Associate dean for Graduate Studies talks about his hopes and plans for the graduate program at Columbia College.Dr. Steve Wiegenstein is Columbia College's associate dean for Graduate Studies, responsible for building the program on the main and Nationwide campuses and online. He is also responsible for business development programs.
Wiegenstein has made an immediate impact on the college's graduate culture. In the short time he's been at Columbia College (he accepted the position in the summer of 2010), he's presided over the development of a master's degree in military studies. The degree has been approved by the Faculty Association and by the Higher Learning Commission. Faculty are busy developing courses, and it will be offered online soon. The degree was originally designed for military service members, for whom in-seat education is often not an option, but is open to any qualified student.
Wiegenstein, who hails from Quincy, Ill., earned a bachelor's degree in journalism in 1976, a master's degree in English and creative writing in 1982 and a doctorate in English in 1987, all from the University of Missouri. He was previously chair of humanities and social sciences and professor at Culver-Stockton College, Canton, Mo., and interim chair of the Department of Interdisciplinary Studies at Western Kentucky University, Bowling Green, Ky.
Wiegenstein has received the Missouri Governor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching and the Helsabeck Prize for Excellence in Teaching, among other awards. Wiegenstein is an accomplished journalist and writer, having written about destinations as exotic as Ghana, the Mormons and the utopian Icarians in the Midwest. He was a finalist in the St. Lawrence Book Awards for both 2008 and 2009 and won first place in the 2008 Green River Writers Writing Awards.
The Graduate Studies Program at Columbia College currently offers three degrees:
- An MBA online and in-seat on 11 campuses
- A master's in criminal justice online and on the Columbia, Mo., and Hancock Field, N.Y. campuses
- A master's degree in teaching online and on the Columbia, Mo., main campus
A: It was an opportunity too good to pass up! Columbia College is a fascinating institution, and the people I work with are first class. So coming to this position was an easy decision for me.
Q: What do you see as the greatest opportunities for the Graduate Studies Program?
A: I think the greatest opportunities are in new and expanded degree programs, and also in less traditional areas such as certificate programs and continuing education.
I definitely think we should offer more than four graduate degrees. As for what they should be, that will take some study and evaluation. The master's in military studies made it through Graduate Council and may be available as early as next spring; it targets servicemembers on active duty and will be delivered online and will focus on history, philosophy, political science and other areas.
As for the others, we are still in the exploratory stages.
Over the course of my teaching career, I have gotten more and more interdisciplinary, so I have a warm place in my heart for interdisciplinary degrees. I think an institution like Columbia College is the perfect place to look across disciplinary boundaries for connections and allied ways of thinking. Until I have a chance to talk to main campus faculty about their interests and aspirations, I am not pushing any particular agenda. Faculty have to be full participants in any program initiatives.
Q: Are you working with the Nationwide campuses to offer more graduate degrees on their campuses?
A: Oh, yes. I have already talked with directors at a few of our Nationwide campuses and will be talking to more of them in the near future. The key is to sense where there is some demand or opportunity, and where we can match up that demand with highly qualified faculty to offer solid programs.
Q: Do you see more online degrees? Is online the future of graduate education?
A: Yes and no. I think more online degrees are definitely going to be a part of our mix, but online degree programs are not for everybody. The face-to-face classroom encounter is, and always will be, a marvelous experience in the right circumstances; some of my most unforgettable moments, both as a student and a teacher, come from those kinds of encounters. But the accessibility of online classes is also a very powerful educational feature.
If I had to guess about the future of graduate education, I would guess it to be in a mixture of the two delivery methods, both within a class and within a student's degree program.
Q: Dr. Terry Smith, executive vice president and dean for Academic Affairs, has talked about the need for a "graduate culture." How would we implement such a culture?
A: The first step is making sure that your graduate programs are academically sound, coherent, up to date and rewarding for the students. As I have been learning about our graduate programs, I have been thrilled to learn that all of them are in some stage of re-examination or revision; that process is a healthy part of keeping high-quality programs, although it takes time and effort on the part of the faculty.
A graduate "culture" will be different for Columbia College than it might be at a more traditional school with a single campus; what I'm looking for are common experiences, a lot of communication flow, recognition of student achievement and opportunities for informal as well as formal exchanges between students and faculty.
Ultimately, "graduate culture" is about being proud to be a graduate student at Columbia College, and having good reason for that pride.
Q: You have a formidable background in English, journalism and fiction – isn’t graduate program-building a little, well, not as exciting?
A: This work is as exciting as anything I've ever been involved in, just in a different sort of way. It is calling out talents from me that were rarely if ever used in my teaching and writing.
Q: Tell us more about your writing.
A: My writing is central to my life. I have written about a wide variety of things because my curiosity is pretty much boundless. For the last several years, I have been working on the first of a series of novels set in the region where I grew up, the Missouri Ozarks. It's not easy to do with a full-time job, but I try to get up early and put in an hour of writing every morning before anybody else is stirring. Some days I write quite a bit, some days not a word.
But every day of simply trying is a victory over the temptation to do nothing.