The Social Engagement thesis encourages students to think “outside the box” and incorporate academic work with social entrepreneurship. The thesis requires three parts: academic essay; visual documentary; and policy recommendations.
Students must write academically rigorous essays on projects that they have established and operate in Africa or the Americas. The Social Engagement thesis requires mastery of an array of disciplinary perspectives. Although each student must have a thesis advisor, he/she must work and consult with several other faculty, since coordinated interdisciplinary efforts are at the foundation of this alternative thesis-writing experience. Students must take courses in the African Language Program for projects outside the United States and for work with immigrant communities in the United States. The thesis requires evidence of thorough research and mastery of relevant scholarship on the specific communities and cultures under study. In many cases this will require not only awareness of necessary methodologies of participant-observation, interviewing, and other fieldwork, but also the Harvard Ethics Training in Human Research (HETHR) certification.
Students who write the alternative thesis must document their project in a video or other media format, thus providing a tangible 'deliverable' that is focused on reaching and educating a broader audience. One can imagine a film, a website, a business plan, etc...
Students must present recommendations or information as to the start-up and sustainability of their projects. Social engagement theses have experimental and experiential aspects to them that result in service-oriented research and learning. This should be included in the actual written component of the thesis, such that the thesis becomes an intervention toward helping to solve a specific social problem. For example, social engagement theses have focused on bringing fresh water to a rural village in Ghana or educating underprivileged Nigerian girls.