Rooted in Mission: Family and Consumer Sciences in Catholic Universities

By Duncan, Janine | Journal of Catholic Education, June 2011 | Go to article overview

Rooted in Mission: Family and Consumer Sciences in Catholic Universities


Duncan, Janine, Journal of Catholic Education


As noted by the National Center for Education Statistics, Family and Consumer Sciences (FCS) is a discipline at the post-secondary level that encompasses 31 different fields of study (Dickeson, 2010) related to foods and nutrition, human development, family relationships, housing and interior design, textiles and apparel, and family resource management, among others. Founded in 1909 as home economics, in 1994 the name Family and Consumer Sciences was adopted by consensus of the professional membership of what was then the American Home Economics Association. The organizational name change to the American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences created a cascade effect for departments of home economics at colleges and universities across the country. At Fontbonne University, home economics--a founding program of the institution--adopted the name of Human Environmental Sciences, mirroring the name change of home economics departments across the state of Missouri. It is important to note that these name changes affected professionals only in the United States; globally, the discipline is still recognized as home economics. Consequently, home economics, family and consumer sciences, and human environmental sciences infer the same discipline, but the names are historically and regionally situated.

Over the last decade FCS has struggled to maintain its disciplinary status in higher education, and continues to do so primarily due to a lack of understanding, or perhaps appreciation, for the integrated purpose of serving individuals, families, and communities that unites what are perceived to be unrelated fields of study. Although the decision to eliminate or reorganize FCS programs to attend to the dynamic needs of the respective institutions has been lamented privately by many FCS professionals, little has been done to examine institutional fit in relation to the mission of FCS and the respective institutions of higher education. The work of FCS, a discipline founded primarily by 1862/1890 land grant (public) institutions, has never been considered in light of Catholic mission or teachings, though Anderson and Nickols, as recently as 2001, spoke of the "heart, head, and soul" of the FCS profession--intimating a spiritual calling to the discipline of FCS. It is this analogy of heart, head, and soul that resonates quite deeply with the mission of Catholic higher education, as Catholic Social Teaching (CST), Catholic Intellectual Tradition (CIT), and the respective charisms of institutional founders are integrated into the curricular and co-curricular experiences to enrich the education of students. The purpose of this paper is to establish the unity between the missions of the FCS discipline and Catholic higher education by demonstrating relationships among (a) CST and the role of the service (heart) principle to FCS; (b) CIT and the centrality of intellect (head) to FCS; and (c) the institutional charism and the shared calling (soul) of FCS professionals, exemplified by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, sponsors of Fontbonne University, in particular. The parity between professional and Catholic institutional missions outlined in this paper suggests that the longevity of FCS programs could be fostered by taking root in Catholic institutions.

Method

In an effort to establish the unity between FCS professional and Catholic institutional missions, commonalities were identified between the missions of FCS and Catholic higher education. In particular, the FCS mission was operationalized through the professional commitments to service, intellect, and individual calling, identified by Anderson and Nickols (2001). Expanding on this work, Nickols et al. (2009) demonstrated how the FCS body of knowledge ought to guide the work of practitioners and scholars alike, in an effort to address quality of life issues for diverse audiences. Utilizing nested imagery, the FCS body of knowledge (see Figure 1) guides FCS professionals to draw from and promote the theoretically informed interrelatedness between family well-being and the social environment, as various issues related to wellness, resource management, sustainability, global interdependence, appropriate use of technology, and capacity building are addressed (American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences Council for Accreditation, 2010). …

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