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Answering Critical Questions

Alyssa
April 30, 2019

The Master of Professional Studies offers a multidisciplinary approach for professionals.

Alyssa Dindorf can name one of the moments that led her to the spot she's in right now, one year away from a Master of Professional Studies.

It was April 2018. An explosion and fire at an oil refinery in Superior, Wis. caused Alyssa to jump into action. Within moments, she was dealing with the ramifications to the University of Minnesota Medical School - Duluth Campus, where she is the communication specialist.

MPS Director Mitra Emad (center) with graduate students (l-r) Pam Merzwski, Ginger Thompson, Kristi Dalbec, Lisa Norr, Shahriyar Roshan Zamir, and Alyssa Dindorf.
MPS Director Mitra Emad (center) with graduate students (l-r) Pam Merzwski, Ginger Thompson, Kristi Dalbec, Lisa Norr, Shahriyar Roshan Zamir, and Alyssa Dindorf.

First, she made contact with senior officials about the safety of students, faculty, and facilities. While classes and events proceeded, she fielded calls as time allowed. The fire burned for hours and prompted evacuations to Superior and Duluth crisis centers. Dozens of people, including refinery workers, were rushed to area hospitals. Alyssa stayed in the loop, and when the crisis calmed, she felt herself pause to reflect on her career path.

"It wasn't the first time I was in the center of a developing crisis," Alyssa says. She started her communication career at WCCO-TV in the Twin Cities and KBJR-TV in Duluth. From there, Alyssa worked at two advertising and marketing agencies before taking the position at the UM medical school. "The refinery crisis reminded me I was missing something in my career." Alyssa says. "I felt it for a long time, but I was unable to put my finger on it. The explosion was one of the events that made me sure I wanted to go back to school for a master's degree."

A Perfect Fit

Alyssa looked at online classes and higher education opportunities in the area and four months later she was sitting in a UMD classroom. "The UMD degree was a perfect fit," she says. "No other program even came close. I was able to design a plan to fit my exact need for professional development."

Recently, Alyssa's program, the Master of Liberal Studies, changed its name to the Master of Professional Studies and shifted its emphasis to an interdisciplinary approach. "The new arrangement is an even better fit for me," Alyssa says.

Associate Professor Mitra Emad
Associate Professor Mitra Emad

Alyssa says the classes are helping her grow. "I am focusing on the mechanics of crisis communication, and I'm also looking at leadership." Alyssa is joining her classmates in examining what makes a good leader. "Zeroing in on a topic, while approaching it from a leadership standpoint, makes the degree even more relevant to my life goal."

Launching the Masters of Professional Studies

"There is a real need for a masters degree that opens a path to professionalization through applied multidisciplinary research, socially conscious leadership, and innovative problem solving," says Mitra Emad. Mitra is the director of the new Master of Professional Studies in Multidisciplinary Research and Creativity (MPS) in the College of Liberal Arts.

"In each passing decade, the world is becoming infinitely more complex," says Mitra. "That means a professional needs to learn problem-solving, research skills, critical thinking, and leadership more than ever."

Mitra and her colleagues have designed the MPS to have interdisciplinary content and a flexible delivery model. "The MPS takes a step to the next level," Mitra says. "Students are seeking validation for their existing career path and they are also aspiring toward something greater. We are providing intellectual, creative, and innovative pursuits and developing leaders as well.

Shahriyar Roshan Zamir
Shahriyar Roshan Zamir

Mitra isn't exaggerating when she talks about the creativity of the students in the MLS and MPS programs. For example, Shahriyar Roshan Zamir is working on a research project entitled, "Twisted Mathematics: How Subtle Microaggressions in Math Movies Shape Our Opinion of Mathematicians." Lisa Norr is researching approaches to sustainable transportation in order to enhance UMD's capacity to reach carbon neutrality by the year 2050.

How It Works

The degree consists of 30 credits made up of three core courses, or about five courses from two or more disciplines. Students create one capstone project and take an oral exam. For the core courses, they meet in a classroom for one evening, five or six times each semester and on-line for the additional weeks. Most of them are in the Duluth area but a few travel for over an hour for the classroom events. One added draw is the reduced tuition price of $673 per credit.

Almost everyone in the program has a job. "Like all of us, our students learn to play the work/life dance," Mitra says. "It can be exhilarating. We all bring resources from different disciplines. We ask the burning questions facing society and come up with answers from multiple viewpoints."

Mitra is helping Alyssa connect with experts on campus and in the community who can help her narrow down and explore her topic. "Start with a hurricane, as an example," Mitra says. "Then think of the Red Cross and other disaster workers: doctors, nurses, paramedics, firefighters, police, and social workers. Later more people will help make sense of the incident, psychologists, even anthropologists. You can see why the topic, crisis communication, has to be narrowed down."

After the research the student has to decide what format they're going to use to deliver the material. Students can write research papers as well as producing digital stories, short videos, podcasts, and other multi-media.

The MPS program promises to be the most adaptable and flexible graduate degree program at UMD.  It certainly will allow people like Alyssa, Shah, and Lisa to achieve their ambitions in a unique fashion.

"Just a year ago, I realized that I wanted to follow this path," Alyssa says. "I was so right. This is it."

About the Master of Professional Studies

More about the MPS

Photo above: Alyssa Dindorf