By Tatyana Hopkins
Soon students at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs will be able to undertake STEM-related studies that will prepare them to tackle issues such as cybersecurity and space policy in the school’s new Bachelor of Science program set to launch in the fall 2019 semester.
Lisa Stephenson, associate dean for academic affairs and student services in the Elliott School, said the program was originally conceived to address the needs of students who wished to pursue a second major with a Bachelor of Science degree at GW, in addition to international affairs.
“The new degree will have the same concentrations as the bachelor of arts in international affairs, but includes additional STEM-related coursework in a field or combination of fields,” she said. “President [Thomas] LeBlanc’s vision for GW as a comprehensive global research university perfectly aligns with Dean [Reuben] Brigety’s mission to prepare students to be global leaders equipped with 21st century skills.”
The new degree program builds on the same international affairs core curriculum as the Bachelor of Arts program, which includes foundational training in political science, economics and history, and a proficiency in a foreign language. All BSIA students must complete 18 credits of higher-level STEM courses. Those who would like to do a second major have the option to use the concentration credits toward a second major in a STEM-related field, which for the Elliott School includes economics, finance and public health. Students are not required to declare a double major but can still receive a Bachelor of Science degree by choosing a concentration to complete.
Dr. Brigety points to an example of what students can expect from the new program—a visit to the Elliott School earlier this year from New America Senior Fellow Peter Singer and social media and conflict expert Emerson Brooking to discuss their book “LikeWar: The Weaponization of Social Media,” which discusses the tools and strategies of social media influence in politics and war.
The two co-authors studied large amounts of quantitative data, including social media user mapping datasets, to study the two types of social media campaigns—overt and public ones like those employed by the terrorist organization ISIS and subterranean campaigns that manipulate users like those used by intelligence services in Russia—to uncover that the same influencing tactics are used by celebrities, political campaigns, militaries and terrorist organizations.
“If you think of cyberwar as the hacking of networks, what we’re calling 'likewar' is the hacking of people on the networks by driving ideas viral through a mix of likes, shares and lies,” Dr. Singer said.
He said a “series of best tactics and procedures,” have been and are being employed by various groups including the Donald Trump Campaign, Taylor Swift, Wendy’s, ISIS and Chicago gangs.
“They are wildly different organizations with wildly different real-world goals, but they were using the very same tactics online to achieve their online goals,” Dr. Singer said.
Dr. Brigety said the various quantitative techniques and the cross-cultural understanding of social media Dr. Singer and Mr. Brooking used to reach their findings about the weaponization of social media is the kind of work the Bachelor of Science students could do in their future careers.
Dr. Stephenson said, “The main challenge faced when developing the B.S. in international affairs was maintain this strong core and integrating additional STEM related coursework, all while maintaining the flexibility for students to pursue second majors with other B.S. programs within GW.”
Students interested in pursuing the Bachelor of Science will be admitted to the Elliott School in the same manner as current Bachelor of Arts candidates are and can declare the science major during their second year. Course selection and adherence to fulfillment of core prerequisites will be supported by the program’s director and advisers.
Dr. Stephenson said the school is in the process of selecting a director and training the program’s advisers.
“Although we cannot predict how many students will elect to declare the new B.S. in international affairs as their major, we anticipate great interest based on the enthusiasm and feedback we have received thus far,” she said.