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Penn has expanded its major and minor offerings for the 2023-24 academic school year. Credit: Abhiram Juvvadi

Penn students can now major and minor in Near Eastern languages and culture: cultures and societies of the Middle East and North Africa, minor in data science and analytics, and pursue sociology as a STEM major. 

Cultures and Societies of the Middle East and North Africa

According to the department website, the NELC department’s new cultures and societies of the Middle East and North Africa major and minor concentration give students the opportunity to navigate the societies, cultures, traditions, and religions of the greater Middle East and North Africa. 

“[This new major] will attract students who have already fulfilled their language requirement or those who discover an interest in the Middle East later in their journey at Penn, but find themselves short on time and unable to fulfill the specialized language requirement of extant tracks,” NELC Undergraduate Chair Huda Fakhreddine said.

CASMENA is composed of 12 credits and does not have a language requirement. According to the department website, the areas of study include Arabia, the Levant, Mesopotamia, Iran and the Persianate world, Egypt and the Nile Valley, North Africa (including the Maghreb), and Asia Minor (including present-day Turkey). 

“While there is no language requirement for this new major, students majoring in CASMENA will necessarily learn about the languages of the region by engaging in textual analysis of translated texts and by thinking about translation as an intellectual and critical exercise,” Fakhreddine said.

Another mark that distinguishes this field from other NELC fields, according to the department website, is that it is centered around the developments of the areas over the course of history — throughout the ancient, medieval, and modern periods — which no other major concentrations do. 

College sophomore Sarah Hinkel, who is double majoring in ancient history and NELC, discovered her passion for NELC studies while taking the "Introduction to the Ancient Near East" class her freshman year.

She said she was drawn to NELC because of its unique offerings, such as their language offerings, "which aren't widely available in other schools, or that many students don't typically take until graduate studies."

Data Science and Analytics

According to Penn’s minors catalog, the new data science and analytics minor is meant to complement any of the already offered natural and social sciences majors. It will teach students to use data to answer applied research questions in their respective fields. 

“The core courses and electives that comprise the DASA minor can be chosen to best support the application of data science methods to the student's major, and in the student’s programming language of choice — R or Python,” Data Science and Analytics Minor Assistant Director Joelle Gross said.

According to Gross, the new minor is different from the other data science minors offered at Penn — such as survey research and data analytics, Wharton's statistics and data science, and the College's digital humanities — as it specifically deals with the practical application of analysis techniques to natural and social sciences.

The minor, which requires six courses, are open to all students and can be tailored to their specific areas of study.

Sociology as a STEM Major

According to Penn’s Department of Sociology, the sociology major centers around social structure and understanding human behavior patterns. A part of the major teaches students the tools needed for social science research, including ethnography, social statistics, and demographics.

“Sociologists analyze some of the most pressing issues in contemporary society,” Undergraduate Program Manager Marcus Wright and Undergraduate Chair and Professor of Sociology Chenoa Flippen wrote in a statement to The Daily Pennsylvanian, adding that "the courses in these areas all involve both theoretical and quantitative components."

As of the 2023-2024 academic year, the major is officially recognized as a STEM program. According to the department website, the change is meant to emphasize the research methodology skills and quantitative methods that students learn as part of their major. 

“The National Science Foundation includes Sociology in its definition of STEM fields, and the sociology major at Penn has long emphasized research methods, quantitative data analysis, and quantitative reasoning,” Wright and Flippen wrote.

The change also directly impacts undergraduate and graduate international students who declare sociology majors. By pursuing a STEM designated degree, these students can now apply for an additional 24 months of Optional Practical Training post graduation, meaning an extended period of temporary employment.

College junior and sociology major Kyla Jamison described the changes as “super exciting.”

“This opens doors for all sociology students and recognizes the importance of social statistics within the major,” Jamison said to the DP. “Integrating socially conscious minds into STEM will foster inclusive innovation here at Penn.”