Nine out of twelve of the University’s certificates became minors after the University’s Educational Policy Committee (EPC) approved the change on February 27.
These nine former certificates are: Civic Engagement, Environmental Studies, Informatics & Modeling, International Relations, Jewish & Israel Studies, Middle Eastern Studies, Molecular Biophysics, Muslim Studies, and South Asia Studies. Three certificates—Writing, Applied Data Science, and Social, Cultural, and Critical Theory (SCCT)—will not become minors. Current seniors pursuing certificates that have been reclassified as minors will graduate with the certificates. All future graduates, including rising seniors, will graduate with minors.
“In most cases this is just a change of name,” Chair of the EPC and Professor of Astronomy William Herbst wrote in an email to The Argus. “There is no real distinction in terms of academic requirements between a certificate and a minor. The fact that we have both at Wesleyan is sort of an historical accident that, at first, had to do with the fact that Wesleyan did not award minors. Once that became an option, it was gradually understood that certificates and minors were generally two names for the same thing.”
The EPC meets throughout the semester to oversee and make decisions on potential changes to the University’s curriculum, specifically changes that would create new or alter pre-existing majors, minors, or certificates. The EPC’s rationale for switching many of the certificates to minors is to bring the University policies in line with other higher education institutions and to avoid confusion in job or post-grad applications.
“Students have given feedback and said that they feel like when they present their resume or their transcript, they always end up having to explain to post-bacc or graduate programs what a certificate is, that it simply isn’t a certificate that you get,” WSA Academic Affairs Committee (AAC) Chair Jake Kwon ’21 said. “It’s not just lesser than a minor, which a lot of programs tend to kind of assume.”
Professor of Biology and Co-Coordinator of Informatics and Modeling Michael Weir reiterated this.
“It was felt that a minor would generally have more meaning than a certificate for someone outside the university viewing a student’s academic record or CV,” Weir wrote in an email to The Argus. “For example, with incoming students, many of us would explain that a certificate was like a minor at other universities and colleges.”
For most of the certificates transitioning to minors, their core requirements have not changed.
“There are no changes to the structure or requirements of the [Civic Engagement Certificate]—just the name,” Associate Professor of Psychology and Coordinator of the Civic Engagement Certificate Barbara Juhasz wrote in an email.
However, some transitioning certificates took time to make amendments to their course of study.
“We did make some changes when we transitioned to a [Molecular Biophysics] minor,” Professor of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry and Co-Coordinator of Molecular Biophysics Ishita Mukerji wrote in an email to The Argus. “We didn’t necessarily add more credits, we just clarified the course of study, such as designating some courses as introductory and some as advanced. I think these changes will make it easier for students to understand what they need to take to achieve the minor. Also, we modified the requirements for the certificate, so that it’s easier for Physics majors to obtain a minor in Molecular Biophysics. We’re excited about this, as it’s something that we were working towards, but the conversion to the minor really spurred us to get it done.”
Many of the current certificate coordinators are optimistic about the change.
“This is a very exciting change,” Director of the Center for Jewish Studies Dalit Katz wrote in an email to The Argus. “Students have communicated to me their enthusiasm and support of the change. Innovation and creativity are at the core of Jewish and Israel Studies at Wesleyan and this structural change is in line with this.”
Although the goal has been to phase most certificates over to minors, three were exceptions. The Writing, Applied Data Sciences, and Social, Cultural, and Critical Theory Certificates all requested to keep their status. In these cases, program directors expressed their specific reasons for staying a certificate, and the EPC approved them.
SCCT Certificate Coordinator Professor Matthew Garret emphasized that the unique nature of SCCT program makes it better suited as a certificate. The Certificate consists of six courses taken across three or more different departments, which wouldn’t be conducive to minor status. Minors at the University are typically, but not always, housed within one department.
“My sense is that there is an institutional and an intellectual difference between the Theory Certificate and most minors,” Garrett wrote in an email to The Argus. “Institutionally, the wide-ranging nature of the courses that contribute to the Certificate seems broader than anything like a minor. Intellectually, there is no single disciplinary formation that corresponds to what is called (social, cultural, and critical) theory. Since by its very nature ‘Theory’ is anti-disciplinary, or corrosive to disciplinary formations, in my view it makes sense for it to be a Certificate-type entity rather than something more ramified or formalized within an undergraduate curriculum.”
The Writing Certificate kept its designation for similar reasons.
As for the Applied Data Science Certificate, it primarily remained a certificate to avoid confusion. The University’s Quantitative Analysis Center (QAC) offers both a Certificate in Applied Data Science as well as a Data Analysis Minor. Both are meant to supplement other areas of study, or what the QAC calls ‘domain knowledge.’
“The approach we’ve taken with data analysis is that it is a support area for anything that we’re interested in exploring; in other words, we’re not saying that data analysis belongs in government, in economics, in physics, or chemistry, or English,” QAC Director and Applied Data Science Certificate Coordinator Manolis Kaparakis said. “So the way we have structured both our courses in the QAC and the programs we support is with that in mind. Essentially, we developed programs that will allow people to develop the necessary skills to have the supporting area and facilitate the work they are doing in their chosen fields.”
However, the two are very different. While the Data Analysis Minor has a requirement of five courses and focuses on mathematical and statistical tools and domain knowledge, the Applied Data Science Certificate has an eight credit requirement plus a practicum and facilitates a more interdisciplinary approach between domain knowledge, mathematical statistical tools, and computer science/machine learning. Based on the student feedback the QAC received, calling both programs minors would confuse students and blur the lines between the two programs.
“While there is some rationale in keeping the certificate, it’s not something that anyone was really passionate about,” Kaparakis said. “It was more of a way to make sure we avoid unnecessary confusion.”
Moving forward, any new non-major courses of study proposed to the EPC will be pending approval as minors rather than certificates.
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