Justin Kirkham, managing editor
Alx Stickel, news editor
In the middle of program cuts and department closures, other areas of the university are expanding—including the College of Innovation and Design. Anthony Ellertson, the current head of the Gaming, Interactive Media and Mobile Program, aims to offer a unique major at Boise State—one he hopes will be profitable in terms of employment.
“We have to think about the return on investment, which is where our program fits in,” Ellertson said. “We are committed to staying on the leading edge of software development for interactive media.”
The GIMM program, a four-year transdisciplinary major, will offer students multiple special courses including those on animation, app and web development, augmented reality and virtual reality. This fall, interactive programming and digital tools classes will be available to students.
Ellertson stressed that this sort of instruction is vital in the current technological landscape of Boise. Students in the program will be prepared specifically for jobs in this changing field, a main focus of the College of Innovation and Design as a whole.
The College of Innovation and Design aims to fill this role, just as other STEM programs.
“It’s not just that we did it so that people could make big money, but that they could make money here in Boise,” Bob Kustra, president of Boise State, told The Arbiter in February. “When you take Micron, HP and somewhere in the neighborhood of 80 software engineering firms who cry crocodile tears that we are not producing enough computer science engineers—clearly you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to see that’s where you need to be churning out students.”
According to Kustra, these programs should be unique to Boise State. Students will not come specifically to the university for a program that they can enroll in elsewhere. Instead, focused and applicable programs can attract more students while “churning out” specialized employees.
Ellertson said GIMM students will become specialized for many of the top demand IT jobs in the current field: mobile, web and game development.
Marketing the arts and humanities
For some, this sort of high specialization is not as good as it may sound.
Leslie Madsen-Brooks, associate professor in the recently resized Department of History, does not disapprove of the College of Innovation of Design. But, like others, she has her reservations about growth surrounding the cuts in her own department. She cited an article from IEEE Spectrum, “The STEM Crisis is a Myth,” that recounts the overemphasis on employment-oriented STEM programs.
“There are far more people graduating with STEM degrees than there are jobs for them,” Madsen-Brooks said. “We aren’t giving them magic employment juice.”
Dean of the College of Innovation and Design Gordon Jones said he’s excited about the opportunity to lead the college in addressing the need for a more transdisciplinary experience.
“I think a lot of universities are recognizing that academic specialization is putting up walls or barriers between departments that make it more difficult for interdisciplinary collaboration to occur,” Jones said. “And that requires faculty to be even more intentional if we are going to collaborate. “
Madsen-Brooks explained that students should, instead of honing in on job capabilities, focus on gaining pertinent skills for a range of possible employment opportunities, including research, writing, critical thinking and group work. These are the main aims of the Department of History within its coursework.
“You still have to certify that STEM majors can write and communicate,” Madsen-Brooks said. “That’s where the humanities and social sciences come in.”
According to Madsen-Brooks, the College of Innovation and Design is a solid collection of programs, but she sees some overlap within its coursework. Specifically, the proposed Center for Human-Environment Systems offers students similar explorations that the Department of History already covers.
Madsen-Brooks hopes that the core programs of the humanities will still be able to market themselves as important programs with these new developments.
A transdisciplinary movement
The GIMM major is a 48-credit, transdisciplinary program. Ellertson aims to have GIMM students pursue double majors to gain these background communication skills that Madsen-Brooks described.
“There’s a risk if you don’t start from a learning platform that you’re really giving somebody a skill set but not the agility of thought to know over a lifetime how to evolve your thinking,” Jones said.
Ellertson and Madsen-Brooks applied this philosophy to their own career paths. Ellertson graduated with a degree in rhetoric and professional communication, while Madsen-Brooks has a master’s degree in poetry.
“You’re not your major, and we need to stop treating college like you’re preparing for a single job,” Madsen-Brooks said.
Because of her background in poetry, Madsen-Brooks has been able to write herself into any position she aims for. This background in the core humanities creates a language for different disciplines to collaborate.
“The humanities have some of the most important things to say to STEM,” Ellertson said. “GIMM is an effort to bring humanity into technology and start that discussion.”
Jones believes that this conversation is the route higher education should pursue.
“All boats rise when everybody focuses on this, as universities—as industries, as government, as education at the secondary and primary level,” Jones said. “I do see a lot of interest in education for trying to bridge disciplinary boundaries, and I think it is going to be for the benefit of the country if we all get on board.”
But, despite this focus, programs will still be weighed based on their potential revenue and employability factor, which may make the GIMM program more preferable than core humanity programs in the face of statistics and numbers.
Kustra is hopeful that this will not be the case.
“I’m pretty confident that the liberal arts degree will not go away,” Kustra said. “But there are less people seeking liberal arts degrees because of all the negative stories from employers that want more specific skills.”