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Students to have more flexibility to customize degrees

By Danielle Gamble
On June 18, 2012

Administrators, deans and faculty are developing a new program structure to help students reach across colleges to personalize their degrees.
These structures, called “schools,” ask colleges to collaborate and build programs that will “create new degrees to solve new problems,” according to Ben Pryor, vice provost of academic program development.

Pryor said the best example of this structure is the School of Green Chemistry and Engineering, a program that formed last summer.

“Green chemistry combines classes from engineering and chemistry mixed with tools from the College of Business [and Innovation.] It teaches students how to work with cheaper materials and how to create less wasteful ways of production. If we can cut the waste of companies, we can help the environment.”
Pryor said the SGCE is the most developed of all current schools and should be fully functional with catalogue offerings by fall of 2013.

“Older degree programs don’t respond to some of the newer, more relevant issues we face now,” Pryor said. “New problems require new approaches to curriculum.”
In relation to the current administrative layout, Pryor describes the idea of schools as “orthogonal.”
“In relation to colleges and departments, schools leap off the page, almost perpendicular to the system structure,” Pryor said. “Schools foster relationships between colleges, departments, and other schools.”
Pryor said current plans predict the creation of 5 to 10 schools, but that amount is only limited by the creativity of students.
“We want to let administrative structure support faculty and student collaboration rather than the other way around. Our goal is to respond in a sensible way with relevance to new problems — we need to see what the world needs.”
While cross-college deans and faculty will be the driving force behind school creations, Pryor said he will collaborate with the Office of the President to oversee the development of these projects.

Other institutions like Arizona State University and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University have similar programs in place, and Pryor said UT hopes to raise the bar of this new form of cooperation.
“Schools are really a way of raising visibility of projects on an international scale.”
Pryor said every school must have a business plan that will keep the program sustainable, including ideas for grants or state contracts.

While the university may give schools “start-up money,” or hire faculty for the school, Pryor said it is important that each school be able to support itself.

Pryor said other ideas include a School of New Media Studies, School of Information Technology and even a School of Humanities.

“Schools are bringing us together to do new things,” Pryor said. “People may think we’re replacing colleges or departments, but we’re really building on something. We’re leveraging our strengths.”

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