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  February 23, 2004

Continuing Studies Covers
The Gamut Of Lifelong Learning

On a given day, Krista Rodin might be thinking about Nepal or Waterbury, worker safety or music instruction.

In every case, however, she's interested in helping non-traditional students learn something, often in an unusual way.

Image: Krista Rodin

Krista Rodin, dean of the College of Continuing Studies, heads UConn's programs for non-traditional students.

Photo by Dollie Harvey

The dean of the College of Continuing Studies, Rodin oversees the Bachelor of General Studies program, where adults can complete college degrees in non-traditional ways; the Master of Professional Studies program; international culture study programs; labor education courses; distance learning; the Community School of the Arts - where children and adults take music, dancing, and arts lessons; the English as a Second Language program in Stamford; summer sessions; intersession classes; and the weekend college.

"The college is continuing to evolve and we are focused on helping students have lifelong educational experiences that might begin with Suzuki violin lessons for children before kindergarten and continue through online professional master's degrees and continuing professor education," she says.

In 1999, the former Division of Extended and Continuing Education was expanded, and renamed the College of Continuing Studies to highlight the academic mission of lifelong learning. Since then, the college has expanded the BGS program, added two new online master's degree programs, one in human resource management and the other in humanitarian services administration, and begun to focus on offering credit and non-credit programs that correspond with the state's business and industry clusters.

Courses on topics including information technology, finance, insurance, and real estate; biotechnology and health-related areas; marine areas; social services and the non-profit sector; and education are offered throughout the state. There are courses that allow students to attend professional programs in their hometowns, and some courses without any meetings at all because they are offered online.

"We became a college to serve the needs of the adult population, not just with courses and programs but also with complex curricula," says Rodin, who joined the University in 1999. "The college focuses on applied interdisciplinary programs that serve the workforce and economic development needs of the state."

Rodin has worked with others to ensure that community college students could come to UConn without repeating any of their course work, and to ensure that adults have what they need to continue their other activities yet succeed in finishing their college degrees through the BGS programs.

In May 2002, says Rodin, more UConn students graduated with a BGS degree - 357 - than in any other major within the University.

The program is now seeking out-of-state students, and has its first solely online student - a 33-year-old woman from Canyon County, Calif., who works for Boeing as a safety health and environmental affairs engineering and is studying occupational safety and health.

Online classes are an expanding area for the college, which already offers an online master's degree in professional studies and is hoping to receive approval from the Board

of Trustees and the Department of Higher Education to offer the BGS online.

Rodin says online courses offer faculty a new perspective. "In an online format, faculty can connect with other faculty across the country," she says.

Rodin practices what she preaches: this semester she is co-teaching an interactive, online course, An Introduction to Tibetan and Himalayan Studies, with a faculty member from Tribhuvan University in Nepal. The students in the course have the benefit of a truly cross-cultural experience, she says, while working from their homes.

"Online classes are different from the experiences students can have on campus," Rodin says. "But each type of learning can be just as valuable as the other."

She says the teaching style online requires more forethought and organization at the beginning of the course. Specialists are available in the college to help faculty adapt their courses for online application.

Computers have also facilitated a wide variety of partnerships. Some are on campus and in state; others are with colleges such as John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York, which partners with the college to provide the master's degree in humanitarian services.

The college also has a number of international connections, and offers international culture studies in Cuba, Ecuador, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Nepal, New Zealand-Maori, Peru, Senegal, and Thailand. There is also a program that focuses on the Native American cultures of the American Southwest. Many of the programs allow students to take the course with or without college credit.

All of the college's culture study programs include components that deal with the indigenous populations' sense of spirituality and how they use their art forms, including music, to connect with their spirituality. Mahayana Buddhism and Hinduism are highlighted in Nepal; Theravadin Buddhism is stressed in Thailand; Islam in Senegal; and national traditions in the Southwest, Cuba, and South America.

"It is important for students to understand other cultures' sense of their place in the universe, as that forms the basis for how people behave," Rodin says. "As our students will be working in a globalized world and very likely for multinational corporations, or at least with people from other cultures, it is very important for them to have an understanding that not everyone thinks like we do in the United States and to value and respect the diversity of cultures they will encounter."

Rodin notes that the goal is to teach students to think differently than they have in the past. "There is clearly an emerging international global market," she says. "In Bangkok, for example, you see the old and the new. A 1,000-year-old shrine is right next door to Radio Shack and Starbucks. Economic decisions are affecting us all. The cultural trips are an intellectual exercise, but they are also an emotional experience for the students."

The college also offers programs for workers in health, safety, and union issues through the Labor Education Center, in various professional areas such as nursing, in convenient locations throughout the state.

And recently, the college co-hosted the first "State of the Sector" symposium for the non-profit sector of the state. It was attended by 300 people.

"We look at where resources are best allocated, and where partnerships with other groups can benefit our students," Rodin says. "We look for strategic niches and try to become the resource for our students."

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