College of Arts and Sciences Announces New Family Studies Major

The newest major at the University of St Thomas is the interdisciplinary major in family studies. Housed in the College of Arts and Sciences, the family studies major is the culmination of collaborative efforts among several departments over the past few years.

UST has offered a minor in family studies for the past 16 years. For approximately five years, the Family Studies program has received an unprecedented number of requests from students to create their own individualized majors.

In response, the faculty of the Family Studies Advisory Board, representing nine disciplines, decided it was time to respond to an increasing number of calls from students seeking a formal major in family studies. The advisory board, led by Dr. Carol Bruess, professor of communication and journalism and director of the family studies program, developed a comprehensive curriculum for the new major.

The College of Arts and Sciences, and the university’s Curriculum Committee, recognized that a new major in family studies would provide an opportunity to support students who desire to pursue this vibrant interdisciplinary and growing field of study. As many of the new family studies posters and T-shirts around campus declare: “Family Studies: It’s Hot!”

FAST major new tshirt

St. Thomas has offered a minor in family studies for the past 16 years, and now family studies is the university's newest major.

True to its interdisciplinary roots, Family Studies students at St. Thomas select courses from among Catholic Studies, Communication and Journalism, Family Business, Health and Human Performance, Philosophy, Psychology, Social Work, Sociology and Theology. All students also take a family studies capstone course; the advisory board is considering the creation of an introductory course in the near future as well.

Family Studies at the University of St Thomas has a mission to embrace a multidisciplinary curriculum to teach students about families and the importance of families for building healthy people, relationships, communities and societies. To this end, and by fostering critical reflection on diverse families and an interdisciplinary approach to understanding, studying and working with families, Family Studies provides a foundation for moral leadership, social action and professional work toward advancing the common good of all families, their members, and that of the greater community and world.

The opportunity to study and understand couple and family dynamics from multiple perspectives is a highly regarded feature of the program, according to current majors and minors. As the new FAST website highlights, family studies might be a great choice for any student who answers “yes” to all or some of these questions:

  • Passionate about families? Children? Teenagers? Older adults?
  • Interested in interpersonal relationships between family members? Between couples or friends?
  • Want to help individuals achieve healthy relationships?
  • Believe it is important to try to prevent family crises before they occur?
  • Curious about how “family” fits in the larger society? Ever wondered about how one’s actions affect the entire family?
  • Interested in how culture affects the way an individual interacts within and among family groups?
  • Do you desire to teach others about healthy development, relationships and family functioning?

According to Bruess, “Studying family from an interdisciplinary perspective enables students to learn about what it means to be human and in relationship to others in a diverse challenging world.” She and the board further believe family studies is an excellent double major, complementing a number of other programs and areas of study, such as COJO, Psychology, Sociology, Social Work, Community Health, Catholic Studies, Theology, Family Business and Elementary Education, among others.

Family Studies Advisory Board:

  • Dr. Timothy Balke, director of practice, Graduate School of Professional Psychology
  • Dr. Tonia Bock, associate professor of psychology
  • Dr. Carol Bruess, director of family studies, professor of communication and journalism
  • Dr. John Buri, professor of psychology
  • Dr. Jolynn Gardner, assistant professor of health and human performance
  • Dr. Allison Jessee, assistant professor of psychology
  • Dr. Meg Wilkes Karraker, professor of sociology and criminal justice
  • Dr. Mary Lemmons, associate professor of philosophy
  • Dr. Paul Niskanen, associate professor of theology
  • Dr. Ritch Sorenson, professor of entrepreneurship
  • Dr. Felicia Sy, assistant professor of social work

To learn more about the new family studies major, visit:

  • FAST website
  • Video featuring the voices and perspectives of three recent Family Studies students

Bruess is on sabbatical during the 2013-14 academic year. For information on pursuing a family studies major email Dr. Tonia Bock. For general questions about Family Studies, email Dr. Jolynn Gardner or one of the other advisory board members.