To obtain the interdisciplinary undergraduate experience she really wanted, Meredith Sparks pursued three majors — in international studies, political science and religious studies — from the University of Miami.
After graduation, Sparks spent time in the Peace Corps in Rwanda. When she decided to pursue graduate studies, she turned to the two-year, interdisciplinary master’s program in global studies at UNC-Chapel Hill, which launched in fall 2014.
On May 8, Sparks will become a member of the first graduating class of the MA program. She’ll begin a new job at IntraHealth International in Chapel Hill, combining her interests in global issues and public health. IntraHealth focuses on empowering community health workers all over the world, particularly in Africa and Latin America.
Sparks said she benefited from the diverse backgrounds of her global studies MA cohort, and also learned how to think more critically, through her coursework and an internship at RTI International. A class with associate professor of public policy Ben Meier on health and human rights solidified her interest in reproductive health.
“Like with any master’s program, you move past the basics and are pushed to look at overarching theoretical concepts and questions,” she said.
Eleven students will graduate from this first cohort in May— including three students from the Russian, Eurasian and East European Studies (REEES) concentration in the master’s program, administered by the UNC Center for Slavic, Eurasian and East European Studies.
Erica Johnson, senior lecturer and director of graduate studies for the MA in global studies program, said she has been inspired by the energy of the MA students. She headed to England shortly after classes ended to accompany MA students to King’s College London (KCL), where they are presenting at a workshop together with KCL graduate students.
“The master’s program has added an extra element of life to global studies; we already had a vibrant undergraduate community,” she said. “As a faculty member, it’s been fun to see how the MA students define their interests in global studies. It’s an emerging discipline in the United States and around the world, and they are helping to shape that evolution.”
Students in the MA program concentrate in REEES or one of three thematic areas: global economics; global politics, institutions and societies; and global migration and labor rights. They are encouraged to pursue an internship, study abroad or do field research experience, and the program is continuing to seek sources of funding to enable students to do that, Johnson said.
Anna Reussner completed her undergraduate studies in Cologne, Germany. In Chapel Hill, she was able to expand on her interests in global public health, and sports and society in the global studies MA program. She conducted a study, with help from assistant professor Erianne Weight in the department of exercise and sport science, which assessed the economic impact of people who come from outside the Triangle to attend UNC sporting events.
Reussner will be moving to Seattle at the end of May to hopefully pursue a career related to her interests in nonprofits, sports and community impact.
Before entering UNC’s global studies master’s program as a Rotary Peace Fellow, Romi Brammer worked as a researcher for the UN Special Rapporteur. While in the program, she combined her interest in law and human rights with an internship at the UNC Center for Civil Rights.
After graduation, she will return home to South Africa to pursue a career in international law.
“I think the program allowed me to learn about various disciplines which is very beneficial especially in a field such as international law which is highly interconnected with politics,” Brammer said.
“The global studies MA program combines scholarly rigor and the development of practical skills to prepare students for careers in a globalized world,” said Jonathan Hartlyn, senior associate dean for social sciences and global programs in the College of Arts and Sciences. “I congratulate the first graduates, who have set a high bar for future students in the program.”
Added Milada Vachudova, chair of the curriculum in global studies: “I have been impressed by how our first two cohorts of global MA students have built upon our core courses and sought out a challenging and exciting mix of classes, language study, internships and research that engages with their interests in policy issues important here in North Carolina and around the globe.”
A second class of 10 global studies MA students has just completed their first year, and a third cohort will arrive in August.
In addition to Sparks, Brammer and Reussner, the first graduates of the thematic MA in global studies program include Kinsey Spencer Davis, Sarah Miller Frazer, Andreina Malki, Sijal Nasralla and Mattie Webb.
Branwen Gallagher, Rainier Jaarsma and Carissa Landes will also graduate in May in the REEES concentration.
By Kim Weaver Spurr ’88