Letter to the Editor: Does our society still need home economics?

By Susan Witt and David Witt

With the start of the 2013-14 academic year, the School of Family and Consumer Sciences begins its centennial year at the University of Akron — 100 years since the founding of the Curtis School of Home Economics at what was then the Municipal University of Akron. The Curtis School was the first “named” school or college after the Buchtel College of Arts and Sciences, and offered a four-year course leading to a Bachelor of Science in Home Economics.  The Curtis School was the logical extension of land-grant philosophy underlying the construction of the nation’s state university system to ensure a knowledge base in agriculture and mechanical sciences for young men, and domestic sciences for young women.

In the Curtis School, students were exposed to forward thinking on broad topics such as foods, dress, child hygiene and home nursing — all designed to “obtain a better, more intelligent motherhood,” and edify students in the physical, moral and mental development of children and family life. The idea was then, and is now, to assist young persons in charting their life course so they would be better prepared to meet the challenges that would come their way.  Surely things have changed dramatically in those 100 years. How could home ec. still be relevant after all these years?

It is true that students still find instruction in planning of family meals, they still learn about clothing construction, and they are encouraged to think about their own futures as parents and spouses as they move through the course of their lives. We still believe that our purpose is to “obtain a better, more intelligent” parenthood because we know the family to be the first line of defense against social decay.  Judging from the students in our classes today, there is a hunger for real, practical knowledge about the physical, moral and mental development of our community’s families.  Looking to recent headlines, we see that strong families and smart, nurturing parents are still important to our survival as a society.

We are now known as Family and Consumer Sciences (or FCS for short). As the profession has evolved, so have our course offerings, with FCS students taking courses in child development, parent-child relationships, families living in poverty, diversity in society, family housing, consumer issues, financial management and more.  Our school was the second in the nation to offer a course focused on fatherhood as a vital parental role.  Today the extremely popular fatherhood course attracts not just our majors, but students in dozens of majors on campus.

In recognition of the needs of today’s students, FCS has been in the forefront at the university in offering online courses.  These online offerings give our students much more flexibility in completing their degrees in a timely

In accordance with the university’s goal of encouraging students to be engaged in their communities, FCS has had a long-standing internship requirement for all students.  For more than 70 years, our family and child development students have been required to complete a community internship which serves as practical on-the-job training, and provides students with professionals in the community who can speak to their work habits.  Over these 70+ years, students have contributed well over half a million hours of service to agencies and social programs in our area.  Recent student internships have included helping to build an orphanage in Hungary, working with child refugees in Cambodia, teaching parenting classes in our community, educating the public about consumer issues, and developing children’s programming for museums, public television stations and preschools.

Our school has evolved over the years to its current configuration, which includes degrees in child development, family development, interior design, fashion merchandising and FCS teacher education.  Our graduates take jobs in many arenas — business, education, social service, advocacy, crisis prevention and intervention.  Employers in our area and beyond frequently tell us how well prepared and professional our students are when they come into the workplace.  While evolving with the times, Family and Consumer Sciences continues its mission of preparing students to work for the optimal development of individuals and families in a wide variety of settings and to contribute to the overall well being of

So, is “home ec.” still relevant? We believe it is, and, as our school prepares to celebrate 100 years at The University of Akron, we hope you’ll take a moment to congratulate any home economists you know.  Chances are one of them has helped make your community a better place
to live.

Susan Witt, Ph.D.
David Witt, Ph.D.
School of Family and Consumer Sciences
University of Akron