Please note: This is NOT the most current catalog.

Family Studies
(Social work and family studies)

Chair, 2009-10: Mary Carlsen, social policy, professional ethics, culturally competent practice, family practice

Faculty, 2009-10: Devyani Chandran, family relationships, human sexuality, social policy, research and evaluation

The well-being of individuals and families is a national and global concern, and the “family” as a focus for study in higher education has increased in significance. Since many disciplines contribute to the understanding of families, family studies is an integrative field which synthesizes knowledge from liberal arts disciplines, particularly biology, psychology, social work, sociology, and political science.

Family Studies offers a major to students through the class of 2011. Students in the class of 2012 and later have the opportunity for a concentration in Family Studies; the Family Studies major will end with the class of 2011.


The family studies major provides academic linkages across disciplines based in the liberal arts. The major supports the college’s emphases on cross-cultural and experiential learning. In preparation for graduate level work and professional career opportunities, a research course assists students to evaluate and critique research. The core courses introduce students to the field of family studies and explore issues, strengths, and roles within the family life span and the varied dimensions of human sexuality and interpersonal experience. Lastly, students explore special topics which focus on the explanation of research and the connections between various disciplines in the study of families.


REQUIREMENTS FOR THE MAJOR (only available to classes of 2010 and 2011)

Prerequisite courses (to be taken prior to Family Studies 232):
Sociology 121 or 260 and Psychology 125

Recommended courses:

Biology 123 or 243; Statistics 110 or 212.

Students majoring in family studies take ten courses in addition to the prerequisites:

  1. Introductory Course: Family Studies 232: Introduction to Family Studies
  2. Core Courses: Family Studies 242: Family Relationships, Family Studies 253: Human Sexuality, and Family Studies 391: Senior Seminar
  3. Cross-Cultural Course. Choose one from:
      • On-Campus Options: Psychology 226: Human Development in East Asia: Perspectives from China and Japan; Psychology 249: Social Psychology; Sociology/Anthropology 128: Introduction to Cultural Anthropology, Sociology/Anthropology 236: The Arab World, Sociology/Anthropology 239: Modern Southeast Asia, Sociology/Anthropology 242: Contemporary Native American Issues, Sociology/Anthropology 249: Indigenous Peoples, Sociology/Anthropology 261: Gender in Cross-Cultural Perspective
      • Off-Campus Options: Family Studies 263: Indigenous Cultures of Australia; Social Work 256: Family Social Services in Central Mexico (abroad)
      • Other Options: Another course as approved in writing by the department chair

  4. Experiential course or preapproved alternative:
      • Academic Internship: Family Studies 294, Social Work 294, Psychology 294, or
      • A plan that is not offered as a course but is approved by the department chair
  5. Research (one course): Social Work 274: Evaluation of Social Work Practice and Programs or Psychology 230: Research Methods in Psychology
  6. Interdisciplinary Electives (three courses): Choose any three from the following areas.
    1. Human Development:
      Biology 123: Human Biology; Psychology 241: Developmental Psychology, Psychology 247 : Psychopathology; Sociology/Anthropology 248: Sociology of Dying, Death and Bereavement; Family Studies 130: Families in Film and Literature

      Public Policy:
      Political Science 111: American Politics, Political Science 246: Introduction to Public Policy, Political Science 270: Family Values; Social Work 221: Social Work and Social Welfare, Social Work 258: Social Policy

      Social Problems:
      Sociology/Anthropology 242: Contemporary Native American Issues, Sociology/Anthropology 262: Global Interdependence, Sociology/Anthropology 263: Social Movements, Sociology/Anthropology 264: Race and Class in American Culture


Recommended preparation: introductory courses in social science, biology and statistics

Required Department courses (all 3):

  1. Family Studies 232: Introduction to Family Studies
  2. Family Studies 242: Family Relationships
  3. Family Studies 391: Senior Seminar

These required courses provide a core of knowledge in the discipline that is essential to thinking systematically about family as a social institution and its interactions within the larger social context.

Possible electives (choose 2; at least one must be outside the department of Social Work and Family Studies):

  1. Economics 116: Families, Consumers, Communities
  2. Nursing 130: Family Violence
  3. Psychology 241: Developmental Psychology
  4. Political Science 270: Family Values
  5. Sociology Anthropology 248: Sociology of Dying, Death and Bereavement
  6. Sociology Anthropology 260: Marriage and the Family
  7. Social Work 221: Social Work and Social Welfare
  8. Social Work 274: Evaluation of Practice and Programs
  9. Family Studies 130: Families in Film and Literature
  10. Family Studies 253: Human Sexuality

These courses allow students to tailor their further knowledge about families to fit a specific application area or to integrate with their major program. Elective courses not on this list may be counted with prior approval of the Department Chair.

Interdisciplinary coursework

At least one course for the concentration must come from outside the Department of Social Work and Family Studies.

Senior capstone experience

This requirement is an academic, credit-bearing experience completed during the senior year. It is designed to ensure that concentrators participate in an experience that applies basic knowledge (theories, frameworks, concepts about families) to real families in a setting beyond the classroom. It must be approved by the Chair of the Department of Social Work and Family Studies prior to enrollment. A St. Olaf faculty member must teach or supervise the experience. The senior capstone experience results in a product or project that involves working with real families. It could be a panel or talk organized by the student(s), a pamphlet, a web site, a portfolio, an integrative paper, or another approved project. Through the experience, students demonstrate attainment of intended learning outcomes for family studies.

Guidelines for the senior capstone experience:

  • Includes 50-80 hours devoted to direct experience with families
  • Can be domestic or international
  • Can be either graded or Pass/No Pass (P/N)
  • Can be submitted for distinction in a major, if it meets that department's guidelines for distinction.

The experience must be:

  • For credit (.5 credit or full credit); and
  • Beyond the classroom; and
  • Approved by the Department Chair or Family Studies advisor; and
  • Taught or supervised by a St. Olaf faculty member.

The experience may be:

  • A project in a senior year course, social work practicum, or nursing clinical; or
  • A senior year independent study (294); or
  • A senior year independent research project (394); or
  • A senior year internship with families (half- or full-credit).


recommendations for graduate study

The concentration in family studies is designed to enable students to learn about families in both theory and practice; it is a course of study that can enhance student learning in vitually any major. This concentration is intended to help to prepare students entering careers with families including marriage and family therapy, education, and ministry, or to family practice in law, medicine, nursing, social work, or public policy. Students who intend to go directly to graduate school should also consider enrollment in a statistics course and a research methods course in social work, psychology, or sociology.


130 Families in Film and Literature

This course introduces students to family studies using selected depictions in film and literature as models. Students learn about family functioning and the dynamics that occur inside families that result from outside influences, such as economic and political environments and natural events. Offered periodically during Interim.

232 Introduction to Family Studies

Students examine American families through the life cycle in relation to personal and professional life, with the major emphasis on communication and commitment in interpersonal relationships. Students study courtship, marriage, adjustment to parenthood, and examine stressors that affect families such as family violence, divorce, grief and loss, and socioeconomic issues. This course takes an interdisciplinary approach; students have opportunity for a broad range of individualized study. Offered Fall Semester.

242 Family Relationships

In this course, students study the contemporary American family as it meets the challenge of a changing social world. The primary objective is to enlarge both personal and intellectual understanding of the complex issues facing families. Students study family dynamics and literature on different family roles (mothering, fathering, grandparents, siblings). Using the range of behavioral sciences concerned with family life, students study the interaction of individuals within families and of families within society. Offered Spring Semester.

253 Human Sexuality

This course explores the varied dimensions of human sexuality as they relate to, affect and are affected by past and present human relationships. Sexual problems and issues are examined for the development of a value framework and for the enrichment of family life. The course emphasizes critical thinking skills applied to current issues in human sexuality (e.g. gay marriage, gender issues, sexual violence). Students examine issues in contemporary research and ethics in sexuality. Offered each semester.

263 Indigenous Cultures of Australia

This course focuses on the diversity of culture and experience in Australia society. Students will learn about the experience of Aboriginal families from a variety of social science perspectives. A major focus is the relationships between indigenous people and the majority population in the U.S. and Australia.

294 Internship

298 Independent Study

391 Senior Seminar: Special Topics

This capstone seminar required of all majors focuses on the exploration of current research and the integration of key foundation disciplines in the study of families. Students will explore special topics through assigned readings and lecture material.

394 Internship

396 Directed Undergraduate Research: "Topic Description"

This course provides a comprehensive research opportunity, including an introduction to relevant background material, technical instruction, identification of a meaningful project, and data collection. The topic is determined by the faculty member in charge of the course and may relate to his/her research interests. Prerequisite: Determined by individual instructor. Offered based on department decision.

398 Independent Research