Internationalization in Action: Internationalizing the Curriculum, Part 2 - Academic Program Components


By Robin Matross Helms, Senior Research Specialist at ACE, and Malika Tukibayeva, Graduate Research Associate at ACE

While an internationalized curriculum will look different on different campuses based on institution type and mission, student population, availability of resources, and other factors, there are 4 "levels" of the curriculum that require attention in order to create a comprehensively internationalized student learning experience: individual courses, academic program components (majors, minors, and certificates), degree programs, and disciplines as a whole. 

The previous installment of Internationalization in Action focused on internationalization of individual courses as the "building blocks" of an internationalized curriculum. This installment tackles the second level of curriculum internationalization: integration of these courses into larger academic program components.

Though there are a variety of elements involved and the extent can vary, internationalization of individual courses is relatively straightforward – at least in terms of a common understanding of the basic "unit" involved (a course is a course, regardless of institution).  At the program level, however, the situation is more complicated. Different institutions "slice and dice" their programs into different "units" – majors, minors, tracks, certificates, etc. The following descriptions attempt to capture these variations, and account for the range of possibilities for internationalization at the program level in different institutional contexts.

Read on to learn more!

What do we mean by an internationalized major?

​Just as internationalization of individual courses involves an array of components and can take many different forms, an "internationalized" major can mean a number of different things. A given institution may offer some or all of these variations:

 Majors that focus on a particular country or region

​Students study the language, literature, politics, history, culture, economy and other aspects of the target geographic area. Examples include Latin American Studies, French Studies, and Asian Languages and Literatures, among many others. In some cases, the major also includes a focus on US diaspora of the region, e.g. African American and African Studies. As some of the following examples suggest, the majors of this type offered by a particular institution may be linked to the population or historical roots of the community in which the institution is situated.

Off-the-Beaten Path Geographic Majors

 Foreign language majors

​Some institutions allow students to hone in specifically on foreign language, though history, culture, literature and other related topics of the countries where the target language is spoken are inevitably covered in the teaching materials used in upper-level language courses. Some institutions allow students to build a foreign language major that combines multiple languages, and institutions with teacher preparation programs may offer a foreign language teaching major.

Foreign Language Majors

 International or global studies major

​Wikipedia nicely captures typical institutions' program descriptions as: "the study of the major political, economic, social, and cultural issues that dominate the international agenda."  Students focus on big-picture global issues, though the major often also includes a foreign language requirement, as well as a thematic or geographic concentration.

International Studies Majors

This is a catch-all category for majors that do not fit into the previous 3 categories, but necessarily involve international perspectives and/or comparisons among different countries. International relations and comparative literature are examples, as is anthropology, which is defined by the University of Minnesota as "the study of human beings and cultures throughout the world during the present and past."  Stay tuned for more on internationalized disciplines in a subsequent installment of Internationalization in Action.

 Internationally-focused sub-majors, tracks, or concentrations within a broader major

Students' degree titles may reflect the international focus (e.g. a BS in International Business), or they may receive a more generic degree, with a notation about the international concentration or track (e.g. a BS in business, with an international concentration). Business, public health, and education are majors that seem to lend themselves to an international sub-major, but off-the-beaten path examples from other fields illustrate the potential for an array of disciplines.

Off-the-Beaten-Path Sub-Majors

 Internationally-focused courses (required or elective) within the major

​As faculty focus on internationalization in their own classrooms, internationalized courses may be formally incorporated into requirements for the major, either as part of the major's "core" curriculum for all students, or as electives, of which students must take a certain number at some point during the program.

Examples of majors with internationally-focused required or elective courses abound; all of the sample internationalized courses in the previous installment of Internationalization in Action add an international dimension to the academic programs of which they are a part.  Honing in on the majors available at one particular institution, however, provides some interesting, perhaps unexpected, specific examples that illustrate the diversity of fields that are incorporating an international perspective into student program requirements.

Majors and Required/Elective Internationally-Focused Courses

From the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities Undergraduate Program Catalog 

​Major Internationally-Focused Course (s)
Apparel Design

​Fashion, Design, and the Global Industry

Child Psychology

​Introduction to the World of Social Work: A Global Perspective

Mortuary Science

​Death and Dying Across Culture and Religions

Youth Studies​

​International Youthwork

Agriculture and Food Business Management​

​​Global Trade and Policy

Understanding the International Environment of Firms: International Business

International Finance

Housing Studies

​Housing in a Global Perspective

Introduction to the World of Social Work: A Global Perspective

Environment, Global Food Production, and the Citizen

Science and Policy of Global Environmental Change

Geography of Environmental Systems and Global Change


Integrating Study Abroad

Though only a minority of students study abroad, for those who do, integration of the experience and learning that takes place abroad into their overall program of study and the curriculum on the home campus is critical. Study abroad should not be an "add on" experience, but a key step in achieving program and institution-level student learning outcomes.

The University of Minnesota's "Minnesota Model" for study abroad curriculum integration "is based on partnering with academic units to effectively meet institutional goals to internationalize the curriculum. This model spreads ownership for international education throughout the institution." Resources and case studies available on the program website provide guidance for other institutions.

To help students plan their study abroad experiences and ensure a coherent academic program, a number of institutions have created major-specific study abroad guides. Examples include:

What are some models for internationally-focused minors and certificates?

 Minors that focus on a particular country or region

​Students obtain a minor in a field such as East Asian Studies, French Studies and others noted above, while completing a major in an entirely different (related or unrelated) discipline. Similar, but fewer, courses are required for the minor, which may or may not include a language requirement.

 Foreign language minor

​Many institutions allow students to obtain a minor in a specific foreign language to complement a major in another field. Typically, students are required to take courses through the 300 level.

Salem State University offers a "Minor in World Languages" in which students study a combination of any 2 languages offered by the World Languages and Cultures department (for example: French and Arabic, Spanish and German, Chinese and Italian), with emphasis on one language in particular in which a student might already have some preparation.

 International or global studies minor

 Discipline-specific international minor

Similar to the international tracks and concentrations within a broader major noted above, students may minor in an international sub-discipline such as international business.  In some cases the minor is intended for students who are majoring in the field (e.g. an international engineering minor for students majoring in engineering), and in some cases it is a stand-alone program (e.g. an international business minor for students majoring in an entirely separate field).

Discipline-Specific International Minors

 International and global learning certificates

​These are generally a variation on the international studies minor theme. Typically, students are required to take a variety of courses that are designated as international (see the previous installment of Internationalization in Action for more on such course designtations), and the certificate is noted on their transcripts. In some cases, a study abroad experience is required.

The University of North Carolina's Worldview Project developed the "North Carolina Global Distinction" program, which was first implemented by the College of Davidson and Davies Counties (DCCC). Through the program students meet specified academic requirements to receive the "Scholar of Global Distinction" designation, which is recorded on their transcripts. To earn the designation, students must:

  • Complete at least 15 credit hours of globally intensive courses.
  • Attend or participate in 8 international activities: speakers, films, performances, etc. (2 per semester).
  • Gain global experience through 30 hours of participation in either study abroad or a domestic intercultural experience. 
  • Give a capstone presentation related to their global learning participation.

The "North Carolina Global Distinction" program is currently in its in rollout phase to 5 more community colleges in the state, with the hopes of eventually including all North Carolina community colleges in the program.

Global Learning Certificates

​What about STEM?

ACE's Mapping Internationalization on US Campuses study found that 64 percent of responding institutions offer international/global tracks, concentrations, or certificate options for undergraduate students. The top 3 areas in which institutions are likely to offer such programs are business/management, humanities, and social/sciences/behavioral sciences/economics.

Only 5 percent of institutions, however, offer concentrations or related programs in STEM fields. Examples of such programs include:

The next two installments of Internationalization in Action will focus on curriculum internationalization at the degree and discipline levels.  Stay tuned for more information! 

Purdue University's PUPIL Program

The Purdue University Passport to Intercultural Learning (PUPIL) is designed to document and display the intercultural learning and critical thinking reflections of students. Students earn digital badges in 6 areas (e.g. "intercultural communication" and "cultural worldview") by completing activities or "challenges" set by faculty. The badge system is intended as a way for students to communicate evidence of learning to future employers and other interested parties.

PUPIL uses the Intercultural Knowledge and Competence Value Rubric from the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), and intercultural learning reflection items by Darla K. Deardorff, Executive Director of the Association of International Education Administrators (AIEA).

How can institutions increase internationalization at the academic program level?

As illustrated by the examples above, internationalization at the program level takes many forms.  It's complicated, and definitions can be slippery or overlapping (e.g. an international "track" within a major versus a minor). A first step as institutions seek to internationalize academic programs is to take stock of what currently exists, which of the above variations (or others) are available in which fields, and where there are noticeable gaps.

Moving forward, which variations make sense to pursue within individual fields and throughout the institution as a whole will necessarily depend to some extent on existing infrastructure, i.e.  how the institution "slices and dices" its academic programs and defines departments and degrees. Practical issues such as faculty workload and expertise within individual departments may dictate whether it is possible to offer a sub-major or concentration within a particular field.  

Institutional size and mission come into play as well; larger institutions may offer (and have enough students for) very specialized majors that focus on a particular region, for example, whereas smaller liberal arts colleges that strive for broader-based degrees may opt for an international or global studies major that draws on courses from a number of departments. 

However institutions define their programs, internationalization of majors begins with internationalization of individual courses (see the previous installment of Internationalization in Action for more on this topic).  A single faculty member in a department may offer a single internationally-focused course, which can be incorporated into program requirements for the major.  As students gain exposure to international topics in their field, interest may grow and demand for more international courses may follow. Faculty respond in turn by adding more courses, perhaps enough to establish a separate concentration or track.  Such courses also can be offered as electives in separate international/global studies and area-focused majors.

While course and program internationalization are a key part of overall curriculum internationalization, it is still up to individual students to "opt in" to internationalization at this level.  In order to achieve the goal of global competence for ALL students, more layers are needed – internationalization at the degree level, including general education requirements, and at the discipline level

Stay tuned for more on curriculum in the next 2 installments of Internationalization in Action!

A Worldwide Learning Environment:

Case Western Reserve College of Arts and Sciences Curriculum Internationalization Project

With the help of a $250,000 grant from the McGregor Fund, Case Western Reserve University's College of Arts and Sciences launched "A Worldwide Learning Environment" project which aimed at developing innovative ways to internationalize the undergraduate curriculum with an emphasis on incorporating the use of advanced communication technologies into the course structure.

In total, 19 faculty proposals were supported through the grant, which allowed for the purchase of videoconferencing equipment and faculty visits abroad to establish collaborations with universities and individual scholars. Selected courses represented a broad range of disciplines: modern languages and literatures, physics, biology, cognitive science, religious studies, history, sociology, anthropology, art history, classics, music, psychology, and others.

In many cases international collaborators were part of the classroom experience at Case Western Reserve via long-distance equipment, and were able to supply international perspectives on the topics covered. The grant program provided continuity and sustainability of the internationalization effort, as most of the international collaborations have remained active and the communications equipment is available for other international course collaborations.

Syllabi for the 19 courses supported by the grant are available on the project website.


 Internationalization Toolkit

Looking to jumpstart internationalization? No need to reinvent the wheel. Explore ACE's repository of resources for colleges and universities.

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 Model for Comprehensive Internationalization

ACE's model is a strategic, coordinated process that aligns and integrates policies, programs, and initiatives to position institutions as more globally oriented and internationally connected.
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