MALS program emphasizes liberal arts

by Haley Gordon | 2/5/15 9:50pm

Extending the undergraduate emphasis on an interdisciplinary education to graduate studies, Dartmouth’s Master of Liberal Arts Studies graduate program focuses on the liberal arts rather than pre-professional training. The approach attracts three types of students, MALS program chair Donald Pease said: educators, experienced professionals and recent college graduates desiring a broad range of skills before acquiring a PhD.

“What makes the MALS program unique is that the basis for its formation is derived from the desire of faculty for the program to bring what we call the liberal arts mentality or ethos into a graduate school environment,” Pease said.

The broad scope of the MALS degree attracted Amanda Spoto, who’s also a member of the Class of 2014, to the program.

“It’s a way for me to not only get another degree and kind of increase my horizons as an academic, but also figure out who I am, what I really do like, what I’m passionate about and how I can incorporate what I learned here into a career,” she said.

MALS student Bradley Mindich falls under, Pease’s “experienced professional” category, enrolling in the graduate program to develop an academic skill set, which he can apply to his professional work.

“This program actually allowed me to actively apply an academic filter to most of the stuff I’ve been doing, which in turn gives me a different kind of perspective on how I view not only on my businesses and what I want to do with them, but also the people I interact with,” he said.

The program gives students up to six years to complete the degree, offering part-time, full-time and summer-only enrollment options. Mindrich said he joined the program because it is flexible but offers a well-rounded education.

“The interdisciplinary learning and study very much, in my perspective, is the way people learn these days, or should learn,” Mindich said.

The MALS program has admitted 40 to 67 percent of applicants per year in the last 10 years, Ojurongbe wrote in an email. There are currently 175 students enrolled in the program, he added.

The MALS admissions process is handled completely by Pease and Ojurongbe, who, along with a committee, independently conduct interviews, review applications and choose which students to admit to the program.

Ojurongbe earned a MALS degree while simultaneously working for the program. Like Ojurongbe, a significant number of Dartmouth employees enroll in the MALS program, making up about 10 percent of MALS students, Ojurongbe said.

MALS offers four concentrations: globalization studies, creative writing, cultural studies and general liberal studies. Beyond these concentrations, each MALS experience is tailored and personalized.

“There’s a focus on the interdisciplinary studies, and there’s also a focus on helping each student to craft their own plan of study in the program,” Ojurongbe said.

Accepted students meet with Ojurongbe to plan their academic track before beginning class. After this initial meeting, Ojurongbe and Pease assemble a list of suggested courses for each student and recommend potential faculty advisors and research mentors.

Each student’s experience is different, Ojurongbe said, as the program is tailored to help each one individually reach his or her professional and personal goals. MALS students can have vastly different course loads and post-graduate goals, yet they all receive the same degree, he said.

“It works. Students at the end come back and comment on how much they have enjoyed the program, how much they allowed themselves to get into the program,” Ojurongbe said. “It is a little extra work on the administrative side definitely, but it’s well worth it.”

The MALS faculty is drawn from many undergraduate and graduate departments. Professors teach for one to three years at a time. Class sizes range from 12 to 25 students per class and are taught by two professors, allowing for more personal relationships to form between students and professors.

“[Professors] get to dialogue more with the students. They can have some really good interactions,” Ojurongbe said. “They like the idea that the students in the program come from all walks of life and various disciplines.”

Students enrolled in the MALS program also have the chance to take upper-level undergraduate courses and classes in the other graduate programs. Student often take classes at Tuck Business School, Ojurongbe said.

MALS student Amani Liggett said that while the small class sizes surprised her after attending a larger public university as an undergraduate, she appreciates the interactions between professors, advisors and students.

All MALS concentrations require a thesis in order to graduate.

According to the MALS website, students have the freedom to choose to write thesis papers, produce creative work or work alongside faculty to plan out a project reflecting their individual field of study.

“Our students feel that those culminating research projects really give them a sense that they have not only completed their degrees but also given themselves a sense of accomplishment that only a thesis, or a production of a play or a book of poems can give you,” Pease said.