The traditional written MA exam has now been replaced with a portfolio, which consists of the parts listed below. The portfolio is read by a committee of three graduate faculty (from the student's three main areas of expertise) and tested through a 90-minute oral examination at the end of the student's final semester. Upon completion of their REES MA degree program, students are expected to:

  • demonstrate broad knowledge of the history, cultures, societies, and politics of the region;
  • acquire language proficiency at the appropriate level of professional competence and use it in research activities;
  • apply the variety of disciplinary and interdisciplinary approaches to the study of the region;
  • attain an on-site experience and analytical skill appropriate for an area expert

MA Committee 

The student invites 3 members of the faculty to participate in their MA committee no later than the 7th week of the penultimate semester of study.

MA Reading List

Once the committee is formed, the student together with the committee creates an MA reading list of no less than 15-20 readings that are crucial to understanding contemporary area studies, the student's three main disciplines, and the student's main region of focus.

MA Portfolio

The MA Portfolio includes 6 items written by the student during the course of their graduate program: three (3) samples of major scholarly writing; (4) Synthetic Essay; (5) Professional Essay; and (6) MA Capstone Paper. The portfolio may be in hard-copy or in digital format (for example, on Blackboard) and must be accessible to the student, the student's MA committee, and the CREES Director. The student puts into the portfolio evidence, as indicated in their scholarly work, that represents the following:  

  • Proficiency in the student’s chosen foreign language (FL) with the result of an oral exam, signed by the student’s 3rd-4th year FL instructor showing at least intermediate in oral proficiency, and a research-level proficiency in reading comprehension as demonstrated in a Reading Journal
  • Ability to read, understand, and synthesize in written scholarly work a substantial number of sources in a target foreign language
  • Knowledge of the student's special region from at least three disciplinary perspectives
  • Use of a variety of methodologies
  • Ability to synthesize theoretical and practical knowledge of regional affairs
  • Cultural knowledge and awareness of the operation of diverse cultural patterns
  • Effective oral presentation of scholarly findings
  • Effective critical writing skills

Three (3) samples of major scholarly writing (each at least 3000 words plus bibliography with both English and target language sources, 10-12 pp.). These samples must include at least one original research paper and may include two of the following: a series of 3 policy briefs; a historiography paper or other synthetic essay with a critical literature review; an annotated literary translation; a lengthy essay exam; or other lengthy, critical work approved by the student's committee. All must have been completed in courses taken in 3 of the 5 required REES disciplines. Each piece of work should demonstrate appropriate knowledge of the given discipline and the ability to understand and use its methodologies and current research areas. At least one of these writing samples must include at least 25% target language sources. The 3 papers/projects are due in the portfolio by the end of the 8th week of the student's final semester (.

Synthetic Essay (approximately 3500-word text plus bibliography, 13-15 pp.): the synthetic essay should be an intellectual response to the student's work through the penultimate semester of area studies coursework, as well incorporating outside reading from the MA Reading List in the chosen region of specialization. It is the student's opportunity to reflect upon what he or she has learned, while drawing conclusions about the ways that various disciplinary ways of thinking intersect and inform each other. The synthetic essay addresses the following themes or questions:

  • Based on coursework at KU (including language courses) and the MA reading list for the student's chosen region of specialization, what are the major regional themes or problems?An answer to this question need not give equal emphasis to each of the five  major disciplinary perspectives, but it should not be limited to, say, the student's major subject discipline. The student seeks to define topics common to several disciplinary approaches or overlapping themes. To illustrate major points, the student uses specific examples from primary sources, whether from coursework or the MA reading list. 
  • How has the study of various disciplinary approaches affected the way the student views this special area? How, for example, does normative or statistical analysis inform humanistic study, and vice versa? The student uses specific examples, both from coursework and the MA reading list.
  • Finally, what are the student's conclusions concerning the area studies degree? What are the two or three main concepts or ways of thinking that the student has absorbed? How does the student make sense of the REES interdisciplinary experience?

Professional Essay (approximately 750-word text, about 3 pp.): this essay should be viewed as an extended first draft of a future job application letter in the student's field. If the synthetic essay looks back, the professional essay should look forward, picking up where the synthetic essay left off and should address the following questions:

  • What is the student's career objective?
  • How has the KU REES MA prepared the student to move into a related career (please address, among other things, the REES curriculum, faculty, programming, resources)? If the plans include continuation of graduate study, the student will want to discuss how the area studies degree has offered good preparation and helped to shape the student's interests for further study at the PhD level.
  • How will the area studies approach impact the student's future life and work?

MA Capstone Paper (approximately 7500-word text plus bibliography, at least 25% works in the student's target language). The student deposits a full (if still rough) draft of the MA capstone seminar paper by the end of the 8th week of the student's final semester. One week before the oral examination (or by the end of the 12th week of the semester) the student provides the MA committee with a more finished draft of the capstone paper. 


At the end of their graduate program, students will conduct a 90-minute presentation of the portfolio to their MA Committee who will examine each element and ask questions relevant to evidence of the student's expertise, as indicated above. Approximately 30% of questions will address the 3 samples of major scholarly writing; 40% will deal with the MA capstone paper; and 30% will engage with the student's synthetic and professional essays. Following an unsuccessful performance, the student may retake the oral examination once. Assessment in research skills, responsible scholarship, and cultural competency is conducted in the first semester and final semester of the student's MA career. In the first semester the instructor of REES 898 completes the initial assessment. Using the same rubric, the student's committee chair fills out the final assessment following the oral presentation and discussion of the student's portfolio. Both results are placed in the student's permanent file.

Timeline of Deadlines for the MA Portfolio

Penultimate Semester:

  • 7th week: student forms committee and secures the committee chair (Week of February 26)
  • 12th week: student and committee file the student's 20-item reading list with the CREES Associate Director

Final Semester:

  • 1st week: CREES Associate Director reserves 318 Bailey for 90-minute oral portfolio presentations (Week of January 15)
  • 2nd week: CREES Associate Director establishes a Blackboard site for each examinee; adds the student, the MA committee members, and the CREES Director, as users (Week of January 22)
  • 7th week: The student deposits all 3 seminar papers/projects (Week of February 26)
  • 8th week: The student deposits a rough draft of the MA Capstone paper (Week of March 5) 
  • 11th week: The student deposits the synthetic essay and the professional essay (Week of March 26)
  • 12th week: The student deposits a near-final draft of the MA Capstone paper (Week of April 2) 
  • 13th-15th week: 90-minute oral portfolio presentations (April 9-27)

MA Portfolio vs. Traditional Exam

The efficacy of the REES MA Portfolio as compared to the traditional exam method was assessed in a Center for Teaching Excellence report by Professor Mariya Omelicheva (CREES Director, 2012-2015). Read the report:

Portfolio Assessment: An Alternative to Traditional Performance Evaluation Methods in the Area Studies Programs

Upcoming Events
REES Course List

Featured Course -

View Spring 2021 Courses

Follow Us
Follow Center for Latin American & Caribbean Studies on Facebook Follow CREES on TwitterFollow CREES on Instagram Follow CREES on Youtube Follow CREES on LinkedIn