Faculty members shepherd young minds through the formal portion of higher education on college campuses every day.
But who is responsible for overseeing the less formal --- but equally important --- educational process that takes place outside the college classroom as boys and girls are transformed into men and women ready to become leaders for their communities?
Student services professionals handle that job on a daily basis, and since 2002, Arkansas Tech University has been preparing those professionals through its Master of Science degree in college student personnel (CSP).
Dr. Susan Underwood (photographed), who has been part of the Arkansas Tech CSP program since its creation, serves as the program director.
“Our hope is that once an individual completes this program, he or she can effectively work with and intervene with college students,” said Underwood. “The whole objective of this program is to prepare people to work in higher education. We have a student development focus, so the skills we’re trying to cultivate in students really have to do with understanding the college student population, what the demographics are, what their needs are and what their developmental concerns are.”
From a modest beginning of 11 students in 2002, the Arkansas Tech CSP program has grown to serve 102 students in spring 2010. The program has produced 89 graduates since its first class walked in December 2004.
Underwood is now joined on the full-time CSP faculty by Dr. Christine Austin, who joined the team in fall 2007, and Dr. Chris Giroir, who came on board in fall 2008.
One aspect of the Arkansas Tech CSP program that sets it apart from many master’s degree programs is that it is available entirely through distance learning.
The online version of the degree program was launched in 2003, and little more than six years later, it has become a popular option for professionals who cannot be confined to a traditional class schedule.
“We work very hard to make our online program very personal and innovative,” said Underwood. “We use a lot of different kinds of software, including web conferencing that allows our students to see and hear the instructor. And we can hear and see them in return, so we can have entire classes online with students in other states from their offices or homes.”
Of the 102 students currently enrolled in the Tech CSP program, 59 are on-campus students and 43 are working toward their degrees through distance learning. The program has already produced 22 graduates that took all of their coursework online.
“One of the most interesting aspects of our online delivery is that we have students from all across the United States involved,” said Underwood. “Our program is full of diversity. We have students who come straight from completing their bachelor’s degrees into this program, but we also have seasoned professionals that are geographically limited to an area because of their family or employment situations. They were not been able to pursue additional education until this program went online.”
The Arkansas Tech CSP program is different from many master’s degree programs in that there is no specific bachelor’s degree that naturally precedes it.
Underwood said that leads to a good exchange of ideas within the program because the students come from a wide spectrum of backgrounds.
“Regardless of what their situation is, all of our students are excited and enthusiastic about working with college students and about working in higher education,” said Underwood. “Our students come from a variety of disciplines, and we believe that is one of the most interesting aspects of our program. They are exposed to a totally different perspective because not only do they learn from our faculty, but they learn from each other because of the broad range of disciplines that people bring to this program.”
Underwood said that student retention services and developing and teaching college orientation courses are among the future growth areas for CSP graduates.
Other potential areas of career opportunity for CSP graduates include financial aid, student programming, student housing and any other career that focuses on helping college students persist to graduation.
For more information about the Arkansas Tech CSP program, call (479) 964-3251 or visit www.atu.edu/csp.