Formed in 2000, OCIAS (the Oregon Consortium for International and Area Studies at the University of Oregon) houses the administrative offices and coordinating council for the University of Oregon’s multidisciplinary and international programs. These programs are: African Studies Program, Asian Studies Program, European Studies Program, Department of International Studies, Latin American Studies Program, Middle East and North Africa Studies Program, and Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies Program. These programs provide curriculum leading to bachelor of arts, minors, certificates, and/or masters of arts degrees. Approximately 60 courses are taught each year through these programs by OCIAS, and other UO faculty, instructors from off-campus, and visiting professors.
The OCIAS office staff serves the administrative needs of the approximately 500 undergraduate students, 40 graduate students and the faculty of these seven programs. Approximately one-quarter of these students are international students. The OCIAS coordinating council is comprised of the Director of OCIAS, who is also a program Director, and the Directors of the six other programs. Together they oversee the general budget and operations of OCIAS’ administrative functions.
All About OCIAS
The Oregon Consortium for International and Area Studies (OCIAS) is comprised of six regionally specific programs, a Global Health program, and an International Studies department. OCIAS connects these programs and the INTL department by providing an administrative office and coordinating services. Together, the programs and department under OCIAS offer more than 40 classes to approximately 700 students, coordinating with countless other programs and departments around the UO campus to offer comprehensive interdisciplinary educational opportunities to globally minded students.
Altogether, the seven programs and one department of OCIAS are:
- African Studies
- Asian Studies
- European Studies
- Global Health
- International Studies
- Latin American Studies
- Middle East and North African Studies (MENA)
- Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies (REEES)
Of the regionally specific programs, Asian Studies, Latin American Studies and REEES offer a major, and all six offer one or more minors. Asian Studies and REEES also have graduate offerings and African Studies a graduate certificate. The Global Health program offers an undergraduate minor, and the Department of International Studies offers an undergrad major and minor with several concentration options, as well as a graduate program.
Each region differs from the rest in terms of geography, culture, religion, language, and so on. Accordingly, each program and department under OCIAS is unique in its offering to students. There are also similarities that bind them together and create a global network of learning opportunities at UO.
The Department of International Studies, which houses the Global Health program, is not restricted to one region but rather has an integrated curriculum to give students the option to steer their academics toward their professional and geographic interests. As a result, course topics range from professional and thematic focused courses, to broad regional development courses, to courses that approach issues present in the world at large.
“We’re not really as interested in Nation X and Nation Y,” said Stephen Wooten, the Director of Graduate Studies for the Department of International Studies. “We’re interested in things like migration, like well-being, like environmental change.” The International Studies faculty come from various disciplinary backgrounds, which allows for diversity in class topics offered by the department. For example, Wooten has a background in anthropology prior to working as a faculty member for International Studies. He also spent time as the Director of African Studies. The faculty’s broad expertise contributes to the department’s holistic perspective. To understand poverty in one region, a student must also understand economics; making these connections between trends and patterns improves critical thinking on an international level.
Although concentrated in a specific geographic area, the OCIAS area-studies programs are interdisciplinary as well. The programs need diverse faculty to support a range of student interests within each unique region. For example, Ian McNeely, the Director of European Studies, teaches 18th century history classes in the German and Scandinavian Department that count toward the European Studies minor. Tuong Vu, the Director of Asian Studies and a political science professor, teaches courses about Southeast Asia applicable to the Asian Studies major and minors.
For the Global Health program, Director Kristin Yarris believes interdisciplinary faculty are an important asset that expand the reach of students’ post-undergraduate experiences. “Obviously, UO does not have a medical school or a school of public health,” said Yarris. “That’s one of the impetus for us making the minor – then one day hopefully a major – so interdisciplinary. We have to build on our strengths.”
One interdisciplinary aspect in several of the OCIAS programs is language. Many require or suggest at least two courses in a language associated with the region. Half of the OCIAS programs require two to three years of a language to complete the associated majors or minors. Language is an integral piece in either concentration – humanities or social sciences – of the REEES program, especially as the Russian Language Program is part of REEES. “We feel, in order to know anything about a culture, a history, or a place, that you absolutely have to know the language,” said Jenifer Presto, the Director of REEES. “Language is a transmitter of culture, and the two are inextricably tied together.”
As part of the African Studies minor, students can enroll in eight credits of Swahili at any skill level to count as elective credits. The opportunity to learn a language is especially important to Doris Payne, the director of African Studies; she was trained as a linguist and spent time studying language in East Africa.
The Asian Studies program partners with University of Oregon’s East Asian Languages and Literature department for its offering to students. East Asian Languages and Literature provides the UO with several language courses, including Korean, which only a few colleges in the U.S. offer. Students can also learn other Asian languages like Thai and Urdu through the Yamada Language Center.
The programs and departments under OCIAS also work together. Courses for specific concentrations of the International Studies major can overlap with requirements for an area-studies minor, for example. Students can thus enroll in appropriate classes that count toward more than one major or minor.
Many of the directors shared the same desired takeaway for graduating students. They hope students understand and appreciate the complexities of the region they study and disregard stereotypes that distort outsiders’ perceptions.
Rick Colby, Director of MENA, stressed this: “The Middle East and North Africa is a region that has such a rich history and such a vibrant culture but also, especially in the last century or so, has become a flashpoint for a lot of international conflict,” he said. “I think it’s important as becoming good global citizens…to realize that there’s a lot in the region that’s more than just global politics.”
OCIAS programs and department also want students to get involved in changing the world. In order to further develop an intercultural perspective, students can visit the regions they studied while at UO and continue to learn outside the classroom.
Presto hopes the program inspires further learning within and beyond the classroom. “I think that’s the most important that any education can do,” she said. “To just inspire further inquiry and learning. And that need not be in a formal setting like grad school.”