A College for the Real World

Article excerpt

Trends, forecasts, and images of the future

This isn't your mother's home economics department. Today's College of Family and Consumer Sciences at the University of Georgia is a multi-disciplinary college that prides itself on providing students with "knowledge for the real world."

From the foods and nutrition to child and family development to textile sciences, FACS offers 900 undergraduates the choice of 12 majors. Beyond that, 125 graduate students explore a wide range of research topics, preparing for careers in higher education, research, or service in various public and private roles. Fifteen percent of undergraduates and 25% of graduate students are male.

"Our students enjoy the advantages of a medium-sized college within a large university," says Dean Sharon Y. Nickols, Ph.D. "Our approach to education is a holistic one - from womb to tomb, you might say. Whether it's housing, finance or nutrition, we teach each specialty in the context of the whole. Students preparing for a career in consumer finance, for instance, need to understand how financial decisions affect the whole family; they need to study family development as well as balance sheets. We believe everything is related. It's like a spider web. You can't touch one part without tweaking something else."

One way FACS applies its real-world philosophy is by emphasizing internships.

"Eighty percent of our students do internships," says Dean Nickols. "The internship program is a very integrated part of our curriculum. It reflects our philosophy of applying what we teach to daily life, and it gives our students a chance to connect with professionals in their respective fields."

In an academic environment that is increasingly entrepreneurial and market-driven, Nickols says her biggest challenge is spreading the word about the college and its outreach programs. She notes that there are 71 FACS county extension agents across the state, who help communities with a wide variety of issues, including child care, housing and personal finance.

"We do seem to be forgotten or at least misunderstood," says Nickols. "Some people still think our primary focus is teaching students how to make aprons. The truth is, our curriculum prepares students for vital professional careers; our college conducts important research; and our outreach programs provide valuable services for Georgia." Programs include ServSafe, a food-handling training program for people working in child-care facilities, assisted living centers and personal care homes, and Gateway, which teaches employees job-retention skills. …