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Faculty, students reflect on IAPA concentration three years after its creation

Watson faculty, concentrators discuss increased flexibility in courses, student response

This article was reported by The Bruno Brief team. You can find a full transcript of this podcast here.

In March 2019, the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs announced plans to combine its Development Studies, International Relations and Public Policy concentrations into a single concentration called “International and Public Affairs,” The Herald previously reported

A statement by the Watson Institute on the decision noted that the new concentration would “enable students to explore international and public affairs guided by their own curiosity, interests and desire to make a difference in the world.”

Initial reactions to the new concentration were mixed at the time, with some students and professors telling The Herald they approved of changes such as the removal of a language requirement. Previously, concentrators in Development Studies and International Relations had to study a foreign language.

Three years later, IAPA has become one of the most popular concentrations at the University. Last year, 105 students completed the IAPA concentration, according to the Office of Institutional Research

According to the Watson Institute Director Ed Steinfeld, the IAPA concentration has made seminar environments more accessible to students while giving them more flexibility in their course selection.

“IAPA has a core curriculum taught by Watson faculty,” Steinfeld said. “But the students who each pick a track are required to take five additional electives. Those electives … really come from across the University.”

“One of the goals of IAPA was to have more seminars and small group settings,” Steinfeld added. “Students are enthusiastic about the opportunities.”

According to Steinfeld, while students “can develop a theme that can be self-directed” with the IAPA concentration’s flexibility, “one could get lost in all of this choice.”

“It puts greater pressure on us here at Watson to make sure that … students can speak to different kinds of advisors” and “come up with a set of electives that make sense,” he added. 

While students can no longer declare a concentration in Development Studies, International Relations or Public Policy, a few students selected these concentrations before they were discontinued. This year, the last students to complete one of the three concentrations that preceded IAPA will graduate. 

Caroline Allen ’22.5 said she chose to stick with her International Relations concentration because of its language requirement, a component absent from the IAPA concentration. 

“A large part of my decision-making was that I realized if I want to go into the IR field post-grad, I really want to have a language … (as) a holistic part of my IR studies,” Allen said. “I wanted to do IR because I felt learning a language and having that immersion into a different part of the world was an important part of the discipline.” 

Although Allen’s concentration is no longer offered, the Watson Institute still offers her the resources available to IAPA concentrators, including advising.

While Allen said she was happy with her decision to remain an IR concentrator, she was unsure when first faced with the choice between IR and IAPA, turning to upperclassmen for advice on her decision.

“I felt that there wasn’t too much information comparing the two concentrations,” Allen said. “I remember having a couple conversations with older students who were very frustrated with the change in the concentration. Based on those conversations, … I stuck with IR.”

According to Allen, about half of the students faced with the same decision in her year chose to concentrate in IAPA. She estimates “there are about 30 people left studying IR,” she said. 

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Dani Poloner ’24 is an IAPA concentrator and member of the Watson Institute’s Student Advisory Council, which brings student perspectives to the Watson Institute’s faculty and staff. He said that the IAPA concentration’s flexibility makes it easier to fulfill course requirements.

After meeting with his track advisor, Poloner learned that he had completed his electives as a first-semester sophomore, he said.

“The elective list doesn’t actually contain all the things that might count for the concentration,” he added. “One of the things I would love to change is to try to update the list a little more.”

Poloner enrolled at Brown in 2020, the first year the IAPA concentration was fully implemented. He says that the concentration “definitely does feel new at times.”

“Sometimes there are things that need to be updated,” Poloner said, referring to the list of elective options. “It’s just in its beginning stages, but that’s one of the reasons that the Student Advisory Council exists.”

Despite the numerous changes to course requirements included in the Watson Institute’s curricular overhaul, the three IAPA tracks — Development, Security and Policy and Governance — mirror the original three concentrations. 

The Watson Institute is “seeing, at least in the Policy and (Governance) track of IAPA, much of the same sort of students that we saw in the Public Policy (concentration),” said Anthony Levitas, director of the IAPA Policy and Governance track and the former director of the discontinued Public Policy concentration.

“The difference in advising students between the two possibilities hasn’t changed very much,” Levitas said. 

At the same time, some students graduating with a degree in Public Policy reacted negatively to the creation of IAPA because “there’s a sense of loss,” Levitas said. “The thing that they did, they went through and which … served them well will no longer be.” 

Students also asked whether their Public Policy concentration would be devalued because it was discontinued, according to Levitas. He said that a concentration “signals to the outside world what you’re interested in,” and discontinuance is almost never detrimental to a student. 

Looking forward, Levitas said that the IAPA concentration will allow for “a lot of possible synergies between (graduate programs) and the undergraduate program, with (the possibility of) Watson becoming a school and expanding what the possibilities for the concentration are.”

Whether IAPA will outperform the original Public Policy concentration “remains to be seen … in terms of how many students we have,” Levitas said. But “the students who have made the move to the new concentration are largely happy with it.”



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