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Champlain Unveils New MFA Program

State of the Arts

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Do you want to be an “interactive storyteller” when you grow up? How about a “technical documentation writer” or a “content designer”? These are just a few of the futuristic-sounding next-generation careers for which Champlain College is preparing its students.

The college’s Emergent Media Center is a school within a school that teaches the ins and outs of designing interactive media, ranging from socially relevant video games to a virtual archaeology museum. Now the EMC is about to take a big step: establishing a Master of Fine Arts program. The inaugural class begins this fall.

“This degree is pretty cool for Champlain College, ’cause it’s our first MFA,” says Ann DeMarle, EMC director. It’s also Champlain’s first on-campus master’s program. The other five grad degrees, including ones in business and digital investigation management, are offered online only.

Traditionally, most people who get MFAs are creative writers or visual artists. This emergent Media degree is likely to attract not just artsy types, but also technologists and entrepreneurs, DeMarle suggests. “This master’s is different, because it’s really emergent media,” she says. “Today, media is interactive and participatory and about communication.”

Ken Howell, a lead developer for the EMC, says, “I’ve heard MFAs referred to as the new MBAs. When you get to creativity itself, you can solve any problem anywhere,” he asserts. “When technology is constantly changing the playing field, the only skill that stays relevant is creativity.”

With the goal of developing that skill, MFA students will delve into marketing at its most organic: They will study the brain and how neuroscience sheds light on art, education and business alike. As DeMarle explains it, “Learning how the brain works and the cultural underpinnings allows you to market in ways that really touch people.”

The five-semester program will include a field class in which each student investigates a community and comes up with a real-life, “human-centric digital solution.” For instance, DeMarle says, a student could help a struggling general store market itself using technology.

The final three semesters will include work on a collaborative project in which teams of students act as emergent-media entrepreneurs, working on business, design and research, and then test their products. To demonstrate their individual abilities in the same areas, students will also complete an integrative thesis project at the end of the program.

Mark Milne, who’s in charge of graduate admissions at Champlain, says he’s expecting to see “a competitive process” among applicants to the program, which has a dozen spots. His team is looking for graduates with a diverse range of majors and experiences; people who at heart are “creative folks, collaborative folks, comfortable with technology,” he says.

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