Class research contributes to the knowledge of US foreign policy

Twenty-four students in a fourth-year political science course, 12 chapters in a textbook on American foreign policy, and one major end-of-semester assignment added up to a significant contribution to current information on the subject of US foreign policy.

Senior scholar Edelgard Mahant (right) of Glendon’s Political Science Department likes to challenge her fourth-year students with creative assignments, which take them beyond the usual classroom experience. "They have all had plenty of opportunities to write essays over the years", said Mahant. "I wanted to provide them with a scholarly experience that might be something new."

Ever since its publication, Mahant has been using Steven W. Hook’s US Foreign Policy: The Paradox of World Power (2005, CQ Press – a division of Congressional Quarterly Inc.) in her fourth-year class. It was the only text she deemed appropriate and useful on this topic. But with the huge number of new developments in this field, the textbook was already two years out of date, so Mahant decided to put her students to work bringing the information up to date.

Students were assigned in teams of two to work on individual chapters and fill in the gaps in information, with an in-depth research paper due at the end of the semester. Chapters included: The United States in a Turbulent World; The Expansion of US Power; Presidential Power; Congress Beyond the "Water’s Edge"; Public Opinion and Mass Communications; The Strength of Intergovernmental Organizations; and National Security and Defense Policy, to name a few.

Students responded with enthusiasm to the novelty and the challenge of this assignment. When the reports were in, Mahant said she was amazed by the outstanding quality of academic research her class had produced. The depth, accuracy and timeliness of the information she received gave her the idea of forwarding the project’s results to Steven Hook – the author of the text – in the hope that he might find it interesting and useful. Hook’s response was beyond all expectations. He requested permission to incorporate the contents of the Glendon class assignments in the update of the original text, now in progress, and confirmed that he would give them credit in the new edition for their contribution.

Mahant’s encouragement of undergraduate research epitomizes the objective of York’s new program launched in Dec. 2006: Research at York (RAY), with the goal of engaging undergraduate students in research. Developed by York’s Offices of the Vice-President Academic and Vice-President Students, RAY is described as a strategic, collaborative initiative that is enhancing the University’s research culture as well as the undergraduate student experience.

Left: Mahant, centre, with members of her fourth-year political science class

Mahant has a good grip on the RAY initiative, two years ago, she mounted another project in collaboration with her students, which resulted in the publication of a comprehensive report titled Europe at Home: Domestic Consequences of European Integration. The book was submitted by Mahant to the library of her alma mater, the London School of Economics, and has been accepted as part of their collection.

"Participating in such a research project provides students with enrichment on so many levels", says Mahant. "Beyond acquiring in-depth knowledge in their field of study, they learn the tasks involved in book publication and in finding ways to get their work out to the public. The recognition resulting from their success in this project will also raise Glendon’s profile as a place of leading-edge learning and research."

This article was submitted to YFile by Glendon communications officer Marika Kemeny.