Every single course has had a strong impact on me | Duke Kunshan University

Every single course has had a strong impact on me

Students in Duke Kunshan’s undergraduate degree program declare a major toward the end of their second year, providing them the time to explore a diverse range of interests. Alberto Najarro ’22 from El Salvador explains his reasons for choosing environmental science (public policy track).


Main: Alberto Najarro ’22 studies with classmate Caroline Robbins

What major did you have in mind when you enrolled at DKU?

I was originally planning to major in political economy (economics track). I had studied economics in high school, and I genuinely enjoyed it. Additionally, I was very interested – still am – in the intersection of economics and politics, particularly at the international level. Thus, I believed political economy was the right way to go.

What DKU courses do you feel have had the largest impact on you?

Not to sound cliché, but every single course at DKU has had a strong impact on me. If I had to mention some, I would say Ethics & Justice in the Modern World, taught by Emily McWilliams; Foundational Questions in Social Science, co-taught by Ben Schupmann; Introduction to Global Health, taught by Benjamin Anderson; China in the World, co-taught by James Miller; and International Political Economy, taught by David Landry. These classes all expanded my scope and understanding of a variety of issues on which I had no prior knowledge.

Every single one of those courses had something that I consider key to making a positive impact: wonderful professors. The professors demonstrated a genuine interest for us to learn the material and to apply it in real life. They were willing to have long conversations after class and to open a door into their personal lives. One of the great benefits of a liberal arts education at DKU is the small class sizes, which have allowed me to form close relationships with my professors, even if I never take another class with them.

How important were your professors and academic advisors to choosing your major?

Some professors have been the key figures. Whether it was by answering my questions in class or listening to my concerns, professors have positively influenced my decisions. There was a point when I was taking an econ class in which I started to have second thoughts about whether it was the path for me. I felt that my professor was distant and the material, even though I had studied it before, did not seem to make sense in my head. That experience did not deter me from pursuing economics, as I took two more econ courses after and I have enrolled in another in the fall. However, it did make me question what I wanted to do after I graduate.

Of course, I must acknowledge the role that my “official” academic advisor Jennifer Kuang and  “unofficial” academic advisor Terry Yang, both from the Office of Undergraduate Advising, have played in my academic decisions at DKU. They have been a light during very dark moments. They have helped me to come to terms with myself and pushed me to explore what I’m most passionate about. I remember that after I took that less-than-enjoyable econ course, I began to doubt the academic path that I had been planning for myself. Yet they were the ones who helped me realize that it was not the end of the world, and that it would be unfair if I let a single experience redefine what I felt I wanted to do.

There were many contributing factors to my choosing a major. Classes, professors and advisors were definitely part of it. There were also other elements, too, such as research interests, conversations with friends that sparked curiosity in areas I never imagined I would have an interest in, career paths, graduate school, etc.

One curious aspect about some of the courses at DKU is that you can trace connections between the content studied across several different classes. There is one set of readings I’ve studied in over four courses that made me lean toward my major because of how fascinating I’ve found them: Hardin’s “Tragedy of the Commons” and Ostrom’s “Governing the Commons.” These readings, in their own ways, discuss the vital importance of natural resources and present different ways (policies) to assess the problem of reaching sustainability.

What were the main reasons behind your decision to major in environmental science?

I declared a major in environmental science (public policy track) because it encapsulates of the many things I am interested in, not just as a career path but also at a personal level. I believe that science is important to making decisions. I want to be a science-literate decision-maker, and this major looks into natural sciences and social sciences, because both are important. In addition, I think pursuing a public policy major provides me with the tools to ponder options and make the best decision possible.  

It is becoming increasingly important to ensuring that manmade changes to the environment do not continue to have harmful effects on humans and the environment. Just as important is to mitigate the harmful effects that we are already seeing. Environmental challenges are inherently global and interdisciplinary; they do not care about borders nor areas of study. DKU offers the right set of resources for me to expand my knowledge on how to confront the issues, in part because of its liberal arts curriculum.

After graduation, I want to continue a business that I am planning to start in my junior year. Later, I would like to go to graduate school and pursue an environmental economics degree, but that is subject to change.

What do you feel are the benefits of a liberal arts education?

Other than the small-sized classes, I think the interdisciplinary learning opportunities are very valuable, because most global challenges are interdisciplinary. Thus, having at least some knowledge about different areas of study is important to be a well-rounded scholar. Seminar-based classes have also improved my oral communication skills. We are mostly required to participate, which allows us to form an opinion and communicate it effectively.

I’ve taken such a wide variety of classes; classes that I probably would never have taken at a traditional university. This has allowed to expand my research interests and inspired me to redefine my passions.

Find out more about Duke Kunshan’s undergraduate degree program.