Grad Studies developing flexible program pathways with AIF support

NOTE: This is one in a series of stories highlighting projects supported by Brock’s Academic Initiatives Fund (AIF), which was established by the University in spring 2021. AIF projects will address key priorities outlined in Brock’s Institutional Strategic Plan and position the University to face the challenges of recovery from the pandemic. To read other stories in the AIF series, click here

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought many changes to the world of academia. As prospective students demand flexible learning options, Brock University’s Faculty of Graduate Studies (FGS) is actively working to keep up with industry needs.

To help with this process, FGS has hired Graduate Academic Specialist Katie Jane (KJ) Millington, whose role was created with the support of Brock’s Academic Initiatives Fund (AIF). The AIF was introduced this spring to offer one-year seed funding for new initiatives that will address key priorities outlined in Brock’s Institutional Strategic Plan and position the University to face the challenges of recovery from the pandemic.

Millington, who has more than 15 years of experience working in higher education administration in both Canada and Europe, will work closely with units across the University to provide administrative leadership for the development of new graduate programming at the degree level as well as new non-credit opportunities.

As a first step, Millington is working to identify the current processes involved in modifying and creating new graduate-level programs.

“From the various levels of approvals, to operationalizing a new program, to promoting new offerings, the background processes involved in new program development are often lengthy and complex, and involve units from across the University,” Millington says. “I’ve begun developing procedural guidelines and workflow diagrams, with the goal of ensuring related processes are streamlined, well-documented and easily accessible to key stakeholders.”

One area of focus within Millington’s portfolio is supporting the development and implementation of non-degree micro-programs. These are characterized as short, flexible programs focused on a specific theme, topic or skill that could be pursued as stand-alone credentials for working professionals. Brock graduate students may also one day opt to complete a micro-program alongside their graduate degree program.

“We’re in the process of creating a framework for what these new program types might look like at Brock — defining admissions criteria, exploring opportunities for laddering micro-programs into full graduate diploma or master’s programs, and thinking strategically about how these new initiatives will dovetail with continuing and professional education offerings,” Millington says.

Suzanne Curtin, Vice-Provost and Dean of Graduate Studies, says creating new program pathways is crucial to meeting the needs of Niagara residents and future graduate students.

“We are learning that there is great desire for graduate education, but not everyone is at a place in life where they can stop what they’re doing and devote one to four years to it,” she says. “There is a lot of opportunity for Brock to showcase our expertise to the wider Niagara community and to make our offerings more accessible to non-traditional students.”

As the framework for Brock’s micro-programs takes shape, Millington will focus on supporting the creation and operationalization of these new programs.

“Establishing more non-traditional pathways to graduate-level education is an exciting initiative,” she says, “but one that requires some thoughtful planning to ensure we get it right.”

“My longer-term goal is to create a set of guidelines and processes for developing new micro-programs, to ensure academic units and administrative stakeholders have the necessary resources and supports to get these programs off the ground as smoothly as possible.”

Curtin echoes Millington’s sentiments.

“In FGS, we are constantly striving to provide better support to our university partners. The creation of the Graduate Academic Specialist role provides a much-needed resource for graduate programs.”

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