November 22, 2019

SFS Proseminars Integrate DC Opportunities in Global Curricula for First-Year Students

Many professors value experiential learning opportunities beyond the classroom, complementing coursework with trips like riverboat tours along the Anacostia River and volunteer opportunities in local DC public schools.

Students in Professor Fieseler's class standing in front of entrance to the National Geographic Society.
Students in Professor Fieseler's class standing in front of entrance to the National Geographic Society.

Many of these opportunities occur as a component of proseminars, 15-person classes required for all first-year students in the School of Foreign Service (SFS) to train them in the academic reading and writing skills necessary for success in the SFS program.

These classes often allow underclassmen to expand their networks in DC, serve nearby communities, and engage with global issues in a local context.

The Georgetown College and McDonough School of Business operate similar first-year opportunities in their Ignatius and liberal arts seminars.

Accessing the Archives

In Clare Fieseler’s proseminar “Deeper Sources of Environmental Policy,” her students carry out semester-long research projects at the National Geographic Society in downtown Washington, DC. Students conduct original archival research using the society’s  photo archive, one of the world's largest and most renown photographic collections in the world.  

“By working with National Geographic’s archivists and experts, the students also become part of community of scholars that extends beyond GU’s campus,” says Fieseler, a lecturer in the SFS Science, Technology and International Affairs Program. “The community is rooted in respect, mutual support for student learning, and collaboration.”

The first large group of outside researchers to have access to the society’s archives in over 125 years, students in Fieseler’s class develop original research questions that contribute to answering one over-arching question: “How has environmental media influenced environmental policy over the past 100 years?”

“We have been granted access to materials that most of the public will never see, and while I sometimes question what I particularly did to deserve such a privilege, it is a truly rewarding opportunity to have,” says Rebecca Tone (SFS’23).

Kirk Zieser (SFS’22), formerly in Fieseler’s course, now serves as a regular volunteer for the National Geographic’s evening talks and events.

A computer used by students and archivists to view microfiche documents in the archives.
A computer used by students and archivists to view microfiche documents in the archives.

Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation

Marilyn McMorrow, associate teaching professor in the Department of Government, teaches a proseminar “Global Pathways: Competing Visions,” in which she seeks to address Georgetown’s legacy of slavery.

In addition to requiring her first-year students to read the “Georgetown University Working Group Report on Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation,” McMorrow supplements her course with a class trip to the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

“During the class following the museum trip, we reflected on how what we had read prepared us for the museum and what we experienced at the museum shed light on what we had read,” McMorrow says.

Community Connections and Contributions

Lahra Smith, associate professor in the SFS, currently advises the SFS Academic Council and teaches a proseminar “Migration in and from Africa,” which visits the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art.

Through her work with the SFS Academic Council, Smith has also launched an international affairs teaching exchange with Roosevelt High School in Petworth.

It may seem inconsequential, but as a freshman, this incentive to go off campus independently has given me confidence in my navigational skills in a new city.

Mark Giordano, professor and Cinco Hermanos Chair in Environment and International Affairs in the SFS, aims to connect students with local organizations working on the issues they are learning in the classroom.

“In any class I teach on water or agriculture, I take students on a field trip to the Potomac or Anacostia Rivers,” he says. “Through that they meet organizations working on the river and many end up working or volunteering in some way.”

Breaking the Georgetown Bubble

Tone, who takes advantage of the Georgetown shuttle buses with direct routes to metro stops throughout the city, says her commute has given her more confidence to explore DC.

“It may seem inconsequential, but as a freshman, this incentive to go off campus independently has given me confidence in my navigational skills in a new city, as well as a way to learn about Georgetown’s transportation services,” she says.

Student find that opportunities in DC give them access to new perspectives that can expand their worldviews and complement classroom learning.

“The ability to extend my learning into DC is an invaluable way to reinforce that the themes discussed in my classes on the Hilltop are both relevant in the ‘real world’ (which can sometimes feel far removed from abstract theories studied in lectures) and enable me to better understand the world around me,” Zieser says.

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