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Transdisciplinary Curriculum

Graduate students looking at a map

Breaking silos to solve global challenges

The student experience in IDCE is a reflection of a world where problems are not confined to a single discipline.  Our pioneering curriculum is designed to facilitate collaboration around challenges that emerge — whether it be within an international or domestic context, an environmental or social one.

We take a problem-first approach, identifying a pressing issue and bringing together a diverse team of researchers with the collective expertise to tackle it.  Many of our projects build upon long-standing partnerships established between IDCE and community or governmental agencies around the globe.

Whether in the classroom or out in the field, our students have the opportunity to infuse their own knowledge and experience with their peers, who bring personal insight with them from all over the world.  The result: an extraordinarily broad yet coherent perspective as they work together to develop actionable solutions and make new discoveries.

As a student in IDCE, you have the opportunity to identify a desired academic concentration.  Concentrations are organized around 10 focal areas and are designed to complement our faculty’s research endeavors.

IDCE Students are the Change-makers

International Development, Community, and Environment (IDCE) students, faculty, and staff are empowered by the grass-roots social change and community work they conduct as an interconnected academic community.

This focal area bridges development work and environmental science in pursuit of solutions to one of the great challenges facing humanity in the 21st century.

Sample Project

Building Resilience and Adaptation to Climate Extremes – In this project, a collaboration between IDCE, IRD/Blumont, and Sahel Eco, IDCE director Ed Carr’s Humanitarian Response and Development Lab (HURDL) used intensive fieldwork to develop an understanding of livelihoods decision-making in the Mopti Region of Mali. This information was used to design resilience-building interventions, such as new weather and climate information services for farmers in this region.

This focal area addresses resource consumption and conservation through both a science and policy lens. We integrate the science of conservation with the critical perspectives of social science that ask what is being conserved, for whom, and why.

Sample Project

Environmental Impact Assessment in Latin America – IDCE students engaged in fieldwork in Mexico, assessing the impact of land-tenure reform introduced by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) on marginal communities. Watershed management and waste management were key focuses both in Mexico and in a community in Guatemala.

We build a deep understanding of the dynamics of displacement and the remaking of community in sites of settlement. Research encompasses the ways that people on the move connect to numerous places simultaneously, and examines how international policy affects those with multiple spaces of residence, the sense of belonging of those in transit, and transnational livelihoods.

Sample Project

Shared Worlds – Associate professor of IDCE Anita Fabos and Cheryl Hamilton, director of Partner Engagement at the International Institute of New England, answer a seemingly simple question: How much interaction occurs between foreign-born populations and native populations in our home city of Worcester? This “Shared Worlds” project stands out because traditional research into the effects of immigration often overlooks the impact on the current residential population. Considering the perspectives of nearly 400 participants representing 44 different nationalities and ethnicities, Shared Worlds helps us understand barriers to integration as well as experiences of mutual accommodation in Worcester, and seeks to provide a framework for understanding those processes in other urban contexts.

IDCE views education as a powerful tool for fostering a more just, equitable, and sustainable future for all. We prepare education and development scholar-practitioners to think critically, analyze deeply, and innovative creatively to respond to the ever-changing challenges and opportunities in domestic and international education.

Sample Project

Post-Disaster Response in Haiti – The research of IDSC professor Jude Fernando centers on post-disaster response and humanitarian assistance related to livelihoods and governance. For several years, he has traveled with his students to do 10 days of field work in Haiti. Working with local organizations, students gain first-hand knowledge of the challenges related to educating people to use new technologies, such as improved agricultural techniques or solar-powered cooking implements. More important, they discover if they have a passion for this kind of work, and the drive to make it a career.

Research in this area is characterized by collaboration with – and support of – public, private, and non-profit organizations involved in youth advocacy. We seek to understand and develop strategies for funding, creating, implementing, and evaluating projects and public policies relevant to youth and community engagement and violence prevention.

Sample Project

Healthy Options for Prevention and Education (HOPE) – Professor Laurie Ross founded the HOPE Coalition, a youth-adult partnership in Worcester that aims to reduce youth violence and drug use and promote positive adolescent mental health. HOPE consists of more than a dozen local organizations including city government, public schools, health and mental health organizations, as well as other community-based organizations, and is built on the principle that youth must lead efforts to address the issues that affect their lives.

IDCE has deep experience working in cities of varied sizes – from small post-industrial cities such as Worcester to major urban areas like Boston. Our research in urban regeneration informs strategies to stimulate economic investment, improve neighborhoods, and connect residents to jobs in public, private, and non-profit organizations.

Sample Project

Worcester Community Development Corporation (CDC) Initiative – To increase the production of affordable housing in Worcester, Clark University faculty (including IDCE’s Kathryn Madden) have collaborated with two state housing agencies to sponsor a series of workshops for the local CDCs. These sessions aim to increase capacity among the non-profit organizations, tackling issues such as financial reporting, asset management, board development, and partnership models.

Monitoring and evaluation teach us about what works in the real world and how to design projects to achieve maximum impact. Our expertise draws on experience with organizations ranging from small NGOs to the world’s largest development donors, and integrates a wide range of methods.

Sample Project

An Assessment of Mali Meteorological Service’s Agrometeorological Advisory Program – Working with IRG, Stratus Consulting, ICRISAT, the International Research Institute for Climate and Society, and Mali’s Institut d’Economie Rural, Dr. Ed Carr’s Humanitarian Response and Development Lab (HURDL) led an evaluation of the function and impact of Mali’s efforts to provide forecast-based agricultural advisories to farmers. Surveying more than 650 farmers, and conducting observations and interviews with more than 250, HURDL and its partners were able to pinpoint the beneficiaries of the program, identify barriers to use for those who did not benefit, and provide guidance for the design of future advisories.

IDCE is home to extraordinary depth and expertise in the area of gender and identity, both within the United States and around the world. Whether explaining the gendered impacts of climate change, pioneering intersectional approaches to gender assessment and social protection, or exploring the role of gender in health outcomes, IDCE is uniquely equipped to address these issues across its degrees and focal areas.

Sample Project

Gender Justice and Land Rights – Professors Cynthia Caron and Denise Humphreys Bebbington examine how NGOs, national governments, traditional leaders, civil society organizations, and women at the grassroots level work together to increase women’s access to and control over land and natural resources. Focusing on customary tenure systems in Zambia and Bolivia, their project shows how promoting such gender transformative change requires multi-level networking and working across hierarchies of power that extend from household to the state.

Water and sanitation. Youth violence. Sexual and reproductive health. Communicable and non-communicable diseases. IDCE students and faculty members confront the many widespread inequalities that affect health systems, both within our Worcester community and throughout the world.

Sample Project

Meeting Youth Immigrant and Refugee Health Needs – Professor Ellen Foley won a grant from The Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts to work with immigrant and refugee populations who, because of cultural differences, are not comfortable approaching local youth service agencies. The project sought to understand and create services better suited to the needs of these individuals.

We recognize that the health of the biosphere and human health are inseparable. Integrating health science, anthropology, GIS, environmental science and policy, international development and community development, this focal area tackles issues that range from pollution, climate change, and rapid urbanization to drinking water, food systems, and extractive industries. We endeavor to understand and mitigate the impacts these phenomena have on human and planetary health, and place at-risk communities at the center of our research and practice.

Sample Project

The Holliston Health Project – This project is a vibrant partnership among IDCE faculty and students, Boston University colleagues, community members in the Town of Holliston, Mass., and policy makers. It tackles one of the area’s most pressing, persistent and pervasive problems: contamination of drinking water (very shallow aquifers in this case) and the resultant impacts on human health (especially young children). The project is emblematic of the IDCE approach in the way it integrates multiple disciplines – natural science, engineering, GI science, and social science – and builds capacity among diverse stakeholders to understand and respond to complex issues.

Additional information about ongoing research activities related to society and environment can be found at the Marsh Institute website.