Fordham University            The Jesuit University of New York

Help Is On the Way

New Master's Degree Program Ensures Emergency Preparedness


The staggering humanitarian crisis in Haiti demonstrates once again the urgent need for a swift and effective international response to natural and man-made disasters—a need a new master’s degree program in humanitarian action at Fordham hopes to address.

The field of humanitarian affairs is a constantly changing landscape of complex issues and concerns. The recent crisis in Haiti is only the most recent example. Despite the urgent need for supplies, international aid workers continue to encounter a frustrating series of physical, geographic and political obstacles to delivering food, water and medical equipment to the devastated country.

Even more frustrating for aid workers, though, is the fact that there is really no blueprint for how to help the powerless in an international disaster. But the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, working in conjunction with the University’s Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs (IIHA), is poised to come up with one through a new master’s degree program in humanitarian action, which was recently registered with New York state.

“The new program focuses on emergency preparedness and necessary humanitarian responses to national and international disasters,” said Jennifer Latham, director of academic programs and support at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

By combining the practical experience of humanitarian professionals with the academic strength of Fordham’s faculty—pulled together across disciplines from GSAS, the Graduate School of Social Service, Fordham Law School and the Graduate School of Business Administration—the new program explores in full each and every aspect of humanitarian assistance, from the geopolitical significance of a particular country or region to the practical tools necessary to forecast and respond to natural or man-made disasters.

“It offers holistic training to those professionals working in complex emergencies,” Latham said. “Instructors bring the everyday, practical, real world experience, while Fordham faculty bring an academic aspect to the discussion.”

The new master’s degree program builds on IIHA’s international Diploma in Humanitarian Assistance (IDHA) program, which prepares humanitarian aid workers to become field managers in humanitarian organizations, offering them a bootcamp experience—and a set of professional standards—on how to respond to crisis situations.

Candidates for the new master’s degree program are required to have at least five years’ experience in humanitarian assistance or a related field, and admission is predicated on the successful completion of the month long IDHA program.

“Although there are a number of programs on development, peace building, public health and other aspects of humanitarian assistance, there is no program that offers practical training to professionals working in complex emergencies,” said Brendan Cahill, administrative director of IIHA and its partner organization, the Center for International Humanitarian Cooperation.

Courses in the master’s degree program, offered in one-, two- or four-week-long sessions, will be taught in Europe, Africa, the United States, Latin America and Asia. This is designed to accommodate the schedules of humanitarian aid workers around the world and, at the same time, allow them to study in their local region or to experience a new region, Cahill noted.

“We want to develop humanitarian leaders who will contribute to the common good, serve the underserved and produce new ideas to disseminate across the world,” he said. “It fits in perfectly with Fordham’s mission and approach to humanitarianism—men and women for others.”

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