Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
When I decided to attend the University of Maryland last spring, I spent a lot of time thinking about what to study alongside computer science. I was mostly having trouble deciding between public policy and government and politics.
The majors have a lot in common: Both would help me learn about the ways political institutions operate and prepare me for the career I want to pursue in public service.
These similarities are precisely why there should be a new concentration for government and politics students — and the public policy school should be its home.
Public policy and government and politics should be leveraged together, rather than making students arbitrarily choose between them. A new service-based track for the government and politics major would benefit students in both majors.
The public policy major at this university had only 311 undergraduates enrolled last fall, while the government and politics major has more than 1,000 students and is one of 13 majors in the behavioral and social sciences college. And, the public policy school employs 93 faculty, compared to only 44 in the government and politics department putting the latter’s students at a disadvantage.
With a dedicated school and more faculty, public policy students have more individualized resources and support structures.
But more students should be able to seize these opportunities.
The government and politics major at this university has three tracks: a traditional bachelor’s degree, a bachelor’s degree with a concentration in international relations and a bachelor’s degree that emphasizes data science. All three paths are delivered through the behavioral and social sciences college. However, the government and politics major deserves to have a service-oriented track in the public policy school.
Many course offerings in all three government and politics tracks are oriented toward preparing students to conduct political science research. Others are more concerned with political theory. This new proposed service-oriented track would be differentiated by supplementing this coursework with opportunities to prepare students for entering the field as a public service practitioner.
For example, students in the public policy major are required to complete an internship to graduate. An analogous requirement in this proposed service track would encourage students to develop hands-on experience in state or federal agencies, congressional offices or political campaigns. Plus, the foundation for this requirement already exists in the experiential learning course option.
Moreover, students in the environmental science and policy major begin in the agriculture and natural resources college. However, once they declare a concentration, their major is sponsored by a different college at the university based on the nature of its discipline. For example, the biodiversity and conservation biology concentration is part of the computer, mathematical and natural sciences college while the land use concentration is in the behavioral and social sciences college.
A proposed government and politics service track should take advantage of that structure. That way, students interested in pursuing careers in public service have access to similar opportunities regardless of their major, which they could have decided before fully forming their post-graduation goals.
Evidentially, this new program would not require any upheaval on the part of the university but could make a significant difference for students’ academic and professional outcomes.
Combining offerings in both public policy and government and politics into the public policy school could also make it easier for these departments to cross-list course offerings. This way, government and politics students could earn credit towards their major by taking certain public policy courses that are still applicable to their academic pursuits, and vice versa.
Public policy students would surely benefit from more insight into the theory behind institutions, and government and politics students should know what policymaking looks like in practice. Cross-listing and joining these programs is an interdisciplinary approach that will benefit everyone involved.
Imbalances in opportunities between these majors extend beyond curricula as well. Last year, this university formally opened the new public policy building. In October, when university officials and politicians gathered to dedicate the new building, many described it as a state-of-the-art facility for equipping students for careers in public service.
While students majoring in public policy will certainly benefit from new classrooms and other innovative spaces, students in other majors who share similar career goals could also benefit from access to these resources. Students majoring in public policy and government and politics undoubtedly have a number of overlapping personal and academic interests. It only follows that they deserve an opportunity to build community in common spaces.
From this university’s investment in the public policy building to Gov. Wes Moore’s initiative to provide a service year option for high school graduates, Maryland is increasingly recognizing the importance of training qualified and passionate public servants. Now, let’s take it one step further and give more students the resources they need to become effective civic leaders.
Dhruvak Mirani is a freshman computer science and government and politics major. Mirani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.