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Fall 2012

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Program Notes
Michelle Harris, PhD

New! The Dual Master’s Degree Program in Applied Sociology and
Development Studies: NAU and The University of Botswana

In the fall of 2011, the Department of Sociology and Social Work at Northern Arizona University (NAU) and the program in development studies at the University of Botswana (UB) admitted the first students into the brand new Dual Master’s Degree program.  The initiative allows graduate students in applied sociology at NAU and those in development studies at UB to earn two degrees in two years. NAU sociology students can spend one year in our department doing graduate work and a second year at UB.  A similar provision exists for UB students—they study development studies at their home institution for one year and then spend their second year in our sociology program. At the end of the two years, students will earn two master’s degrees: one from NAU in sociology and one from UB in development studies.

Ian Tong in Botswana

Ian Tong is one of two NAU students who were inaugural participants from our institution.  He traveled to Gaborone, Botswana and we received one UB student on our mountain campus. Ian is now back in Flagstaff having satisfied all coursework requirements for both degrees.  He is in the process of completing a master’s thesis that assesses one of Botswana’s rural development programs and hopes to graduate with both degrees in December 2012.

I asked Ian about his time studying abroad as a graduate student and why he chose to participate in this program.  These are his words, experiences, and advice. 

(MH) What factors contributed to making the decision to participate in the dual-degree program?

(IT) Well one of the most obvious is earning a second master’s degree in only an additional year of work. On a more personal level, however, I have always wanted to work and live internationally. The dual-degree program provided for living internationally and gaining an academic understanding of the work that needs to be done in international development.

(MH) Why development studies and why Botswana – what did you hope to gain from the studies and from the cultural immersion?

(IT) Development Studies incorporated multiple disciplines and is incredibly eclectic. It allows you to easily tailor your more specific areas of interest into a broad arena of development. If wanting to look at recent development, there is no better place than Botswana. In Africa it is the closest thing to a "developmental state," and the way it has come out of post-colonial Africa successfully, or without many of the same issues that other countries have encountered, is seemingly a miracle (as it has been dubbed by some scholars).

In terms of what I hoped to gain from my studies, I wanted to gain a greater understanding of the ways in which a country such as Botswana has developed to the extent that it has and what lessons may be learned by other countries. I don’t know that I had any hopes from the cultural immersion of Botswana; due to the development of Botswana I can’t say that it was drastically different. What I did come to appreciate from Botswana is the level of community that exists at all levels in the country, the joy that Botswanan citizens (more properly referred to as Batswana) have despite the relative poverty they face, and those cultural norms which in my opinion make Batswana cultures some of the most respectful and courteous I have ever experienced.

(MH) How have you grown or changed as a result of being away for a year?

Ian and Soccer Friends

(IT) I do believe that I have learned more about myself in the last year, especially in terms of some cultural traits that I often take for granted and despite how conscious I think I may have been to the acculturation of the United States of America. There are many other things that I have come to learn about myself and what it really means to be culturally competent or aware. I do know that coming back to the USA I realize how a sense of community has been lost in this country, and I greatly miss the smiling faces and greetings I received daily in Botswana.

(MH) What would you tell other graduate students who may be considering an abroad experience?

I would encourage them to get a head start on studying the history of Botswana and southern Africa, what development studies entails, and to brainstorm a number of areas of interest/research they may want to explore. Once those areas of interest/research have been identified they should do some mini literature reviews of those areas within and around Botswana. I can guarantee anyone who chooses to study at the University of Botswana that they will make many wonderful friends in Botswana and that the adventure you have will depend on how adventurous you choose to be. There really are many opportunities to do great stuff.

And if you are excited about working with undergraduate students, those at UB are great. While they will need you to challenge their academic growth, they will be very receptive to those challenges and your encouraging of their growth.


—Michelle Harris, Graduate Program Coordinator and Associate Professor, Sociology and Social Work
(Photos courtesy of Ian Tong)