In Step with the Times
By Mary Lynn Lyke
NEW UW Bothell DEGREE PROGRAMS REFLECT A CHANGING WORLD
Our world is in flux. Every day, technology turns over, language morphs, culture shifts. How do universities embrace this transformation? “This is no time for hunkering down with the familiar and the comfortable,” says UW Bothell professor Jeanne Heuving. “We are going through a tremendous revolution in society, and we have to bring the implications of that revolution into the classroom.”
Heuving oversees one of two new degree programs at the University of Washington Bothell that are taking on that challenge, reexamining what happens inside and outside of classroom walls in a rapidly changing society.
Heuving, professor interdisciplinary arts and sciences, is an architect of the new Master of Fine Arts and Poetics Program, debuting in Winter 2012. The MFA combines an innovative residency and nonresidency structure that provides an option for second-year students to finish up their graduate degrees off-campus. This structure allows students to pursue individualized courses of study in multiple venues. If they want to become environmental writers, they can take ecology seminars. If they want to be technical writers, they can delve into computer studies.
The university’s new Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering (BSEE) Program is also a hybrid. It is one of the first at UW Bothell to combine on-site and remote-learning classes into a blend of “what can best be delivered online with what is best delivered face-to-face,” says Arnold Berger, associate professor of science and technology and degree coordinator for the new program.
The BSEE is one of the first in the nation to attempt this blend. Only two other electrical engineering programs in the country combine remote and onsite
learning, despite widespread student interest in online options.
The hybrid provides another promising new model for delivering education on a campus that reaches out to non-traditional students who may be juggling classes with work schedules, child care and rush-hour commutes to after-hours classes. “We view ourselves as a pilot project for the UW Bothell as a whole,” says Berger, who helped launch the engineering major in 2010 as the first degree offering in the university’s new Science and Technology Program.
The new hybrid degree programs are breaking academic, as well as structural, ground.
The MFA, with an initial class of 18 graduate students, will be the first in the state to combine writing and poetics a discipline that, in Heuving’s words, examines “why we write how we write.”
“Good writers are always intuitive, working out of the gut, the back of the mind, the dream-that’s extremely important,” she says. “But having the knowledge of what you’ve written, why you’ve written it, how you might change it and what directions it might take poetics helps with all those things. It furthers the knowledge of the writing and the capacity of the writer.”
The new MFA is also one of the few in the country to move beyond traditional single-genre course structures (typically fiction or poetry) to a fluid cross-genre, cross-discipline inquiry model that encourages experimentation and exploration of new ideas, new media, new forms of expression, and new big-picture contexts for writing. How does writing relate to global politics? To changing gender and race relations? To transforming media? To technology?
“It’s important for students to be open, listening, asking questions, attending to society in a thoughtful, experimental, nonjudgmental way,” says Heuving.
Heuving and Berger are clearly in synch with transforming times.
Physicist Berger holds a Ph.D. in materials science from Cornell University and has worked more than 20 years in the high-tech industry. He cites flexibility
as core to modern engineering. “In the integrated circuit industry that I come from, a generation of microprocessors turns over every 18 months. Engineers
today take that change in stride and embrace it.”
Berger is also a dedicated bicyclist, commuting daily from his home on the Sammamish Plateau to the Bothell campus. Over four decades of two-wheel
commuting, the physicist calculates that he has pedaled approximately 80,000 miles.
Heuving, who received her master’s in Creative Writing and her Ph.D. in English from the University of Washington Seattle, is a dedicated scholar and teacher whose goal is to help students participate “in the very makeup of their lives.” One of five founding faculty members still at UW Bothell, she teaches creative writing, literary history, cultural studies, critical theory, and gender and sexuality.
She is also a committed experimental writer and for years was part of the SubText experimental collective that brought new voices and ideas to the Seattle literary scene. Hueving’s award-winning 2004 book Incapacity combines autobiography, biography, fiction and poetry. Her 2008 book of experimental poetry, Transducer, was described by poet Andrew Joron as a “trance inducer.” In it, she writes:
Folding into ewes, eyes
Sheer joy falling, this tuck
In myself, into the hourglass
Over the world.
Heuving and Berger both bring practical real-world questions to their respective programs. Who will the new writers be? The new engineers? And how do programs link academics with the new roles of working professionals?
For MFA students, that link will mean an academic focus away from what Heuving calls the “star system,” the idea that graduates must hit the bestseller lists to be a success. “If you assume that to be a success in an MFA program means coming out and writing the great American novel, it will be a failure system for so many,” says Heuving. “That star system is a very limited way of being a writer in society.”
Follow-up surveys with MFA Creative Writing alumni on the UW Seattle campus show that almost 90 percent work as teachers or in corporations, NGOs and non-profits. The new UW Bothell program supports that career diversity by promoting critical writing and thinking skills necessary for teaching, communications, journalism, technical writing and other fields. “Most writers make their living in diverse areas of the economy,” says Heuving. “We’re making those real-life conditions part of the program itself.”
The engineering program, built upon a faculty study of regional industry needs, also has a keen focus on workplace realities. “We offer courses that are
relevant to where our students need to be in order to be employable and contributors to the workforce in the Puget Sound area,” says Berger.
In line with a call from the National Academy of Engineers for new conversations on “‘who engineers are and what they do,” the program offers an interdisciplinary approach to engineering training. Students not only study core electricity, electronics and electromagnetism disciplines, they learn ethics, entrepreneurship, design, management and the dynamics of teamwork.
A required “Business of Technology” course is modeled after the process companies typically follow in researching a new product idea. “Most engineers will work in a business environment where they will be part of teams developing products that need to be successful in the market,” says Berger. “An understanding of what makes for successful and unsuccessful products is critical for students’ careers and for their own self-preservation.”
The online component of the new engineering program mirrors how engineering functions today and how it will look in the future, when teams of engineers from around the world will meet with ease in virtual conference rooms to problem-solve together, says Berger. But the current classroom technology has its challenges.
Classes are delivered with mediarich software that facilitates online conferencing, similar to the way webinars are held. Professors talk live over PowerPoint presentations, and students can “raise their hands” and ask questions. But that software is constantly in flux, and it takes considerable effort for faculty to become comfortable with the fastevolving systems. The program has had to suspend online delivery of courses for a quarter to enable IT infrastructure to catch up and meet program needs going forward.
Meanwhile, thanks to a donation from Tektronix, engineering students have a new student laboratory on campus with instruments that can be remotely controlled over the Internet. “Students will be able to log in and work on their experiments from home once we get the software installed and running,” reports Berger.
Both engineering programs and MFA programs are in great demand at universities, which every year turn away scores of qualified applicants in these fields. Adding more such highdemand programs and increasing student enrollment is one of the key strategic missions at UW Bothell over the next
decade. But that presents a problem on a campus already bursting at the seams: How do you grow a student body without expanding a campus?
The two new degree programs may point the way forward, offering progressive, pragmatic hybrid programs that provide more students with more content without the need for more brickand-mortar classrooms.
Says Berger: “Rather than saying, ‘We have fixed resources, we’ll just become more selective,’ we are saying, ‘We’ll use technology to manage the resources that we do have so we can offer the highest quality education to a broad spectrum of students who might not otherwise be able to attend UW Bothell.”