The University of Arizona

New UA Degree Prepares Students to Battle Global Poverty, Hunger

By Alexis Blue, University Communications | July 19, 2012

The UA is one of just six universities in the U.S. and 22 in the world to offer the Master's in Development Practice degree.

UA anthropology professor Tim Finan talks with villagers in Barisal, Bangladesh about their recovery from Cyclone Sidr in 2009. Finan will direct the UA's new Master's in Development Practice degree program, which will be offered for the first time this fall.
UA anthropology professor Tim Finan talks with villagers in Barisal, Bangladesh about their recovery from Cyclone Sidr in 2009. Finan will direct the UA's new Master's in Development Practice degree program, which will be offered for the first time this fall.

A new master’s degree program at the University of Arizona, set to launch this fall, will focus on preparing students to battle poverty and hunger across the globe.

One of just six programs like it in the U.S., the UA’s Master’s in Development Practice is part of the Global MDP network, a collection of 22 such degree programs around the world. 

“The Master's in Development Practice is training people who make a difference in the real world,” said UA anthropology professor Tim Finan, who directs the UA program. “The program seeks to train people who will be the development practitioners of the future or who already are development practitioners and are building their skill sets.”

Development practitioners are those who work on the ground in countries across the globe to assess needs and improve living conditions, said Finan, who worked as a Peace Corps volunteer in Brazil for four years before completing his doctorate in anthropology at the UA in 1980.

“They are joined together in a mission to improve the wellbeing of people in the world who are beset by low income, unemployment, sickness, hunger, lack of education, lack of shelter, lack of power, lack of voice,” he said.

The UA Master’s in Development Practice, housed in the School of Geography and Development, is a multidisciplinary degree program. Students will be required to complete 58 units in four core areas: global health and nutrition; social systems and sustainable development; natural systems and natural resource management; and principles and methods for managing sustainable development practice.

“A development practitioner doesn’t have to be a specialist in one area but has to have a functional knowledge of interdisciplinary topics,” Finan said. “For example, they won’t be an evolutionary biologist but will need to know when to call on one for a biodiversity issue.”

The degree program also includes a three-month field work component, which allows UA students to work on ongoing projects on the ground in Ethiopa, Brazil or Guatemala or with the UA’s partner organization TANGO International, a Tucson-based development assistance firm that works in more than 40 countries. TANGO stands for Technical Assistance to Non-Governmental Organizations.

UA graduate Benten Anders, who will be one of the first students in the new degree program, said he’s looking forward to getting hands-on experience in development work.

“The people we’re going to be working with are professionals who actually do this for a living, and what better way for us to learn?” said Anders, who earned his bachelor’s degree in anthropology in 2010. “People are always saying ‘I wish I could do some good,’ and this actually gives us the opportunity to do that.”

Development practice courses will be offered through the UA Outreach College, primarily at the UA Downtown location, Finan said. Classes will be taught by faculty from the UA School of Natural Resources and the Environment, the Mel & Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, as well as professionals from TANGO International. Among the required courses is one called “The Global Classroom,” which students from all 22 Master's in Development Practice programs around the world will take simultaneously via video conference.

Students from several countries have expressed an interest in pursuing the Master’s in Development Practice at the UA, Finan said, noting that the program is an important step for the UA, as the University continues its efforts to engage on a global level.

“There is a global responsibility embedded in the University that the University should embrace,” Finan said. “There are people in universities who debate the theories of development and what are the ways we can promote change. Then there are people that design those projects, implement those projects and evaluate those projects. We are now seeking to train the people that will make a difference where the rubber hits the road.”