New TTU school reaches across academic lines to meet changing needs

When it comes to developing programs to respond to marketplace demands and student needs, state universities aren't typically recognized as the first to react. But Tennessee Tech University officials are trying to change that with the creation of the School of Interdisciplinary Studies.

Unlike most other academic schools or colleges on a typical campus, Interdisciplinary Studies won't have a single faculty member on staff. Instead, the revolutionary program will specialize in pulling together faculty from other academic colleges and schools across TTU's campus to collaborate on innovative programs.

TTU President Bob Bell, also former dean of the university's College of Business and member of the local Chamber of Commerce, recognized the need for quick reaction to shifting demands in business and technology and wanted a program to respond easily.

"In today's rapidly changing educational environment, there is a need to bring together faculty from several departments to develop quality baccalaureate degrees without encountering unnecessary bureaucracy and delay in developing and implementing new degrees," said Bell.

"The flexibility and agility of this new program allows us to serve our students and our communities better."

Marvin Barker, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, developed the concept for the program.

The Tennessee Board of Regents approved the proposal to create the school and combine it with the Extended Education office. That set-up will provide the most flexibility for the program, mixing alternative scheduling and distance-learning options with creative degree offerings, Barker said.

The new School of Interdisciplinary Studies and Extended Education's (ISEE) first degree offerings will introduce another innovation for TTU — the first complete online bachelor's degrees. The degrees will be offered beginning this August, and students have already begun enrolling.

Through the TTU Regents Online Degree Program, students working via computer can earn one of two four-year degrees in either Professional Studies or Interdisciplinary Studies. The Professional Studies option allows students to concentrate on either Information Technology or Organizational Leadership. The bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies degree will offer concentrations in general studies, liberal studies and university studies.

"This arrangement offers the best of many worlds," said Susan Elkins, ISEE director. "We'll be focusing on programs that meet the needs of our changing marketplace, we'll pull together the best faculty from across the campus, and we'll make it as convenient for our students as possible."

Looking forward, Elkins hopes to develop more programs to meet the needs of students who can't attend classes during the regular day hours. Already the ISEE offers courses via interactive TV, telecourses on WCTE, video, and the Internet.

"The classes are all taught by regular faculty, so the quality is maintained," Elkins stressed. "That's always our top priority — to keep the standards of academic excellence we're known for in the traditional classroom settings."

Because of that emphasis on quality standards, Barker said, the ISEE program has received a strong endorsement from the entire TTU campus. The university's Faculty Senate, Dean's Council, Academic Council and the central administration all voted unanimously to endorse the program proposal.

Several TTU faculty members are excited about the opportunities the ISEE program will bring, touting it as the inevitable direction for higher education programs.

"This concept allows new opportunities for new programs and new ideas," said Bob Clougherty, associate professor in English. "It will take great minds, great courses, great faculty and fuse them together in new ways to form even better programs and ideas.

"Think about it — intellectual thought has always been interdisciplinary," he said, "so this is a natural."

For more information on the program or how to enroll, contact the School of Interdisciplinary Studies and Extended Education at 931-372-3394 or call TTU Admissions at 800-255-8881 or 931-372-3888.