Board of Trustees approves graduate program in social innovation

GVL / Courtesy - University Communications

GVL / Courtesy – University Communications

Devin Dely

A group of faculty members at Grand Valley State University recently took big steps in its effort to implement a new graduate program in the Brooks College of Interdisciplinary Studies. The GVSU Board of Trustees approved the college’s request for a Master of Arts in social innovation, as well as the College of Health Professions’ request for a new Bachelor of Arts in communication sciences and disorders on Friday, Feb. 2. 

Anne Hiskes, dean of the Brooks College, first sparked conversation about the new major in 2013. According to her, its growth and progression to this point have been the results of a dedicated team effort. Those involved include Wendy Burns-Ardolino, professor of liberal studies, and Scott Berlin, director of the School of Social Work. 

“Wendy and her colleagues took the lead in developing and designing it,” Hiskes said. “They developed the curriculum, got the market surveys done and looked at the Department of Labor statistics for jobs. And, she organized the task force of the rest of the faculty involved.” 

The master’s in social innovation will encompass six required, graduate-level courses, as well as electives from the schools of business, social work and other related disciplines. According to Hiskes, the program is meant to prepare students for work across various sectors and will have a strong focus on leadership skills.

“It’s geared toward students who major in the humanities and social sciences to get the kind of skills businesses want to help develop talent in the West Michigan area,” she said. “The point is to prepare people to solve conflicts and problems that can only be solved by looking at the intersection of different systems. Brooks designed a program that would address those needs, and it’s very cutting edge. It’s an exciting program, the only one of its kind in the state of Michigan, really.” 

By all outward appearances, GVSU is clearly a growing university. The student population has risen by almost 7,000 in the last 17 years, and many new buildings have been built to accommodate that increase. In fact, according to the GVSU Office of Institutional Analysis, 2016 saw the highest level of enrollment yet, with a total student body of 25,460. But it is the forward thinking that goes on behind the scenes that keeps driving the university to grow at such a pace. 

As the process moves forward and these new ideas get closer to becoming a reality, there are still two important approvals that have to happen before these programs can be marketed to students. In April, the task force behind the master’s in social innovation will seek approval from the Michigan Association of State Universities. From there, they will take the step of presenting it to the Higher Learning Commission, the accreditation organization for GVSU. Hiskes said that step alone could take up to six months. 

“Creating a new program with the Board of Trustees was a big step,” she said. “We can’t say for certain whether it will be approved by HLC and MASU, but I’m very confident it will. We’ll likely begin marketing once we get approval from HLC.” 

Neither program is currently available for registration, but Hiskes hopes to have it open to students by January 2019.