This article originally appeared October 23, 2009, in issue 1740.
Athabasca University’s Master of Arts – Integrated Studies (MAIS) degree offers ?a unique opportunity to engage in a program of study that spans the arts, humanities, and social sciences,? and allows students to design their own learning plan which is ?comprehensive in scope but specific in focus.?
This ability to integrate multiple areas of study was one aspect of the program that caught the attention of student Amanda Nielsen. ?I had dappled with studies in a couple different areas: political science, philosophy, human resources, conflict resolution, and risk management, to name a few,? she says.
?The MAIS program is integrated, and allows me to explore many different disciplines and apply my varied knowledge. This is exciting, and I feel it allows me to gain a more holistic understanding of the different research questions that I am interested in exploring.?
Nielsen is actively involved in the Graduate Students’ Association and the Journal of Integrated Studies, and enjoys the ability to interact with her classmates even when separated by great physical distances. ?My favourite part [of the program] has been learning from my fellow students from our online discussions,? she says. ?The diversity of student experiences and insights is a real strength of the program.?
Dr. Angela Specht, a faculty member with the Master of Arts – Integrated Studies program, also feels that the diversity of the student body is a great strength. ?The people (students, faculty, and staff) really make MAIS and Athabasca University a great community of which to be a part,? she says. ?Our students in the MAIS program bring a wealth of personal and professional experience to the table.?
Nielsen says that ?everyone from the MAIS program has such a different background . . . Owing to my classmates, I find myself considering angles that I would never considered on my own!?
When asked if there are any weaknesses in the Master of Arts – Integrated Studies program, Nielsen notes that ?student services are, in my opinion, sometimes lacking. The MAIS program seems a bit understaffed, so it sometimes takes way longer to get back to phone call and email inquiries than what seems necessary.?
Dr. Specht admits that ?the most significant challenge? for the program is its incredible growth rate. ?Rapid and sustained growth can put a lot of strain on your resources. So at times, It’s hard to keep up with issues like staffing, administrative and financial resources, keeping apace of program development and so forth.?
In spite of the strain, faculty and staff ?have done a really good job of addressing these issues, looking for productive solutions, and also actively planning and managing for the future,? Dr. Specht says. And though it presents logistical challenges, the ?tremendous growth is encouraging because it shows that Athabasca University and the MAIS program are doing things right.?
The success of MAIS graduates certainly also indicates that the program is ?doing things right.? According to Dr. Specht, graduates with this degree have successfully pursued ?advanced degrees (e.g., PhDs) and professional degrees (e.g., Law, etc.).?
While Nielsen hasn’t yet decided what she plans to do after graduation, she says that she would ?one day love to complete a PhD!?
?I think the program provides a lot of benefits for students? future studies or employment,? Dr. Specht says. The program can not only be used as a stepping stone to further education, but also ?provides academic credentials that can advance students? career goals.
?The MAIS program helps students to develop critical and creative thinking and research skills, as well as writing and communication skills that employers and other academic institutions value . . . The distance, asynchronous nature of our courses, as well as the reality that many of our students have full-time work and family commitments, mean that our students learn how to manage their time, and work closely with other students in order to successfully complete their courses. These kinds of management skills are very relevant in today’s workforce.?
Nielsen would recommend the MAIS program to any prospective students considering studies at Athabasca University. ?I’ve enjoyed my time as a MAIS student,? she says, ?and suspect that it is a good option for many others out there who are interested in pursuing a graduate degree.?