A new major will let students try their hand at social change
USC Dornsife’s interdisciplinary major will examine nonprofits fostering change in all corners of the world
So you want to change the world?
A new major in nongovernmental organizations (NGO) and social change might be for you, according to Nina Eliasoph, professor of sociology at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.
If you want to solve a social problem, you have to investigate its root causes.
“It will give you both practical tools and a broad theoretical, historical and global view,” Eliasoph said. “You will examine not just what organizations have done to try to solve problems, but the problems’ histories as well. If you want to solve a social problem, you have to investigate its root causes. Otherwise, it will just come back to haunt you.”
In the new bachelor’s degree, launching in spring 2015, undergraduates will study NGOs, an organization that is neither a part of a government nor a conventional, for-profit business (those operating in the United States are usually called nonprofits). Typically, they are funded by businesses, foundations or private individuals.
The new major focuses on the economic, political and cultural roots of social conflicts and the varied forms of NGOs that address them. Through interdisciplinary coursework and an internship, students will learn how these organizations aim to diminish human suffering and environmental destruction around the world.
The major’s requirements include a one-semester internship in which students work 8-10 hours per week at a local nonprofit or NGO, while participating in a seminar where they analyze and reflect on their experiences and ultimately produce a research paper.
“The internship is a key part of the major that helps students integrate what they have learned in the classroom about inequality and social change with practical, hands-on experience working in nonprofits or NGOs,” said Katie Hasson, assistant professor of sociology and gender studies. “This experiential learning — real-world internship experience combined with critical reflection and analysis — helps makes this major unique.”
Added Eliasoph: “The internships will give students a chance to see how decisions are actually made, how NGOs and nonprofits can work, and, equally importantly, why they sometimes don’t work. The goal of the internship is not just to work in an NGO and help it, but also to use the experience as a springboard for thinking about what the possibilities are for these organizations.”
Freshman Sharon Dong has had a growing interest in nonprofits and sociology over the past few years.
“I’m really into social activism, and seeing all the injustice and inequality around me compels me to do something to make a positive impact on people. This led me to the new major,” she said. “I’m hoping it will teach me the skills necessary to successfully help others and affirm my choice in this career area.”
Freshman Nicole Smith, a double major in NGOs and social change at USC Dornsife, and policy, planning and development at the USC Price School of Public Policy, is passionate about helping youth at risk for joining gangs.
In her first semester at USC, she took a class called “Adolescent Gang Intervention,” which counts toward the new major.
“It’s been a life-changing experience,” she said. “I was able to hear from all sides of the issue: from law enforcement to actual gang members to community intervention workers. This allowed me to see all the factors that play a role in solving the issue.”
For her internship, Smith plans to work with at-risk youth in South Los Angeles.
“I hope that this major exposes me to more areas of social change and that I become passionate about other issues around the world.”
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