Tufts University

Magnet Classes

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A Surge in Arabic Studies

For many years, Mohammed Alwan, lecturer in Arabic, was a "one-man show" in the department of German, Russian and Asian Languages and Literatures, teaching about 20 students, says department chair Hosea Hirata.

Now, the department struggles to fill more than a half-dozen full- and part-time positions for teachers of Arabic to meet student demand that has topped 300 enrollments. "It's hard; it's absolutely difficult," Hirata says. "Everybody is looking for competent teachers of Arabic." According to the Modern Language Association (MLA), in 2000, job postings for college-level Arabic teachers represented 0.5 percent of all foreign language positions advertised; in 2008, they represented 4.5 percent.

Across the country, student enrollment in Arabic classes rose 127 percent from 2002 to 2007, according to the MLA. And during that time, the number of colleges and universities offering Arabic classes doubled.

The catalyst, of course, was 9/11, which, among other things, brought to light how little most Americans knew about the Arab world -- particularly significant at a school like Tufts, which sends so many graduates into the international arena.

"Obviously, having Arabic as a working language is a big positive in terms of looking for jobs right now," says Valerie Anishchenkova, coordinator of Tufts' Arabic Language and Culture Program. "Even now, eight years after 9/11, there is still a lack of specialists in the Middle East.

Academic Trends

“Obviously, having Arabic as a working language is a big positive in terms of looking for jobs right now,” says Valerie Anishchenkova, coordinator of the Arabic Language and Culture Program.

"But I would say the interesting thing is that students are not only interested in the language, but also in the culture," Anishchenkova adds. "Of course, it's something they need for the job market, but on the other hand, I think they are personally interested in that part of the world."

Neck-and-neck with the demand for classes in Arabic at Tufts is Chinese. "Chinese is now the largest language constituency in this department," Hirata says. "China has become so important in terms of economics." This, too, follows national trends: faculty postings for teachers of Chinese rose from 1.4 percent of foreign language positions in 2000 to 4.5 percent in 2008. Nationally, enrollment in Chinese language classes rose 51 percent between 2002 and 2007.

Rallying Around Community Health

The Community Health Program was established in the mid-1970s, and it graduated about 10 majors a year for the first few years, Balbach says. This year, there will be 79 majors among the graduating seniors. "About 10 years ago we topped 50, and we've been on a trajectory up since then," Balbach says.

Aside from the spotlight that 9/11 cast on the public health system, there are other reasons students are drawn to the program, Balbach says, such as heightened public awareness of issues like climate change and global food scarcity. "People have started to look at the big issues," she says. And, there is also a greater awareness of the effects of the environment on personal health within the U.S.

Academic Trends

A heightened awareness of public health issues has made more students want to study it, says Edith Balbach, director of the Community Health Program.

"No matter how careful you are about jogging every day, there are things that have a negative impact on your health that you have no individual control over," Balbach says.

She is also seeing more pre-med students who double-major in community health and Spanish, with an eye toward the growing Hispanic population in the U.S., or who combine community health with child development if they are interested in pediatrics.

"Part of it is the program is so good here; it gets good word-of-mouth" among students, adds Glaser. "Many students may not even be aware of community health, or know what it is, and then they get here and discover this strong program, and over time it becomes an increasingly popular destination."

A New Tune Playing

Tufts has always attracted students who are interested in music, regardless of their academic majors. Non-majors can enroll in academic music courses and participate in more than a dozen ensembles.

"Tufts is unusual in that regard," says Joseph Auner, chair of the music department. "It is unlike a lot of places where if you are not a music major, your possibilities are limited." And that enthusiasm for music has only grown since the opening of the Perry and Marty Granoff Music Center.

Academic Trends

The Javanese gamelan in the world music room at the Granoff Music Center

"Definitely, the new music building has had a lot of appeal to students who had not thought of taking a music class; it brought it to their consciousness for the first time," Auner says.

"For example, our Javanese gamelan used to be in the basement of a little house on Professors Row, and students who weren't already in the gamelan ensemble didn't normally have an opportunity to see it," he says. "Now, it's in our world music room; we have performances all the time, and we are totally full and overenrolled with students who want to be in the ensemble. All of our ensembles have grown a lot, because once students are able to see the range of opportunities we have, they are really coming over here in significant numbers."

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Profile written by Helene Ragovin, Senior Writer, Office of Publications

Anishchenkova photos by Alonso Nichols, University Photography. Balbach photo by Melody Ko, University Photography. Gamelan and Georgakoudi photos by Joanie Tobin, University Photography.

This story ran online Feb. 23, 2009. It originally ran in the Feb. 4 edition of the Tufts Journal.