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Emerging Tech School Moving Forward at University of Montana

Planned academic restructuring at the university will include a new School of Emerging and Applied Technologies, which will accommodate a new cybersecurity degree as well as programs on data science, VR/AR and AI.

View of University of Montana from Mount Sentinel, in Missoula, Montana.
(TNS) — The Montana Board of Regents unanimously approved the University of Montana's request to plan its first phases of academic restructuring spearheaded by Provost Pardis Madhavi.

Now the university will be able to continue mapping out the new School of Emerging and Applied Technologies and revising the scope and structure of the W.A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation.

UM's requests to plan a joint Masters of Public Administration and Masters of Public Health degree and a Master of Physician Assistant Studies degree also got a green light from the board.

"Simply put, students need to be prepared to solve unscripted problems," Mahdavi said. "These are not things that can be solved with one disciplinary approach."

The new School of Emerging and Applied Technologies will house UM's new cybersecurity degree, as well as programs on data science, virtual reality, augmented reality and artificial intelligence. However, it will begin as the Emerging and Applied Technologies initiative to further develop the school.

The goal of the interdisciplinary school is to bring faculty together to study how emerging technologies affect, interact with and can be used to support learning effectively.

With approval from the board, the university will also begin the process of moving its geosciences department into Forestry and Conservation. Geosciences are currently in the College of Humanities and Sciences.

Mahdavi launched an inquest into academic renewal in late August, shortly after she took the reins of the provost's office. Since then, she's hosted multiple meetings, town hall events and surveys to solicit feedback from the campus community.

The goal of creating more interdisciplinary opportunities for students at the university is largely aimed at combating the increasing number of Americans who do not view higher education as being important or having a positive impact on society, according to several studies and reports released in the last decade cited by Mahdavi during her presentation to the Regents.

"Obviously the work that you guys are doing is very large with a lot of implications as well," said Chair Brianne Rogers.

In addition to the first phases of academic renewal, the joint Masters of Public Health and Masters Public Administration will leverage the existing programs at UM, Mahdavi said, noting that there are no programs like this currently in Montana and the nearest ones are in Utah and Washington.

Mahdavi added that jobs in fields related to this new joint degree are expected to grow by 17 percent in the next seven years with an income earning potential of at least $70,000.

Jobs for physician assistants are also expected to increase by 37 percent by 2026, Mahdavi said. The only physician assistant programs in Montana are at Rocky Mountain College in Billings and Carroll College in Helena. UM previously brought a request to plan a physician assistant program to the Regents in 2020, but was put on the back burner with the onset of the COVID pandemic.

"But we are now ready to engage and move forward," Mahdavi said.

Mahdavi will be leaving the provost's office at the end of the semester to lead a new higher education initiative to expand educational opportunities for UM and other universities. Adrea Lawrence, the dean of the Phyllis J. Washington College of Education, will move into the role as interim provost.

"I really wanted to thank Dr. Mahdavi publicly because she's laid the groundwork for some really impactful and lasting innovation at our university," UM President Seth Bodnar said.

©2023 Missoulian, Mont. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.