New Degree Combines Professional, Cultural Skills

The UA's new bachelor's degree in applied humanities will produce graduates who are prepared with both professional skills and the so-called “soft skills” and broad perspectives that are gained in the humanities.

The UA's new bachelor's degree in applied humanities will produce graduates who are prepared with both professional skills and the so-called “soft skills” and broad perspectives that are gained in the humanities.

A new career-centered degree in the UA College of Humanities will give students an educational path that integrates professional training and skills in intercultural competence.

Created in partnership with the Eller College of Management, Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and College of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture, the bachelor of arts in applied humanities is new this fall. Four concentrations are being offered in business administration, fashion studies, public health, and spatial organization and design thinking.

UA College of Humanities Dean Alain-Philippe Durand says the degree was created in response to a critical need and fulfills employer demands for graduates who are prepared with both professional skills and the so-called “soft skills” and broad perspectives gained in the humanities. 

“The degree is designed to equip students for careers in fields such as business, health, fashion and design with the cross-functional, creative, interpersonal, high-level skills and abilities that have been identified as critical for the future of the global economy,” Durand says. “The degree meets the demands of those professional programs, but does so from a broader disciplinary perspective than a traditional degree in these fields. The humanistic perspective offers a vital edge in these rapidly changing professions.”

Durand who triple majored in business administration, French and Spanish as an undergraduate, recalls when skills from his language and literature courses became valuable in business classes, particularly during group projects and writing assignments. But the typical university structure often creates obstacles for students double majoring in unrelated disciplines.

“I have always believed in the importance of combining the skills taught in the humanities with those taught in ‘professional’ colleges,” he says. “Our partner colleges have shared with us the need for a degree program that offers opportunities for students less interested in the most highly quantitative or technical aspects of their fields to nonetheless gain expertise in particular professional areas that will help bring humanities practices to bear in a career.”

The UA’s applied humanities degree is the first of its kind in the country.

“With the B.A. in applied humanities, the disciplines are put into direct and structured interaction with one another,” Durand says. “Students not only gain expertise in the humanities and another field, but also are taught how to blend these areas together to see them and the world in new ways.”

Each of the partner colleges assisted in designing the new degree and fine-tuned the collaborations for each concentration to meet the needs of students. 

“We are excited to be part of this important and innovative initiative for a number of reasons,” says Nancy Pollock-Ellwand, Dean of the College of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture. “We believe the design professions will benefit from the humanities perspective to better serve the 21st-century built environment. In addition, a number of our freshmen students discover that undergraduate design degrees aren’t exactly the right fit, but they remain deeply interested in design and the built environment. The B.A. in applied humanities provides another path to design-related careers such as communication, spatial organization and programming, or design and development policy. These students have the opportunity to change the way designers work with the world. We also expect that this cross-college collaboration will be a model for the university with the specific benefit of contributing to retention goals.”

Shane Burgess, Vice President for Agriculture, Life and Veterinary Sciences, and Cooperative Extension, and Charles-Sander Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, says the fashion studies component connects to 42 million jobs supported by the U.S. retailing sector.

“Our fashion studies concentration pairs the Norton School’s internationally renowned retailing and consumer sciences curriculum with competencies foundational in the College of Humanities curriculums,” Burgess says. “This collaboration means our retail science graduates will have additional creative, intercultural and interpersonal knowledge and skills. We expect our students to have even greater success in the retail world and in global commerce – arenas already being transformed by smart retail and the fourth industrial revolution.” 

Iman Hakim, Dean of the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, says the degree is a natural fit between disciplines and will ensure graduates are competitive on the global job market.

“Working with the College of Humanities on this exciting, interdisciplinary program perfectly aligns with our college’s mission and public health’s consistent approach of collaboration across disciplines,” she says. “Public health and applied humanities both build skills in writing, critical reading and the ability to think creatively. Students with these skills, like empathy, writing, analyzing and sociability, will be very competitive because the things that are hardest to computerize or outsource are going to be all about skills that emphasize human interaction.”

Paulo Goes, Dean of the Eller College of Management and Halle Chair in Leadership, says the new degree showcases the UA’s entrepreneurial spirit.

“It is wonderful to see our partnership come to fruition in a way that will benefit UA graduates in a very exciting way,” Goes says. “We are pleased to make designated Eller College minor courses available to this innovative new degree program.”

The applied humanities degree requires 39 units, of which 18 are devoted to professional concentrations and 21 to humanities. The core begins with Introduction to Applied Humanities, a gateway course that covers how different aspects of a humanities education, such as social responsibility, apply to public-facing projects.

“The class and the major it introduces are designed to help students understand the importance of humanistic thinking to success in the workplace and the world,” says Judd Ruggill, head of the Department of Public and Applied Humanities. “The goal is to cultivate a commitment to improving the human condition and teach the skills essential to making good on that commitment.”

The degree includes mandatory internship and capstone courses that require students to put their education into practice even before graduating.

“Building innovative, transdisciplinary programs is key to meeting the world’s extant and emerging challenges. Doing so requires diverse partnerships and deep collaboration. As the B.A. in applied humanities demonstrates, the UA has an ideal climate for doing just that, with faculty, staff and administrators excited and energized to not only think, but act far beyond disciplinary traditions.”