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AUM expands academic focus

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The academic options at Antioch University Midwest just got quite a bit wider with the recent revamping of two existing programs and the launching of several new ones at both the undergraduate and the graduate levels. The expansion is part of the mission at the local campus to do more of what the school does well to further serve Antiochian values and increase the social good.

“What we do, we do very well, but we don’t do enough of it,” Midwest President Michael Fishbein said recently. “These new programs are consistent with the Antioch value system — innovative, experiential learning and socially engaging citizenship — and you can easily trace back to where these came from.”

The expansion of the conflict analysis program within the Individualized Master of Arts degree came from an interest in furthering the peacemaking process, a value of Antioch College founder Horace Mann. Since joining the conflict analysis program three years ago, Professor Richard McGuigan has tripled the enrollment in the program to 60 students and helped to initiate the school’s first research program, known as the Feind Institute, with the support of a $50,000 grant from Midwest student Barbara Feind and her husband, Kel Feind. The institute will support a book McGuigan is writing and research to be conducted on the way students learn about conflict and how to help resolve it.

“This is new for Midwest — it’s the first real center that actively supports research as a part of scholarship,” Fishbein said. “The university is beginning to encourage broad scholarship on the part of its faculty, and we hope the Feind gifts will be followed by others.”

McGuigan helped to reorient the conflict analysis program toward the scholarship of Robert Kegan and Ken Wilbur and the notion that personal development does not stop, as previously believed, at the age of 22, but continues throughout one’s life. That perspective applied to conflict allows for the possibility of personal growth for those involved, and the chance to reframe the problem from a larger perspective, which is a revolutionary way to approach resolving conflict, McGuigan said.

Barbara Feind is a retired nurse who was drawn to Midwest’s conflict analysis program because of its unique orientation to older, nontraditional students. Her husband, Kel Feind, is a cardiologist who graduated from Antioch College in 1979. They both support the field of education for adults striving to be more engaged as citizens of the world, Kel Feind said recently from their home in Mississippi. And though Barbara was disappointed with the lack of community that the online courses at Midwest have offered her, the Feinds have been impressed with the high caliber of faculty at Midwest and wanted to find a way to support them, Kel said.

Working to pacify and resolve conflict is a passion that McGuigan has been involved with for over 20 years. He still operates a conflict resolution firm in British Columbia with his wife, Sylvia McMechan, who also teaches at Midwest, and has successfully applied his methods to the fight between the Canadian government and the indigenous population over the salmon resource. As a mediator in that conflict, McGuigan’s firm offered a wider range of developmentally informed interpretations of the issues, which allowed the leaders of each side to read greater meaning and complexity in their situation and see more options for themselves.

“It’s all related to deep, psychological constructs of consciousness and how people evolve — the social and physical environments we’re located in and what they call us to do and become — every conflict is related to this,” he said. “We’re only just beginning to understand the implications for this research.”

Two new majors

This spring Midwest is also opening up two new accredited majors in its undergraduate bachelors degree completion program, one in sustainability and also one in creative writing and literature.

The sustainability major will allow students to apply their studies toward solving contemporary social, environmental and economic justice issues that are hugely complex and affect every aspect of business and community in the world, Liberal Arts Chair Joe Cronin said. There is huge opportunity to solve issues such as climate change, renewable energy, job growth and supplying food to the community without degrading the environment, he said. And there is a great deal of potential to explore these issues through the local community.

“There is an abundance of resources in Yellow Springs on the sustainability front,” Cronin said.

The school is currently exploring a university-wide local food design certificate program in which students could study agriculture in the four different biotic systems of its campuses in wet Seattle, rocky New England, the flat Midwest and hot, dry Southern California.

The sustainability program includes a component from the conflict resolution program on how to identify sources of conflict within a larger system and help to mediate them, as well as explore problem-solving from cultural, environmental and technical perspectives.

The creative writing major is designed for aspiring fiction or non-fiction writers as well as those interested in developing practical skills for marketing, development or education. The goals of the program include learning to express thoughts creatively through multiple genres by critically reading and analyzing texts. And the degree requirements include a host of English, African-American, women’s and Shakespearean literature courses, as well as courses in various forms of writing and general education.

The undergraduate majors add to a list that also includes health and wellness (another new program launched last fall), early childhood education, humanities, human services administration and management.

Using digital tools

Antioch Midwest also recently launched a virtual writing center located in its second floor library that serves the university’s entire five-campus system. According to Cronin, the writing center is designed to help students with research, writing and source documentation methods through electronic as well as live assistance. And the university has taken full advantage of an online learning management system, known as Sakai, designed by and for universities to help faculty and students track their work and evaluations and streamline communications.

Midwest currently has a core of 17 full-time faculty and a host of about 175 adjunct faculty who are teaching and working in their fields, Fishbein said. While the student body hasn’t grown from a steady average of about 650 over the past decade (last fall enrollment was 638), the new programs could serve the needs of a wider base of potential students both in the region and further abreast, he said. And if the programs are widely successful, the school would also need to look at hiring new core faculty, Cronin said.

While the university has been careful to grow “organically” out of the interests of its faculty and its founding values, the goal is still to deepen connections to the region as well as serve the educational needs of a wider audience by diversifying programs.

“Our strategic position is that we need to expand in order to attract new students,” Fishbein said. “If a program is proposed and it falls within our mission and values, we’ll look at it and see if we want to [develop] it.”



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