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Exciting new UTSC programs respond to student interests and societal needs

GLOBAL ASIA STUDIES: Professor Jayeeta Sharma is director of one of the exciting new programs being offered at UTSC for the first time this fall. (Photo by Ken Jones.)

by Mary Ann Gratton

This fall marks the launch of some unique new programs at UTSC, and they are designed to meet the need for the innovative university programming that today’s students are looking for. Already, the offerings are proving very popular.

Among the new programs are: Mental Health Studies in the psychology department, Global Asia Studies, Media Studies and Intersections, Exchanges, Encounters through the humanities department.

“We are delighted to offer these exciting new programs to our students this fall,” says Professor Rick Halpern, dean and vice-principal (academic) at UTSC. “This truly demonstrates that UTSC is at the cutting edge of developing distinctive programs that build upon established disciplines to capture new and emerging themes and innovative approaches to scholarship. With these programs, we will enhance the academic strength of our campus and bolster our efforts to enrich the curriculum and the range of learning opportunities available to our students.”

MENTAL HEALTH STUDIES

Mental Health Studies is the only undergraduate program of its kind in Canada, says Professor John Bassili, chair of psychology. The program is in high demand, he notes, and has been developed in response to keen interest among students. “We are pioneers in providing a unique and distinctive framework that focuses specifically on mental health,” he says. “The program reflects a societal change in which mental health is now being recognized as a complex and problematic challenge.”

Psychologists often focus on normal phenomena of thought, feeling and behaviour, whereas Mental Health Studies will focus on the abnormal phenomena that are known as mental health disorders. “Our society is beginning to bring mental health issues out of the closet, with more and more individuals and organizations witnessing the impact of mental health challenges,” said Bassili. “Every day we hear about mental health issues or of people suffering from depression, anxiety or more severe illnesses such as schizophrenia,” says Bassili. “When someone is off sick from work, for instance, there’s a good chance that his or her debilitating condition is mental rather than physical in nature.”

Three new courses will complement the comprehensive curriculum already offered by the psychology department: Psychotherapy, examining various theories and schools of psychotherapy; Psychological Assessment, focusing on tests and measures used to assess mental health disorders; and Psychopharmacology, enabling students to learn more about pharmaceutical treatments and approaches.

A co-op option also exists for Mental Health Studies, and UTSC maintains several partnerships with leading institutions where students do placements, including the Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in its Schizophrenia Unit and the Mood and Anxiety Unit, and the Whitby Mental Health Centre.

GLOBAL ASIA STUDIES

Asia has become increasingly important in today’s world, and this exciting new humanities program addresses a growing interest in the area among students. Professor Jayeeta Sharma, program director, notes that Global Asia Studies fills a niche.

“We’re aiming to create a unique undergraduate program that’s tailored to the needs of students in today’s world,” says Sharma. “Other Asia studies programs often look at classical and historical aspects, but we’re providing a contemporary, cutting-edge focus that examines Asia beyond a nation-specific and historical lens, with Asia viewed as a global entity. We’ll look at the Asian diaspora and trans-national issues of the region, as well as society, culture and history. Our approach and our themes will give students a view relevant to today’s experiences.”

Students will examine East and South Asia in a global context, rather than from a single geographic perspective. New courses draw from disciplines of history, media, religion, law, visual culture, literature, gender and women’s studies and language study. Courses include: Film and Popular Culture in South Asia, Law and Society in East Asia, and Gendering Asia.

“We anticipated that this program would be popular,” says Sharma. “The links to Asia seem much closer today due to increases in communications, news, tourism and business connections. As well, many students already have a connection due to families, friends, neighbours or business opportunities. They share our view that knowledge of Asia will be important to their future lives and careers.”

Students may wish to pursue a joint degree with disciplines such as business or media studies. “We’re progressing into areas that have often been kept separate in the past,” says Sharma. A language requirement has also been introduced, so that students who graduate from GAS also have three years of study of one or more languages such as Mandarin, Tamil or Hindi. “A degree in Global Asia Studies accompanied by strong language skills is an appealing package for future employers,” Sharma adds.

MEDIA STUDIES

This ground-breaking new program takes an interdisciplinary approach to media studies, an area of increasing interest in the digital generation. Advances in information technologies are changing the way people consume and share information, according to humanities professor Ruoyan Bai, program director. These developments are defining a new, younger generation of media users, she says.

“This program offers a unique focus on global media,” says Bai. Students can choose to concentrate on journalism, digital media, or cinema and visual culture. “What’s more, the boundaries of these concentrations are not rigid, but are instead very fluid. We encourage students to take courses or do projects that bridge different concentrations.”

Although Media Studies is a relatively new academic field, its popularity is rapidly catching up to established disciplines. Because of the evolving nature of communications and media studies, the field is informed by many traditional disciplines, including political science, cultural studies and sociology.

“We focus on new media theories and what digital technologies mean for our society,” she says. “We also believe modern media must be seen through a broad framework, since digital technologies are just one part of a spectrum in the entire history of media.”

Two introductory level courses, Introduction to Media Studies, and History of Media Technologies, are extremely popular, Bai notes. The program combines media theories with critical practice, helping students to analyze media as institution, text and cultural practices. Students can choose to specialize in one of three streams: Critical Journalism, Cinema and Visual Culture, and New Media. New courses include Advertising and Consumer Culture, Media Ethics, Media in the Developing World, Media and Popular Culture in East Asia, and South Asian Film and Media.

INTERSECTIONS, EXCHANGES, ENCOUNTERS

The new Intersections, Exchanges, Encounters program builds on innovative teaching and offers an exciting interdisciplinary approach to various areas within the humanities, as reported in an article by Anjum Nayyar in the U of T Bulletin (excerpted here.) The program is the first of its kind and is a response to major shifts in humanities research, which is now bridging different disciplines. The new program builds on innovative teaching already being done. “The idea was to focus and drill down on moments when various disciplines overlap – take them as central starting points of inquiry rather than merely mentioning the occasional example that may occur tangentially in the course of teaching,” said Prof. Daniel Bender, program director. “Intersections emphasizes subjects and topics that exist between disciplines and are concerned with forms of meeting and relation – as between cultures, art forms, identities, etc.,” says professor Ken Mcleod. “It gives students an opportunity they have nowhere else at U of T, or indeed the world; they will engage in intense explorations of the moments, places and traditions of contact and interaction – across space, time, geography and discipline.” For instance, McLeod, who teaches in the department of music history and culture, will offer a course called Exchanges in Music and Media, examining issues in the study of western and non-western popular music and their intersection with other fields of humanistic inquiry. To read more about the IEE program, click here




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