UW News

November 17, 2016

New UW major prepares educators for lessons outside the traditional classroom

News and Information

The UW's new Education, Communities & Organizations major started in the fall quarter.

The UW’s new Education, Communities & Organizations major started in the fall quarter.Dennis Wise / University of Washington

Kim Boudreau enrolled at the University of Washington planning to major in business administration and human resources management, but it didn’t feel like quite the right fit.

Boudreau realized she was interested in workforce training, so she added a minor in education. But she still wasn’t convinced her studies would take her where she wanted to go. So when the 20-year-old learned about the UW’s new undergraduate degree in Education, Communities and Organizations — or ECO — she didn’t hesitate to switch tracks.

“I’m really excited about this major,” said Boudreau, who expects to graduate in 2018. “I wanted something that was about teaching in any context. I feel like I’ve found what I was missing before.”

The UW College of Education launched the ECO program this fall precisely with students like Boudreau in mind. The college’s other undergraduate major, Early Childhood and Family Studies, focuses on working with children from birth to age 8. But students who want to teach older youth or adults didn’t have a major to fit those needs, said Cassady Glass Hastings, lead faculty for the ECO program.

The ECO major is also targeted at those interested in teaching outside the traditional classroom — that could be anywhere from corporations to prisons, youth organizations, education policy groups or in native communities, Glass Hastings said.

“Our goal is that students see teaching and learning in a variety of settings,” she said. “Some of that might be in a formal classroom, but a lot could be in other community contexts.”

Cassady Glass Hastings, lead faculty member for the program, teaches a class.

Cassady Glass Hastings, lead faculty member for the program, teaches a class.Dennis Wise / University of Washington

The 67-credit major includes courses on topics such as human development, learning theory, educational equity and diversity, organizational change and community-based methods. It also requires students to complete a year-long internship in a school or community organization, such as an advocacy group or neighborhood resource center. That focus on community-based teaching and learning is key, Glass Hastings said.

“We want students to work with communities, not in communities,” she said. “We want them to see the value and experience and knowledge of the community. We’re trying to help students create equitable community partnerships, both while they’re here and then as they go forward. ”

The curriculum was developed over more than a year and involved input from education faculty members studying various aspects of learning science, from special education to educational psychology, and focus groups of students from departments across campus. Carol Davis, the College of Education’s associate dean of undergraduate education, said she was struck by how many students who participated were interested in teaching, but not in a traditional school setting.

“I think the undergraduate population has changed, and they come to us with giving back and civic engagement in mind,” she said. “They don’t necessarily see schools as their path. They see many different opportunities that are available to them to engage in teaching students in settings outside of schools.”

The major is targeted at students interested in working outside the traditional classroom.

The major is targeted at students interested in working outside the traditional classroom.Dennis Wise / University of Washington

UW students earn a teaching certification through a one-year master’s level program in either elementary or secondary education. Patrick Sexton, assistant dean for teacher education, said the new major provides undergraduates with a critical foundation for understanding learning in formal and informal environments.

“It is designed so they come away with theoretical and practical underpinnings for being successful in both of those spaces,” he said. “For example, effective educators — whether they are classroom teachers, or after-school program directors, or community health educators — engage issues of equity and diversity in deep ways, ensuring their young people are getting what they need out of whatever type of education or support is being provided.

“Undergraduates are going to leave ECO with the knowledge and experience to understand that,” Sexton said. “It is a really important contribution.”

And since graduates are likely to change jobs multiple times during their careers, Glass Hastings said, equipping them to teach across contexts is valuable.

“They might start out as a corporate trainer at Amazon, then go into the nonprofit sector, then go into health care,” she said. “Preparing students to be good traditional teachers is incredibly important. I don’t want to lessen that. But we also want to prepare students for this non-traditional teaching and learning path.”

Junior Nathalie Cruz is a new ECO major, with a minor in math. Cruz said the introduction to ECO class, which Glass Hastings teaches, has been “mind-opening” and engaging so far.

“The topics we’re covering have been super interesting and applicable to what I want to do,” she said. “I find myself participating more in class and asking questions. I’m liking it a lot.”

Cruz, 20, has her sights set on teaching high school or college. While her previous studies gave her a helpful foundation in early education, she said, the new major will better prepare her for her dream job.

“Now I have an outlet for what I want to do,” she said. “This major is a perfect fit.”

For more information, contact Glass Hastings at cassady@uw.edu or 206-616-6390.