School turns five
Committed to life-long learning and universal education
By Matt Kelly
After 93 years in business, the School of Continuing and Professional Studies is only now celebrating its fifth anniversary.
Begun as “extension work” in 1912 by U.Va.’s first president, Edwin A. Alderman, continuing education was to be the “great connecting link” between the University and the commonwealth’s citizens. True to its origins, continuing education evolved through the years into what it is today — the School of Continuing and Professional Studies, which became U.Va.’s 10th school on Feb. 25, 2000.
“Our mission is unique,” said SCPS Dean Sondra F. Stallard. “We make available U.Va.’s extraordinary resources to the widest audience possible [providing] access to countless Virginians who do not have the opportunity to study on-Grounds.”
Stallard presides over 14,950 students and seven education centers in Virginia. The school offers travel and enrichment programs, degrees and professional and technical training programs for business, industry and the government.
Despite the varied constituencies, the academics are rigorous.
“This is not U.Va. lite,” Stallard said. “The courses here are on par with those throughout the University.”
Edward L. Ayers, dean of the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, agreed. SCPS “puts academic excellence to work in the world.”
Students’ successes reflect the school’s strength. Accounting certificate student Melinda DeCorte earned a perfect score on all sections of the
Certified Public Accountant exam in fall 2003 and scored the highest in the nation out of 58,000 students taking the test. Sherry Easter, in her fourth year of teaching high school in Hanover County, won the Outstanding Beginning Teacher Award in 2002, after completing the SCPS Career Switcher program. (See “Interested in being a teacher,” opposite page.)
During its 93-year history, U.Va.’s continuing education initiative has evolved dramatically (see ‘The History,’ left), but its commitment to lifelong learning and outreach never waivered. In the mid-1990s Curry School Dean David W. Breneman chaired a task force re-examining the role of continuing education after its dean, Philip M. Nowlen, resigned.
Stallard, a special assistant to U.Va. President John T. Casteen III, was appointed acting dean while the task force met. She said Casteen and then-Provost Peter W. Low asked her “to hold down the fort.” Planning to stay for a brief stint, she soon realized that University outreach was consistent with Jefferson’s vision. “I became a continuing education convert,” she said.
The task force agreed that the University’s obligation extended beyond the “serpentine walls.” Low appointed Stallard to a five-year term to lead continuing education in new directions.
During her first term, Stallard dramatically increased revenues, generated new initiatives and enhanced the division’s reputation. At Casteen’s urging, the division created a bachelor’s degree program so working adults could earn a U.Va. degree part-time, and launched other partnerships, including off-Grounds graduate degree programs with several of U.Va.’s schools. With these successes, Casteen and Low asked the Board of Visitors to restore the division’s status to a school, which it did five years ago today.
“For the extraordinarily steep trajectory of the school’s success, the credit goes to Dean Stallard, who has led the school from its [second] inception to its early maturity,” Casteen said.
Stallard’s own history with U.Va. goes way back. Growing up in West Virginia, she was the first in her family to attend college. In 1975, she started as an assistant professor in the Curry School and later became director of the Office of Equal Opportunity Programs. In other roles, Stallard served as director of development for the engineering school and director of corporate relations for the Darden School before joining Casteen’s office.
“I was mentored throughout my career by U.Va. women and men from whom I learned lessons about leadership and integrity,” she said. “Early on, I also realized that I loved having opportunities to fix things, earning my reputation as a duct-tape specialist.”
Stallard, who feels her strongest asset is selecting outstanding people with whom to work, sees SCPS opening the doors of U.Va. to a diverse and talented population. Because there is such demand for access to U.Va., “we are drowning in a sea of opportunity,” Stallard said. “The difficulties lie in deciding how best to serve the University and citizens of the commonwealth and the nation.
“The creation of a new master’s degree program for part-time students, the spread of the BIS program and our growing partnerships with community colleges, businesses and government agencies will provide unparalleled opportunities for thousands of adult students,”
“Nontraditional students have become traditional at the University,” Casteen noted. “A great step forward on the long road to universal education.”
The history of continuing ed at U.Va.
|Edwin A. Alderman
Edwin A. Alderman, the University’s first president, started “extension work” in 1912, as an extension of founder Thomas Jefferson’s vision of a University for life-long learning.
“University extension is the name given to this great connecting link between every part of a university and the actual conditions of life in the state which the University exists to aid and strengthen,” Alderman said in 1915. “The fundamental ideal of University extension is the ideal of service to democracy as a whole rather than to individual advancement.
The University of Virginia, founded by the greatest individualist and democrat of the age, would be strangely false to its origin and genius if it did not seek to illustrate this idea.”
The Bureau of Extension was established in 1915, with the first courses offered for credit in 1919. Regional centers were set up in 1920, and in 1922 the name was changed to the Extension Division. The School of General Studies was created by the Board of Visitors in 1961, a master’s degree in general studies was offered in 1969, and in 1971, the name was changed to the School of Continuing Education. George Mason University can trace its origins to U.Va. because it evolved from a regional extension center established in Northern Virginia.
As U.Va. undertook new growth and directions, the Board of Visitors changed the school to the Division of Continuing Education in 1978. It was not until 22 years later that the board re-established it as a school with degree-granting authority. This month, the School of Continuing and Professional Studies celebrates its fifth year.
BIS— filling the niche
Adult students have an opportunity, through the Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies program, to earn a U.Va. degree by attending school at night and on weekends.
“Students range in age from their mid-20s to mid-60s,” said BIS Director Donna Plasket. “A quarter of them work for the University,” others work as teacher’s aides, real estate agents and blue- and white-collar workers. Some enter the SCPS straight out of college; others have been out for 20 to 25 years.
Entering U.Va. as third-year undergraduates, BIS students must already have 60 hours of approved college credits. They can attend classes with a concentration in fields such as social science, humanities and business, but students also can create an individualized focus. Since its creation in 1999, the BIS program has graduated 54 students. Currently, 165 students are enrolled.
“The students are very dedicated,” said writing and literature teacher Kenny R. Marotta. “Many of them work full-time.”
Mark P. Harvey, a 2003 BIS graduate, praised the program for its flexibility and the enthusiasm of the faculty and staff.
They have four people, but work as if they have a staff of 40, Harvey said of the main office staff. “They are extremely responsive to every student in the program.”
Harvey, who currently lives in Fairfax, said the program allowed him to work during the day and attend school at night. “I could not have gotten my new job without” the BIS, said Harvey, now 26 and working for ICF Consulting, specializing in emergency management and homeland security. “It was a good chance to develop professional skills. There was a lot of teamwork and collaboration.”
This teamwork helps spark camaraderie among students. “There’s a sense that they are all in it together,” Marotta said.
The students form their own support networks, helping each other with papers and studying, as well as forming a peer mentor group, Plasket said. They also organized a fifth anniversary gala for the program, and have formed an alumni association with its own newsletter.
BIS fills a niche for students who cannot be part of the residential student population. These opportunities were extended this past fall when BIS expanded to the Tidewater area, as an option for alumni of Tidewater Community College. Deborah M. DiCroce, president of TCC, approached SCPS and suggested the partnership.
In September 2004, 24 students in Tidewater began taking two courses a week. The goal is to have as wide an offering for Tidewater students as is available in Charlottesville. For now, it is a matter of U.Va. faculty traveling to Norfolk to teach.
BIS students can take full advantage of U.Va. facilities and courses, Plasket noted. BIS soon hopes to offer expanded programs for undergraduate and graduate degrees.
“We are currently considering the creation of a new master’s degree for working adults tailored to their educational and professional needs,” President John T. Casteen III said at the launching of the Tidewater program last fall. “We are not certain what it will be named, but the degree will build upon the solid foundation we established with the Bachelor’s of Interdisciplinary Studies.”
Portal to adult learners
The School of Continuing and Professional Studies is the portal to the University for nontraditional students — providing access to adults who seek lifelong learning opportunities for personal and professional
To serve the diverse citizens of the Commonwealth, SCPS offers a broad portfolio of academic programs, including domestic and international travel programs, Web-based courses, certificate programs, an undergraduate degree and graduate degree programs in partnership with the Curry School of Education and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.
In addition to serving individual citizens, the school also works with several government agencies such as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; Naval Air Systems Command; the Federal Bureau of Investigation Academy at Quantico; the International Law Enforcement Academy in Budapest, Hungary; and the Central Intelligence Agency.
Nearly 1,000 students have enrolled in the Community Scholars program, which allows nondegree-seeking adults to take regular, on-Grounds credit courses.
Besides working with adult students, SCPS also assists other schools and departments in administering several programs for traditional-aged students, including summer study abroad, Hispanic studies in Spain and applied music lessons.
In continuing its goal of outreach, the school pioneered distance learning at the University. The first international for-credit distance class was
an engineering course taught by professor Mark Shields in partnership with Istanbul Technical University in 2000. Shields traveled to Istanbul each term to meet with the students, then conducted the rest of the class from Charlottesville over a closed-circuit television connection. Since that time, the school has developed 59 Web-based credit courses for professional development in a number of areas.
Interested in being a teacher?
Concerned about a teacher shortage, the Virginia legislature launched a career-switcher initiative in 1999, hoping to attract retired military personnel into pedagogy. In 2000, it was opened to those in other fields as well, said Nancy R. Iverson, SCPS assistant dean of K-12 education. While traditional teacher training centers didn’t want to take on the program, the School of Continuing and Professional Studies did.
People working in one field now can transition to teaching through the SCPS Career Switcher program.
“You have to be financially comfortable and have documented content knowledge,” Iverson said, noting that many students leave more lucrative careers to become teachers.
Attorney Dayna S. Paxton and her husband practiced law together in Colorado for 24 years while raising three daughters. When their law firm was sold several years ago, they moved east to be near two of their girls. Interested in becoming teachers, they found SCPS on the Internet.
Paxton now teaches honors-level government at Deep Run High School in Henrico County. Her husband, an engineer before he was an attorney, now teaches sixth-grade math.
Students get lots of support from the Career Switcher program, including mentoring and site visits during their first year of teaching. This is part of Iverson’s effort to stanch the 30 percent drop-out rate among first-year teachers. Paxton said she is doing her class work on weekends and teaching during the week. Career switchers teach their first year under a state-issued license then receive a five-year certification.
The impact of the program is wide. “We reach every corner of the state,” Iverson said, noting that the Career Switcher program has worked with each of the state’s 132 school divisions.