The SIF and graduate education

Today in the exchange, I overheard Ryan mention to Justin that he often thinks about ways to “market” the SIF, a program which has, as best I can tell, very little in the way of reputation even at GSU. This is not surprising since the program is less than a year old and much of the work that we do is in an ancillary role and/or is long-term work that hasn’t yet shown up in the classroom. My work for the hybrid American history survey is a good example of this. It is trickling into the classroom, but any students who encounter it will have no reason to associate it with the SIF program and my conversations with professors in the department leads me to think that for most part, few are aware of the SIF involvement in the development of content for the course.

Assuming that the SIF funding is renewed (and I would that it is as we have been a ton of good work for the university), time should take care of some of this. Hopefully in years to come more faculty will know about the chance to intersect with our labor and expertise, more students will seek positions in the program, and the general profile of the SIF will increase within the GSU community. Which is not to say that Ryan’s suggestion that some marketing and brand development would not be worthwhile.

I have been also been thinking about the public profile of the SIF of late from a slightly different perspective. As I imagine it, the SIF is on its way to maturing into a kind of mad-cap mash-up of a makerspace, a development vehicle for innovation in instruction, a source of skilled labor to make large scale pedagogical projects possible and as a pipeline for producing graduate students with very specialized skillsets that will equip them to succeed in a higher-education landscape and marketplace that is increasingly oriented towards those who can combine content mastery with technical dexterity.

Right now, the SIF seems to be primarily “marketed” as a means to an end, that end being the education of undergraduates. That is a laudable and important goal and there is a lot of room for the SIF to make a reputation as a resource in that area. But, most of the labor of the SIF, and specialized knowledge that it possible, are coming from graduate students like myself who have been using the SIF either to use and develop disciplinary based skills (e.g. computer programming students getting to build databases), or to build skill sets that are not ordinarily part of their disciplinary training – historians, for example, are not normally trained in XML/TEI, and marketing majors are not normally taught how to produce video or work with Tableau.

The chance to learn these skills, to work across disciplinary boundaries on common and complex projects, and to think at the intersection of technology and knowledge is an exciting part of the SIF and a rare opportunity for graduate students. My imagination of what the SIF could become is admittedly colored by my abiding interest in graduate education and the development of GSU as a research institution, but I can imagine the SIF coming to serve as a major recruiting tool for graduate studies at GSU.

Think about it. Right now the SIF includes grad students from the natural sciences, the humanities and fine arts, the social sciences, the law school, and the business school. All of us are getting an education that complements our disciplinary work while stretching it in new and exciting ways. This is a program, I think, that a lot of graduate students — especially perhaps those who look at the conventional academic market and recognize the need to distinguish oneself from the herd and to prepare for “alt-ac” jobs — would find very interesting and that departments could be pushing as part of their recruitment of students.

In the longer term, the SIF could be a seedbed for all kinds of new programs at GSU. It could help orient individual departments towards the future of academic work. Speaking strictly for the humanities here, this is something that could make GSU’s programs profile better nationally, as there is a growing recognition of the need to reorganize graduate studies (especially the Ph.D.) in the humanities, but not yet a big movement towards doing something about it. The SIF is an asset on this path, and could not only help market programs but also give departments a firm basis on which to start thinking about more substantive and widespread changes in their curriculum and in what it means to train graduate students.

The SIF could also serve as the embryo of a host of even larger initiatives. Already, it helps (albeit mostly through its undergraduate honors component) power the CURVE. It could also serve as a platform for the development of a digital humanities center at GSU, for new media centers, etc. for interdisciplinary centers, etc. In theory, these kind of centers, working groups and what have you, could transform GSU into a school with a national reputation for training Ph.D.’s to be ready for the teaching and research of the 21st century. This might be especially helpful in the humanities, which are arguably the disciplines with the most reinventing to do – and thus the biggest opportunity for a university that can find a way to do so.

As the consolidation with GPC makes clear, GSU is doubling down on its commitment to undergraduate and, now, associate, education. I would imagine that the “new” GSU is going to be even more interested in technical resources as it contends with what will soon be one of the largest undergraduate populations in the country. But, GSU is also making strides towards a national reputation as a graduate school and research university. The SIF program is well positioned, with savvy growth and a good marketing plan, to benefit from, and facilitate, both of these commitments.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *