Unique degree awaits state approval

Bobby Shipman

The Board of Trustees approved a Master of Arts in English (MAE) Nov. 7, which will provide students flexibility instead of demanding a specialization like most graduate programs.

Charles Conaway said the MAE will require two courses, allowing students to choose the rest.

“The key is flexibility,” he said. “We want them to be able to shape the program to their interest.”

The associate professor of English will chair the program, which will be available in Fall 2014 if it’s approved by Indiana’s Commission for Higher Education.

The MAE is unique because it is a terminal degree.

“It is not designed as a graduate program that functions as a stepping stone to a Ph.D.,” Conaway said.

He predicts the majority of enrollment will be area teachers interested in gaining the credentials they need to teach dual-credit courses.

Dual-credit, or CAP courses, are available to high school students and can be applied as college credits.

In order to teach these courses, teachers need a Master’s degree.

“CAP enrollments and dual-credit programs are growing,” Conaway said.  “We expect there is going to be a greater need for teachers to secure these kinds of credentials to teach these courses.”

The graduate program is also designed for professional writers in the community who might enroll to further develop their skills and knowledge.

Conaway said students in other graduate programs might be interested in taking a class or two as well.

Dawn Paris, a USI graduate with a bachelor’s degree in English, looks forward to the MAE program being approved, and hopes it can help her hone her creative writing skills.

Paris, who enrolled in USI’s Master of Arts in Liberal Studies program in Dec. 2012, said she would have preferred the MAE.

“I find myself drawn to English,” she said. “I like learning new things that help me to become a better writer.”

Paris volunteers clerical writing once a week for the Alzheimer’s Association and will start part-time work at Marco’s Pizza this month.

“I am really excited about doing things with my hands and letting my brain run free,” she said. “When I spend all my days writing work-related stuff, sometimes I don’t feel like writing for me.”

She plans to switch to the MAE program if possible, or at least take advantage of the new courses that might be available.

“I find myself more excited when I look at the schedule and I read off the literature classes and the English classes that are coming up and it’s like, ‘Ugh, I can’t take all of those,’” she said.

The MAE could attract more students, leading to higher class attendance and more course offerings.

“Nobody likes to sign up for a class that gets canceled because they are usually the really oddball ones that you’re really excited about,” Paris said. “Then you find out there aren’t enough people that are strange like you.”

She said transferring to the MAE might not be in the cards for her, but she still hopes it gets approved.

“I’m really looking forward to seeing what they have to offer,” she said.

Charles Conaway feels confident the MAE will pass considering the state has been persuading colleges and K-12 schools to develop these types of programs.

“I believe the state’s primary concern is to serve the region in terms of workforce development,” Conaway said. “That is why I am optimistic.”

There are currently 17 graduate faculty members in the department.

This program was a department-wide effort that took two years to develop.

The MAE will require 33 credit hours, which students are expected to complete in about two years.