College of Liberal Arts | Spring 2021

Expanding perspectives, broadening perceptions

A diverse campus, curious students, and a sad tale of how chocolate is made combine to form the early narrative for Purdue’s global studies major. It launched in 2016 and is growing rapidly.

Global studies as a major at Purdue was inevitable. Just walk through Purdue Memorial Union, pass by the Neil Armstrong statue, or sit in an active classroom, and Purdue’s extraordinary diversity is evident. In fall 2017, Purdue welcomed 9,097 students from 122 countries, giving Purdue the fourth-largest international student population among U.S. public universities and the second-largest among Big Ten schools.

That international flavor naturally makes students curious about the broader world. Tithi Bhattacharya was teaching global history and observed that trend among her students.

Her answer — the global studies major.

“There was a real hunger among students for more knowledge about globalization and the world outside the U.S.,” said Bhattacharya, associate professor of history and director of global studies. “I felt that providing all of these students with a program that satisfied their desire to know more about globalization would enhance both their intellectual experiences and make them see their place in the world more clearly.”

Global studies is often compared to and even incorrectly equated with an international studies program. International studies’ origins are from political science, so its focus tends toward intercountry relationships, politics, and policy. Global studies, meanwhile, is interdisciplinary and examines the moving parts of globalization: economy, environment, gender, race, and other factors.

Its focus extends beyond peace talks, trade, and immigration to global sustainability, human rights, environmental change, and economic inequality.

“It is more people-focused than policy-focused,” Bhattacharya said.

The program’s affiliated faculty sport expertise in a variety of areas, including anthropology, art, history, literature, and sociology. Coursework includes classes on global awareness, human cultural diversity, gender and multiculturalism, and global history.

Students in the program are given a wide berth in selecting an area of concentration. These areas can be geographical or thematic, such as environmental change, market economies, or economic inequality. There are also language requirements and an expectation each student will complete at least one study abroad experience.

Those expectations weren’t an issue for Maggie Tienhaara, a sophomore from Fishers, Ind. She studied Spanish and took extended service trips to Costa Rica and Honduras even before arriving at Purdue. After two days on campus as a freshman, the program won her over, and she became one of the first Purdue students to select the global studies major.

“I came to college with all these ideas, and I wanted to have my ideas and beliefs challenged,” Tienhaara said.

Tienhaara is now the program ambassador for global studies and founder of Purdue’s Global Studies Club. She applied for and won grant money to purchase chocolate to teach middle school students about slavery in cocoa-producing countries such as Ivory Coast.

“They don’t know where the chocolate comes from and the effects it has on the lives of kids their own age,” Tienhaara said. “A lot of kids who produce the cocoa they’re eating have never tasted chocolate themselves. They had no idea there were millions of slaves still today. My hope is they learn more and someday come to Purdue and stop that.”

Global studies graduates pursue careers as public interest advocates, correspondents, foreign service officers, and government executives. Bhattacharya said a current student in the program is working in Germany with an immigrant rights organization. Others join programs such as Teach for America or the Peace Corps, or become development workers for nonprofits or non-governmental organizations (NGO).

The global studies capstone project offers students the opportunity to create their own model NGO, recently tackling issues such as ecotourism in Bali, women’s healthcare in Ghana, and clean water in Guatemala. Bhattacharya said the rigorous projects leave students ready to put their ideas into practice in the real world.

“Of course it is a degree that will enhance our students’ chances of getting jobs in a competitive global job market. But we are not about slotting people in. First, we are preparing people to become global citizens. We want our students to be fluent in world cultures, in global issues that affect everyone,” Bhattacharya said. “Secondly, we want students to make a positive impact on the world across borders. All of us know that we are in a world that is scoured by problems, but global studies students know that they have to be part of the solution.”

Tienhaara hasn’t pinpointed her career path, but filters her future expectations in much the same manner as Bhattacharya described.

“If I’m helping people, working with the marginalized, and empowering them, that’s the kind of community I want to be a part of. I would go anywhere in the world that needs help,” she said. “The people in this major are amazing. Every single one is going to do awesome things. Their willingness to pursue a career, not for themselves but for others, is heartening.

“Whatever it’s going to be is going to be great.”