Opening U.Va.'s doors
to working adults
Ida Lee Wootten
people are beginning a new chapter in U.Va.'s history this fall.
Coming primarily from the local area, with an average age just
over 37, the students are the first to enter the Bachelor
of Interdisciplinary Studies program. Approved by the State
Council of Higher Education in April, the program opens U.Va.'s
doors to working adults who want to pursue education on a part-time
enter the program, students must meet strict admission requirements
including completion of approximately 60 transferable hours of
credit. "This is not a way to circumvent the regular undergraduate
admission process," said Donna Plasket, who was named BIS
director in August. "It's not a program for 18-year-olds."
new third-year students are embarking on an academic path quite
different, but just as rigorous, as that facing other undergraduates,
program planners say.
who enter the BIS program begin as provisional-status students.
To gain regular status, they must successfully complete within
four consecutive sessions a core of liberal studies, prerequisites
needed for their concentrations, BIS coursework and a computer
competency requirement. Once gaining regular status, BIS students
must declare a concentration, choosing from business, humanities,
information technology and social sciences. In rare cases with
permission of the BIS director and guidance of an academic adviser,
students can create their own concentrations.
Among the BIS courses students must complete are two Critical
Issues Seminars and one Analytical Skills Seminar. Small, discussion-oriented
classes focusing on ethics and effective decision-making in contemporary
society, Critical Issues Seminars will require at least two oral
presentations and major papers, allowing students to refine their
thinking, writing and speaking skills. After soliciting proposals
from faculty across Grounds, the first two seminars are on "Punishment
and Forgiveness" and "Nationalism and National Identity."
order to graduate, BIS students must complete a Capstone Project.
Similar to a senior thesis, the project will allow students to
work as individuals or teams to examine their educational experiences
in a meaningful way, such as through research, scientific experiments
or performances. The group of new students is expected to finish
the program in two to six years.
want to get to know these students and their needs. We'll need
to know, for example, if they want representation on Student Council
or the Honor Committee," said history professor Thomas Noble,
who has served as chair of the BIS Advisory Committee.
about the new program, from its admission requirements to the
curriculum and areas of concentration, has been crafted through
the caring, deliberate work of the advisory committee. Created
in April 1998, the committee met weekly for well over a year to
hammer out such details as administrative regulations, advising
procedures, faculty credentials, and students' access to computer
labs, library resources, recreational facilities and career planning
and placement. The committee continues to meet at least monthly.
members welcomed the challenge of starting an undergraduate program
for adults. "To build consensus and to expand our minds about
the idea, we started with a wide-ranging discussion of what the
program would be and how it would mesh with other University programs,"
said Noble. "We wanted the program to have a liberal arts
core that offered real-world applications."
initial advisory committee included Noble and faculty members
Daniel Larson, Milton Adams, William Kehoe, Barbara Nolan, and
Toni Wegner. Steve Thornton joined the group after Larson left
U.Va. Vice President and Provost Peter Low and Continuing Education
Dean Sondra Stallard served as ex-officio members. Also on the
committee was Kurt Gottschalk, chair of the business technologies
division at Piedmont Virginia Community College.
"It was a labor of love for those on the committee. Everything
about the program had to be pinned down, from the several-step
admissions process to the scope of the curriculum. Without Tom
Noble's leadership, the new program would not have been possible.
He had the vision and tenacity to get us there," Stallard
that the program is a reality, Plasket has several short-and long-term
goals for BIS students. Among the most immediate is creating a
welcoming environment for the new students. "I want the students
to be fully integrated into the University experience," she
said. To help them adjust to University life, Continuing Education
hosted an orientation on Aug. 28, "move-in day" for
first-year students. At the event, both Stallard and U.Va. President
John T. Casteen III welcomed the students. Noble and Jim Baker,
associate director, Center for University Programs, described
the University's academic expectations and honor traditions. The
BIS students were also invited to that night's Convocation and
Honor Induction on the Lawn.
Plasket sees well beyond the first group of students. "I
want the student body to grow quickly, without compromising the
program's quality. And I want the program to move beyond Charlottesville,
just as Continuing Education has done with other programs,"
Stallard sees a move off-Grounds as realistic. "Once we have
insured that this program is of extraordinary quality and comparable
to other undergraduate degree programs, we will want to take it
to people who cannot come to Charlottesville to study part-time,"
Young, left, teaches a class on "Punishment and Forgiveness,"
a Critical Issues Seminar that is part of the Bachelor of
Interdisciplinary Studies curriculum.
of the 18 students in the BIS program
15 live in Charlottesville or Albemarle County
lives in Richmond
have an associate degree
took at least one class at a Virginia community college
13 took at least one course at Piedmont Virginia Community
but one work at least 35 hours per week
Four are employed at U.Va.
are former U.Va. students in good standing