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College Fills Gaps With New Concentration Offerings

By Nikita Kansra and Sabrina A. Mohamed, Crimson Staff Writers

If it had not been for the new architecture studies track in the History of Art and Architecture department, Benjamin Lopez ’15 would have been “pretty ready to transfer” out of Harvard.

Lopez, who discovered his passion for architecture during a Harvard Summer School program in Barcelona this summer, said that the new concentration “definitely fills up a vacancy” at Harvard.

HAA is not alone in widening its curriculum choices. This fall, Harvard College welcomed four new concentration options, including modern Middle Eastern studies in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, a mechanical and an electrical engineering concentration within the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and architecture studies in HAA.

These new concentrations were designed to fill gaps in the College’s liberal arts education that had been identified by students seeking to pursue careers in those fields of study and by the departments.


“It was so obvious that there was a need. You just have to look at the world around you and see that there’s a need,” said NELC department chair Ali S. Asani ’77 about the new modern Middle East concentration track.

After introducing a secondary field on the same topic last fall, NELC faculty members agreed to propose a concentration track as well, Asani said. Following an approximately seven-month process of conversing with the Office of Undergraduate Education and the Educational Policy Committee, the concentration track was approved for study this fall.

Asani said that the department’s original proposal for the concentration track stayed largely the same through the deliberation process, apart from “a little sort of tweaking here and there.”

Along with this new track, NELC has also created a joint concentration with the history department for undergraduates who want to study the Middle East’s past.

Asani added that the new track allows students to combine studies in humanities and social sciences.

“One of the great things about this track is that it’s really like social studies for NELC,” he said.

Malika Zeghal, who is teaching Modern Middle East 120: “The Arab Revolutions: Popular Uprisings and Political Transformations,” also emphasized the interdisciplinary nature of the modern Middle East track.

The program intends to “offer a strong and diversified curriculum to students interested in studying the history, culture, and politics of the modern Middle East,” she wrote in an email because she could not be reached by phone. “With the historical changes at play since the end of 2010, it only makes more sense for students to study this region.”

Zeghal noted that students can meet their concentration requirements by taking classes in several departments, including history, government, and anthropology.

NELC concentrator John J. Corbett ’13 said that he is “optimistic” about the future of the new concentration track as well as the new joint concentration with history.

“I think it’s a positive change,” he said. “Most of the [NELC] concentrators have been kind of focused on the modern Middle East, informally. It’s nice to have it formalized.”


In the past, HAA sent students interested in architecture two T stops away to MIT or even an ocean away to Copenhagen to supplement the department’s curriculum, said HAA professor Alina A. Payne. Now, students can learn about architecture just down the street at Gund Hall.

“We’ve been trying to do this for years, 20 years maybe,” said Payne, who helped spearhead the creation of the architecture studies track, which lets undergraduates do work at the Graduate School of Design. “Unfortunately the GSD did not have the capabilities to join us [before]. They did not have the facilities.”

Previously, she added, students had to hunt for courses to cater to their interests in architecture. Now the department outlines an established program of study linking the practice of architecture with its historical significance.

The distribution requirements in the new track include studio classes, classes at the Design School, and HAA 11: “Landmarks of World Architecture.”

“There will be a trickle at first,” said Payne, but even if early concentrator numbers look low, she said that the track might draw newly admitted students who might have otherwise matriculated at peer institutions which offer architecture programs.

“We did not use to attract freshmen who were interested in architecture,” Payne said. Now, “rather than go to Yale or Princeton, they can come here.”

Professors in HAA said they perceived a need for a dedicated program in architecture at the College.

“We made the case to the University that the study of architecture is as much a part of the core liberal arts education as literature, music, and history of science,” said Design School professor K. Michael Hays.

“Many points of obvious synergy” exist between HAA and the Design School, said HAA Director of Undergraduate Studies David J. Roxburgh. Architecture studies will expose students to both the practical and historical aspects of architecture, said Roxburgh, adding that he sees a “bright future” for the program.

Students said that they are looking forward to Harvard’s liberal arts-focused take on architecture, which is a pre-professional program at most schools.

“Being able to understand how an architect thinks, and not only a historian, will be very valuable for the program,” said HAA concentrator Jack A. Pretto ’14.


Though SEAS students could formerly declare electrical and mechanical engineering tracks under the general concentration, they can now specialize in the titles of their concentrations.

According to Christopher J. Lombardo, assistant director for undergraduate studies in engineering sciences, many students expressed interest in focused tracks in engineering like those frequently found at peer institutions.

“It’s just a nice option to have,” said Tonatiuh M. Lievano Beltran ’13, a mechanical engineering concentrator. “People who want to go into industry will think of it as a big plus.”

SEAS has also introduced a new mechanical engineering course and a new electrical engineering laboratory course. While electrical engineering allows for more electives, Lombardo said, mechanical engineering boasts a more “traditional” list of required courses.

Lombardo said that he expects future expansion for Harvard’s engineering program.

“I think it’s going to continue growing. There’s a bigger visibility of SEAS on campus,” he said, adding that Harvard has yet to add a civil engineering program, another common offering at other colleges.

The creation of a focused electrical engineering concentration “was something that [SEAS] had to do,” said Scott E. Crouch ’13, who switched to the electrical engineering concentration this fall.

Crouch said that the option of a specialized electrical engineering degree “makes [him] feel like more of a legitimate engineer,” and that the new concentrations mark a movement for engineering at Harvard in a “really positive direction.”

—Staff writer Nikita Kansra can be reached at

—Staff writer Sabrina A. Mohamed can be reached at

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CollegeGraduate School of DesignSEASDesign SchoolHAAAcademicsNELC