Perhaps only a school founded less than 20 years ago that now boasts one of the largest and best master’s programs in the country would dare to set the bar so high. But that’s exactly what Baruch’s School of Public Affairs (SPA) did earlier this year when it released its strategic plan. Among its 10 goals: increasing the number of undergraduate majors from 120 to 800 by 2018.

“We want to be larger to address an unmet need,” David Birdsell, SPA’s dean, explains. “The desire to serve reaches its most feverish pitch in the late teens and early twenties. It’s precisely the right time to introduce students to the intellectual and social satisfactions of public affairs.”

Dana Messinger, who heads freshman recruiting at the College, says that when students discover what public affairs is “their interest turns to eagerness. They like that it’s about how you make ideas reality—not just in government but in non-governmental agencies and in nonprofits.”

Case in point: Farhana Hassan (’14), who transferred from Hunter College and is now a senior and the recently elected Undergraduate Student Government (USG) president. “I was a poli-sci major who wanted to apply what I was learning,” says Hassan, who has completed three internships—two at major nonprofits, the other at a state senator’s office—while majoring in public affairs.

To attract more students like Hassan, SPA is planning to forge new areas of curricular strength based on faculty expertise and student interest. Sustainable cities, international NGOs, migrations and diasporas, and—by student request—the complex issue of food policy are all fields that SPA, by virtue of its current activities and New York City location, should naturally develop, Birdsell says. Success in achieving the five-year strategic plan’s other goals—more research opportunities, better student assessment, a global perspective—is expected to bolster the effort to expand the undergraduate program.

Messinger believes that the interdisciplinary nature of public affairs is the major’s best selling point. “Open-minded, curious students want to do substantive work,” she contends. “Big problems, like those you find in public affairs, demand interdisciplinary solutions. Many students, when they realize this, are energized by a major they didn’t know existed.”

—Brian Kell