Harrisburg – The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) has received a $50,000 grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to assist in the development of at least five new Professional Science Master (PSM) degree programs to be offered by various PASSHE universities.
The programs all would be designed in close cooperation with employers to ensure they meet workforce demand in high-technology fields. The first five programs are expected to be approved in time to enroll students this fall; an additional five, by Spring 2012.
The PSM degree combines rigorous study in science or mathematics with professional skills-based coursework in business, management, communications, policy and other fields. Instead of a thesis, the PSM typically requires students to complete a collaborative research project, as well as an internship with an employer in the business, government or non-profit sectors.
“PASSHE’s strategic directions are designed to address the evolving needs of the Commonwealth and the new PSM programs, which will be focused on developing leaders in the high-technology STEM sectors certainly will play that role,” said Dr. Jim Moran, vice chancellor for academic and student affairs.
Several PASSHE universities already have identified areas of study in which they hope to develop a PSM program. They include applied archaeology, applied computer science, environmental science, forensic science, GIS/remote sensing, health physics, instructional technology, integrated scientific applications, materials science and nursing leadership. In some cases, the programs will be adapted from existing graduate-level offerings, while in others an entirely new program will be designed. In all cases, the programs will be developed with significant input from regional employers.
“Ideally, you want to engage employers in the front end, to identify high-tech workforce needs in the region and to work with the universities to develop the programs,” said Dr. Marilyn Wells, interim assistant vice chancellor for academic and student affairs, who is assisting the universities with the PSM project. “Employers also can mentor PSM students, provide tuition assistance for employees, offer internships, become prospective employers and serve as champions for regional and economic development.”
The PSM programs “are a natural fit for the mission and strategic directions of PASSHE, “ said Dr. Lawrence Fritz, assistant vice president and dean of graduate studies at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania, who also has helped lead the PSM development effort. “Through combined university and employer involvement, PSM graduates are highly skilled and well prepared for the emerging STEM fields.”
The Professional Science Masters degree was introduced a little more than a decade ago. There currently are more than 230 PSM programs offered at more than 100 colleges and universities in the United States. The Sloan Foundation through a variety of grants has been instrumental in the development of the programs, which must meet standards set by the Council of Graduate Schools based in Washington, D.C.
A PSM degree is intended to be completed in two years or less. At least half of the required courses must be in the scientific field of study related to the program. The remaining courses can be in a variety of fields. The goal is to produce graduates who are equally as comfortable in the science lab as they are in the board room, court room or other professional setting.
“The Professional Science Masters was designed to retain people in the math and sciences who are interested in non-academic careers. They work in virtually every field of science,” said Leontyne Goodwin, program manager for the Council of Graduate Schools.
The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education is the largest provider of higher education in the Commonwealth, with nearly 120,000 students. The 14 PASSHE universities offer degree and certificate programs in more than 120 areas of study. Nearly 500,000 PASSHE alumni live and work in Pennsylvania.
The state-owned universities are Bloomsburg, California, Cheyney, Clarion, East Stroudsburg, Edinboro, Indiana, Kutztown, Lock Haven, Mansfield, Millersville, Shippensburg, Slippery Rock and West Chester Universities of Pennsylvania. PASSHE also operates branch campuses in Clearfield, Freeport, Oil City and Punxsutawney and several regional centers, including the Dixon University Center in Harrisburg.