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UMD to offer new degrees in journalism, engineering

Two new degree paths will be available to students at the University of Minnesota Duluth next fall.A bachelor's degree program in journalism and a master's degree program in mechanical engineering were approved by the University of Minnesota Boar...

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A DNA-inspired staircase at the Swenson Science Building at the University of Minnesota Duluth was part of the school’s expansion, pictured in 2004. Now the university is adding a master’s degree program in mechanical engineering. File / News Tribune
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Two new degree paths will be available to students at the University of Minnesota Duluth next fall.
A bachelor’s degree program in journalism and a master’s degree program in mechanical engineering were approved by the University of Minnesota Board of Regents earlier this month.
Both already had roots at UMD, with a journalism track through a writing studies major and a bachelor’s program for mechanical engineering.
“We were losing students who were looking for journalism programs and didn’t see a straightforward path,” said Sue Maher, dean of the College of Liberal Arts at UMD, who came to the university in 2010. “Not having a journalism program just seemed strange to me.”
Most students involved in the writing studies major were choosing the journalism track over the other choice of professional writing, she said.
Work began in earnest two years ago to make journalism its own major. While jobs at large and midsize newspapers, for example, might be harder to find in an evolving industry landscape, UMD students find jobs in the field, and often in Duluth, said John Hatcher, an associate professor of journalism who worked to create the major.
“Every major nonprofit and organization, there is no entity out there that doesn’t have a need to communicate quickly, accurately and in engaging ways,” Hatcher said. “Yes, it’s a journalism degree, but it’s really up to the students to think about how they can use the degrees in dynamic and creative ways that five years from now we won’t even be able to predict.”
About 80 students are enrolled in UMD’s journalism minor and writing studies courses - a number Hatcher said is good, considering UMD’s overall decline in enrollment in recent years and a decline in liberal arts majors. Since 2011, the College of Liberal Arts has lost between 200 and 100 students each year, with enrollment about 1,500 this fall.
“The fact that we’re holding steady and some years even growing suggests a solid program,” he said of journalism-oriented students.
Maher said it’s important to keep large programs - such as communication - healthy. Other new offerings there, she said, are bringing in different kinds of students and helping to turn numbers around.
The journalism major will be returned to the communication department from writing studies.
The new mechanical engineering master’s degree program completes a suite of engineering paths within the Swenson College of Science and Engineering, joining bachelor’s and master’s degree programs for electrical, civil and chemical engineering. The college itself continues to grow, with well over 3,000 undergraduates, and almost half of those on an engineering track. UMD is trying to meet the demands of students and regional employers, who continue to seek out its graduates, said Joshua Hamilton, dean of the Swenson college.
The college has had to turn away qualified students in recent years because it doesn’t have room for them. UMD hopes state funding for a new Chemistry and Advanced Materials Science building is approved by lawmakers this spring, and after that, there is hope for another engineering building. The college wants to keep growing, Hamilton said.
“The region has capacity,” he said. “One-hundred percent of our graduates are either in grad school or have a job within three months of graduation. Everywhere I go to talk to stakeholders who hire our graduates, they say ‘we need more.’”

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