demand for this topic. Enrollment for fall semester 2007 was expanded to 450; the class is now fully enrolled, with about 100 students on the wait list.