2015 Archives

SMU to offer Doctor of Liberal Studies degree

Distinctive program — one of three in the nation — designed to position graduates as community leaders

June 1, 2015

DALLAS (SMU) – Beginning fall 2015, SMU will offer a distinctive new evening graduate program, the Doctor of Liberal Studies, featuring a rigorous interdisciplinary curriculum. 

Just the third doctorate in liberal studies offered anywhere, the degree is aimed at adults interested in an individualized program designed to position them as community leaders.

studying"This degree is designed for the experienced adult learner who has earned a master's degree but craves the opportunity to do more," said Michele Mrak, executive director of graduate liberal studies at SMU's Simmons School of Education and Human Development. "Guided by their own intellectual passion and commitment to their community, students in the Doctor of Liberal Studies program will pursue rigorous interdisciplinary study on a topic they select."

One of the first applicants to the program is Jennifer McNabb, a Dallas community college teacher in El Centro's Jail Education Program. She credits a class in SMU's Master of Liberal Studies' program with inspiring an entirely new approach to her teaching. After taking the class, "Inspiring Creativity Through Original Works of Art," she created a program designed to expose imprisoned female offenders to the creative and therapeutic process of the arts for the jail's Resolana rehabilitation program. Instead of McNabb sharing her knowledge about art, her classes focus on the students' interpretation of the art, often leading to life-changing conversations.

"I use works of art to give women a voice and to empower them," McNabb says. "The classes create community and develop bonds between the women, which is an important step in treating the trauma that has been part of many of their lives."

As a Resolana staff member, McNabb also developed a mentoring program for imprisoned 17-year-olds who are isolated from the rest of the prison population for their own protection but often overlooked by rehabilitation programs. She is dedicated to effecting change in the corrections system, beginning with studying the history, economics, politics and religious influences on the system as a doctor of liberal studies student.

"We need to understand the underpinnings of criminal justice to examine why the United States has created such a punitive system," she says.

McNabb is a prime example of a potential Doctor of Liberal Studies student, Mrak says.

"Jennifer brings a multidisciplinary understanding of humanity to her academic work and her work in the community, enabling her to develop compassion for the human beings in the prison system and inspiring her to create changes in the system," Mrak says.

"When students like Jennifer graduate they will be experts in their chosen topics or issues, ready to make high-level contributions to their workplaces, society and the world. Completing the degree will empower people to make a difference in their communities.”

Students will complete a 45-hour curriculum, including a doctoral thesis, in a full-time or part-time program that is distinct from a Ph.D. program. Rather than focusing on a specific discipline for advancement in an academic or research arena, the Doctor of Liberal Studies student will become an expert on a particular issue and prepared to become a community or workplace leader. Just 15 to 20 students will be admitted to the program each year.

The DLS builds upon the success of SMU's long-running and successful Master of Liberal Studies program, created in 1963. More than 4,000 students have completed the 36-hour program, which enables students to create their own individualized curriculum or specialize in one of 10 tracks: American studies; communication, media and technology; creative writing; environmental sustainability; gender studies; global studies; human rights and social justice; humanities; organizational dynamics and arts and cultural traditions.  MLS graduates have become successful playwrights, legislative aides, elected officials, human rights advocates, authors, artists and now, Doctoral of Liberal Studies students. SMU joins Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. and Washington University in St. Louis as the only universities offering the Doctor of Liberal Studies.

"North Texas adults hungry for new knowledge have long supported the Master of Liberal Studies at the Simmons School," says David Chard, dean of the Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development. "The creation of the new Doctor of Liberal Studies is a response to their request for advanced study as well as an opportunity for SMU to expand its role as a national leader in graduate liberal studies."

Learn more about the Doctoral of Liberal Studies.

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