April/May 2016 Issue
Several of Arkansas’ public, four-year
universities are strengthening their degree options
to provide better opportunities for students.
Four state universities in Arkansas have innovative new majors drawing students and preparing them the way college educations do — for a future we may not yet envision, but which graduates must know how to navigate when the time comes.
1. Game & Interactive Media Design
Arkansas Tech University’s new game and interactive media design major officially launches in fall 2016, but faculty have been working on the new degree since the university’s current president came in 2014 and encouraged them to investigate this area of study.
“It’s an interdisciplinary degree, a bachelor of arts, with a solid base in computer science and graphic design,” said Jeff Woods, dean of the College of Arts and Humanities at ATU, which houses the new degree in its art department.
Dawn Ward, chair of the art department, said the Russellville university is hiring another faculty member for the major, which includes a large component of computer science.
Woods said the university has already done a lot with 3-D animation and design, as it is a good fit for Tech students. “I supported this from the beginning because I’m really interested in helping traditional liberal arts students gain some extra skills in newer technology, and this has hard-core skills in new disciplines.”
He said majors may be those who want “straight game design,” but others will go into medical education and other fields where such interactive design is key, for projects like constructing 3-D anatomy models.
“Tech has a graduate who went to work for Wal-Mart with 3-D applications for game design, and she designs stores,” Woods said. He also mentioned advertising and marketing applications for these specialties.
“We’ve already gotten a lot of calls from students and parents interested in this major,” said Woods. “Students will be drawn to the game part, but they’ll get jobs in interactive industries.”
Ward said the major is particularly good for professional training because it gives students a lot of team experience.
“They work in teams the last two years of their coursework,” she said. “It’s a good simulation of the real-world [work] environment.”
“Any time we get an idea [for a new major], we think, ‘Do we need this? Are there jobs out there?’” said Woods. “There isn’t a game-design industry in Arkansas, and we’d love to help draw one, but all the national data suggests that computer program development and website design jobs are increasing nationwide. We know that it isn’t just hope for some kind of game industry here; we knew there were industries and jobs out there for these professionals — and that we can help create new jobs.”
2. Innovative Media
David Stoddard, who teaches in the art department at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, already teaches interactive design, and university professors and administrators could see the direction students were heading with their studies and their future professions.
“It seemed like design students were doing more and more media production already,” he recalled. “Do they need journalists anymore?
Of course they do, but designers are also needed,” he said, for presenting information online.
“Ideally we were looking for something where journalism students could learn more about the discipline and skills of interactive media students and those students could learn more about journalism,” Stoddard said. “But beyond that, we were looking at the next great thing as far as media, and that’s going to involve computer science, marketing and studies from education.”
The innovative media major, which launched in fall 2015, also involves formal teamwork, said Stoddard. Students will be in dedicated cohorts to work on projects together in classroom settings. He said there are also students from other areas of the university minoring in innovative media and bringing focus and knowledge from their own fields.
“The projects students work on will depend on the skill sets of the students specifically,” he said. “It’s a new way of thinking, very project-focused.”
One class the majors and minors will take is called innovative media practicum, in which students have a client for whom they are developing a product. For example, students now are developing a scheduling app for HSU’s School of Business.
“In the future, what we’re hoping is that the products the students create will profit practicum classes, and eventually, we’ll have clients coming to us to develop media projects for them,” Stoddard said.
The major was conceived as a way to more formally present these interdisciplinary skills that had already been happening as mass media looked to design and interaction, and design students worked on such projects themselves. The new area of study has about eight majors, even though the university hasn’t yet begun to advertise it or market it to recruits.
“Everyone says, ‘Oh! I wish I could do that!’” said Stoddard, who expects the degree to be popular. “We just struck the right chord.”
He predicts graduates will work in marketing, media and design, and with the practicum courses and their team focus, students will learn a lot about working with others to complete extended, complicated projects.
Students will take digital art and design, including interactive design, which can be done by students without a lot of drawing course prerequisites. They’ll also have a newspaper practicum and hybrid courses in mass media and digital art and design.
3. Social Media Management
Arkansas State University in Jonesboro is expanding its bachelor of science in strategic communication with an emphasis in social media management. Media and communication professor Holly Kathleen Hall helped design this added option.
“This is a huge job-growth area,” she said. ASU professors asked themselves what curriculum would meet the needs of what theindustry was telling the school it was lacking.
“When I started at A-State eight years ago, my former dean encouraged me to develop a class in social media, which rolled out about four or five years ago,” she said. “We started to get a lot of calls from local businesses saying they needed help in this area. We listened.”
While she doesn’t yet have official numbers for the brand new program, Hall said she has a “handful” of students she advises who are enrolled in it. Many students in strategic communication choose more than one area of emphasis, and may also be enrolled in public relations and advertising courses.
“We’ve been getting requests from ad and PR agencies, nonprofits, retail outlets, you name it,” she said of the major and its students. “One of the great things about this is that they can major in this and then they can find an industry they’d really like to promote” via social media.
The focal class is social media in strategic communication, which teaches the strategic planning process, how to design platforms and how to write for social media specifically. They plan a social media campaign for a real client. Students must also earn Hootsuite certification so that when they graduate they are credentialed in this application. In fall 2016, ASU will offer interactive advertising, as well. They will also learn how to measure and monitor social media.
“The handful of students I’m advising really like it,” Hall said. But, she said she doesn’t worry that they will produce more students than there are jobs in this specialty. “I get at least one email or phone call a week from a local organization saying, ‘We need help!’ We don’t have enough students to meet the need.”
Yet. “We’ll be promoting the major over the next year so students can understand what kind of jobs they can have,” she said. “The demand is out there.”
4. Innovation & Entrepreneurship
When it comes to the market, supply and demand, the University of Central Arkansas in Conway has a new major in its College of Business: innovation and entrepreneurship. Michael Hargis is the dean who has been involved in its launch.
“With any degree program, you don’t want to just create it because you’re interested in the topic,” said Hargis. He said that facts dictated their course: small businesses and startups play a significant role in economic growth, and innovation and creativity are important abilities in the business world given its pace of change and expansion of business models.
This is UCA’s fourth year with its innovation and entrepreneurship program and it has more than 60 majors.
“We are preparing students for two different paths,” said Hargis. “One is to walk out the door and start their own business — whether a retail store or coffee shop — but the reality is that many college students don’t have access to capital, networks or infrastructure, so the other path is placing students in small and large businesses that realize the benefit of a creative, smart workforce.”
He said UCA has entrepreneurship graduates in different job titles and business focuses, including what he referred to as “intrapreneurship,” which means to apply entrepreneurial values internally to grow and advance businesses, or business units within organizations.
“Our degree program tries to create pipelines and platforms to succeed. In fact, our students are frequently in business-plan competitions across the state,” he said.
UCA’s new major is like an incubator program, as students are very focused on business creativity and innovation. “They learn to recognize the difference between an idea and business demands, they identify problems and solutions, and they develop new products.”
In fact, it’s possible that throughout their coursework, they’re working toward a single, entrepreneurial end.
“This major gives students early exposure to the need-based business. They use the subsequent classes in the major to build out their business plans, and they build a portfolio as they work their way through the program with plans and prototypes,” said Hargis. “The capstone class is a business-plan class to integrate everything from the idea to finance, teamwork and management.”
“There is an art to creativity and innovation,” Hargis said. “You can get better at it.”