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Northwestern University

Combining Theory and Practice In the Classroom

Professional linkage seminars help students connect their academic experiences to real-world issues

Over a 25-year career in international development, Joan Sherman has traveled the world managing women’s empowerment and economic development programs. She brings these experiences into the classroom as an adjunct lecturer in Northwestern University’s Gender and Sexuality Studies Program

For the last decade, Sherman has been teaching a professional linkage seminar titled International Development and the Politics of Gender, a course exploring the evolution of gender analysis and the complex social constructs regarding gender in the sector.

“My primary goal with the course is to help students deepen their understanding of the practice of international development and to challenge them to think about gender equality in more critical and thoughtful ways,” explains Sherman, a former CARE USA manager and now an international development consultant.

Professional linkage seminars like Sherman’s connect liberal arts education to professional issues, giving Northwestern students the chance to take courses that approach social and work-related concerns through the eyes of an accomplished non-academic professional in areas as diverse as sports marketing, science writing and urban planning.

“Whether it’s case studies or anecdotes, I believe the concrete examples from my own professional experience can help students confront the assumptions they have,” Sherman says of the linkage seminars’ enduring value.

Last winter, 13 students — 12 females and one male — became the latest cohort to tackle Sherman’s ambitious seminar. Throughout the quarter, students discussed the evolution of gender analysis, scrutinized several sectors from the perspective of gender, and critically assessed media portrayals of international development before penning final papers examining a range of global issues, from the role of women in politics in Pakistan to human trafficking in Italy.

“Whether or not students ever work internationally, I hope this course informs how they view public policy and issues of gender equality around the globe,” Sherman says.

Junior Vivien Hastings says Sherman’s course provided new information about the history of development work, as well as the gender-based frameworks applied in specific areas of intervention, from girls’ education to gender-based violence.

“The class helped me think critically about my interest in development work,” says Hastings, who is studying history and international studies at Northwestern. “I learned how to understand the complex motivations behind many projects and the unintended consequences and failures of different approaches.”

Hastings, already interested in international affairs, human rights and feminism, called the seminar transformative and Sherman’s work inspiring.

“This class fundamentally changed both my path in college and my career aspirations,” Hastings says. “[Sherman] helped me better understand my passion for gender and development and … [the] desire within myself to pursue this interest on a long-term, even lifelong basis.”

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