MHU Updates Curriculum for Changing World

Mars Hill University is adapting its academic offerings to keep pace with a changing world and to be sure its students are equipped to succeed in that world. New programs in biomedical sciences, ecology and conservation biology, entrepreneurial leadership, graphic design communications, and web development, along with updated programs in computer science and zoology, will allow the university to more effectively serve the educational needs of modern students.

Tracy Parkinson, provost and executive vice president, pointed to the first theme of the university’s recently-released five-year strategic plan as evidence of the university’s mandate to meet the educational needs of modern students.

“The committee working on our strategic planning noted that ‘we must design and adapt for the next part of the 21st century—designing new programs and adapting existing programs to address the current environment of demographic challenges and changes’ in higher education,” he said. “These programs are perfect examples of just that.”

Entrepreneurial Leadership

The new entrepreneurial leadership minor and concentration in the business department will allow majors to have a deeper level of experiential learning than is possible in the classroom alone.

The program is founded on “strategic partnerships” with members of the local business community, who will provide experiential learning opportunities, internships, mentoring, and possible funding for new ventures in the future.

The program aims to educate a new, diverse generation of business leaders for the future of western North Carolina, and to make business ownership a more reachable goal for the students involved, including, in particular, people of color and females.

All these goals are consistent with the work of a liberal arts institution, according to James Heinl, who is director of the Entrepreneurial Leadership Program and assistant professor of business at MHU.

“Overall, the alignment of the entrepreneurial leadership curriculum with liberal arts degrees reflects the increasing recognition of the importance of a well-rounded education that emphasizes creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving. I have sensed that some people perceive a ‘conflict’ between business and liberal arts. I hope that the entrepreneurial program is the bridge needed to make that superficial conflict disappear.”

Computer Science and Web Development

One of the most rapidly changing academic areas is computer science, and careers related to the field continue to grow. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that jobs related to web development and digital design are expected to increase by 23% between 2021 and 2031.

With these statistics in mind, the computer science program is undergoing an overhaul to prepare for the fall 2023 semester. The program is updating the computer science major and launching a new major called web development, which is a revision and upgrade of the previous webmaster minor.

“The computer science major is geared toward students who want to pursue a more traditional software development career or to prepare for graduate studies, while the web development program will prepare students to enter the newer field of web application programming or website management,” according to Stefen Howard, associate professor of computer science.
According to Howard, these changes allow the program to provide majors which are more prescriptive for the students’ needs.

Biomedical Sciences, Ecology and Conservation Biology, and Zoology

Biology as an academic major has become such a broad area of study that it has lost some appeal for students who are seeking a more tailored undergraduate experience, according to Michelle Gilley, associate professor of biology and dean of mathematics and sciences.

“We currently have students majoring in biology whose career aspirations range from becoming doctors, pharmacists, and physician assistants to ecologists, wildlife biologists, and zookeepers,” she said.

For that reason, the natural sciences faculty at Mars Hill University have added two new, more specific majors in biomedical sciences and ecology and conservation biology, and eliminated the biology major. They have also completely overhauled the existing zoology major. The changes have been initiated by student choice, Gilley said, since faculty have taken the most popular concentrations in the former biology major and molded them into stand-alone majors.

Now, students will have the more tailored and streamlined experience they want and need to pursue their specific career paths.

Graphic Design Communications

Currently, graphic design/photography is a concentration in the visual arts major. For the coming academic year, professors in the art department will modernize graphic design into a stand-alone major called graphic design communications.

Lora Eggleston, assistant professor of graphic design, developed the new major and said the change is necessary to address rapid changes in the field. These changes include not only the tools that designers work with, but also the way they work in teams with other designers.

“Our software and technology changes constantly,” Eggleston said. “And then, the way we collaborate with teams through the internet is changing. We have to know how to use various software for different platforms. Graphic designers in general have to be very versatile in software, and ways they communicate their message.”

(Adapted from a series of articles in the spring 2023 edition of Mars Hill: The Magazine)