Catalyzing Community College Global Studies Programs

Foothill College Global Studies

What do global diplomacy and global studies programs have in common?  Both are clearly crucial to building a thriving and sustainable global community — yet both can get easily bogged down in bureaucratic red tape.  

This was one of the program-building challenges shared in the most recent Global Educators Network (GEN) Inquiry Meetup, a free, monthly online forum open to educators nationwide with support from Stanford Global Studies. Last month’s Inquiry Meetup, which took place on January 27, 2023, focused on the following guiding question: “What challenges and opportunities do community college educators face in launching and sustaining their own global studies programs?” Strategies covered included:

  • Building a global studies curriculum
  • Navigating curriculum and articulation issues
  • Building student and faculty community
  • The changing landscape of global studies programs nationally

To kick off the discussion, two professors from nearby Foothill Community College provided a quick but fascinating overview of Foothill’s own nascent Global Studies Program. Presenters included Dr. Kathryn Mauer, the Foothill program’s primary founder, and her colleague in the anthropology department and current program director, Dr. Julie Jenkins. 

We learned how the roots of global studies as a contemporary academic discipline date back to a pivotal Global Studies Consortium meeting held in Tokyo in 2008.  Hoping to move beyond the colonial-era and Cold War roots of many traditional academic disciplines, delegates to the Tokyo Consortium outlined four key provisions. Global studies programs, they urged, must be designed from the ground up to be:

  • Transnational (crossing and interrogating existing political boundaries and borders); 
  • Intersectional (crossing and interrogating existing academic disciplinary boundaries); 
  • Transhistorical (combining and interrogating historical and contemporary field research); and
  • Postcolonial in its theoretical foundations, principles, and methodologies.  

Building on these foundations, Dr. Mauer and her Foothill College colleagues began meeting regularly in 2013 with faculty from San Jose State University to launch a fully articulated and transferable global studies program at the community college level. Ten years later, the Global Studies Program at Foothill is up and running but still faces significant institutional and academic hurdles to fully thriving and becoming sustainable. 

At the outset, Dr. Mauer explained, many serious institutional hurdles were rooted in the need to match statewide guidelines for California’s newly created Associate Degrees for Transfer (ADTs).  Although statewide support for an ADT in global studies was certainly welcome, the strict curricular criteria pre-embedded in the new two-year Associate Degrees for Transfer (ADTs) often left Foothill faculty feeling constrained and sometimes frustrated in making crucial program choices. 

For example, although the CSU’s had pioneered an ADT pathway for global studies and already offered parallel courses in the field on their own campuses, no such pathway yet existed for a social justice studies program.  Hence, at the time it was bureaucratically impossible to directly link courses in these two emerging fields in ways that both students and faculty found natural, exciting, authentic, and compelling.  

Then came the global covid pandemic, which instantly forced face-to-face classes into a fully online environment.  In short, just as Foothill’s newly fledged Global Studies Program was finally getting off the ground, gaining student credibility, and building a thriving and self-sustaining learning community, enrollments in their courses suddenly dropped and several classes required to earn the new ADT Degree in global studies were summarily canceled--a not unfamiliar scenario faced by anyone building new programs in the community college system.

According to Foothill’s recently hired Global Studies Director Dr. Julie Jenkins, today the challenge remains of rebuilding an active and engaged on-campus learning community with the energy and buy-in needed to keep all the required and elective classes on the calendar.  

In response to these challenges, online audience members jumped right in to suggest innovative strategies and road-tested solutions (as always in our exciting GEN Inquiry Meetups!). Proposals ranged from establishing an all-campus global studies lecture series, to nurturing a student global studies club, to building partnerships and internships with nearby universities such as Stanford. In the process, faculty members from as far away as Texas chimed in with insights about how global studies programs differ compared to those based here in California.

GEN Inquiry Meetups are scheduled every fourth Friday at 4:00 pm (Pacific).  Stay tuned for announcements about new Inquiry Meetup topics, including follow-up sessions on the success of global studies programs nationally.