Regents approve first phases of academic renewal at University of Montana

The Montana Board of Regents unanimously approved the University of Montana’s request to plan its initial phases of academic restructuring under the direction of Provost Pardis Madhavi.

Now the University can proceed with the development of the new School of Emerging and Applied Technologies and revise the scope and structure of the WA Franke College of Forestry and Conservation.

UM’s motions to plan a joint Master of Public Administration and Master of Public Health and Master of Physician Assistant Studies were also given the green light by the board.

Take a look back to when the University of Montana campus looked very, very different!

“Put simply, students must be prepared to solve unwritten problems,” Mahdavi said. “These are not things that you can solve with a disciplinary approach.”

The new School of Emerging and Applied Technologies will host UM’s new cybersecurity degree, as well as programs in data science, virtual reality, augmented reality, and artificial intelligence. However, it will start as a new and applied technology initiative to further develop the school.

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The aim of the interdisciplinary school is to bring teachers together to examine how new technologies affect learning, how they can be interacted with and used to effectively support learning.

With board approval, the university will also begin moving its geosciences department to forestry and conservation. Earth Sciences is currently in the College of Humanities and Sciences.

Mahdavi launched an inquiry into academic renewal in late August, shortly after taking the reins of the Provost Office. Since then, she has hosted several meetings, town hall events, and polls to gather feedback from the campus community.

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The goal of creating more interdisciplinary opportunities for students at the university is largely aimed at combating the growing number of Americans who do not see higher education as important or as not positive for society, according to several studies and reports published in the published last decade were cited by Mahdavi during her presentation to the Regents.

“Obviously the work you’re doing is huge and has a lot of implications,” said Chair Brianne Rogers.

In addition to the initial phases of academic renewal, the joint Masters of Public Health and Masters Public Administration will leverage existing programs at UM, Mahdavi said, noting that there are currently no programs like this one in Montana and the next are in Utah and Washington .

Mahdavi added that jobs in fields related to this new joint degree are expected to grow 17% over the next seven years, with potential earnings of at least $70,000.

Physician assistant jobs are also projected to increase by 37% by 2026, Mahdavi said. The only Physician Assistant programs in Montana are at Rocky Mountain College in Billings and Carroll College in Helena. UM previously applied to the Regents to schedule a physician assistant program in 2020 but was shelved with the outbreak of the COVID pandemic.

“But we are now ready to engage and move forward,” Mahdavi said.

Mahdavi will leave the rector’s office at the end of the semester to lead a new higher education initiative to expand educational opportunities for UM and other universities. Adrea Lawrence, the dean of Phyllis J. Washington College of Education, will serve as interim provost.

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“I wanted Dr. Really thank Mahdavi publicly for laying the foundation for some really impactful and enduring innovations at our university,” said UM President Seth Bodnar.

Skylar Rispens is an education reporter for the Missoulian.

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