|FEATURES Fall 2000|
When adults become students in the part-time evening graduate programs offered by University College, they enroll in courses that can sharpen their job skills, further their careers, or allow them to learn, just for learning's sake.
When Donna Becherer, DNA section supervisor for the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, decided to pursue a graduate degree in biology, she enrolled in an Internet class, planning to pursue the degree online. While the convenience of computer courses seemed attractive at first, the attraction quickly wore off. Communicating with the instructor was difficult. She would send an e-mail message and wait days for a responseonly to find that the instructor had misunderstood her question. She would then send another message, trying to explain further, only to wait again for a response.
"It was just not working," says Becherer. "I got through one class, but I decided I didn't want to go through the whole program that way."
Then she discovered University College, the University's evening division in Arts & Sciences, which offered her a chance to pursue a graduate degree after work, at her own pace. In May 2000, she graduated with a Master of Arts degree in biologya degree that will allow her to stay abreast of national standards in forensics.
Options! And More Options!
Becherer was one of the 800-900 adult students who are taking University College courses at any given moment. Half are enrolled in a degree-granting program, working toward a bachelor's or master's degree; the other half are taking occasional courses for personal or professional enrichment. Altogether, some 600 courses are offered year-round, in a wide range of disciplines.
"Our curriculum is continually evolving. We're always looking for new ways to bring together student needs and the resources of the University," says Robert Wiltenburg, dean of University College.
Master's degree students have the choice of seven degree programs: American culture studies, biology, education, human resources management, international affairs, liberal arts, and health-care services, offered in conjunction with the School of Medicine. Graduate certificates are offered in education, international affairs, mathematics, and nonprofit management.
Though diverse, University College's graduate programs share one attribute: flexibility. They accommodate adult graduate students by making allowances for day jobs and family obligations. If students must take business trips during the semester, instructors often allow them to make up the work. And students do not have to enroll every semester.
Expert Business Advice
Carol Walsh, a graduate student in human resources management, appreciates this student-centered approach. Before enrolling in University College, she had known it would be difficult to balance the needs of her family and consulting business with the demands of graduate school. But she also knew that a degree would enhance her image with existing clients and attract new business.
"I looked into a variety of programs in the St. Louis area and felt the caliber of the Washington University program was the best," she says. "I wanted an opportunity to focus on organizational behaviorplus this program has a tremendous amount of flexibility."
Owners of small businesses, she notes, can feel isolated from their peers, and they are often too busy to keep up with the latest developments in their field. At University College, she received help in those areasand what she learned in the classroom has already boosted her business.
"Connecting to an institution like Washington University, where people are assimilating and consolidating the best practices on your behalf, saves time and energy," says Walsh.
Theory and Practice
Many students appreciate the practical applications of their courses to their daytime jobs. In the Master of Arts in Education Program, for example, teachers have a chance to enhance their teaching skills.
"We draw teachers who are very thoughtful about what they do and who want to think about the ramifications of teachers and explore new ways to help their students learn," says Donna Gardner, University College education coordinator.
Jane Smith, former associate dean of University College, oversees programs in biology, human resources management, and nonprofit managementall of which, she says, are great places for students to learn the theoretical as well as the practical side of their fields. In biology, for example, world-class researchers teach students, who have access to state-of-the-art laboratory facilities at the University and Monsanto Corporation. And in human resources management, students discuss the changing role of human resources with experienced professionals from the community.
Enhancing Their Lives
Some University College programs do not focus specifically on teaching job skills, but on enriching students' lives. One of these is the popular Master of Liberal Arts (MLA) Program, which celebrated its 20th anniversary in 1999-2000. When this program began, it was a revolutionary concept: Typically, graduate course work prepared students to become scholars. But Washington University designed the MLA for students who wanted a structured, part-time graduate program in the liberal arts, even if they were pursuing another kind of career.
"This concept appealed to adult learners in our community, particularly those working in business, public relations, and education," says Anne Hetlage, former associate dean of University College. "For 20 years, the MLA Program has brought together exceptional faculty and students to investigate our society's deepest issues in the humanities, social sciences, and sciences."
For teacher Rita Kelly, the MLA Program rekindled her passion for the beauty of language and reaffirmed her commitment to teaching literature. Although Kelly's studentsat an alternative school for unwed pregnant teenagersare on different levels of literacy, most benefit from her enthusiasm and love of literature. She stages an annual Shakespeare competition in which her students memorize 20 lines from a soliloquy, then recite them. One student chose a scene from Romeo and Juliet, and Kelly, M.L.A. '99, remembers the pride they both felt when the student fully understood the passage.
"When I showed that I loved it, they started loving it. I realized they were capable of loving the beauty of words and the power of languageand it became this snowball effect where I was feeding it to them, and they were feeding it back to me," she says. "What we studied in the MLA Program doesn't help people make a living, but it makes life worth living."
A Lifetime of Learning
Some students have so much fun learning that they decide to keep going. During the summer of 1995, Nicholas Penniman IV traveled to Mexico as part of a course offered through the University of New Mexico that immersed him in the prehistoric and historic American Southwest. Penniman, who already had a full schedule as publisher of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, went on to enroll the following fall in a University College course on prehistoric North American cultures with David Browman. That course would rekindle his love for learning and propel him in a new direction.
"It was just so much fun, I couldn't stop," says Penniman. "The offerings were interesting and extremely varied. The professors were superb. I could not give you any better reason than to learn from erudite and educated people and plow ahead."
Penniman received an M.A. in American culture studies in 1999, and he isn't stopping there. He has been accepted and is enrolled for the fall as a doctoral candidate in anthropology; Professor Browman will be his adviser.
This love of learning for learning's sake is inspirational to professors as well, who regard adults as soul mates when it comes to discussing great ideas. Garland Allen, professor of biology and departmental coordinator for the Master of Arts in Biology Program, says adults bring maturity and life experience to classroom discussions.
"They are old enough not to be held back by false modesty, inhibition, or fear that they won't sound good," he says. "And as a rule, they are so enthusiastic. While some undergraduates ask: 'Do I have to read all of this?', students in the graduate program ask: 'Do you have any other references?'"
Classics Professor George Pepe, who also is director of the MLA Program, concurs. One of his classes, for example, is reading the Agamemnon/Oresteia trilogy of Aeschylus. At the heart of the first play is a wife who turns to adultery and finally murders her husband, because he had sacrificed their daughter so that Greek ships could sail to Troy.
"Even when you read this at age 18, its power comes across. But as you change over time and perhaps marry, perhaps divorce, the play will affect you differently. You may be less sure of the right and wrong involved," says Pepe. "Adult students understand that life puts before you hard choices; therefore, they may be less quick to judge."
Whatever the student's goal, University College offers a strong academic environment. And that environment is not only a tribute to the faculty, but it is a tribute to the students themselves, who bring a wealth of experience to the classroom.
"I am always amazed by the talent of our students, as well as their passion for learning," says Dean Wiltenburg. "Their commitment to education, combined with the quality of our classes, makes University College an extraordinary place. In many ways, it's the richest teaching experience available on campus, both for the students and for faculty members."
Part-time Graduate Evening and Special Offerings
University College is but one of the places for continuing education at Washington University . . .
University College in Arts & Sciences
John M. Olin School of Business Part-time MBA
School of Engineering and Applied Science Continuing
School of Medicine Continuing Medical Education
George Warren Brown School of Social Work Continuing
"What we studied in the MLA [Master of Liberal
Arts] Program doesn't help people make a living, but it makes life worth
"The offerings were interesting and extremely
varied. The professors were superb. I could not give you any better reason
than to learn from erudite and educated people and plow ahead."