Martin Institute Connects Student Interests with Global Situations
Students in International Studies Program earn a degree tailored to their interests and diverse fields of study
In China, it’s traditional to give an apple as a gift at the New Year. The round red fruit symbolizes fortune.
If you are an apple grower in Washington dependent on exports to China, you probably ought to know that. And you ought to know which type of apple is most popular, which pesticides are regulated by the Chinese government and, in general, the state of U.S.-China trade relations.
Seems like you can’t even grow produce these days without having some amount of knowledge about international politics.
That’s why the University of Idaho’s international studies degree offers cross-disciplinary courses and the opportunity for students to craft a degree that meets the needs of their individual career paths.
Housed inside UI’s Martin Institute in the College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences, the International Studies Program can accommodate about 200 students a year, each with a specialized degree. Each student selects a country or language to study and an issue emphasis. For example, a student might study China and how politics impacts agricultural trade. Students may choose any country, but most center around UI’s language offerings in order to meet the six-semester language requirement.
The program has seen amazing growth since it became part of the Martin Institute in 1997, said director Bill Smith. In 2000, when Smith came to UI, it had 70 students. Now, with only two faculty members teaching international studies curriculum, it’s maxed out at 200.
The Martin Institute and International Studies Program offer the spine of the curriculum for students: A foundation of international relations coursework and cultural training. Then students take other classes related to their interest area — which could include history, political science, language and other discipline-specific courses.
In addition, each student in the International Studies Program is required to spend 10 consecutive weeks studying abroad, though many spend at least a semester or two abroad, Smith said. The experience doesn’t have to be academic as long as it is immersive. It can include internships, volunteer opportunities, even mission trips.
“The spirit of the requirement is to be involved in the community and culture,” he said.
The program’s international focus isn’t limited to U.S. students. International students have received the degree, with the U.S. and English as their focus.
The career opportunities for students with an international studies degree are broad, Smith said, and vary depending on what the student focused on. Many remain in the Pacific Northwest, working for regional organizations with international presences — including Microsoft and Boeing, but also nonprofits and small businesses.
“Companies with an international presence are all over the place,” Smith said. “Even in the Palouse — it’s very possible to do international studies stuff here.”
Many graduates also live overseas, of course, working for both U.S. and foreign companies or governments. The degree is very flexible.
“The skillset scales,” Smith said. Training in understanding government systems can help someone in the local level — working with local government groups and nonprofits — or on the national or global scale, such as working in the United Nations.
Regardless of what a student wants to do in the future, Smith said the International Studies Program can offer the cultural competencies and global knowledge that is becoming more and more crucial in today’s world.
“I think you’ll be better at what you do because you come through our program,” he said.
Article by Savannah Tranchell, University Communications & Marketing