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The Varsity

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Brand new Munk One program praised by faculty, students

Program designed to broaden first-year students’ worldviews

By Hayden Rodenkirchen and Alessandra Harkness
Published: 2:02 am, 21 October 2013
Vol CXXXIV, No. 07 under

Munk One, a new foundational year program hosted by the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs, celebrated its debut this September. With the pilot class underway, The Varsity spoke with faculty and students about the innovative new program which explores innovation and “theoretically grounded but practically applicable methods of tackling global issues.”

The program features two half-year seminars and a year-long lab component. Through these labs, students conduct substantive research focusing on issues ranging from environmental governance to cybersecurity. Dr. Teresa Kramarz, the program’s director and lab component instructor, believes that first-year students are well-suited to this task.

“[First-year students] can do a lot more than they are given credit for… they possess a nimbleness in traveling knowledge network that more entrenched practitioners may lack,” she said.

Lab work combined with seminars focused on bridging theory and practice give the program a professional feel, according to Kramarz. “Munk One puts students in a lab setting which immediately develops both professional and academic skills… [We want] students to create, not just learn and recite,” she added.

Professor Joseph Wong, instructor of the first-semester seminar “Global Innovations I: Issues and Perspectives,” said that the program’s practical approach is particularly important given a job market that increasingly demands analytical skills and real-world experience. “The practical nature of the program allows students to tell future employers, ‘I have done something. I have created a pitch, identified a problem, and made an attempt to solve it,’” explained Wong.

Professor Shiri Breznitz, instructor of the course’s second semester seminar, “Global Innovation II: Challenges and Solutions,” emphasized the opportunity inherent in such an approach for new students: “The idea is to take this abstract idea of innovation and put it in perspective… This program is really hands on. Students are working on innovative programs and projects… which I think is unique and interesting as a first year undergraduate.”

So far, Munk One students are greatly enjoying the program and its approach. Student Alexa Waud applauded Munk One’s interdisciplinary subject matter, noting that, “Provocative class discussion creates critical lenses that we can apply to questions across different courses.” Asked what he would change about the program, student Anthony Galea was confident, saying: “There is nothing I would change about the program.”

Breton Lalama, a Munk One student conducting historical research for the Munk School’s Global Summitry lab, enjoys the challenge of the seminar format and the intensity of the program. “We are constantly pushed to challenge what we take in, to challenge ‘fact’… and to challenge each other. It’s really awesome,” she said. For her, one of the themes that has resonated most is the program’s focus on innovation which has encouraged her to “think and innovate in ways we might normally deem weird,” because “the crazy ideas are the ones that often end up working.”

Like her students, Kramarz is excited about the program’s future: “Approximately 25 per cent of our students come from Life Sciences, which is unique for a One program in the social sciences. We have students here from all fields, and each of them bring a different perspective to the challenges we examine in the program.” Given its interdisciplinary nature, Dr. Kramarz hopes that the program will be a launching pad for students across faculties, each committed to identifying and working towards solving some of the world’s greatest problems.

  • Bahram Farzady

    This is not journalism.

    I have no idea what this program is about except for catch-phrases I’m sure I can find on its webpage. Maybe the quotes from faculty and students are different, but no less fluffy.

    What do they do in this program? How is it both ‘theoretically grounded and practically applicable’–what does ‘theoretically grounded’ even mean? Shouldn’t a good theory be practically grounded (i.e. explain what is actually going on in the ‘practical’ world/facts).

    The whole thing about challenging facts <—shouldn't be put in scare quotes) worries me; but I'm not sure if it should because I know nothing about this program except something someone may have simply said poorly.

  • Emilie

    Hmm Bahram, let’s see if I can respond to your question about “theoretical groundedness”. The theory surrounding the process of innovation arose from practical experience and observation of ideas or devices created to help develop the world and whether and why various approaches succeeded or failed.
    The point of this program is to learn how to innovate effectively, that is, to find solutions to global problems that ACTUALLY WORK and aren’t just quick fixes that barely do anything or do more harm than good. FOR EXAMPLE: donating malaria nets to at-risk families in Sub-saharan Africa does not guarantee the nets will be used properly; charging a small fee, and showing people how to use the nets, however, gives people an incentive to learn how the nets work and use them for their intended purpose. This is one really basic example out of hundreds, though.
    As a member of the program I can tell you we certainly don’t challenge “facts” in the scientific sense, rather, we challenge preconceived notions of how to get shit done, consider the idea of relativism with regards to approaching social problems (and whether there is an appropriate balance between this and absolutism), and learn about the economic development that can spur global development (and its effects), while also being conscious of technological development and the appropriateness of its design and application in the real world.
    In the end we’re still a bunch of first year undergrads so of course we aren’t professionals in these fields, however, learning to take these sorts ideas and using them to solve serious global (or national or local) problems early on in our academic career, rather than spending the entirety of first year remembering what’s in a book and only proceeding to learn about all of this stuff LATER will, in at least my opinion, be a very beneficial experience in the long run!

    • Conor

      Well said Emilie! It’s cool to see that students really enjoyed the program!
      I deferred Munk One last year, and will be starting up in September, so it’s nice to get some insight from people actual experience in the program.