If you completed your bachelor’s degree recently or in years past and headed out into the workforce, determining whether or not to return to school can be a challenging, intimidating choice. There are compelling reasons to consider: A doctorate or graduate degree is often a professional leg up depending on your chosen field, and many of today’s higher education programs are built around the schedules of working adults.
Stephanie Kirk, PhD and humanities professor at Washington University in St. Louis, speaks to the many benefits of two such programs offered through WashU’s University College. The Master of Liberal Arts (MLA) and Doctor of Liberal Arts (DLA) programs both draw in students with the unique opportunity they offer to study the humanities in depth. Another strong point of appeal is that students become exposed to the university’s vast network of scholars, who are working on some of the most cutting-edge research in the world.
The MLA program challenges students with questions of local and global culture through an academic lens, with the option to choose from four different concentrations: Literary and Historical Studies; Philosophy, Religion, and Ethical Studies; Visual Culture, Arts and Media Studies; and Science, Technology and Culture. These concentrations can be drilled down even further in specificity, depending on a student’s interests, to include explorations of art, art history, literature, religion, music, politics and more.
The DLA program pushes even further. It is crafted specifically for students who have completed both their undergraduate and graduate degrees but wish to delve deeper into humanities-related exploration. Part-time students often complete the primary program within four to five years, which leads to the latter portion including in-depth exams and a two-year thesis project. “If you’re someone who has spent years honing and developing the kind of critical-thinking skills you’ll learn in these programs, the sky’s the limit for you,” says Kirk. “That really describes these students.”
Kirk, who teaches Spanish and comparative literature as well as women, gender and sexuality studies, speaks to the uniqueness of these programs, which are designed to embrace and empower students who may have taken a more nontraditional route through the realm of higher education.
"These upper-level programs are designed for students who really want to spread their wings, climb the ladder in their respective fields, enhance their critical-thinking skills and acquire new types of knowledge."
The classroom structure teaches students to hone these skills through focused, intense discussion, extensive writing projects and relationships with classmates and mentors.
Kirk became involved with University College through discussions with Dean Mark Rollins, PhD. She found that they shared similar philosophies about the benefits of University College’s continuing education programs and the impact of bringing them to the community. Freshly minted degree in hand, students move on with greater heft to their resumés, with new qualifications, a renewed sense of purpose and opportunities to apply for higher-level, better-paying jobs.
“To have a more expansive view of the world through cultural studies—I can’t imagine how that wouldn't benefit everyone,” Kirk concludes.
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