UA Degree Prepares Students to Battle Global Poverty, Hunger

May 1, 2013

A new master’s degree program at the University of Arizona is focused on preparing students to battle poverty and hunger across the globe.

One of just six programs like it in the U.S., the UA’s Master’s in Development Practice is part of the Global MDP network, a collection of 23 such degree programs around the world, including those in Botswana, Colombia, Senegal, Bangladesh, India and China.

“The Master's in Development Practice is training people who make a difference in the real world,” said UA anthropology professor Tim Finan, who co-directs the UA program along with Wayne Decker of the UA School of Geography and Development. “The program seeks to train people who will be the development practitioners of the future or who already are development practitioners and are building their skill sets.”

Development practitioners are those who work on the ground in countries across the globe to assess needs and improve living conditions, said Finan, who worked as a Peace Corps volunteer in Brazil for four years before completing his doctorate in anthropology at the UA in 1980.

“They are joined together in a mission to improve the wellbeing of people in the world who are beset by low income, unemployment, sickness, hunger, lack of education, lack of shelter, lack of power, lack of voice,” he said.

“We want students to appreciate that successful development practice requires, in addition to professional skills, large doses of tenacity, patience, ethical judgment and even physical stamina," Decker said. "They must be also able to anticipate and adapt to the rapid pace of change in much of the developing world, keeping abreast of innovative technologies and new development actors. We teach about adaptation and resilience, but we also have to practice it ourselves.”

The UA Master’s in Development Practice, housed in the School of Geography and Development, is a multidisciplinary degree program. Students are required to complete 58 units in four core areas: global health and nutrition; social systems and sustainable development; natural systems and natural resource management; and principles and methods for managing sustainable development practice.  

“A development practitioner doesn’t have to be a specialist in one area but has to have a functional knowledge of interdisciplinary topics,” Finan said. “For example, they won’t be an evolutionary biologist but will need to know when to call on one for a biodiversity issue.”

The degree program also includes a three-month field work component, which is allowing UA students to work this summer on ongoing projects on the ground in Ethiopia, Senegal, Brazil and Cambodia, or with the UA’s partner organization TANGO International, a Tucson-based development assistance firm that works in more than 40 countries. TANGO stands for Technical Assistance to Non-Governmental Organizations.

UA graduate Benten Anders, one of the first students in the degree program, said he was interested in getting hands-on experience in development work.

“The people we’re working with are professionals who actually do this for a living, and what better way for us to learn?” said Anders, who earned his bachelor’s degree in anthropology in 2010. “People are always saying ‘I wish I could do some good,’ and this actually gives us the opportunity to do that.”

Development practice courses are offered through the UA Outreach College, primarily at the UA Downtown location. Classes are taught by faculty from the UA School of Natural Resources and the Environment, the Mel & Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, as well as professionals from TANGO International. Among the required courses is “The Global Classroom,” which students from all 23 Master's in Development Practice programs around the world take simultaneously via video conference.

“We are excited to add the MDP program to our other graduate and professional degree programs,” said Carl Bauer, interim director of the School of Geography and Development. “It fits the interests and expertise of many of our faculty and graduate students and it is also a great example of the long-standing collaborations between our school and the School of Anthropology.”

Students from West Africa, Southeast Asia, Latin America and Mongolia seek to pursue the Master’s in Development Practice at the UA. Finan notes that the program is an important step as the University continues its efforts to engage on a global level.

“There is a global responsibility embedded in the University that the University should embrace,” Finan said. “There are people in universities who debate the theories of development and what are the ways we can promote change. Then there are people that design those projects, implement those projects and evaluate those projects. We are now seeking to train the people that will make a difference where the rubber hits the road.”

Story credit: University Communications

Learn more about the MDP program. offered through the School of Geography and Development.