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New Master’s Programs Carve Their Place in the Market

May 15, 2017


Nomi Eve saw something missing. There was nowhere in Philadelphia for aspiring writers to pursue a “low-residency” creative writing master’s — one that would combine on-campus instructional learning with residencies and distance learning to achieve a program in tune with the rhythm of the writer’s life.

Under Drexel University’s Market-Driven Academic Program Ventures (MPVs), an initiative launched by the Provost’s Office in 2016, Eve, an assistant teaching professor in the College of Arts and Sciences, applied for and received support to design a new master of fine arts in fiction and screenwriting that she said will be the first of its kind in the city.

The MPV initiative gives Drexel faculty who recognize untapped markets in the academic community the opportunity to step into the void and create new master’s programs intended to keep the University at the forefront of changes in higher education. The Provost’s Office and the Graduate College received 25 proposals in the first round of applications last year and accepted five, all of which are on track to open with advertising and recruitment support from the University.

The five new master’s programs — which include global health, peace engineering and urban strategy — are interdisciplinary by design, involving faculty from at least four different Drexel institutions. All told, the applications incorporated input from 159 faculty members from 14 schools, colleges and academic units.

To paraphrase the wise words of our founder, Anthony J. Drexel, 125 years ago, the University must change as the world evolves,” said Graduate College Dean James Herbert, PhD. “We see the MPV program as supporting his vision of anticipating changes in the world and adapting our academic offerings accordingly.”

Eve’s program, a joint effort with the Westphal College of Media Arts & Design, is on track to begin accepting students next year. Along with Matthew Kaufhold, an assistant teaching professor and interim director of Westphal’s screenwriting and playwriting program, Eve is drawing up developmental goals for the degree. She ultimately envisions a program with 40-plus students, one that takes advantage of the University’s assets to create something “different, exciting and timely.” A summer creative writing program for high school students could ultimately be associated with the MFA.

Eve and Kaufhold had already conducted market research and related investigative work in preparation to present a white paper to their deans proposing the low-residency master’s. The evidence that there was an open corner of the market made the program an ideal fit for the MPV initiative. The institutional support it’s provided has been “a shot in the arm,” she said.

Shannon Marquez, PhD, associate vice provost for Global Health in the Office of International Programs, used the same phrase to describe the support she has received after being awarded assistance to develop a master of science in global health. As globalization has increased, the field of public health has looked closer at solutions that transcend geographic boundaries, and the added attention encouraged the expansion of the University’s academic offerings.

The master’s program, for which Marquez is eyeing a fall launch, will expanood an existing online certificate program that Drexel has offered for five years. The MPV program presented a creative litmus test for academic planning, she said.

“When you have to reach across schools and colleges and collaborate in an interdisciplinary context, that’s where the innovation comes from. The fact that this program fosters that is exciting,” said Marquez.

James Tangorra, PhD, an associate professor in the College of Engineering, took advantage of the interdisciplinary focus by wrangling six colleges together to create a master’s in peace engineering that is targeting a launch this fall. As diplomacy and peace building have begun to adopt a more technical approach over the past decade, the fields have increasingly sought individuals with science and technology backgrounds, he said. Given Drexel’s presence in Washington, DC, and its home in Philadelphia, as well as its long history of peaceful diplomacy, he expects the program to give the University a unique presence.

“There’s no one really doing peace, conflict and technology the way we are,” Tangorra said.

Another beneficiary of the MPVs’ assistance, the master’s in urban strategy, will address challenges inherent to the new realities of the 21st century. Harris M. Steinberg, a distinguished teaching professor in Westphal and director of the Lindy Institute for Urban Innovation, said solving complex urban problems going forward will require input from fields as disparate as public health, criminology and engineering. The new program, set to launch this fall, is expected to be the first in the country to offer that type of interdisciplinary education.

“We’ve had lots of potential students or colleagues come out of the woodwork and say, ‘That’s a degree program I wish I’d had,’” said Steinberg.

The University is also set to roll out a master’s degree program in transdisciplinary science, computing, engineering and design, referred to as TranSCEND. The program, led by Youngmoo Kim, PhD, director of the ExCITe Center, is a research-intensive degree that combines technical knowledge with the creative aspects of design.

As its acronym suggests, the TranSCEND program truly is a cutting-edge program in every sense. Like the four other master’s degrees boosted by the MPV initiative, it fills an opening. Now, for prospective students and faculty alike, the programs needed in an evolving academic landscape are no longer missing.

This article originally appeared in the spring issue of Drexel Quarterly.