Debuting in fall 2020, the social justice in public service graduate certificate will explore the changing needs of society.

The 15-credit hour certificate encourages students to explore social needs from the perspective of the public service sector. (Photo by Christina Morillo from Pexels)

As society continues to evolve, it’s imperative that academic institutions and educational opportunities evolve to support society’s ever-changing needs. Debuting in fall 2020, the social justice in public service graduate certificate will explore some of these changing needs of society. The 15-credit hour certificate encourages students to use an interdisciplinary approach to explore social needs from the perspective of the public service sector.

The Center for Economic and Social Justice defines social justice as “a personal responsibility to collaborate with others to design and continually perfect our institutions as tools for personal and social development.” Courses centered around food insecurity and human rights, among others, challenge students to incorporate awareness of social justice issues into their professions.

The idea for implementing a social justice lens emerged from an in-class discussion in a graduate level public administration course led by Staci Zavattaro, an associate professor in the School of Public Administration. “For me, it was important to give students a space to talk about issues facing them each day, and that includes the, sometimes, difficult conversations that surround social justice and equity.” As a result, Zavattaro engaged students in a focus group on their desires for a course to be added to the curriculum.

However, the group found that one course would not be enough to provide a well-rounded overview of the concept of social justice. Christopher Furino, a graduate student in the public administration program, participated in the initial focus group. “Social justice as a framework is a great step in the right direction, but it is something that’s much larger than just one course,” says Furino, who currently works as an organizer at a nonprofit organization focusing on employment rights and equity.

Therefore, the conversation shifted into developing a graduate level certificate that utilized social justice as its lens and could complement other graduate-level programs. “This is really student-driven, and I am happy to be a vehicle that helps bring their ideas to light,” explains Zavattaro.

The social justice in public service certificate explores the theoretical background of social justice and encourages students to examine diverse topics, such as environmental security and political and economic inequality. Furino says, “I think this is a lens that not only educates us on how to be better public servants, but [also] at the very least encourages us to simply be better to each other.”

Applications to start the certificate program in fall 2020 are due by July 1, 2020.

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