American Studies BA
According to the BYU Undergraduate Catalog, American Studies "examines the sweep of American experience, society, culture, and civilization from a variety of viewpoints–literature, history, gender, humanities, regions, politics, ethnic groups, geography, art, economics, religion, and folklore" and encourages its majors to "develop particular skills in writing literary criticism, historical research, and social, political and economic analysis." In addition, the American Studies program stresses ethical responsibility in all facets of the discipline. As an interdisciplinary program, American Studies derives much of its curriculum from courses offered by many departments across campus and thus provides its majors an opportunity to build an undergraduate education of breadth as well as depth. As a result, American Studies is an excellent liberal arts degree for independent-minded students who want a less-traveled educational path to get them where they want to be professionally. Because American Studies works best for such rare students, we expect the number of our majors to stay between 100 and 120 students. The program is overseen by a coordinator, selected from among tenured faculty from departments associated with the American Studies program, who generally serves a three-year term. The American Studies Coordinator also oversees the minor in Western American Studies, which approaches the West as a region in much the same way American Studies approaches the whole of the American experience.
We have provided our students with several required foundational courses that will help establish these values and goals in their minds, beginning with AmSt 303 (Studies in the American Experience), AmSt 304 (Theories and Methods), Hum 261 (Introduction to American Humanities1: Colonial Era Through 1876), and Hum 262 (Introduction to American Humanities 2: 1877 to the Present). In addition, our students take introductory political science (PlSc 110) and economics (Econ 110) courses. After that, students may choose from a very wide range of electives and elective substitutes, which they select according to their individual needs and interests. We prefer students choose from the elective list before moving to the elective substitute list.
Unlike some other disciplines, American Studies does not attempt to narrowly prescribe an ideal course progression through the major. We expect each graduate to be quite different from the others in terms of what courses were taken, although we expect them all to reflect our program values and goals. Our goals and values are quite precise in one sense, but very general in another thus, students may achieve them through a variety of course combinations. We trust the professors who teach our courses to model our program goals and values in everything they do because they represent the foundation of good scholarship. We trust our students to explore the "American experience" by choosing courses wisely according their own sense of development and coherence. Engaged and sustained student advisement too helps our majors to find courses, internships, research/teaching assistantships, and other extracurricular experiences to help prepare them for future employment or continued education.
As a cross-disciplinary program at BYU, American Studies does not have its own faculty. As a result, we must borrow faculty from other departments to teach our small number of courses. We must also depend on the course offerings in other departments to fill out our curriculum. We simply do not have the luxury of requiring a narrow, step-by-step course progression through the major and must allow for all sorts of course combinations. See attached MAP and Catalog description for more detailed curriculum information. In addition, see attached list of pre-approved elective substitutes. The WAS minor begins with AmSt 200, The American West as Region, and requires students to choose electives from among four categories: Natural Environment, Human Heritage, Social Environment, and Arts and Literature.
American Studies graduates will have created a coherent course of study matched to their interests and their post-graduate plans. This may include taking a suitable minor and creating for themselves relevant extracurricular experiences such as internships, editorships, travel study, ORCA grants, conference participation, and publication.
American Studies graduates will understand that American studies is coherent as a discipline in and of itself and also engage their major both within and across the various other disciplines that constitute American Studies, mastering the theoretical and methodological approaches inherent in the American Studies curriculum.
American Studies graduates will be able to read critically and analyze cultural, economic, historical, literary, political, social, and religious texts and artifacts. They will identify, evaluate, and incorporate appropriate research sources in their work as they demonstrate awareness of the critical conversations they are entering. Their analyses will contribute to their understanding of the ways in which the American experience has been, and continues to be, constructed and transmitted.
American Studies graduates will be able to formulate both their oral and written arguments coherently, support them clearly, and communicate them effectively to their audiences using correct conventions of language and some stylistic flair–all according to the best practices of the variety of disciplines and situations in which they are engaged.
Evidence of Learning
The program assesses learning outcomes through three formal measures: exit interviews, senior focus groups, and portfolio reviews. While the exit interview is not conducted as an explicit "test" of an individual student's knowledge and ability, it does allow the program to gather general data on how effectively learning outcomes are being achieved. The senior focus groups too are informal measures of students' experience in the program and the degree to which students feel the program's learning objectives are being met. The portfolios consist of research papers written in dedicated American Studies courses (300, 303, 304, 390, and 490). These papers are also evaluated as measures of program success.
In addition to these formal measures, our individual instructors, of course, make use of university-mandated course evaluations as well as student-generated assignments to measure the success of achieving our core objectives. The American Studies Coordinator does not have access to these materials because faculty members report to their respective departments (not the American Studies program), but there are opportunities to share this information at the two faculty advisory meetings held in the fall and winter semesters.
The gathering of assessment data is primarily conducted by the coordinator of the program; he or she monitors the quality of the program by consulting with the advisory faculty, conducting exit interviews, evaluating portfolios, and advising the majors. A student employee aids the coordinator in these tasks, and faculty members on the advisory council occasionally volunteer to help with interviews and portfolio review-although their time commitment is typically limited because they have obligations to their home departments. In addition, The American Studies Student Association (ASSA) is very active in coordinating lectures, student socials, orientation meetings, and other gatherings of majors. Students also staff and edit the AS student journal, Americana, which is published yearly. Recently, we added ten questions to the university-generated alumni survey. See attachment for survey questions. We trust they will provide us with some useful information on student satisfaction with the program.
1. Exit interview for graduating seniors-conducted by program coordinator and volunteer faculty from the advisory council. Questions are designed to gather both feedback on the quality of the program in areas related to core objectives of the major, and the achievement of learning outcomes in that particular student's education.
2. Senior focus groups-conducted by program coordinator. Discussion addresses a set of questions about the ways in which individual courses and the program as a whole has met its learning objectives. Discussion is later transcribed for assessment purposes.
3. Portfolio reviews at the end of each year-also conducted by coordinator and faculty from the council. Research papers from capstone courses are evaluated for evidence of achievement of core learning objectives including breadth of knowledge, mastery of particular topic, quality research, evidence of original thought, and construction of persuasive arguments.
1. Entrance survey: upon declaration of intended major, administered by college advisement center.
2. Exit survey: administered either by advisement center when intent to graduate forms are filed or by humanities faculty while student is enrolled in final senior seminar (capstone) course.
3. Informal feedback on course evaluations from American Studies courses offered through other departments -as gathered at twice-yearly faculty advisory meetings.
4. Alumni survey: administered by university but with specific sectional learning outcomes categories.
5. When available, course evaluations of the core American Studies courses. (Because of the interdisiciplinary nature of the program, the director and advisory council do not have direct access to the student evaluations that are generated and reviewed within the various departmental programs that support the major.)
Learning and Teaching Assessment and Improvement
The American Studies program does not have a formal curriculum committee, but has an advisory council for discussion of curriculum and other matters relating to the American Studies program. After gathering a first round of assessment data in 2007, we will meet each year to consider changes to the curriculum that will aid us in achieving our core objectives. For example, one result of said assessment activities was the creation of a three credit senior capstone course (490), an American Studies lecture course (392R), and making the Theory & Methods course (304) required for all majors. Similarly, our sustained assessment efforts have led to a regularized advisement program and a systemized online portfolio system.